Having largely avoided the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tunisia began experiencing a sharp increase in infections starting in August 2020. This coincided with increased maritime arrivals from Tunisia to Italy and renewed efforts by European leaders to partner with Tunisia in externalising migration controls in the Mediterranean and North Africa.
On 10 August, the Italian government announced that it would resume repatriation flights of Tunisian migrants back to their country, which had been cancelled due to the pandemic. While the increasing numbers of maritime arrivals in Italy helped spur this decision, Info Migrants underscored the relevance of the new EU Pact on Migration and Asylum, which aims in part to strengthen partnerships with a host of countries in North Africa, including Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, and Morocco. The European Commission has stated that the list of safe third countries for repatriation is an option that “will certainly be assessed” as part of the new pact.
On 17 August, a delegation of Italian and EU officials held meetings in Tunis with the Tunisian president and other officials, resulting in a deal that reportedly is aimed at boosting Tunisian security forces’ migration control efforts. However, the precise details of the agreement remain unclear because it has not been published, which has spurred a coalition of NGOs to demand its release. According to an 8 October press release: “ASGI (Association for Juridical Studies on Migration), FTDES (Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights) and ASF (Lawyers Without Borders) have submitted FOI requests to the Italian and Tunisian governments after the non-publication of the content of the agreement concluded on August 17, 2020. According to press reports the agreement envisages the Italian economic support of 11 million euros for the strengthening of border control systems and training of security forces aimed at both preventing the departure of migrants and intercepting vessels in Tunisian territorial waters.” According to ASGI, Italy threatened to suspend the 6.5 million Euro funding for development cooperation in Tunisia in order to encourage the country to intensify its efforts to control departure from its coasts.
- ASGI, “What is the Content of the Recent Agreement Between Tunisia and Italy? Italian and Tunisian Associations Present FOI (Freedom of Information Requests),” 8 October 2020, https://sciabacaoruka.asgi.it/en/what-is-the-content-of-the-recent-agreement-between-tunisia-and-italy-italian-and-tunisian-associations-present-foi-freedom-of-information-requests/
- ANSA, “Italy-Tunisia Migrant Repatriation Flights to Resume on August 10,” Info Migrants, 6 August 2020, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/26477/italy-tunisia-migrant-repatriation-flights-to-resume-on-august-10
- Kapitalis, “Tunisie: Installation de Taxiphones dans les Prisons pour Limiter les Visites,” 19 May 2020, http://kapitalis.com/tunisie/2020/05/19/ministre-de-la-justice-installation-de-taxiphones-dans-les-prisons-pour-limiter-les-visites/
- UNHCR, “Operation Portal Refugee Situations: Tunisia,” 31 August 2020, https://data2.unhcr.org/en/country/tun
- Directinfo, “Tunisie, Kais Saied Décide d’Accorder une Grâce Spéciale à 859 Prisonniers,” 22 July 2020, https://directinfo.webmanagercenter.com/2020/07/22/tunisie-kais-saied-decide-daccorder-une-grace-speciale-a-859-prisonniers/
- Global Detention Project, Tunisia Immigration Detention Profile, March 2020, https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/africa/tunisia#country-report
- Migrants Arriving in a Port of Lampedusa, (M. Buccarello, Reuters, “Italy-Tunisia Migrant Repatriation Flights to Resume on 10 August,” ANSA, 6 August 2020, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/26477/italy-tunisia-migrant-repatriation-flights-to-resume-on-august-10)