Tuesday

31st Jan 2023

EU must show solidarity with Tunisia, commissioner says

  • Sweden has taken the lead in resettling refugees from Libya, says Malmstrom (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Tunisian authorities are willing to take back migrants who crossed the Mediterranean over to Italy, but EU states should also help with the relocation of African refugees from Libya, home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said after her visit to Tunis.

Back from a three-day trip to Tunisia together with neighbourhood commissioner Stefan Fuele, Malmstrom on Friday (1 April) tried to convince journalists that the visit was not only about telling the new government in Tunis to stem the flow of migrants and take back those who already reached Italian shores.

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"Tunisia is the country where it all started [the Arab Spring]. It is fantastic to see the courage of the people, how they prepare for elections, reforms and a new democratic future for this country. And the EU stands ready to do everything to support Tunisia on this path," Malmstrom said in her opening statement.

Malmstrom said she was "really impressed" by the generosity and openness of Tunisian people rushing with food, clothes and water to help the 220,000 refugees who crossed the Libyan border since violence erupted in the neighbouring country.

"The refugee camp can only work if there is an outflow as well," she said, noting that some 4,000 people are coming every day and that the UN agency for refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) need more EU assistance to organise the repatriation of non-Libyan nationals fleeing the country.

Some 100,000 people have already been flown to Asian and African countries, including with European help, but more efforts are needed.

Several thousand refugees on the Libyan-Tunisian border are in need of international protection and cannot be sent back to their countries - Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan.

"Sweden offered to take a couple of hundred people. I hope the rest of member states show that EU solidarity works in practice," Malmstrom pointed out.

"I hope we will find a solution to the EU resettlement program soon. It is very difficult to explain to Sudanese people in the refugee camps that 'we're sorry, we cannot take you to Europe, because we haven't agreed on delegated acts'," Malmstrom said, in reference to a programme that would allow refugees to be resettled all across the EU. The dossier is being blocked by the Council of Ministers mainly because it is linked to a power-wrangling among EU institutions.

As for the possibility of activating a "temporary protection" mechanism for people fleeing Libya and coming to the EU, the commissioner said it was "far too early" to discuss this, as a much larger number would be required than the roughly 3,000 people who arrived in Malta and Italy.

Repatriation of Tunisian migrants

On the issue of the 20,000 Tunisian migrants who crossed the Mediterranean to the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa in the past month, Malmstrom said that the new minister of interior in Tunis is willing to accept "a well managed, organised and gradual repatriation" of his nationals.

She also rebuffed Italy's repeated claims that the EU is not providing enough money for helping it to cope with the sudden influx of migrants in Lampedusa. "Italy was given quite a lot of money for 2010-2011 and there can be more funds allocated. But so far, as I understand it, Italy has not fully spent these funds."

Repatriation of Tunisians can also be co-funded by the EU up to 75 percent, "if they go back voluntarily", Malmstrom said, the moment Italy and Tunisia agree on the matter.

Considering the longer term, Malmstrom said that the EU could also help Tunisia with the establishment of an asylum system, managing its borders and work towards a visa facilitation scheme for certain categories of workers, students and businessmen.

Home affairs ministers meeting in Luxembourg on 11 April will be presented with these proposals, she added.

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