The EU and Tunisia sign an agreement in principle to contain the rise of irregular migration in the Mediterranean | International

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The baptized as Team Europe, an EU troika made up of the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen; The Italian Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, and the outgoing head of Government of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, signed a principle of agreement on migration this Sunday in Tunis, the economic scope of which is still pending. The EU had offered the North African country more than one billion euros of aid last month to contain the rebound in small boats in the central Mediterranean, but the contribution from Brussels has not yet been defined. The president of the Commission limited herself to mentioning five sectoral pillars of financing that add up to 300 million euros, according to a European statement. Von der Leyen referred to migration, digitization, energy, human exchange, and development, without breaking down items.

The three European officials have once again traveled to the Tunisian capital to meet with President Kais Said, to whom they already made an economic offer on June 11, as a way to get the Maghrebi country out of bankruptcy. The controversial president then opposed acting as a "border guard" for Europe, on whose southern Italian coasts nearly 70,000 irregular migrants from Tunisia have disembarked so far this year.

The Commission President emphasized: "We remain ready to support Tunisia by mobilizing macro-financial assistance as soon as the necessary conditions are met." After more than a month, a “strategic partnership” agreement has been reached to combat human trafficking. “It has been agreed that Tunisia will better protect its borders in exchange for investment from the EU. This money is also destined to improve the Tunisian economy," Rutte said on social media.

Faced with the massive arrival of migrants in makeshift boats from Tunisia to the Italian coasts, Prime Minister Meloni, a radical populist and supporter of imposing restrictions on migrants, has traveled to the Tunisian capital for the third time. The liberal Rutte is visiting the country for the second time, but is now preparing to leave the Dutch government after more than a decade in power. He must abandon it precisely because of the divergences on immigration in the coalition that supported him.

The deployment of the European troika launches an unprecedented model of financial rescue, in coordination with the International Monetary Fund, in the case of Tunisia, in exchange for the containment of the departure of small boats to the island of Lampedusa, located half a day sailing on a motorboat off the eastern Tunisian coast, where 1,400 migrants arrived on the night of Saturday to Sunday alone, according to the Efe news agency.

The EU already announced in June that it plans to provide a financial assistance package of 900 million euros "for Tunisia to carry out the reforms promoted by means of an IMF loan, worth 1.9 billion dollars (about 1.7 billion euros). This loan entails a high social and employment cost in the North African country, since it requires cutting subsidies for basic products and liquidating public sector companies that act as monopolies. The EU is ready to urgently mobilize €150 million in budget support for the reform agenda that Tunisia needs to address.

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The Europe Team also put on the table an additional package of 105 million euros – triple the annual funding of the last two years in terms of migration – for border control programs, registrations and returns. Von der Leyen defined them in June as "projects against human trafficking mafias." While the migration agreement is being finalized, the troika has anticipated the deployment of other economic support measures to invest 150 million in a digital telecommunications submarine cable and another 350 million for energy connections and renewable energy, included in the five pillars of cooperation.

The European Council held at the end of June should have endorsed a migration agreement with Tunisia, but the demands of President Said, who has also vetoed the signing of the loan with the IMF, have forced the negotiations to be prolonged. On the other hand, at the biannual summit of the leaders of the Twenty-seven, they advocated using the agreement with Tunisia as a model for other countries that register migratory tension.

In recent weeks, however, the contained pressure in the city of Sfax, the epicenter of irregular migration in the central Mediterranean, 270 kilometers south of the capital of Tunis, has exploded with echoes of persecution against thousands of sub-Saharans. Hundreds of West African migrants have been expelled by authorities in the port city to a desert area on the Libyan border following a wave of violence in which a Tunisian citizen was stabbed to death earlier this month. Many of the more than 10,000 sub-Saharan Africans waiting in Sfax to board a small boat to the Italian coast regrouped at the railway station to try to escape a city taken over by security forces, amid growing harassment.

Faced with this situation, members of the European Parliament have questioned the fact that the EU finances a financial aid package for Tunisia while its authorities expel migrants and refugees. Citizens of the Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Mali, Chad and Guinea-Conakry, including women and minors, were forcibly transferred to Ben Gardane, in a desert area bordering Libya. The Tunisian Red Crescent has taken charge of 650 expelled sub-Saharans in recent days and evacuated them to safe areas in the south of the country, where they have accommodation, food and water.

President Said has warned that Tunisia refuses to become "a country of transit to Europe or resettlement of citizens of some African countries." After having dissolved Parliament to rule by decree since 2021 and after unleashing a wave of arrests of critics and dissidents, Said himself lashed out in February against irregular sub-Saharan immigrants. "There is a criminal plan designed since the beginning of the century aimed at altering the demographic composition of Tunisia to transform it into a simple African country with no ties to the Arab and Islamic world," he warned before the National Security Council.

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