EU offers Tunisia aid package, strives for stricter border control

Adeyemi Adeyemi

Global Courant

The EU is considering a major financial package for the poor nation amid a growing refugee and migrant crisis.

The European Union is considering offering Tunisia about 900 million euros ($967 million) to support its economy, plus an immediate 150 million euros ($161 million) in budget support once a “necessary agreement is found,” said Ursula von der, head of of the European Commission. Leyen.

Together with von der Leyen, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni were in Tunisia on Sunday for talks with the country’s president, Kais Saied.

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Meloni, who visited Tunisia alone on June 6 on a similar mission, urged the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other countries to help Tunisia.

Tunisia’s financial worries

The statement comes two days after Meloni said Europe may see a wave of refugees and migrants from North Africa if financial stability in Tunisia is not safeguarded.

Italy is a common destination for refugees and migrants who have fled from across Africa and the Middle East to gather at departure points such as Tunisia to try to reach safety in Europe.

Tunisia agreed to a loan from the IMF, but then rejected the terms, with Saied saying the requested cuts in subsidies and the restructuring of state-owned enterprises could spark social unrest.

From left to right: Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Tunisian President Kais Saied and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni in Tunis, June 11, 2023 (Italian Premier Office/via AP)

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Any new deal based on various reforms could take months longer to negotiate, and Meloni has urged the IMF to ease its terms for Tunisia.

Earlier this month, Saied proposed taxing the country’s wealthiest citizens to circumvent the IMF’s “foreign dictates.”

A range of longer-term European investments – including ongoing plans for a €150 million digital cable connection to Europe and a €300 million renewable energy export project – were also discussed.

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Von der Leyen said the EU will also expand opportunities for young Tunisians to study, work and train in the EU to help them develop skills that can be used to boost the Tunisian economy. No mention was made of facilitating visa applications.

Dead off the Tunisian coast

One of the priorities von der Leyen mentioned was 100 million euros ($107 million) that the EU is ready to give to Tunisia this year for border management, search and rescue, and return “rooted in respect for human rights” to tackle migration grab.

A day before the visit, Saied had made a surprise visit to the Tunisian coastal town of Sfax – a departure point for refugees seeking safety in Europe – where he stated that Tunisia would not become a border guard for other countries.

Days earlier, five African civilians died and many more went missing after three boats carrying refugees and migrants sank off the coast of Sfax.

Coastguard workers collect the body of someone they believe was a refugee or migrant in Sfax, Tunisia, on April 26, 2023 (Jihed Abidellaoui/Reuters)

The coast at Sfax has become an important starting point for people fleeing poverty and conflict in Africa and the Middle East in hopes of a future in Europe.

In March, 29 asylum seekers died during the same journey.

Refugees and migrants are making the perilous journey from Tunisia in unprecedented numbers, with Tunisian authorities saying they stopped 13,000 people from crossing from Sfax in the first three months of this year.

EU offers Tunisia aid package, strives for stricter border control

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