First payment underway: EU releasing Tunisia funds to curb migration
Discover the details of the EU's billion-euro fund allocations to Tunisia, addressing Europe's migrant crisis and Tunisia's economic troubles.
The European Union will release money to Tunisia under an agreement that seeks to limit the migration wave from the country toward European countries, the European Commission announced on Friday.
A first payment of 127 million euros ($135 million) will be sent to Tunisia "in the coming days," Commission Spokesperson Ana Pisonero explained.
However, EU lawmakers, the bloc's ombudsman, and non-governmental organizations concerned with migrant affairs have questioned whether the pact meets European rights standards.
The memorandum of understanding was signed by Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission's chief, in July. As per the agreement, Tunisia will receive 105 million euros to combat irregular migrants, 150 million euros in budgetary support, and 900 million euros in long-term aid.
The Italian government has been a staunch supporter of the deal, as the country, particularly the island of Lampedusa, has seen the largest traffic among other EU countries primarily due to its geographical location in the Mediterranean and close proximity to Tunisia.
Tunisia has become one of the main launching points for vessels carrying migrants from all over Africa trying to cross the Mediterranean for Europe in search of a better life.
The EU will funnel in funds to Tunisia to strengthen its coastguard, which will be tasked with preventing boats from leaving Tunisian waters. Some of the money sent to the North African country will be allocated to United Nations agencies assisting migrants.
Among the 127 million euros to be "swiftly" disbursed, 42 million will account for the migration agreement, while the rest of the funds will be allocated to previously agreed-upon programs.
The fund, valued at over 1 billion euros, is being introduced concurrently with both high inflation and unsuccessful negotiations Tunisia had with the International Monetary Fund.
The EU ombudsman, Emily O'Reilly, demanded the commission explain how the pact with Tunisia will not breach human rights standards, seeing that it will restrict migrants' movement by force.
MEPs have also brought up this concern, highlighting reports that in recent months, hundreds of sub-Saharan migrants in Tunisia were purportedly transported to the desert close to the Libyan border and abandoned to fend for themselves.
Last week Tunisia denied entry to a European Parliament fact-finding delegation.
Legislators from the parliament's foreign affairs committee were due to head to the North African country on Thursday on a fact-finding mission.
Tunisia's Foreign Ministry confirmed on Thursday that the lawmakers would not be allowed entry due to "multiple reservations" about the visit.
"It is both astonishing and exceptional," MEP Mounir Satouri, a member of the delegation, told AFP.
"Never in at least 20 years has a regime allowed itself to refuse an official delegation from the foreign affairs committee and to say that even if we made the trip we would be turned back at the border."