Student community rejects EU-Tunisia partnership deal

Tunisia’s student community has dismissed a partnership agreement between the European Union (EU) and Tunisia, especially pertaining to migration and investment in energy and development, indicating that the agreement drags Tunisia into Europe’s agendas and reflects the colonial nature of European policies towards Tunisia and Africa.

Hossam Boujra, the secretary-general of the executive office of the General Union of Tunisian Students (UGET) has criticised the EU-Tunisia partnership package that also covers the areas of the economy and trade, and people-to-people contacts.

UGET’s stance is similar to the findings of a 2023 study, ‘Migration-relevant policies in Tunisia’, which stated that, “Given its location on the border with Libya and bordering the Mediterranean Sea – the ‘southern’ border of Europe – Tunisia is under a lot of pressure from the EU to manage migration.”

Similarly, another recent research paper, ‘EU-Tunisian Policy of Managing Migration Across the Mediterranean: Addressing regular and irregular flows’, stated that Europe has prioritised the security of its borders over addressing poverty, has traded border closures for visa grants to the wealthy, and has sought loyalty in exchange for international funding of the Tunisian government.

Tunisia as a border guard

Said Boujra: “The government’s catchwords that Tunisia is not European powers’ border guardian are refuted by the state’s policies to deal with … immigration and its involvement in the growing phenomenon of irregular migration, and the growing wave of racism and exploitation of Sub-Saharan African migrants,” Boujra added.

The wave of racism against Sub-Saharan African migrants in Tunisia earlier this year prompted the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to issue an April 2023 statement voicing its concern about arbitrary arrests of migrants, including students, and called upon Tunisia to take swift action to curb racist rhetoric and combat all forms of racial discrimination and violence against black Africans, including students.

Migrant arrivals by sea continue to soar in Italy, with almost 60,352 from January to 25 June 2023. Six African countries are among the top 10 countries where migrants come from, namely Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Guinea, Tunisia, Cameroon and Mali, and most of them are leaving from Tunisia.

‘Colonial’ policies criticised

Boujra said the financial support offered to Tunisia from European countries in these partnership agreements is worth nothing when you compare the privileges enjoyed by these countries in many areas of investment with the corresponding difficulties [experienced by] local Tunisian investors.

“This reflects the colonial nature of these countries’ policies towards Tunisia and all of Africa,” he emphasised.

“The energy contracts and mines involving Tunisia and the European powers must guarantee the right of Tunisian people to enjoy their wealth and ensure their sovereignty,” said Boujra.

Therefore, UGET has called for adherence to the right of the Tunisian people to national sovereignty that preserves the dignity of the people and guarantees the achievement of independence and the enjoyment of their wealth.

It is also objecting to the interference by international and regional parties and monetary funds, or through embassies and political forces attached to them, in the internal affairs of the country.

UGET is asking that the partnership agreement between Tunisia and the EU be considered as a continuation of previous European projects, including L’ALECA (Accord de Libre Echange Complet et Approfondi), allegedly aimed at further plundering the country’s wealth and controlling its political decisions by dragging them into Europe’s agendas such as immigration.

It stated that the Tunisia-European Union partnership agreement is exploitation of Tunisia’s educated workforces by facilitating their migration.

Boujra’s view about the EU’s involvement in Tunisia is similar to a 2023 MIGNEX background paper which indicated that the EU’s migration policy has become more selective towards Tunisia based on a preference for university-educated and highly skilled professionals.

MIGNEX (Aligning Migration Management and the Migration-Development Nexus) is a research project co-ordinated by the Peace Research Institute Oslo.

UGET said it is rejecting all the provisions of the Tunisia-EU partnership agreement as a continuation of previous [agreements of] Tunisian governments since 1956, which could be seen as ongoing colonisation.