Have the Tunisian-European understandings succeeded in reducing illegal immigration?
Tunisia has become an active starting point for illegal immigration from the African continent towards southern Europe, as official data issued by the Italian Ministry of Interior reported the influx of nearly 49,000 people to the Italian coast from the beginning of January until May 2023, starting from Tunisia.
As a result, meetings, tours, and summits were held between the Tunisian authorities and European countries over recent months, which led to understandings aimed at reducing illegal immigration and preventing the arrival of immigrants to the European continent.
The illegal immigration crisis in Africa has escalated with the expansion of the continent’s economic and security crises and the spread of terrorist groups, in addition to repeated coups. Sub-Saharan countries top the statistics in terms of exporting the most immigrants.
How effective are the understandings?
Contrary to the criticism directed at European countries against the backdrop of these understandings, as human rights entities accused them of not taking into account the humanity of migrants and sympathizing with the reasons that pushed them to the sea, it is worth asking about their effectiveness and whether they succeeded in reducing illegal immigration.
According to what is being said by some migrants, stopping them from crossing the sea to Europe is out of the question, as it is their only option, and they are neither able to reside in Tunisia nor are they willing to return to their countries.
Accordingly, the criterion for measuring the success of the European-Tunisian understandings in reducing illegal immigration is not based on stopping illegal immigration flights, but on the extent of their control.
During a tour accompanying the Tunisian coastal chambers for 24 hours, the BBC said that the Coast Guard seized nine trips, which is considered a large number when taking into account the success of the boats in escaping.
In the same context, on July 2, the security authorities in Tunisia announced the arrest of 2,068 migrants crossing the eastern coast of the country during the Eid al-Adha holiday between June 27 and 29.
The spokesman for the Tunisian Coast Guard at the time pointed out that 65 crossings of the maritime border had been stopped.
In a related context, the Tunisian border guard is making attempts to prevent journeys from starting in the first place, as it succeeded in arresting migrants who were preparing to start their journey more than once, in addition to raiding workshops dedicated to the manufacture of iron boats used in illegal immigration in the city of Sfax, which is known as the most prominent departure point for illegal trips.
Heidi Al-Shafei, a researcher at the Egyptian Center for Strategic Thought and Studies, acknowledged some of the gains that both Tunisia and Europe have achieved in thwarting many illegal immigration journeys, saying in a recent study entitled “Money-for-Migrants Strategy: Why and How the Tunisia-Europe Migration Agreement Came About” that the European Union holds some gains as it will help reduce migrant flows to Europe, especially Italy, at least in the short term.
She added that on the Tunisian side, it contributes mainly to supporting the deteriorating economy, pointing out also that the agreement is not the first concluded by a European party with Tunisia regarding illegal immigration.
Shafei explained that individual countries had previously signed similar deals, including Tunisia itself, which signed an immigration agreement in 1998 with Italy, followed by two complementary agreements in 2003 and 2009, in addition to an agreement in 2011 in the face of the large increase in illegal immigrants arriving to Italy after the fall of the regime of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. She pointed out that what distinguishes this agreement from its predecessors is that, for the first time, it is concluded with the European Commission, representing the entire European Union and not Italy alone, which can be understood in the context of the efforts made by EU member states to reform the common European asylum system.