The memorandum with Tunisia is working, without which there would be more illegal immigration, the European Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi, told the Italian newspaper La Stampa.
He added, however, that it was not possible to expect the network of human traffickers to be dismantled in two months. The real problem is that the number of departures is increasing. The EU is working very closely with Tunisia to help it regain control of its borders,” Olivér Várhelyi stressed. He acknowledged that this would take time and a lot of effort, but hoped that they would be able to acquire the necessary skills within a few weeks.
In 2022, the Tunisian coastguard arrested 9,376 people; this year it has arrested 24,000. Last year, 32,459 lives were saved, compared to 50,000 this year. Unfortunately, traffickers have redoubled their efforts to smuggle migrants into Italy,” he said.
Olivér Várhelyi praised the memorandum, stressing that without it, many more migrants would have left this summer. In his opinion, Ursula von der Leyen was right to sign it as soon as possible. He said that the European Council had criticized the excessive speed with which the memorandum had been signed, but that the Council was aware of everything and had promised not to rush the signing next time. The next country to sign a similar agreement with the EU is likely to be Egypt, and negotiations are ongoing. Meanwhile, the EU also has good relations with Morocco.
He said that one EU member state had expressed doubts about the memorandum because of concerns about respect for human rights. Olivér Várhelyi clarified the matter with the member state in question, but did not name it.
The commissioner said that money would soon be paid to Tunis to stop the migrants. He added that an EU naval mission could help to stop them, for example by carrying out search operations, but that people would have to be rescued at sea by North African countries alone.
He agreed with the idea that asylum applications should be made in embassies outside the EU, so that the EU decides who can enter its territory, not the smugglers. However, he noted that this would require an agreement with those countries.
Asked what he thought about Giorgia Meloni’s accusation that EU Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni was not looking after Italian interests, Oliviér Várhelyi said that every Commissioner has a duty to respect the way his country thinks. A Commissioner must bring his sensibility and his culture,” he explained.