The European Union and Tunisia signed on Sunday a “strategic partnership” that includes preventing human trafficking and tightening borders amid a spike in small boats leaving the North African country for Europe.
It comes after weeks of talks between the two parties about the EU providing around 1 billion euros ($1.12 billion) in aid to boost crisis-hit Tunisia’s economy and help stem the flow of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea.
Tunisia’s national debt is ballooning and the country is in talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to secure a $1.9 billion bailout. However, the funds have stalled since October after Tunisia’s populist President Kais Saied said he rejected the terms, including on subsidy cuts and the reduction of the public wage bill. Last month, the Tunisian leader proposed taxing the wealthy to generate funds for the economy so the government can avoid having to agree to the terms with the “foreign diktats” of the IMF.
The North African country is a popular sea gateway to the Mediterranean for migrants who are looking to reach the shores of Europe, with Italy being one of the main destinations. More than 75,065 migrant boats reached Italy by July 14 so far this year, compared to 31,920 in the same period last year, official data showed. More than half of the arrivals this year were from Tunisia, which has overtaken Libya as the main start point for the migrant crossings.