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Brussels rescues Kaïs Saïed with cash for migration control deal

The billion euro migration pact with Tunis presages similar pacts with Algeria and Egypt

By offering a financial package worth up to €1.5 billion (US$1.61bn) to Tunisia as part of a new 'cash for migration control' deal, the European Union has handed a major victory to President Kaïs Saïed.

It could plug much of the financing gap that opened up after Saïed refused to agree to the terms of an IMF loan, such as cutting subsidies and reforming state companies (Dispatches, 7/6/23, Saïed plans to tax the rich to keep the IMF away).

Visiting Tunis on 11 June, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said  the EU would offer Tunisia a €900 million package to support its economy, and an immediate €150m in budget support once a 'necessary agreement is found'.

The Commission will also immediately invest €100m for anti-smuggling activities, border management, search and rescue operation, and migrant returns to Tunisia.

Von der Leyen also announced plans to organise an EU-Tunisia cooperation council by the end of the year, adding that precise details will be set out in a EU-Tunisia 'memorandum of understanding' at the end of June.

The deal is modelled on the €6bn 'cash for migrant control' pact which has been in place between the EU and Turkey since 2016. The Commission has been working on agreements with North African states this year. Others are expected soon with Egypt and Algeria.

In February, Saïed was lambasted by the African Union and international organisations after claiming there was a plot to settle migrants from sub-Saharan Africa in Tunisia, stating that 'we will not permit the demographic composition (in Tunisia) to be changed.' (Dispatches, 28/2/23, AU calls President Saïed's complaints about African migrations 'racialised hate speech').

That, as well as reports of human rights abuses against migrants, and the wider political and social tensions in Tunisia, have not dissuaded the EU from courting Saïed. As well as providing Saïed a vital economic life line, the deal will be held up by his allies as a sign of his international status.

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