The EU has signed off on a €1bn (£860m) deal with Tunisia to help stem irregular migration, as the president of the north African country denounced those who offer migrants “sympathy without respect” for their goal to have equity in life.
Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, hailed the deal with Tunisia, including significant measures to stem deadly irregular migration across the mediterranean, as an investment in shared prosperity and stability.
The partnership with Tunisia on migration comes just days after the country’s president, Kais Saied, revealed the “shocking” scale of people-smuggling in his country, with officials revealing it was worth about £760m in the first half of 2023 in remittances from sub-Saharan Africa.
Unveiling the deal in Tunisia in Sunday evening flanked by Von der Leyen and the prime ministers of Italy and the Netherlands, Saied denounced humanitarian organisations as spreading false facts on Tunisia instead of focusing their efforts on the criminal gangs behind the deadly business.
He said people all over the world shared a need for coexistence and effective equity in their futures along with respect rather than sympathy.
Thousands of undocumented people have headed for the coastal city of Sfax in recent months with the goal of setting off for Europe in boats run by human traffickers, leading to an unprecedented migration crisis for Tunisia.
Libyan border guards have rescued dozens of people they say had been left in the desert by Tunisian authorities without water, food or shelter, Agence France-Presse reported on Sunday.
The three EU leaders flew to Tunisia on Sunday to sign a memorandum of understanding on a €1bn package agreed in June amid continuing controversy over the north African country’s human rights record.
Details included an agreement to resume talks on an association agreement between the EU and Tunisia and to give Tunisian students access to the Erasmus exchange programme.
The €1bn package contained a significant element on strengthening efforts to combat the criminal gangs involved in trafficking and people-smuggling, said Rutte.
Giorgia Meloni, the far-right Italian leader, hailed the deal with Tunisia as a model for new relations with north African countries, adding that she said this with “a level of pride but a level of gratitude”.