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EU considering major Tunisia aid package as migration surges

June 11, 2023 at 3:16 pm

President of European Commission Ursula von der Leyen gives a speech in Brussels, Belgium. [Dursun Aydemir – Anadolu Agency]

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, announced yesterday that the European Union will provide financial support to Tunisia to bolster its struggling economy and combat migration in the wake of controversial statements made by Tunisian President Kais Saied. Von der Leyen made her comment while leading a European delegation to Tunisia.

The German official said that the EU will provide up to €900 million to support the struggling Tunisian economy and an extra €150m to support the budget once a necessary agreement is reached. She added that the EU is also prepared to offer €100m to Tunisia to assist in border management, search and rescue operations, anti-smuggling measures, and return initiatives to address the issue of migration.

Von der Leyen arrived in Tunisia on Sunday accompanied by the Dutch and Italian Prime Ministers. Tunisia plays a crucial role in containing illegal migration across the Mediterranean to European shores. Before meeting President Kais Saied, the EU leader along with Mark Rutte and Georgia Meloni were received by Tunisian Prime Minister Najla Bouden. Brussels clarified that the delegation was intended to discuss a “cooperation agreement in the fields of economy, energy, and migration.”

Tunisia remains a source of concern for Europe, particularly Italy, due to its economic difficulties and the looming threat of more migrants crossing from the North African country.

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The European delegation arrived after comments by Saied on Saturday evening during a surprise visit to Sfax, the Tunisian city from which most irregular migrants have left for Europe since the beginning of this year. The president affirmed his refusal for Tunisia to serve as “Europe’s border guard.”

The solution, said Saied, should not come at the expense of the Tunisian state. “We protect these individuals [migrants] and do not tolerate any harm to be done to them, but they must also abide by the law. I was with a number of Africans, and we are Africans too; they are our brothers, and we respect them, but the situation that Tunisia is experiencing is not normal, and there must be an end to these inhumane conditions.” He stressed that the solution can only be humanitarian and collective, based on humanitarian standards but within the framework of state law.

In February, the Tunisian president spoke about the “hordes” of irregular migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, considering them to be a source of “violence and crimes” and part of a “criminal arrangement” aimed at “changing Tunisia’s demographic composition.” This was followed by an escalation in attacks on African migrants, with dozens heading to their embassies to request evacuation from Tunisia.

After facing criticism from human rights organisations and the international community, including a statement from the African Union Commission, the Tunisian president backtracked on his comments, emphasising that he is “not racist” and that “Africa is for all Africans.” At the same time, he announced several measures to benefit migrants in his country, although human rights organisations downplayed their significance.

READ: Italy to provide $760m to support vital sectors in Tunisia