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Amnesty warns EU against its silence towards rights abuses in Tunisia

September 26, 2023 at 8:56 am

Image of an Amnesty International rally, 28 July 2017 [Richard Potts/Flickr]

Amnesty International has warned the European Union against remaining silent towards human rights abuses in Tunisia.

“As the representatives of so-called ‘Team Europe’ were shaking Tunisian President Kais Saied’s hand this July, hundreds of refugees and migrants were stranded in the country’s desert border areas with Libya, after its security forces rounded them up and abandoned them there without access to food, water or shelter,” Amnesty International said.

“European leaders were in Tunisia to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), aiming to curb migration to Europe,” Amnesty said, adding: “And in exchange they offered Tunisia €105 million for ‘border management,’ and nearly €1 billion in additional loans and financial support amid the country’s unprecedented economic crisis.”

“While Tunisia and the European Union are discussing how to implement the deal, its human costs are already apparent. And as Europe turns a blind eye to the growing repression of human rights in the country, people in Tunisia — including asylum seekers, refugees and other migrants — are paying a heavy price.”

The rights group said: “Even after the agreement was reached, Tunisian authorities continued to force migrants to the Libyan border, where many languished in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, with international media reporting numerous deaths.”

“Shockingly, EU leaders have yet to publicly condemn these violations,” it continued.

“Instead, the European Commission has committed to cooperating with the Tunisian authorities to prevent refugees and other migrants from reaching Europe, knowing full well that doing so will perpetuate the same violations — trapping asylum seekers, refugees and other migrants in abusive situations and contributing to the hostility they face in Tunisia.”

Amnesty stressed that “agreements aiming to contain people in non-EU countries don’t save lives, nor do they reduce people’s reliance on irregular routes.”

READ: Italy MEP condemns EU’s support for ‘eroding democracy’ in Tunisia

Such agreements lead to more difficulties and suffering inflicted on the migrants. “People on the move are forced to take more dangerous routes to avoid interception by authorities, while smugglers profit as refugees and other migrants increasingly rely on their services,” Amnesty stressed.

“Additionally, the EU’s agreement with Tunisia also risks legitimising Saied’s assault on rule of law and his ever-increasing repression of dissent,” the rights group warned.

“In the lead-up to the deal, European leaders grew increasingly silent as the Tunisian president dismantled nearly all institutional checks on executive power, issued decrees restricting free speech and granted himself powers over the judiciary.”

“The Tunisian authorities subjected scores of critics, opponents, lawyers, journalists and judges to arbitrary criminal investigation and restrictive measures, or jailed them.”

Amnesty insisted: “To ensure the EU doesn’t become complicit in rights abuses and repression, its engagement with partners on migration must be contingent on stringent human rights conditions, impact assessments and monitoring.”

“We need a balanced approach that meaningfully expands safe migration pathways and focuses on protecting rather than containing people.”

Saied has held nearly total power since 25 July 2021 when he sacked the prime minister, suspended parliament and assumed executive authority citing a national emergency.

The majority of the country’s political parties slammed the move as a “coup against the constitution” and the achievements of the 2011 revolution. Critics say Saied’s decisions have strengthened the powers of the presidency at the expense of parliament and the government, and that he aims to transform the country’s government into a presidential system.

On more than one occasion, Saied, who began a five-year presidential term in 2019, said that his exceptional decisions are not a coup, but rather measures within the framework of the constitution to protect the state from “imminent danger”.

READ: Italy MEP condemns EU’s support for ‘eroding democracy’ in Tunisia