Tunisia cracks down on migrants after deal with Europe

The Tunisian defense ministry announced on Sunday that its navy had rescued 178 migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean from Libya to reach Europe. 

Three operations off Tunisia’s south coast resulted in the recovery of two bodies and the rescue of 178 migrants, according to a ministry statement. 

The migrants, who came from Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Ivory Coast, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Mali, and Ethiopia, left the Libyan port of Zuwara overnight on Friday and Saturday, according to the ministry. 

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Tunisian authorities intercepted 267 would-be migrants who had also begun the sea crossing from Libya on Thursday. The majority of the migrants were Bangladeshis.

Mongi Slim, a Red Crescent official, warned on Thursday that migrant reception centers in southern Tunisia were nearly filled. 

Since January, more than 1,000 migrants attempting to reach Europe have left Libya and arrived in Tunisia, according to IOM estimates, and the number of departures is increasing.

Bunnaj Africa learnt that in late May, the European Union’s Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson traveled to Tunisia to dicuss a deal on migration with the country’s authorities.

“The EU must work with partner countries to reduce irregular departures, manage migration and examine reasons that cause, particularly economic consequences of pandemic,”Johansson said in a tweet ahead of her trip.

Under the terms of the agreement, Tunisia would receive financial aid from Brussels in exchange for blocking migrant boats from leaving its coasts. 

As part of a cooperation agreement between the two nations, Italy has committed up to 200 million euros to finance development initiatives in Tunisia. The funds are intended to encourage Tunisia to keep its borders closed. 

A similar agreement is being discussed by the EU with Libya. 

In early June, President Kais Saied met with President Charles Michel of the European Council and President Ursula von der Leyen of the European Commission in Brussels.

The EU stated on June 1 that it has given Tunisia €300 million in macro-financial aid. 

According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, there were 11,000 departures from Libya between January and April 2021, which is more than 70% more than the same period last year. 

The migrant situation in Libya is “deteriorating,” according to the agency, prompting many to attempt the perilous journey from the North African coast to Europe. 

Between January 1 and May 31, at least 760 individuals perished attempting to cross the Mediterranean, according to the United Nations.

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