Tunis, July 17, 2023: The European Union (EU) and Tunisia on Sunday signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) aimed at combating irregular migration in return for an aid package to the North African country.
Tunisia is a major route for migrants.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Tunisian President Kais Saied announced the deal following talks in Tunis.
It clears the way for financial aid of up to €900 million ($1.01 billion) from the EU for the economically ailing country.
The three European officials made their second visit to Tunisia in a month on Sunday and held renewed talks with Saied.
Tunisia’s state news agency TAP reported that Saied and the three visiting officials attended a ceremony for the signing of a memorandum of understanding about a “strategic and comprehensive” partnership between Tunisia and the EU.
“Our teams have worked very hard to deliver rapidly on a strong package.
“This is an investment in our shared prosperity, stability and in future generations,” von der Leyen said, referring to the memorandum.
“We have a good package. Now it’s time to implement it,” she added at a joint press conference.
Saied said there is the utmost need for a collective agreement on what he called “inhuman migration” for which he blamed criminal networks.
“This memorandum should be coupled at the earliest time by a set of binding agreements emanating from its principles,” he added at the same news conference.
Last month, the three European leaders visited Tunisia, and the European Commission said at the time it was supporting Tunisia with an aid package of up to €900 million as the country is roiled by economic woes and rising numbers of migrants using it as a launchpad to reach Europe.
The package was announced by von der Leyen, who also said the EU would provide Tunisia with €105 million for the year 2023 to curb irregular migration.
The support is nearly three times the annual average of EU migration funding for Tunisia of the past two years, the commission said.
As of Friday, the Italian Ministry of the Interior counted more than 75,000 boat migrants who had arrived on the Italian coast since the beginning of the year against around 31,900 in the same period last year.
Many Tunisians trying to make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to Italy are pushed to migrate by a worsening economic crisis and high levels of unemployment.
A $1.9-billion dollar from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to Tunisia is still pending.
Saied rejected the reforms demanded by the IMF and said they could cause the situation to “explode” with serious consequences for the stability of Tunisia and the region.
Italy’s Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani recently emphasised that an agreement between Tunisia and the EU not only aims to solve the migration issue, but also to promote growth and stability in the country.
Work is being done to ensure that the Mediterranean is no longer a cemetery, but a “sea of peace.”
He said Tunisia should then be a “protagonist in the fight against human traffickers.”
Growing numbers of migrants have sought to leave Tunisia since Saied announced a tougher crackdown on them in February.
At the time, he accused them of bringing violence and crime into the country.
Since then, hostilities and racist attacks have increased.