Tunisia deal mainly based on wishful thinking, insiders say 12:02 in Abroad According to those involved in the deal, it will certainly take months, if not years, before fewer migrants will come to the EU from Tunisia.

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The Tunisian coastguard near a boat carrying migrants in the Mediterranean Sea
NOS News
  • Kysia Hekster

    European Union correspondent

  • Sjoerd Moussie

    Data journalist

  • Kysia Hekster

    European Union correspondent

  • Sjoerd Moussie

    Data journalist

On 16 July they were still contentedly standing side by side in Tunis, Prime Minister Rutte, his Italian colleague Meloni and the President of the European Commission Von der Leyen. Laughing, they shook hands with Tunisian President Saied as ‘Team Europe’, an ad hoc coalition without legal status: the ‘Tunisia deal’ was a fact.

The European Union would give money to support the local economy and in return Tunisia would stop the people who want to cross over to the EU in large numbers. Prime Minister Ruth mentioned the agreement on Twitter “a true milestone and essential to get a better grip on the fight against irregular migration”.

That optimism has since evaporated. The agreements are still as vague as they were almost eight weeks ago. The deal was to be worked out during the summer, but according to insiders little progress has been made.

From conversations NOS had with those involved, it appears that the situation will not change quickly. They don’t want to be mentioned by name, because their position doesn’t really allow for the details to be discussed with the press. It will be a matter of time before the ‘Team Europe’ deal works, if it does at all, they say.

‘Quick result is not realistic’

A Brussels insider calls it very frustrating, but it is not surprising that the agreements do not work immediately. “In hindsight, maybe we should have done more about expectation management, because suggesting that you expect results so quickly is not realistic.” There have been warnings against wishful thinking, but the dealmakers chose the spotlight for political reasons.

One thing is clear: the number of migrants coming to the EU via Tunisia has not fallen, but has risen explosively. About 30,000 people have reached Italy since July 16. In fact, August was the busiest migration month since October 2016, during the Syrian refugee crisis.

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  • NOS/Sjoerd Mouissie
    The number of arrivals in Italy is at the highest level since the migration crisis in 2016.
  • NOS/Sjoerd Mouissie
    The number of arrivals in Italy from Tunisia is increasing explosively.

And so now everyone seems dissatisfied: the EU Member States, Italy in the lead, because the numbers are rising, and human rights and refugee organizations, because the situation in Tunisia for migrants is only getting worse. For example, shortly after the deal was concluded, dozens of migrants were found dead in the desert on the Tunisian border.

‘Sleepwalking into new migration crisis’

MEP Tineke Strik (GroenLinks) calls it short-sighted that it was suggested that the deal would have quick results. “It was actually just a huge show to show: look, we have it under control, we are going to arrange it with 1 billion. It doesn’t work that way in practice. If people cannot stay somewhere because they are in danger, Then they try to get away.”

MEP Jeroen Lenaers (CDA) also thinks that ‘Team Europe’ could have been more careful. “We have been talking about these kinds of agreements for a long time. Now we are finally ready to make them, but to create the illusion that you will have a very big effect within a few weeks of such an agreement, I do not think it is realistic.”

He’s worried. “We are again sleepwalking into a migration crisis. The figures are almost back to the level of the crisis year 2016 and that is unsustainable, also for European society. So we have to do something to reduce those figures.”

‘Coast Guard lacks everything’

The EU hopes that the explosive increase in departing migrants will come to an end this month. That is a vain hope, says an insider. “It will take until Sint-Juttemis before the Tunisian coastguard really starts to make a difference. There is a shortage not only of boats, but of everything: people who know how to sail them, technology needed to help people at sea in boats, or on land, before they get in. But there’s also no fuel to get out at all. And of the boats out there, many of them are in bad shape. Getting all of that up to standard is going to be an awful lot of money cost.”

Migrants are trying to cross from Tunisia to the island of Lampedusa, the closest part of the EU.

About the 105 million euros that is now available, he says: “That may be a start, but it is not nearly enough. It is more a matter of years, not months, before we succeed in preventing people from making the crossing. “

‘Cover must come next year’

There are now plenty of reasons to leave Tunisia. The economy is so weak that Tunisians are also getting on the boats themselves. President Saied continues to incite hatred against sub-Saharan migrants.

Even before the deal was closed, there was criticism that the EU would do business with the Tunisian president, who, apart from his dictatorial traits, is mainly known for being completely unpredictable. EU stakeholders in the deal confirm that picture. “Everything depends on him. Nothing happens without him.”

A Brussels insider expects a significant drop to become visible next spring, when it gets warmer and more people cross the river again. He then hopes for at most a few thousand departures from Tunisia per month. That number is now sometimes reached per day. “If the cover is not forthcoming, then the deal will not work.”

  • European Union concludes migration deal with Tunisia
  • Migration deal leaves Tunisian smugglers cold: ‘This will not change anything’
  • Abroad

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