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Partnering with Tunisia, the EU persists in its ill-guided politics to keep people out of its territory

October 6, 2023 | Positions
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The EU must stop signing agreements with third countries demonstrating human rights violations as
it tries to stop migrants from arriving to Europe.


The EU officially announced the past 16th of July the signature of a Memorandum of Understanding for
a ‘’comprehensive partnership package’’ with Tunisia. Organised in three main axes (economic and
trade ties; green transition; migration and ‘’people-to-people contacts’’), the deal overall aims to
strengthen economic ties while combating irregular migration to and from Tunisia. Other priorities
include search and rescue, the fight against smugglers and human traffickers, and ”strengthening
border management, registration and return in full respect of human rights”. The overall promised
funding amounts to over 1 billion euros, with an announced 100 million for the migration component
in 2023 only.

Tunisia, a proven dangerous country for Black migrants

At the time of this political agreement, the occurrence of racially motivated violence against Black
people in Tunisia was a well-known fact. The Tunisian President’s speech of the past 21st February was
filled with racist arguments as he spoke of the ‘’hordes of irregular migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa’’,
alleging that they come to Tunisia bringing ‘’violence, crime and unacceptable practices’’, and making
the argument that this situation is part of a plan to ‘’change the demographic make-up’’ of the country.
These Racist accusations ignited a wave of violence in Tunisia against Black Africans.

The repression against Sub-Saharan migrants in the country did not stop there. More recently, reports
have emerged of the Tunisian police putting migrants in buses to be expelled to the desert area
between Libya and Tunisia. Several hundreds of people, including families and children, were left in
the desert under scorching hot temperatures, with barely any water or food, and some with injuries
they said were inflicted by the Tunisian police. A reported 27 people died. Similar expulsions have
been reported at the border with Algeria. As Human Rights Watch puts it in simple terms: ‘’ Tunisia is
no safe haven for Black African migrants’’. The Tunisian police, military and national guards,
prominent actors in the country’s migration operations, are guilty of countless abuses toward Black
migrants. Tunisia is not a safe country, it is not suitable for returns, readmission or disembarkation,
and is definitely not a suitable country for the EU to cooperate with on migration issues.

EU leaders could not have ignored the clampdown on Black migrants going on in the country. Instead
of denouncing it, some of them have chosen to partner with the country in preventing people
transiting through Tunisia trying to reach Europe, knowing that it would leave them trapped in a hostile
country, or left pushed out with their lives at risk. By signing this agreement despite ample evidence
of the violations of rights taking place in Tunisia, the EU not only legitimizes these violations, but it
allows them to continue with EU technical support and funding.

A decade-long practice of externalising migration to neighbouring countries, at the cost of human

Generally, this agreement is yet another manifestation of the pursuit of a doomed policy aimed at
restricting migrants access to Europe, with complete indifference to human rights standards. The deal
is not the first of its kind and takes place in a broader context of externalising the management of EU
borders. ‘’Partnerships’’ in view of stemming migration flows to Europe were signed in the past with
Tunisia itself, Turkey, Libya and more recently Morocco and Egypt. The walls of Fortress Europe actually
extend as far as Senegal or Niger. In total 26 African countries have received some form of EU support
to prevent migrants from accessing EU territory. As the European Network Against Racism explains,
border externalisation ‘’has become a standard enforcement tool in the global north’’, fueled by
ethnonationalist, racialised and xenophobic politics aimed at keeping some nationalities or ethnic
groups out of certain parts of the world. The practice of externalisation is not only wrong in its
objectives, the very method of outsourcing creates dangerous loopholes in terms of transparency and
accountability. As is the case with the EU-Tunisia MoU, there is generally no mechanism to monitor
the respect of human rights in the partner country. Eventually, ”the practice of paying third countries
to manage flows of irregular migration to Europe does not address the root of the problem – the
lack of regular, structural pathways for people to come to Europe safely”, says Mikael Leyi, Secretary
General of SOLIDAR. ”People pay thousands and put their life at risk to be smuggled across a desert
or a sea because it is the only option Europe leaves them.”

As of 22nd of September, the first sum of 127million euros was released to Tunisia under the MoU, and
the Commission’s 10-point-plan-for-Lampedusa, indicate no will to back away from the deal. The fact
that a Commission delegation was denied entry in the country will most likely create more uproar
and prove a more effective halting factor of the EU-Tunisia cooperation on migration than any
violation of black people’s rights could.

In order for the EU to live up to its human rights commitments, it must:

  • Suspend and eventually withdraw from the Memorandum of Understanding.
  • Monitor the human rights situation in Tunisia, in consultation with civil society, and take the
    appropriate actions available to protect people on the move there.
  • Abandon the practice of externalising EU border management and responsibility to EU
    neighbouring countries.
  • Expand safe, regular, structural pathways for migration to Europe, including for protection


  • Movimiento por la Paz – MPDL
  • Diáspora
  • Migration Consortium
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