Many Unanswered Questions
First an EU delegation, then Federal Minister of the Interior Faeser: Tunisia experiences a lot of diplomatic travel, even as the president increasingly rules autocratically. Has Europe come closer to its goal of limiting migration?
Ameni Ochbati wants to fulfill her dream and start a new life - far away from her home country Tunisia, in Germany. The 24-year-old has a high school diploma and a Tunisian education as a logistics technician. She has now applied for a training program in Germany through a German labor migration program.
The job interview for it is in two days. "If it works out, I can start in Germany in September." Ochbati already speaks German so well that she can chat with Federal Minister of the Interior Nancy Faeser about her plans.
Faeser aims to facilitate labor migration
Facilitating labor migration is one of Faeser's missions during her brief visit to Tunis. Project manager Stephanie Schrade reports that the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) has already placed 200 apprentices in Germany this year, along with 70 skilled workers.
18,500 Tunisians arrived in Italy in 2022
But do such projects really deter young Tunisians, frustrated by the miserable economic situation in their country, from embarking on the highly risky journey across the Mediterranean? Those who have no chance of securing one of the few spots in a German-Tunisian labor market project?
According to UNHCR, 3,200 Tunisians arrived in Italy by April of this year, and around 18,500 arrived in the entire year of 2022. It is doubtful whether money and kind words from the EU can stop these people. Especially considering that young Tunisians who manage to reach Europe on smuggler boats and, if lucky, find work, send a significant portion of their money back home.
Willingness to cooperate for money
According to the Tunisian Central Bank, around 2.5 billion euros flowed from Tunisians abroad to Tunisian accounts last year. These remittances have become a central survival strategy for Tunisian families in the current economic crisis, says Maghreb expert Isabelle Werenfels from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), in an interview with Deutschlandfunk.
"The population is not very willing to put a brake on that. With the president, it must be said that there is a certain degree of willingness to cooperate: to prevent more people from leaving," says Werenfels. But this cooperation is conditional. "And the condition is primarily that they receive money."
Controversial negotiating partner
In the process, the fact is completely overshadowed that "we are negotiating with the president who has systematically dismantled Tunisia's democratic structures in the past two years."
Whether these sensitive topics, President Kais Saied's style of governance, and his speech in which he incited against immigrants from countries south of the Sahara in February, were discussed at the negotiating table is unclear. Faeser reports that she "strongly addressed" human rights.
What about repatriation?
However, even after Faeser's visit, it remains unclear how the issue of repatriation of migrants will proceed. It is likely to be difficult for the EU to repatriate those people to Tunisia whose homeland is in other countries, such as south of the Sahara.
This was probably what the president aimed at in his only summary of the meeting with Faeser that was released to the public: "Tunisia can only protect its own borders. And we will not accept becoming an immigration country.
" Repatriation of Tunisians is "not bad"
And what will happen to the Tunisians who could be deported from the EU? In practice, there seem to be no insurmountable problems. In total, 1,383 Tunisian citizens applied for asylum in Germany last year, and by May of this year, there were already 1,095.
Tunisians do not have great chances of obtaining asylum or similar protection in Germany. This year, only 1.5 percent of applicants received a positive decision. According to the Federal Ministry of the Interior, Germany deported nearly 200 Tunisians in 2022. There were more deportations before the COVID-19 pandemic.
No Transit Camps in Tunisia?
So, what have the current diplomatic offensives in Tunis achieved? Johannes Kadura from the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Tunis gives a mixed assessment. On the one hand, Tunisia has now landed on the priority list and at the negotiating table of the Europeans. However, it is questionable whether the visits will bring the desired results.
Saied has repeatedly stated that his country only monitors its own borders and does not want to host migrants from other nations. "In his official rhetoric, he excludes transit camps in Tunisia," says Kadura. Tunisia also has very difficult-to-control borders.
So, there are still many unanswered questions. This is also reflected in the summary of the German Minister of the Interior: They have now established working structures that can be built upon. However, it seems that a migration agreement is still far off.