EU-Tunisia migration deal migration 'greenlights' racism, autocracy: experts

EU-Tunisia migration deal migration 'greenlights' racism, autocracy: experts
4 min read
18 July, 2023
This deal came as Tunisian authorities have been under fire for dumping migrants on the scorching Sahara borders with reports of several fatalities and cases of sexual assaults.

The European Union and Tunisia have signed a memorandum of understanding for a "strategic and comprehensive partnership" on irregular migration and economic development, brushing over the migrants' crisis at the Tunisian borders.

"This deal is bad news for everyone: those who are trying to cross the Mediterranean safely, people in Tunisia who are now faced with an emboldened authoritarian leader, and the EU who has once again revealed political and moral bankruptcy," argues Maryem Salehi, a researcher in transnational conflicts, in her interview with the New Arab.

On Sunday, Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, flanked by Italian PM Giorgia Meloni and her Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte posed with Tunisia's President Kais Saied at Carthage palace after sealing €1bn deal to stem deadly irregular migration.

Unlike their back-to-back visits last month, this time, the European leaders' arrival to Tunis was not publicly announced, nor were the terms of the signed accord.

"We learned of the signing of the agreement via Ursula von der Leyen's tweet on Sunday. It is an agreement between one person and the European Union," denounced Romdhane Ben Amor, head of the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights, in a statement to French Daily Le Monde.

The European Commission website later shared the agreement's three-page text on Sunday, with the last paragraph dedicated to "migration and mobility."

"Both parties agree to continue working together to address the challenges posed by the increase in irregular migration in Tunisia and the EU, recognising the efforts made and the results achieved by the Tunisian authorities," reads the MoU's text.

This deal came as Tunisian authorities have been under fire for dumping migrants on the scorching Sahara borders, with reports of several fatalities and cases of sexual assaults.

The MoU's text did not guarantee any rights or protection for the Sub-Saharan migrants living in Tunisia who have been pledging for the West's help since Kais Saied's infamous "Grand Remplacement" speech.

In February, President Siaed accused "hordes" of migrants from sub-Saharan African countries of a "plot" to change the country's demographic makeup. 

The anti-black migrants' racism arose in the country since then, leading to the death of a Tunisian man in clashes with migrants in July.

Since then, hundreds of migrants fled their homes in Tunisia or were forcibly evicted and driven to desert areas along the borders with Algeria and Libya, left to fend for themselves in searing heat.

A Grim Future for Black Migrants and Tunisians

Tunisia lies about 130 kilometres from the Italian island of Lampedusa. It has long been a critical departure point for migrants risking perilous sea journeys on makeshift boats in hopes of reaching Europe.

Also, it is home to tens of thousands of Sub-Saharan migrants who walked from their countries through the Sahara to reach the North African state, hoping to build a secure spot in the migration boats leaving from the Tunisian ports;

According to the International Organisation for Migration, 2,406 migrants died or disappeared in the Mediterranean in 2022, while at least 1,166 deaths or disappearances were recorded in the first half of 2023.

While the deal covers financial aid to schools in Tunisia and renewable energy initiatives, argues the writer of Transitional Justice in Process in Tunisia, Mariam Salehi, "it lacks accountability for Saied's rising authoritarian and racist policy in Tunisia."

"It's evident that both TeamEurope and the Tunisian presidency benefit from some ambiguity about the details and practicalities of their partnership. But the fact that the whole EU side flew down TWICE without a real press conference, full text or briefing, is farcical," wrote MaxGallien, a political economy expert.

Several times, Saied has made it firm and clear that Tunisia will not become a host country for the ten of thousands of Sub-Saharan migrants living in the country. 

With the new migration aid declared, the future of black migrants in the country remains obscure.

"It is indeed a grim future not only for migrants but also Tunisians. Democracy and Human Rights are under greater threat after Europe's support for Saied," added Salehi.