What does the controversial immigration deal with Tunisia mean? Europe is washing its hands of innocence

European Union leaders pledged hundreds of millions of euros to Tunisia in exchange for better border security and the fight against people smuggling. But what exactly does this deal involve?

Anne Boersma

Why is there a need for an agreement with Tunisia, according to EU leaders?

A controlled asylum and immigration policy, which is the aim of the new European immigration deal that saw the light of day last Thursday. 27 European Ministers for Asylum and Migration have concluded agreements on the reception, distribution and return of migrants arriving in Europe.

From now on, people from countries with little chance of obtaining refugee status will be subject to rapid border procedures for a period of twelve weeks. Examples of such countries are Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Senegal, Bangladesh and Pakistan. During these three months, people are locked up in detention centers at the borders of Europe where they arrive: in Italy, Greece and Malta. If they exhausted all legal remedies, they would be returned to the last country they were in before crossing into Europe. This is where Tunisia comes in: an important transit country. In 2023, for example, 26,799 people will arrive by sea from Tunisia to Italy.

What does the deal include?

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced in Tunis that Tunisia will receive 900 million euros in long-term financial support. I traveled to the North African country this past weekend with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. 150 million will be provided immediately to boost the Tunisian economy, which is in dire straits. There will also be trade agreements and agreements between universities, so that young Tunisians can come, study and work in Europe.

In return, Europe wants to be able to easily return people to Tunisia if they do not qualify for asylum, even if they are not Tunisian. In addition, EU leaders want to prevent people from getting on boats. Therefore, Tunisia must ensure better border security and tackle people smuggling. There will be an additional 100 million for border security, rescue operations and the return of migrants.

Meloni also said she wanted to help Tunisia apply for a loan from the International Monetary Fund. Tunisian President Kais Saied had previously opposed some of the painful reforms that the International Monetary Fund wanted in return for another loan. “It is ironic that far-right Italy would defend Tunisia internationally, as long as it agrees to a deal on immigration,” says Sami Zmni, a Belgian-Tunisian political science professor affiliated with Ghent University.

How is the deal responded to?

In Tunisia, the deal is viewed with mixed feelings, according to Al-Zimni. According to him, the Tunisians are well aware that this is Said’s way of legitimizing his power. In 2021, he dismisses the prime minister, taking all power into his hands. Saied could also use the deal to silence Europe when it comes to human rights abuses in the country, Zemni notes. Amnesty International said last year The Tunisian president undermines human rights.

Al-Zimni’s response to the deal is crystal clear: “Europe is allowing Tunisia to do some of its dirty work as a result of its failed immigration policies.” According to the political scientist, the deal is easy: “Then you export the authoritarian side of the European Union to a third party and you have no voyeurs. No one can look closely at the abuses and abuses. And Europe washes its hands of innocence.”

Refugee Action in Flanders also warns against striking deals with countries such as Tunisia. Joost Depotre, Policy Coordinator for the Flemish Refugee Council, “holds his breath.” First of all, because it is not clear now what will happen to the people who are returned to Tunisia, but also because “the deal will be made with a problematic system that we now support and need.”

Warehouse understands where the bargain comes from: The EU wants to prevent member states from breaching the Refugee Convention and rejecting all refugees in the future. But he does not see a solution in the new immigration agreements. “The fundamental problem is that in our system we are held responsible for the first country people enter.” That has not changed: until now the responsibility remains with the border countries. He is therefore calling for a comprehensive review, with equal distribution across member states.

N-VA MP and former Minister of State for Asylum and Immigration Theo Franken responded on Radio 1 and Twitter. In addition to the recent agreement with Tunisia, we will have to conclude more agreements with North Africa to protect our European interests. This is the only way to stop illegal immigration.”

The government of Nicole de Maur (cd&v), Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration, has called for the need to work with Tunisia. “Migration cannot be managed alone, which is why partnerships with other countries outside Europe are necessary. The migration situation in Tunisia is complex because it is a country of origin, transit and destination. It is necessary to work with the state to prevent people from risking their lives by riding boat”.

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Denton Watson

"Friend of animals everywhere. Evil twitter fan. Pop culture evangelist. Introvert."

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