EU refugee policy in Tunisia: Ongoing shift of the border

by Sofian Philip Naceur

Dieser Artikel wurde am 23.07.20 auf DE in der taz veröffentlicht.

Germany and the EU are equipping Tunisia’s border guards through various agreements. The aim is to keep refugees away from Europe.

TUNIS taz | Despite the Corona crisis, the EU’s policy of border outsourcing is currently being massively promoted. The spotlight is increasingly on small Tunisia, from where more and more people have been sailing irregularly to Italy since 2018. Since the beginning of the year and especially since the end of the corona lockdown, this dynamic has intensified even further. This is one of the reasons why more and more funds from Europe are flowing into so-called border protection projects which are intended to hermetically seal Tunisia’s external borders as quickly as possible. A key role in this is played by an organisation based in Vienna in which the German Government has recently also become heavily involved.

It was only this year in May that Germany officially joined the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) as the 18th member state and has since then enjoyed voting rights in the political steering group of this organization, which was founded in 1993. In June, ICMPD was commissioned with a new multi-million-euro border management project in Tunisia, where it acts as coordinator between donor, implementing and local partner authorities.

Within the framework of the project, Austrian and Danish police officers are to train Tunisian border guards from 2022 onwards. A training camp will be set up specifically for this purpose in the province of Tozeur in central Tunisia near the Algerian border.

Almost 1 million euros in funding is coming from Austria, 3.4 million from Denmark and 3.9 million from Germany. “The Tunisian border is also an Austrian border when it comes to preventing irregular, illegal migration,” Austria’s Interior Minister Karl Nehammer (ÖVP) said at a press conference in Vienna at the end of June, at which the project was presented to the public for the first time.

ICMPD is thus further expanding its role in the EU’s external border management in Tunisia. Until 2015, the focus of the organisation, which was originally set up as a civil think tank, was on Eastern Europe and the Balkans, but since then it has shifted to North Africa. In the meantime, the institute, which has been led by Austria’s former Vice-Chancellor Michael Spindelegger (ÖVP) since 2016, has become one of the most important implementing organisations of EU border protection projects in Libya, Tunisia and Morocco.

A closer look at ICMPD activities in the region shows that the organisation is no longer a civil think tank that publishes studies, offers consulting services or organises intergovernmental dialogue forums and thus flanking the EU’s policy of outsourcing borders. Today, ICMPD implements border control projects directly, organizes the procurement of materials for border upgrading, and is involved in designing curricula for training programmes and developing surveillance technology.

Together with Italy’s Ministry of the Interior, ICMPD is responsible for implementing the Border Management Programme BMP, which is financed by the EU Trust Fund for Africa. 70 per cent of the project funds (35 million euros for Morocco, 20 million for Tunisia) flow into material purchases alone.

Germany and Italy upgrade Tunisia’s maritime police

After accomplishing the purchase of fingerprint scanners, hundreds of police vehicles and radio equipment for Morocco in 2019, ICMPD issued the first calls for tender for the Tunisian component of the BMP in June. The shopping list includes remote-controlled vehicles, sonar and radar equipment and thermal imaging cameras for the National Guard. The National Guard not only controls large parts of the land borders with Algeria and Libya, but also Tunisia’s maritime borders. The Coast Guard is responsible for preventing refugees from crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

Under the BMP, the Coast Guard will also be equipped with a maritime surveillance system (ISMariS) to monitor boat movements. In addition to such EU-funded projects, Germany and Italy are also upgrading Tunisia’s maritime police under bilateral agreements.
While Italy has been supplying them with boats since years ago, the German government supplied the Coast Guard with a floating pier, a crane and other equipment for a boat workshop in the port city of Sfax – one of the country’s most important departure points for refugees – at the end of 2019.

What appears to be a confusing patchwork of bilateral and EU-funded border control projects is in fact an attempt by the EU to systematically seal off Tunisia’s external borders. Germany’s accession to ICMPD should further enhance its role as a central coordinating body for such projects and further extend the organisation’s influence on Europe’s policy of outsourcing its borders.

This articke was published in DE in taz 23.07.20

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