The European Union (EU) and the Tunisian government signed a “strategic partnership” agreement on Monday aimed at addressing immigration and strengthening economic cooperation, prompting outrage from humanitarian organisations who condemn the EU for perpetuating failed policies.
EU pledged to provide 100 million euros ($112 million) in aid to Tunisia, allocated to combating undocumented immigration, the modernisation of Tunisian schools and provision for student exchanges. The move bears similarities to a 2016 EU-Turkey readmission deal.
The new agreement has drawn intense scrutiny against a backdrop of Tunisian authorities’ escalating violence and human rights abuses against sub-Saharan African migrants.
Even as talks were underway, Tunisian authorities reportedly left hundreds of individuals, including vulnerable children, stranded at the desert borders of Tunisia deprived of basic necessities such as water, food, and shelter.
Critics argue the EU’s latest move demonstrates a failure to learn from past agreements, effectively implicating the bloc in the ensuing immigration crisis.
Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office Advocacy Director Eve Geddie accused the EU of prioritising containment and the outsourcing of border control over the establishment of safe and legal routes for individuals seeking secure passage across borders. EU leaders were further criticised by Geddie for perpetuating failed policies rooted in a callous disregard for basic human rights standards.
“This ill-judged agreement, signed despite mounting evidence of serious human rights abuses by authorities, will result in a dangerous expansion of already failed migration policies and signals EU acceptance of increasingly repressive behaviour by Tunisia’s president and government,” she said.
Non-governmental organisation (NGO) Alarm Phone, a hotline for at risk deportees and attempted Mediterranean Sea crossing distress calls, also slammed the EU for signing the agreement while being fully aware of the “atrocities being perpetrated by the Tunisian government”.
Sea-faring rescue NGO Resqship, responding to news of Monday’s agreement, said, “Tunisia is to become another EU gatekeeper violently preventing people from fleeing. To close this multi-million dollar deal with a country that hunts down Black people, simply abandons them in the desert and arrests them en masse, is a crime and betrayal of people and humanity.”
According to European border agency Frontex, the Central Mediterranean route has been the most active path used by refugees to reach the EU this year, with nearly 66,000 detections reported in the first six months of 2023.
The Central Mediterranean route connects North African countries, including Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, and Libya, to Italy and Malta. More than 400 refugees have drowned in attempted Central Mediterranean crossings during the first quarter of this year, marking the deadliest quarter since 2017, according to the United Nations.