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Tunisia Rejects Role as Europe’s Anti-Immigrant Border Watchdog


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The Tunisian president said his country does not want to be Europe’s border guard or migrant resettlement site in the face of deadly migration incidents at sea.

President Kais Saied made the remark after meeting in Tunis with the French and German Interior Ministers amid efforts by European governments to work with Tunisia to prevent more deadly migration efforts across the Mediterranean.

Tunisia has become one of the main departure points for migrants hoping to cross from Africa to Europe, and European officials are offering Tunisia increasing amounts of aid to try to slow the flow. Most of those fleeing war or misery are from sub-Saharan Africa, but many are from Tunisia, which is suffering its worst economic crisis in a generation.

The visit of the French and German interior ministers, who oversee immigration policy for the EU’s major powers, is the third high-level European visit to Tunisia in two weeks. It came after an overcrowded fishing vessel capsized last week off Greece, killing at least 80 people and leaving hundreds missing as they sought to reach Italy from Libya.

Saeed said after the session that the security measures are not sufficient to prevent the deadly migration. He said Tunisia would not be the guard of Europe’s borders and “will not accept becoming a country of resettlement” for migrants deported from Europe. He has been alarmed by suggestions that migrants refuse permission to remain in Europe only to be sent to the last country through which they passed rather than their countries of origin.

He blamed people-smuggling networks, and urged more aid for development and fighting poverty. “Let us work together to dismantle it and remove the causes that led to this situation,” he said.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin announced €25 million in aid to purchase equipment for the Tunisian border police and to train border guards. It comes on top of around €1 billion in various aid offers from the European Commission earlier this month, and new aid from Italy.

Despite concerns about threats to human rights in Tunisia under Said’s increasingly authoritarian rule, Darmanin praised the efforts of the Tunisian authorities to prevent emigration. “We are on the side of Tunisia,” he said.

German Interior Minister Nancy Weser said ahead of their joint trip, “We want to create legal migration routes in order to put an end to the inhumane actions of smugglers. We want to protect the human rights of refugees, and stop the horrific deaths in the Mediterranean.”

Tunisian authorities say they intercept thousands of people every month trying to leave in boats off the coastal city of Sfax. Over the weekend, 11 boats with about 260 people on board, mostly sub-Saharan Africans along with some Tunisians, were intercepted, spokesman for the National Guard, Houssem Eddine Jebabli, said.

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