Tunisia deal unlikely to reduce illegal migration

Ilse van Liempt /July 2023

Experts doubt whether Sunday’s migration agreement with Tunisia will help reduce the number of people trying to reach the European Union, the Financieele Dagblad reported on Thursday.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, Italy’s Giorgia Meloni, commission president Ursula von der Leyen, and Tunisian president Kais Saied reached the agreement on Sunday, in which Tunisia agreed to do more to stop potential migrants in return for economic aid. 

Rutte has described the deal as a milestone that will stop people smugglers and reduce illegal migration. But experts told the FD they have real doubts. 

“The agreement does not state how the numbers of migrants are to be reduced,” said Gerald Knaus, architect of the 2016 EU-Turkey migration deal, who is also unenthusiastic about the plan. “It is a very vague text.”

 The FD points out that Tunisia has a poor human rights record. And since Sunday at least three videos have already emerged showing how Tunisian security forces forced migrants, including children, to walk into the desert without food or drink at gunpoint. 

Dutch refugee agency Vluchtelingenwerk has also warned of the potential domino effect. “Europe is turning Tunisia into a dead-end street for refugees and migrants,” the agency said.

“There is no working asylum system and we are very worried what this deal will mean. Previous migration deals, such as with Libya, have also gone horribly wrong.”

Ilse van Liempt, points out that the current migration route through Tunisia came about after Italy struck a deal with Libya in 2017. Before that, Morocco was a major route for people wishing to enter Europe. She also believes that the people smugglers will benefit. 

‘The problem will shift,’

‘We have seen in the past that if a country stops people from passing through, they will look for other routes.”

“ If migrants become more dependent on smugglers, which is happening now, they can charge more money. The more border controls are tightened up, the more opportunities there are for people smugglers.”

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