France joins Italy in calling for support for Tunisia

France on Friday joined Italy in calling for support for Tunisia, which is facing a crippling financial crisis, as negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) stumbled on a 1.9-billion-dollar loan.

French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni called on Friday in Brussels for support for Tunisia “to ease the pressure of migration.”

“The very high political tension in Tunisia and the current economic and social crisis in the absence of an agreement with the International Monetary Fund are very worrying,” Macron told a press conference after a European Union summit.

“This leads to a very significant destabilization of the country and the region and increases the pressure of migration on Italy and the EU,” he said, calling for “working together” at the European level to help Tunisia and “control migration.”

“In the very short term, we need to succeed in stemming the flow of migrants from Tunisia,” the French president said, adding that he had taken up the issue with the Italian prime minister in a bilateral meeting.

The French President’s statements came a day after the statements of the American Assistant Secretary of State, Barbara Levy, in which she expressed her country’s extreme concern with the situation in Tunisia, pointing out that the Tunisian government will hold in its hands a loan of $1.9 billion from the International Monetary Fund to support reforms and prevent an economic collapse.

Commenting on Tunisian President Kais Saied’s procedures for deporting undocumented migrants, he said, “These comments created a terrible climate of fear, but they have produced something even greater: attacks on these vulnerable people and a wave of racist discourse.”

For her part, Meloni said that she raised the issue of Tunisia before the European Council, “because everyone may not be aware of the dangers posed by the situation there and the need to support stability in a country that suffers from major financial problems.”

Asked about a possible Italian-French mission to Tunisia with European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson, Meloni said: “Yes, there is a mission at the level of foreign ministers.

“If we do not deal with these problems appropriately, there is a risk of sparking an unprecedented wave of immigration,” said the Italian prime minister, whose far-right government tends to take an anti-immigrant approach.

Georgia Meloni also discussed the situation in Tunisia with the European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni, who “will be going there in the coming days.” She stressed “the need to work at the diplomatic level to persuade the two parties: the International Monetary Fund and the Tunisian government, to conclude an agreement to achieve financial stability.”

“Tunisia has been negotiating for months with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a loan of nearly $2 billion, but discussions between the two sides appear to have stalled since the announcement of a tentative agreement in mid-October.”

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned on Monday that the situation in Tunisia is “extremely dangerous” and pointed to the risk of “collapse” of the state, which could “cause an influx of migrants into the EU and a destabilization of the Middle East and North Africa.” The Tunisian foreign ministry denounced Borrell’s remarks as “disproportionate” and “exaggerated.”

“On Friday, Tunisian authorities announced that 34 irregular migrants from sub-Saharan Africa were missing after their boat sank off the country’s eastern coast.”

“Four migrants were rescued while 34 others are still missing” after the boat, which was heading towards the Italian coast, sank off the coast of Sfax, Sfax court spokesman Fawzi al-Masmoudi said. “On Thursday, the coastguard said it had recovered seven bodies of migrants whose boat sank off the coast of the governorate.”

“On 9 March, the coast guard announced that 14 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa had drowned off the coast of Tunisia, where migrants face a difficult situation since the Tunisian president gave a speech on irregular migrants.”

The incident comes as many migrants want to leave Tunisia after Saied’s comments were deemed “racist.”

In his remarks, Ben Ali criticized the large presence of illegal immigrants in his country and spoke of a plot to change the “demographic structure” in his country.

“As the weather improves, migrants attempt to cross the Mediterranean in mostly rickety boats.”

The Tunisian Coast Guard said in a statement that it foiled 26 stealthy border crossings on Thursday and Friday off the country’s eastern and northern coasts, adding that “1,080 passengers were arrested, including 25 Tunisians, after their boats sank at sea”.

“Tunisia has more than 21,000 sub-Saharan migrants, including students, according to official statistics.” “It is a transit point for thousands of sub-Saharan migrants on irregular voyages by sea to European shores, notably Italy.”

Italy is receiving large numbers of immigrants from Tunisia across the Mediterranean. “According to official figures, the country received more than 32,000 migrants in 2022, including 18,000 Tunisians.”

“Less than 150km off the Italian island of Lampedusa, Tunisia is regularly seeing attempts to leave migrants for Italy.”

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