Brussels sends $135m to Tunisia as part of migration pact

First payment will be made within days in deal to fight illegal immigration from Africa to Europe

An Italian coastguard boat carrying migrants near the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, on September 18.  AP
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The European Commission on Friday said it would allocate €127 million ($135 million) in aid to Tunisia as part of its deal with the country aimed at fighting illegal immigration from Africa to Europe.

The announcements comes less than one week after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen promised to accelerate the implementation of a memorandum of understanding signed with Tunisia in July, after a surge of migrants arrivals by boat to Italy.

The Commission said €60 million would be made available in budget support to Tunisia, while a package worth around €67 million, aimed at strengthening Tunisia's capacities to combat human traffickers and tighten border controls, would be disbursed in the coming days.

Out of the €67 million package, €42 million is linked to the memorandum of understanding, which included a total of €105 million to fight irregular migration, according to Commission spokesperson Ana Pisonero.

“The package will be used for refitting boats, for instance,” Ms Pisonero told journalists in Brussels.

“We need to make sure that the search and rescue boats are really up to scratch and that they will be operational,” she said.

The budgetary support announced on Friday is related to ongoing projects and Tunisia's post-Covid economic recovery, added Ms Pisonero.

An extra €150 million has been promised in budgetary aid as part of the memorandum of understanding, but this package has yet to be approved by the EU.

The Commission said the funds had been unlocked following a phone call on Thursday between Neighbourhood and Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi and Tunisian Foreign Minister Nabil Ammar.

A delegation of Commission officials will visit Tunisia next week to discuss the implementation of the memorandum of understanding, in particular its priority actions.

Ms von der Leyen has said that pact with Tunisia could serve as a model for agreements with other countries, as the EU struggles to stem unauthorised flows of migrants across the Mediterranean.

But some EU lawmakers, Tunisian opposition figures and rights activists have criticised the deal, arguing it will not curb migration but will bolster the government of President Kais Saied, who they accuse of autocratic rule.

A European Parliament delegation was barred from entering Tunis last week.

Mr Saied said that “those who come from abroad to inspect” were “unwelcome and will not be allowed to enter”.

He seized wide-ranging powers in 2021, shutting down parliament before passing a new constitution that gives him near-total authority.

Mr Saied has said his actions were legal, and necessary to save Tunisia from chaos and rampant corruption.

Updated: September 22, 2023, 2:30 PM