Tunis, Tunisia– France announced on Monday nearly 26 million euros (around $28 million) in aid to Tunisia to help curb the flow of irregular migrants across the Mediterranean.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin announced the “bilateral aid of 25.8 million dedicated to migration issues” during a visit to Tunis.
It would allow Tunisia to “acquire the necessary equipment and organize useful training, in particular for Tunisian police and border guards”, he said at a news conference following a meeting with his Tunisian and German counterparts.
During a meeting with Darmanin and German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, Tunisian President Kais Saied warned that Tunisia will not “guard borders other than its own”.
“We will not accept that Tunisia becomes a country of resettlement” for migrants either, he added.
Saied sparked a backlash in March after characterizing migrants as a demographic threat to his country, in remarks that gave rise to a spike in attacks on sub-Saharan Africans there.
“With a common will, a new way of seeing things, I am sure that we will find adequate solutions,” he said on Monday.
Tunisia, highly indebted and in talks for a bailout loan from the International Monetary Fund, is a key launchpad for migrants and asylum-seekers attempting the perilous voyage to Europe.
Darmanin defended the “European approach to the migration challenge” and said that alongside African authorities, they would “fight against the networks of smugglers” and back the return of migrants to their home countries.
Referring to the sinking of a migrant boat off Greece on Wednesday that killed at least 78 people, Darmanin said “too many people take reckless risks, often exploited by smugglers who are the real criminals we must fight”.
The German interior minister meanwhile said it is essential to “put an end to these terrible deaths at sea”.
The International Organization for Migration says 2,406 migrants died or disappeared in the Mediterranean in 2022, while 1,166 deaths or disappearance were recorded since the start of 2023.
Faeser also insisted on the importance of “respect for human rights” by the police and border guards in their operations in Tunisia.
The French pledge comes a week after European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen offered 105 million euros to Tunisia for border management and combating human trafficking.
The EU funding, part of a larger financial aid package to boost the Tunisian economy, is contingent on the approval of the nearly $2 billion IMF loan that has been under negotiation since last year.
But Saied has repeatedly rejected what he terms the “diktats” of the Washington-based lender.