The EU has signed an agreement with Tunisia to block migrants from using the country as a base to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.
In view of the rising numbers of migrants and their life-threatening journeys across the Mediterranean, the EU and Tunisia have decided to cooperate more closely on the issue, the EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, the heads of government of the Netherlands and Italy, and Tunisian President Kais Saied announced in Tunis on Sunday.
For its cooperation, Tunisia will receive up to 900 million euros in financial aid from the EU, a sort of lifeline for the economically hard-hit country.
In return for the financial aid, Tunisia is to take stronger action against smugglers and illegal crossings to reduce the number of people leaving the North African country for Europe.
Tunisia is considered one of the most important transit countries for African migrants on their way to Europe.
Especially in Italy, the arrival of thousands of migrants has been a topical issue for some time. According to Italy’s Ministry of the Interior, more than 75,000 migrants have arrived on Italy’s shores since the beginning of the year; there were around 31,900 in the same period last year.
“After much diplomatic work, we have achieved a very important goal,” Italy’s far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said. The memorandum of understanding signed with Tunisia allows for an “integrated management of the migration crisis”, she said.
The Italian leader also hoped for further similar agreements with other North African countries. A migration conference is planned for next Sunday in Rome, which Saied and other heads of state and government of the Mediterranean region are to attend.
A migration researcher, Gerald Knaus, explains on ZDF heute journal, that people who departed from Tunisia have been the largest migrant group trying to cross the Mediterranean by boat in recent years.
This is why the EU made the deal with the North African country. However, critics say that the human rights situation in Tunisia was not considered in reaching an agreement with its government.
President Saied had announced a crackdown on migrants from sub-Sahara Africa in February, accusing them of bringing violence and crime into his country. Since then, open hostility towards and racist attacks on sub-Saharan migrants have increased.
In the coastal city of Sfax, there were clashes between migrants and residents, some of which were fatal. Since the beginning of last week, there had been increased tensions between the town’s people and migrants. Dozens of migrants fled or were forcibly displaced.
Hundreds of African migrants have been displaced into the desert as a result of the clashes, according to media reports. As eyewitnesses told the AFP news agency on Thursday (13 July), the displaced people were staying in the desert region in southern Tunisia under catastrophic conditions.