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Is Tunisia Weaponizing Migrant Crisis in Italy?

Updated: Oct 5, 2023



Tunisia, a North African nation, is currently at the center of a political storm in Europe due to its role in the ongoing migrant crisis. Recent events, such as the evacuation of hundreds of migrants from Sfax harbor shortly after the visit of Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and European Union leader Ursula von der Leyen to the Italian island of Lampedusa, have raised concerns about Tunisia's involvement in manipulating the irregular migration issue in Europe.


Tunisia's geographical location has made it a crucial transit point for African migrants attempting to reach Europe, particularly Lampedusa, located just 188 kilometers away. The proximity of Sfax harbor to Lampedusa has made it an attractive departure point for those seeking to enter Europe without a visa.


The recent evacuation of migrants from Sfax harbor by Tunisian authorities sent a clear message to European politicians: Tunisia possesses significant leverage over the issue of irregular migration. The timing of this evacuation, immediately following the visit of von der Leyen and Meloni to Lampedusa, suggested that Tunisia could directly impact the flow of irregular immigrants into Europe.


To address the irregular migration issue, the European Union had entered into negotiations with Tunisia, with plans to allocate €100 million for border management, combating people smuggling, and search and rescue operations. This agreement also encompassed economic cooperation with Tunisia.


Despite the agreement, the irregular migration situation continues to escalate. Last week, approximately 6,800 migrants arrived on Lampedusa from Tunisia in just 24 hours, with over 127,000 irregular migrants reaching Italy by sea this year alone.


Johannes Kadura, head of the Tunis office of Germany's Friedrich Ebert Foundation, suggests that Tunisia's actions are deliberate and aimed at demonstrating its capacity to combat people smugglers and prevent migrants from setting sail. However, it is also possible that Tunisia may allow some migrants to depart for Europe, thereby exerting pressure on European nations.


The future of irregular migration toward the EU remains uncertain. Tunisia's economic challenges, racist remarks by its president, and violence within the country are driving factors for migrants seeking a better life in Europe.


Tunisia's handling of immigrants in recent times has attracted significant criticism. Instances of transporting migrants into the desert without food, water, or shelter and inflammatory statements about migrants by President Saied have drawn international condemnation.


Tunisia's refusal to grant entry to European Parliament politicians seeking to assess the human rights situation has further strained relations. In this evolving scenario, it is essential for all parties to prioritize humane treatment of migrants and cooperative efforts to address the root causes of irregular migration.


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