In a strongly worded statement, Geneva Council, condemns the European Union Commission’s alarming indifference to the plight of migrants and asylum seekers in Tunisia. The EU Commission’s recent decision to proceed with a controversial migration control agreement, allocating a substantial sum of 67 million euros to Tunisia, has raised serious concerns regarding human rights violations in the region.
The migration control agreement, reached in July, lacks critical safeguards for migrants and asylum seekers, and there is no evidence to suggest that the EU has undertaken an assessment of whether these funds could implicate the bloc in human rights abuses. Despite reservations expressed by key EU figures, including the diplomatic chief and Germany’s foreign minister, the Commission has chosen to move forward with the agreement.
This agreement commits financial support to Tunisia for various purposes, including migration management, effectively in exchange for Tunisia’s commitment to prevent the irregular departure of migrant and asylum seeker boats bound for Europe. However, the rush to release these funds follows a disturbing increase in the number of boats departing from Tunisia in recent weeks, highlighting the EU’s misplaced priority of border control over humanitarian concerns.
A significant portion of the allocated funds, approximately 42 million euros, is intended for Tunisia’s coast guard and navy. While search and rescue operations are unquestionably vital, the EU’s primary focus appears to be on the interception and forced return of outgoing boats by the Tunisian coast guard. Reports from credible sources, such as Human Rights Watch, have documented a disturbing pattern of abuse during and after these interceptions, including physical violence, theft of personal belongings, abandonment at sea, and dangerous maneuvers that risk the lives of those on board.
Tragically, the situation for Black Africans in Tunisia has deteriorated, marked by increased violence, arbitrary detention, and forced evictions, exacerbated by racially discriminatory rhetoric from the Tunisian president in February. Prior to EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s agreement with President Kais Saied, Tunisian security forces unlawfully expelled over 1,300 Black African foreigners, including children, to border areas with Libya and Algeria. These individuals endured immense suffering, with inadequate access to food and water, resulting in the tragic loss of at least 27 lives at the border, according to Libyan authorities.
Recently, the EU ombudsman inquired about the Commission’s human rights assessment and monitoring plans for the agreement but received no response.
Geneva Council firmly asserts that the EU Commission must insist on Tunisia meeting essential human rights benchmarks before disbursing any funds to entities with well-documented poor human rights records. Failure to do so not only risks implicating the EU in enabling serious human rights abuses but also exacerbates the immense suffering of migrants and asylum seekers.
Geneva Council remains committed to shedding light on issues related to human rights violations and calls on the EU Commission to prioritize the safety and well-being of migrants and asylum seekers in its policies and agreements.