Deal With Tunisia: The European Union’s Latest Attempt To Externalize Its Refugee Problems

On July 16th, the E.U. finalized a deal with Tunisia which encompasses better economic relations, and, more importantly, the attempt to stop migrants from crossing the Mediterranean Sea. E.U. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, alongside Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, met with Tunisian President Kais Saied and signed this agreement, which covers five pillars: migration, macro-economic stability, trade and investment, green energy transition, and people-to-people contacts. von der Leyen also stated in June that the E.U. was willing to provide Tunisia with 1 billion Euro. Around 105 million Euro are meant to help Tunisia deal with people smugglers and controlling migration.

“Migration is a significant element of the agreement we have signed today,” Rutte told the press, adding that “it is essential to gain more control of irregular migration.”

But is the E.U. really gaining control over the situation? Or is it just trying to keep the problem away from its border, outsourcing dealing with migrants to Tunisia?

Tunisia is a key route for migrants who try to come to Europe. In “What an E.U.-Tunisia migration deal would mean for refugees,” a blog post written for the London School of Economics and Political Science, Sarah Wollf and Florian Trauner reported that E.U. member states use deals with third countries in order to stop migrants coming to Europe over the Mediterranean Sea. In 2016, for example, the E.U. struck a deal with Turkey, providing financial assistance in return for Turkey’s handling of Syrian refugees. In 2017, the E.U. permitted a deal between Italy and Libya funding the Libyan coast guard, to bring refugee boats back to Libya. The deal with Tunisia represents another E.U. attempt to outsource the handling of migrants and to keep them away from the European border.

While certain parts of the agreement are sensible, such as supporting Tunisia’s macro-economic stability, fostering the nation’s renewable energy production, and ensuring that Tunisians will have easier access to visas for E.U. countries, the part about migrants is questionable. “E.U. leaders are once again embarking on failed policies that are based on callous disregard for basic human rights standards,” said Eve Geddie, European Institutions Advocacy Director at Amnesty International. The organization has heavily criticized the deal, pointing to Tunisia’s horrendous treatment of migrants and, in particular, a July 17th report that Tunisian guards had left dozens of these refugees in the desert without water, food, or shelter. Thankfully, Libyan border guards were able to rescue these people in time. However, the question arises: how can the E.U. work with a country that violates human rights and treats migrants so inhumanely?

Migration is and will always be an inflamed topic. Furthermore, due to the climate crisis and ongoing conflicts around the world, the flow of migration to Europe will only intensify. The E.U. is correct that something has to be done to stop people smugglers and other exploiters from taking advantage of the refugees, but Tunisia’s appalling human rights violations show that sending people there is not the right solution to the problems arising around the Mediterranean Sea.

No human being flees their home unless they have to. It is therefore the European Union’s obligation to help those in need. The E.U.’s measure to welcome refugees from Ukraine has shown that its member states are able to host refugees, but this openness also needs to be expanded to refugees coming from other parts of the world. Instead of externalizing its problems to third countries who have records of human rights violations, the E.U. should finance rescue missions to help the migrants and welcome them to Europe.


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