The European Union is offering simplified visa procedures and more financial assistance to Tunisia and Egypt in exchange for easier deportations of the African migrants who do not qualify as refugees under international law. Two senior EU officials said on Monday (20 February) that the bloc has taken steps to curb arrivals form Libya, the main transit point for African migrants trying to reach the shores of Europe.
Following a successful, albeit controversial, deal with Turkey the EU is now looking to its southern neighbors to pursue similar negotiations. Although the number of migrants setting off from Egypt and Tunisia is relatively small compared to the number of migrants setting off from Libya, unlike Libya, Egypt and Tunisia have functioning governments that are able to control their borders.
One of the officials commented that Egypt has put a high price tag on any sort of help. “Egypt has two concerns, socio-economic stability and security. And these are interlinked,” the official said, adding that “so we are working on establishing a dialogue that would look at that, to the benefit of both the migrants there but also Egyptians from the most vulnerable groups.” Egypt’s foreign minister will be attending a foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels on 6 March. Another EU official added that it would be a good moment “for Egypt and the EU to agree that they want to intensify this cooperation.”
Negotiations with Tunisia also include simplifying visa procedures in exchange for a readmission agreement that would make it smoother for the EU to deport Tunisians who are overstaying their visas in Europe as well as other nationals who arrived in Europe from Tunisia. The EU already has 17 such agreements, including with Turkey and Pakistan. In the meantime, the latest tragedy in the Mediterranean claimed lives of 74 migrants who had been washed ashore near the Libyan city of Zawiyah, which is a hub for smugglers launching boats towards Europe.