The European Union proposes a migration agreement with Tunisia as a model despite the deterioration of human rights in the country

Tunisian President Kais Saied and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on the 16th in Tunis.Tunisian presidency (via Reuters)

The European Commission wants to explore a model The immigration agreement reached on Sunday with Tunisia In other southern Mediterranean countries, both in terms of origin and transit. A few weeks ago, the chair of the executive group, Ursula von der Leyen, sent a letter to member states urging them to discuss the formula. “Our aim should be that our current initiative with Tunisia be a model for similar partnerships in the future, and the Commission will seek new comprehensive partnerships with third countries,” he said in the letter. Talks with Egypt have already begun, according to community sources, but ratification of the agreement with Tunisia, which must be ratified by the 27 countries, would be future steps.

The agreement was met with harsh criticism Human rights organizations and members of the European Parliament, because of the risks posed by the mechanism for providing funds to ensure control of migration flows and because of the human rights abuses attributed to the government of Tunisian President Kais Saied. There are already controversial precedents. Various reports, including the United Nations, have warned of links between the Libyan coast guard, which receives funding from the European Union, and cases of mistreatment of migrants or even cooperation with human trafficking gangs. A recent investigation by EL PAÍS with Lighthouse Reports He revealed that the smuggling ring responsible for the latest Mediterranean tragedy, the wreck of the Ionian ship, is maintaining relations with the warlord in eastern Libya, Khalifa Haftar. And some European countries, such as Italy, are defending cooperation with him to reduce immigration.

The head of the commission traveled twice in one month to the Tunisian capital, accompanied by The Italian Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, and the outgoing Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, to try to break the agreement with President Saeed. Last Sunday, it was possible to conclude the principle of an agreement that is still far from the more than one billion euros offered in June on his first visit to Tunisia to save the North African country from bankruptcy.

Von der Leyen limited himself to mentioning the five sectoral financing pillars of the Memorandum of Understanding, which add up to 300 million euros, of which 105 million euros correspond to policies to contain migration to Europe. The rest corresponds to elements such as digitization, energy and economic development. he Fixed note for the third quarter of this year A final review of the agreement aims to include a €900m package for Tunisia to implement the reforms it promoted International Monetary Fund (IMF) For a loan that has not yet been agreed upon in the amount of 1,900 million dollars (about 1,700 million euros). The financial rescue plan offered by the international organization entails a high social and employment cost, as it requires cutting subsidies on basic products and liquidating public sector companies. The EU is also ready to mobilize another €150 million in budgetary support for the reform agenda.

The Tunisian leader repeated this before the three leaders He doesn’t want to act like a “border guard.” From Europe, from which nearly 70,000 irregular migrants from Tunisia and Libya have disembarked on its coasts in southern Italy, most of them so far this year. After dissolving parliament to rule by decree since 2021 and after launching a wave of arrests of dissidents, Saied last February criticized irregular migrants from sub-Saharan Africa. “There is a criminal plan designed since the beginning of the century aimed at changing the demographics of Tunisia to turn it into a simple African country that has nothing to do with the Arab and Islamic world,” he said in a public statement. Since then, the harassment of black African foreigners has multiplied.

President von der Leyen has now committed to “continuous monitoring” of the agreement with Tunisia, and other models with other countries based on cooperation plans, to prevent the departure of clandestine ships and to promote return programmes. This week, in addition, within the framework of the EU summit with Latin America and the Caribbean, the green light was given to the Post-Cotonou Agreement, signed in 2020 with 79 ACP countries, which includes, among other things, measures on migration, such as formulas to facilitate the return of people denied asylum in the EU.

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The EU is already working on migration aid schemes, on border controls, registration and return programs – for example, a shipment of €15m intended to return some 6,000 irregular migrants from West Africa to their countries of origin – and other measures “against human trafficking gangs”, such as boat deliveries and surveillance drones.

In addition to Egypt, Morocco is among the other countries on the southern shores of the Mediterranean that have been mentioned by senior EU officials as a potential beneficiary of the comprehensive migration agreement in the wake of the agreement reached with Tunisia. The Moroccan government plans to receive 500 million euros in aid from the European Union For the period 2021-2027, a figure that Rabat considers to be far less than the expenditures resulting from containing migration flows to Europe. The Director of Immigration and Border Control at the Ministry of the Interior, Khaled Zerouali, raised the cost of his administration to 427 million annually, according to what he announced to the Efi agency last year. In the period 2014-2020, the North African country received €346m from Brussels to account for irregular migration.

The principle of the EU agreement with Tunisia came after the recent explosion of racial tension recorded in Sfax, the main departure point for small boats in the central Mediterranean, 270 kilometers south of the capital, Tunis. More than 10,000 sub-Saharan residents have been waiting in that port city to embark on their way to the Italian coast for months. Authorities expelled hundreds of migrants and forcibly transferred them to a desert area on the Libyan border, after a Tunisian was stabbed to death in a brawl with sub-Saharans earlier this month.

“We have to work together”

“It is necessary to work with transit countries,” the European Commissioner for the Interior stated, Elva Johansson, in a recent interview during the Commissioners’ trip to Spain. He warns that “Europe cannot manage migration on its own if it is not for Europe becoming immune, and I am not for that.” “Of course, we must remain firm in standing up for our values, but also we must be realistic and work together,” says Johansson, who advocates avoiding migrants buying “tickets to hell” from human trafficking rings at all costs. “We can’t stop trying, even though there are concerns about some countries we need to cooperate with, because then we’re letting people die,” the community manager claims, referring to the wrecks. His ministry announced its willingness to channel emergency aid through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (Acnur) to the migrants who remained. They were left to their fate on the Tunisian borders with Libya and Algeria.

International NGOs such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) consider Tunisia no longer a safe country for sub-Saharan migrants and refugees. Human Rights Watch warned in a report, “It is not a safe transit country, nor is it appropriate to disembark people who are intercepted or rescued at sea.” This organization concludes that “the outsourcing of migration control from the European Union to third countries (…) has led to serious human rights violations.” Eve Gede, Actress Amnesty International And before the institutions of the European Union, he affirmed in a statement that the agreement signed with the Tunisian government represented “the EU’s acceptance of the increasingly repressive policy of the Tunisian president (…) while hundreds of people, including women and children, were abandoned on the Saharan borders.”

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