May 23. 2024. 7:18

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Italy and Tunisia forge stronger ties to tackle migration challenges


Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni embarked on a significant diplomatic mission to Tunis on Wednesday (17 April), where she solidified a partnership with President Kais Saied aimed at tackling migration challenges.

“Collaboration with Tunisia is absolutely a priority for Italy from many points of view and it is also a piece of the work that Italy is carrying out with the Mattei Plan,” Meloni said during a press conference in Tunis after meeting with Saied.

The Mattei Plan, a €5.5 billion project by Meloni’s government, aims to foster economic development in Africa, spur growth to mitigate irregular migration to Europe, and position Italy as an energy hub for transporting natural gas supplies from Africa to Europe. Tunisia is considered a “priority” in this plan.

Meloni stressed the importance of strengthening cooperation with Tunisia so that the country does not become an arrival point for migrants wanting to enter Europe. In this regard, she advocated involving international organisations and focusing not only on repatriations but also on regular migration flows.

“On the front of legal migration, I believe Italy can do much more,” Meloni said. “But it is crucial that we work together to continue fighting the slavers of the third millennium, the mafia organisations that exploit the legitimate aspirations of those seeking a better life.”

In addition to migration issues, agreements totaling €100 million were signed covering three areas: direct budget support for Tunisian state efficiency in energy and renewable energies, a credit line for Tunisian small and medium enterprises, and a memorandum of understanding between respective ministries of university and research.

This close collaboration demonstrates Italy’s ongoing commitment to supporting Tunisia, which is seen as a crucial element for Mediterranean and North African stability. Meloni’s visit to Tunis marks the fourth official meeting within a year, underscoring the deepening bilateral ties.

The intensification of relations with President Saied’s government highlights the significance recognized by the EU, largely propelled by Italian efforts, in relations with Tunisia.

According to analysts, the primary reason for European attention lies in the surge of irregular arrivals from Tunisia to Italy since last autumn. In 2023, over 50% of departures to Italian shores originated from Tunisia, reversing a trend that had long seen Libya as the main departure point in the Central Mediterranean.

The EU and Tunisia signed a memorandum on July 16 aiming, among other things, to address irregular migrant arrivals from the Mediterranean. Similar agreements have recently been inked with Egypt.

However, these initiatives are not without criticism. Amnesty International Italy’s spokesperson, Riccardo Noury, argued that agreements aimed at externalising border control with Southern Mediterranean states reward governments that violate human rights.

“The one with Tunisia all the more so, because it … is going to reward a leader, President Saied, whose racist and xenophobic rhetoric has become a push factor to leave the country. These agreements do not prevent departures; they only make them more deadly,” he said.

(Alessia Peretti, Simone Cantarini | Euractiv.it)

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