23rd Oct 2016

Barroso to Tunisia: More money if you take your migrants back

  • More than 23,000 Tunisians have passed through the tiny island of Lampedusa (Photo: Valentina Pop)

European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso on Tuesday (13 April) promised Tunisia €140 million of extra EU aid if the new government takes "strong and clear action" to prevent its citizens from leaving for Europe and take back the thousands that have already made it to Italy.

"Migration should be seen as a common challenge, a shared responsibility," Barroso said during a press conference after meeting premier Beji Caid Essebsi in Tunis.

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"We await strong and clear action from Tunisia, for it to accept the re-admission of its migrants who find themselves in an irregular situation in Europe, as well as in the fight against illegal migration," he stressed.

He said the EU was willing to give an extra €140 million in economic aid to the country, on top of the existing €257 million for 2011-2013, if the government stepped up its efforts to stem irregular migration.

Barroso's visit comes one day after Italian interior minister Roberto Maroni accused the EU of a lack of solidarity and questioned the value of EU membership when Italy is "left alone to deal with migrants."

Italy recently agreed a bilateral deal with Tunisia for immediately repatriating any fresh arrivals from 5 April onwards, but Tunis refused to extend the deal to the 23,000 people who are already on Italian soil. Rome subsequently issued a decree granting these people temporary residence, but the move was harshly criticised by France, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, who see it as a 'free pass' for the Tunisians to leave Italy and head to other member states.

Mostly young people in their 20s and 30s, the migrants interviewed by EUobserver last month in Lampedusa talked of the loss of jobs in tourism in their home country following the democratic uprising that began in January. They said they were heading to former colonial power, France, where they have relatives and can speak the language.

Echoing similar remarks by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Barroso on Tuesday said emigration was "not the solution to the economic challenges", as development should be "based on the talents and the energy of the Tunisian people."

But he also re-assured Tunisians that "Europe is with you" in rebuilding the country after the revolution and promised more generous access for Tunisian trade to European markets once democratic elections take place.

"I ask [investors] not to leave this country but to look at it with more interest than ever before because I hope this transition will happen well and i am confident it will be democratic," Barroso said.

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