On Sunday, Tunisian President Kais Said will host the leaders of Italy, the Netherlands and the European Union for talks aimed at preparing an international economic rescue plan and restoring stability to the country, which has become a major source of migrants to Europe.
Said rejects conditions imposed on suspended $1.9 billion subsidies from the International Monetary Fund, which include cutting subsidies for flour and fuel and privatizing low-profit Tunisian state-owned companies.
Said warns that the measures will spark widespread social unrest and what he calls anxiety about the “dictatorship of the West.”
But the Tunisian economy is on the verge of collapse, and the population is disappointed with Said’s approach to the country’s leadership.
This has prompted many Tunisians to take the risk of taking a boat on a perilous sea voyage across the Mediterranean in search of a better life in Europe.
Tunisia is also an important transit point for those who wish to migrate, especially for sub-Saharan Africans leaving the coast of Tunisia, including those fleeing the racist abuses raised by the Tunisian president earlier this year.
Italian Prime Minister Georgia Meloni, whose country is the destination for most migrants, said on Thursday that “Tunisia is a priority for us, because the destabilization of Tunisia will have serious consequences for the stability of the entire North African region, and these consequences will inevitably reach here.”
Stopping immigration is a top priority for Meloni, a far-right politician who is visiting Tunisia for the second time in a week.
Meloni visited Tunisia on Tuesday and will return on Sunday with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen for meetings with Said.
Meloni said European leaders are putting forward a package of initiatives to improve security in Tunisia, which paves the way for attracting IMF assistance.
For its part, the European Commission said the talks will focus on making progress on an agreement between the European Union and Tunisia, which focuses on economic, energy and migration issues.
Tunisia’s budget deficit has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, the aftermath of the Russian war in Ukraine and the suspension of IMF assistance amid political tensions in the country.
Said dissolved parliament, rewrote the constitution to give him more powers, and led the crackdown on the opposition and independent media.
After meeting with Meloni on Tuesday, Saeed said his country is struggling to cope with immigrants from other African countries who settle in or pass through Tunisia.
Said called for international assistance to fight migrant smuggling networks.
Said said in a statement released by his office: “I call for working together to destroy organizations that view these immigrants as commodities thrown into the sea by waves or desert sands before they reach the areas they want to settle in. .”
“All roads no longer lead only to Rome, but also lead to Tunisia, which is not normal either for Tunisia or for the countries to which these immigrants flock,” he added.
While European officials were putting forward proposals for security in Tunisia, Saeed said the solution was not only about security, but also about tools to eliminate suffering, poverty and deprivation in the country.
Meloni and Said discussed holding an international summit on migration and development with the countries of the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf.
The Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights, shaking up a migrant rights organization, staged a demonstration on Tuesday condemning Meluni’s visit and plans to hold another on Sunday.
The forum and about 30 other organizations issued a joint statement condemning what they called “the repressive policies of the Italian government against illegal immigrants and the forced return of immigrants to their countries of origin.”
The Tunisian government was one of the few countries that had resettlement agreements with Italy, so Tunisians who entered Italy illegally have no basis to apply for asylum and return.
The European leaders’ visit to Tunisia comes days after EU countries reached an agreement on a plan to share responsibility for migrants entering Europe without permission, the root cause of one of the bloc’s longest-running political crises.
The plan is still at an early stage and could face resistance in the European Parliament.