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Italy and Tunisia Sign Agreement on Welcoming Tunisian Migrant Workers

Rome and Tunis concluded an agreement on Friday, October 20, allowing 4,000 migrant workers from Tunisia to come and work in Italy. The text was signed during a visit by Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani to Tunis, where he was to meet his counterpart Nabil Ammar and President Kaïs Saïed, his office said.

The two countries intend, with this agreement, to establish legal immigration routes to Italy for “skilled workers”, according to a diplomatic note cited by the Reuters news agency. Rome also reaffirmed its intention to help Tunisia stop migrant smugglers and create jobs for young Tunisians.

“Strong migratory pressure”

“Tunisia is exposed to strong migratory pressure , particularly from sub-Saharan countries, and is the first country of repatriation from Italy,” says the Italian document, adding that 1,615 exiles have been returned there since the start of the year.

Migrant arrivals by sea in Italy have almost doubled in 2023 compared to the same period in 2022, with around 140,000 people disembarked so far. Around 91% of them come from Tunisia.

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi on Tuesday urged the European Union (EU) to adopt an agreement to support Tunisia’s efforts to stop the departures of migrant boats.

In July, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen already visited Tunis with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to conclude a partnership on migration and the economy .

Many voices – MPs, researchers, NGOs – have condemned this agreement , considering it inappropriate support for the authoritarian regime of Kaïs Saïed. The Tunisian president assumed full powers in July 2021. Since then, waves of arrests have been carried out against his opponents and a conspiratorial and xenophobic discourse has been broadcast by the head of state.

Anti-migrant speeches

In February 2023, in a speech, Kaïs Saïed accused sub-Saharan migrants present in Tunisia of being a source of “violence, crimes and unacceptable acts” and of seeking to “change the demographic composition of Tunisia”, in order to transform it into an “African only” country and blur its “Arab-Muslim” character.

Hundreds of sub-Saharan migrants were also deported during the summer from Sfax (east-central Tunisia) to border areas of Algeria and Libya. At least 27 people died following these expulsions. In September, InfoMigrants was able to collect several testimonies showing that these expulsions had resumed towards Algeria .

The EU-Tunisia agreement provided for an envelope intended to economically support the country and to fight against irregular immigration. But the Tunisian government returned the 60 million euros in economic aid released on October 3 for its country by the European Union.

“This method undermines our dignity and presents us with a fait accompli about which we were not even consulted,” he said in a statement relayed by the Tunisian press agency TAP News. The leader assured that Tunisia was “capable of overcoming all difficulties by its own means, through the determination of its people to be independent in their national choices”, “with sovereignty and national dignity intact”.

Source: Info Migrants