On July 16th, the EU and Tunisia signed a memorandum of understanding in Tunis, covering economic development, renewable energies, and the pressing issue of irregular immigration.
It hopes now to negotiate with both Morocco and Egypt to thrash out similar deals, according to EU sources, reports AFP.
In terms of migration, the agreement involves European aid of 105 million euros, intended to prevent migrant boats from departing Tunisian coasts towards the EU and combat smugglers. Furthermore, the funding aims to facilitate the repatriation of Tunisians residing irregularly in the EU and migrants from sub-Saharan Africa back to their countries of origin.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen expressed her desire for this partnership to serve as a model for future agreements with countries in the region.
A senior European official, speaking anonymously, emphasized the potential benefits of such partnerships for both Egypt and Morocco, highlighting their inclusion in the negotiation process.
However, concerns have been raised regarding the treatment of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa in Tunisia, shedding light on the complexities surrounding migration policies in the Maghreb country. NGOs reported that migrants were arrested in Tunisia and subsequently “deported” to inhospitable areas on the borders with Algeria and Libya, leaving women and children stranded without water, food, or shelter.
The European official stressed that the agreement does not solely involve financial contributions to Tunisian authorities. Instead, it encompasses a range of contracts with various actors, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
The memorandum of understanding, signed in the presence of European and Tunisian leaders, including Ursula von der Leyen, President Kais Saied, as well as Giorgia Meloni of Italy and Mark Rutte of the Netherlands, requires approval from all EU member states.
While some European countries, such as Italy, expressed their desire to return migrants who had transited through Tunisia, Tunis clarified that it does not want to serve as a settlement country for irregular migrants. Therefore, the agreement focuses only on the return of Tunisian nationals in an irregular situation in the EU.
The signed protocol designates 15 million euros out of the total aid for the “voluntary” return of approximately 6,000 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa in Tunisia to their respective countries of origin. Additionally, the EU intends to provide eight boats and drones to assist Tunisian coastal authorities in search and rescue operations.
The total aid package, which covers a multitude of other areas expected to help the Tunisian government comes to around 1.7bn euros, from both Italy and the EU, leaving some analysts skeptical about whether the whole amount is really for state building or for preventing Tunisia’s African migrants making it to European shores.
For Morocco, perhaps the numbers of African migrants are lower but the problem for the EU is still there and it will want to get guaranties from Rabat that African migrants storming the border with the EU will no longer happen. Last year, 23 migrants died in Melilla as a stampede to get across the Moroccan/Spanish border occurred drawing the wrath of rights groups. Morocco currently enjoys around 1.4 billion euros of assistance from the EU over a 6 year period.