The European Union is offering financial assistance to Tunisia in order to improve its capabilities to keep migrants from crossing the Mediterranean from Africa into Europe, European Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Policy Olivér Várhelyi said on Tuesday.
He was speaking after a visit to the country together with Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, Italian Minister of Interior Luciana Lamorgese and Ylva Johansson, the EU commissioner for internal affairs.
Várhelyi said the main aim of the visit was to inform Tunisian authorities about the new approach of the European Union, according to which long-term cooperation must be based on mutual advantages. In practice, this means that the EU is willing to increase financial assistance to the country if it cooperates with the EU in matters considered priorities for the EU which is primarily related to halting migration.
Summing up today’s visit to #Tunisia with @YlvaJohansson and Italian Ministers of Foreign & Interior Affairs @luigidimaio and Luciana #Lamorgese: “We came here to make a new start, based on prosperity and stability to serve our mutual interests.” pic.twitter.com/XF9i8bszKy
— Oliver Varhelyi (@OliverVarhelyi) August 17, 2020
He added that the European Union has offered €10 million to the country towards better equipment for its border defense units and shore patrols to stop the migrants from embarking on a cross-Mediterranean trip.
“Lately, there was a major increase in outflow, which must be stopped,” Várhelyi said.
Frontex, the European Union’s border protection agency released on August 18 its latest monthly report, according to which in the first seven months of the year illegal border crossings through the Central Mediterranean rose by 155 percent year-on-year to 13,150, with most illegal migrants Tunisian and Bangladeshi.
Italy itself has seen a 150 percent increase in illegal migrants landing on the Italian coast. Previously, League party leader Matteo Salvini implemented hardline immigration policies such as blocking NGO boats that had migrants, leading to a dramatic drop in migrant landings. Italy’s left-wing government reversed many of these policies and also granted amnesty to 600,000 illegal migrants in the country.
Várhelyi said the EU delegation and their hosts agreed that the rise in migration is also a hazard to Tunisia because the activities of the criminal groups facilitating the crossing of migrants can undermine the security of the country. He added that EU is ready to devise a comprehensive financial aid package for Tunisia in order to keep the young generation at home through encouraging economic growth and job creation.
Várhelyi said he also plans to visit Morocco, Algeria and Egypt, all of which are important partners of the EU.
European Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Policy, Olivér Várhelyi speaks during a video press conference on the EU’s multi annual financial framework at EU headquarters in Brussels, Tuesday, June 2, 2020. (Olivier Hoslet, Pool Photo via AP)