PM Rutte calls EU’s migration deal with Tunisia a “true milestone”

The European Union and Tunisia have reached an agreement on migration. In exchange for hundreds of millions of euros, Tunisia will take measures to stop the clandestine crossing of migrants. Prime Minister Mark Rutte spoke of a “true milestone.”

He had flown to the North African country with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on Sunday to clear the last obstacles to the deal. They were also in Tunis a month ago but then failed to reach an agreement.

“This is an investment in our common prosperity, stability, and future generations,” Von der Leyen said on Sunday after signing the agreement. Aided by smugglers, migrants depart from Tunisia to Italy. They usually then travel on to other EU Member States.

In addition to migration, they also made agreements on matters like energy and the economy. The EU invests money in, among other things, digitization, modernization of education, and sustainable energy projects in Tunisia, which is experiencing economic difficulties.

Tunisian President Kais Saied promised to implement the agreements quickly. Rutte said he was “extremely pleased” with the deal and expected broad approval from the other EU Member States. He also wants to strengthen ties between the Netherlands and Tunisia.

The deal is controversial. The autocratic president Saied suppresses the opposition. There is also strong criticism of the treatment of migrants in Tunisia. Earlier this month, hundreds of migrants were sent to the desert on the border with Libya after disturbances in the city of Sfax.

The EU-Tunisia Association Council is being revived to address human rights, Rutte told the press after his return. According to him, the cooperation between the EU and Tunisia follows all international treaties.

Rutte and Meloni paved the way in the EU for the agreement. They stimulated the discussion about how to approach migration. Rutte was under pressure from his own VVD, Meloni (leader of the right-wing radical Fratelli d’Italia) because of the high influx of migrants to her country.

During the three politicians’ visit a month ago, they promised Tunisia financial aid of up to 900 million euros in the form of loans. Another 100 million euros would soon become available for border control and returning migrants. To tackle the first problems, the country immediately.

The EU loans are linked to a 1.9 billion dollar reform program from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Agreements have yet to be made on this. Saied previously expressed objections to the IMF terms. He repeated these on Sunday.

Brussels wants to reach agreements of this kind with more countries. The Tunisia deal should serve as a blueprint in this regard. It is a “model for a new relationship with countries in North Africa,” Meloni said. In 2015, the EU concluded a less broad migration deal with Turkey.

Refugee, human rights groups very critical

VluchtelingenWerk Nederland, the Refugee Foundation, and Amnesty International are very critical of the migration deal between the EU and Tunisia. They fear the North African country will not respect the human rights of asylum seekers and migrants.

“This is a historic development and not one of the good kind. The history books will tell. It is completely unbelievable that the human rights of asylum seekers and migrants will be respected in Tunisia, no matter how much money is involved,” said VluchtelingenWerk, the Netherlands’ council for refugees. “Closing these kinds of migration deals means breaking down the principle of international refugee protection.”

The organization points out that Europe is turning Tunisia into “a kind of dead end” for migrants and asylum seekers. “It will be very important to Tunisia to prevent that and to deter people.” According to VluctheligenWerk, black Africans are already blamed for the country’s many problems and face racist violence and discrimination. “We are very concerned about what this deal will bring about.”

Director Tineke Celeen of the Refugee Foundation said on Twitter: “‘With all due respect for human rights of course,’ Rutte said earlier about this deal with a man who puts his opposition behind bars, calls for violence against migrants, makes life difficult for the media and aid organizations, and leaves people without water in the desert. Of course.”

“No deals with dictators on the backs of asylum seekers and migrants,” is what her foundation advocates for. “Commit to guaranteeing human rights, including those of the Tunisian people. Never use refugees and migrants as political currency.”

Amnesty International thinks that people smugglers will particularly benefit from the deal. “As long as there are no legal migration routes, asylum seekers and migrants will continue to count on people smugglers. Moreover, it remains to be seen how the EU and Tunisia will tackle people smuggling.”

The human rights organization thinks it no coincidence that the term deal was chosen and not treaty or agreement. “With this, Europe thinks it has its hands free. Now that the deal has been concluded, the goal has been achieved, and European leaders prefer not to look back. Let Europe, with Rutte at the forefront, look in a mirror and restore dignity in agreements about people on the run.”

Reporting by ANP

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