The European Union (EU) and Tunisia have joined forces in an effort to combat irregular migration and strengthen economic ties with a signed memorandum of understanding. This agreement comes as the number of migrants and refugees leaving Tunisia and attempting to reach Europe has seen a significant increase in recent months.
European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni engaged in talks with Tunisian President Kais Saied to address this pressing issue. Von der Leyen hailed the accord as an investment in shared prosperity and stability, emphasizing the need for a collective agreement on migration. Saied, on the other hand, highlighted how irregular migration is often linked to criminal networks.
Rutte underscored that the agreement would aid in the fight against human traffickers by implementing measures to disrupt their business models and bolster border control. Meanwhile, Meloni welcomed the accord as a crucial step in addressing the migration crisis and extended an invitation to President Saied to participate in an international conference on migration.
In addition to cooperation on migration, the EU is also considering providing Tunisia with an aid package of up to 900 million euros ($1,010m) to tackle economic challenges and the mounting number of migrants and refugees. As part of the memorandum, specific aid initiatives were revealed, including a program aimed at enhancing student exchanges and EU funding to modernize Tunisian schools.
Under the agreement, the EU and Tunisia will collaborate on an anti-smuggling partnership, coordinate search and rescue operations, and work together on border management. However, Yasmine Akrimi, a researcher at the Brussels International Center, views this agreement as Europe’s attempt to police and reshape African migration dynamics.
For Italy, Tunisia is being considered a safe third country for migrants passing through, providing an eventual relocation option. The port of Sfax, a major city in Tunisia, serves as a departure point for numerous sub-Saharan migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea and reach Europe.
Facing racial tensions and an increase in anti-migrant sentiment, Tunisia has witnessed evictions and job losses among migrants in recent times. The Tunisian Red Crescent has stepped in to provide shelter to over 600 migrants who were brought to the border town of Ras Jedir. However, independent journalist Amine Snoussi warns that without a legal framework to welcome migrants, their future within Tunisia remains uncertain.
The EU-Tunisia memorandum of understanding represents a concerted effort to address the challenges of irregular migration, while also providing support to Tunisia’s economic development and social stability. With cooperation in various sectors and aid initiatives, both parties are aiming to find comprehensive solutions to this complex issue.
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