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French, German ministers in Tunisia to discuss migrant issue

French, German interior ministers in Tunisia to 'tackle migrant boat crossings'
MENA
3 min read
19 June, 2023
The European ministers’ visit comes on the heels of the tragic sinking of a migrants’ boat on the southern coast of Greece.
Tunisia has seen rising numbers of migrants attempting to reach Europe from its shores [Getty]

The French and German interior ministers arrived in Tunisia on Sunday for talks on security and migration with President Kais Saied and other leading Tunisian officials.

The talks have been touted as an attempt by EU states to prevent migrants from North Africa reaching Europe by boat.

France's Gérald Darmanin and Germany's Nancy Faeser will meet with their Tunisian counterpart Kamel Feki as well as President Saied on Monday.

Saied has been criticised for "racist" anti-immigration rhetoric in the past, while Europe is under fire for a migrant boat disaster off the coast of Greece last week. 

"The reason for a joint trip is that we want to work together as Europeans because it is not national responses that will enable us to combat illegal immigration," Darmanin told French media.

France and Germany will continue discussions on "better cooperation in managing irregular migratory flows, within the full sovereignty of each party", he added.

With more and more migrants departing from Tunisian shores this year, EU member states are seeking tighter border controls from Tunis.

Last week, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen met in Tunis with the heads of the Italian and Dutch governments, Giorgia Meloni and Mark Rutte.

Von der Leyen announced that Tunisia would receive "€100 million for border control and search and rescue" from this year as part of a broader plan that could see €900 million invested in the country, which is experiencing extreme financial difficulties.

This comes despite huge criticism of Saied's "authoritarian" rule in Tunisia, which has seen dozens of perceived government critics jailed.

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The EU is concerned that without the funds, Tunisia could face a more severe financial crisis, leading to more migrants attempting the dangerous crossing to Europe.

Talks between Tunisia and the IMF on a possible loan stalled months ago when President Saied rejected proposed terms, suggesting instead that the country's economic crisis could be solved by taxing the rich.

The European ministers' visit comes on the heels of the sinking of a boat carrying migrants off Greece's southern coast with more than 500 passengers presumed dead.

The incident has renewed criticism of Europe’s years-long failure to prevent migration tragedies in a humane way.

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The UN migration agency said it would be the second-deadliest migrant shipwreck ever recorded. In April 2015, a boat crossing from Libya to Italy capsized killing an estimated 1,100 people.

A statement from Faeser about her trip to North Africa with Darmanin promised "creating legal migration routes in order to remove the basis for the inhumane business of smugglers".

Earlier this month, Saied stressed that he is ready to cooperate with Europe on migration but would not accept Tunisia becoming a border guard for other countries.

Tunisian NGOs and families who lost their relatives in Mediterranean boat crossings have protested the wave of European visits to the country, arguing that their policies will lead to more fatalities at sea and deportations.

The European ministers are expected to release a joint announcement on Monday "to help Tunisia in its fight against illegal immigration".