“Our approach is clear. We must respect human rights. We must respect the human dignity of every migrant. But on the other hand, we have to fight against illegal immigration,” Weber said in an interview on Friday, days after visiting Tunisia to discuss immigration issues with President Saied and the foreign and interior affairs ministers of the village.
In July, the EU struck a controversial deal a value of over 700 million euros with Tunisia to support the country’s economy and curb irregular immigration to Europe.
Of this budget, €105 million will finance migration control measures such as anti-smuggling operations, border management and return of asylum seekers. Tunisia is a jumping off point for thousands of migrants crossing the Mediterranean to Europe and the deal could be used as an EU model for agreements with other North African countries.
But the deal has been criticized by members of the European Parliament (MEPs) for failing to acknowledge mounting evidence of abusive treatment by Tunisian authorities of sub-Saharan migrants, including illegal push-backs. racial hate and human rights violations.
In early August, 27 migrants were found dead on Libyan territory near the Tunisian border, days after Interior Minister Kamel Fekih admitted that small groups of migrants were being pushed back into the desert region bordering Libya and Algeria.
President Saied has also previously embraced the far right conspiracies that migrants are plotting to change the demographic composition of the country.
Humanitarian, but severe
When asked about the questionable human rights situation of the Tunisian authorities, Weber said that “European migration policy is always built on the humanitarian spirit to respect the individual people who stand behind. But, on the other hand, to have strict control over the borders” .
Weber, who criticized former US President Donald Trump in 2017 for building a fence wall on the US-Mexico border, now suggests that Europe needs such mechanisms to protect its borders.
“It is clear to me that we have to protect our borders. And if for that we need all the technical measures as we did on the Turkish-Greek border, then they are necessary,” he said.
“I want to make sure that our European citizens know that it is the states that control who arrives, and not the smugglers”, he added, “otherwise we cannot guarantee the support of our citizens for legal immigration, like the Ukrainians who are currently coming to Europe.”
Weber also said the EU must ensure there are safe and legal routes for those fleeing war and conflict to enter the EU.
“We have to make sure that those who arrive are real refugees, asylum seekers and really have a protected status,” he said.
“Not just EU interests”
Speaking about the conditions of the new cooperation with Tunisia, Weber said that relations must be based on mutual respect.
“It’s not just about our interests, about immigration, but also about their interests, about investments, about job opportunities for the future,” he said. “We must have a respectful relationship with our neighbors. Otherwise we won’t be able to solve the problems.”
“Tunisia has an interest in having more investment by European companies to create good job opportunities for the younger generations, so that there is no longer any reason to leave the country”, he added, “and we have an interest in reducing the number of illegal arrivals especially in Italy.”
But the European Commission’s Director-General for Neighborhood Policy Gert Jan Koopman told the European Parliament on Thursday that the funds pledged by the EU in the July deal are currently stalled, with the first payment originally scheduled for July still to be made. .
An electoral issue of primary importance
Weber was criticized by left-wing groups in the European Parliament following his trip for misusing the migration issue for political gain, a claim he rejects.
“For many European citizens, migration is one of the most important issues,” said Weber, “we are facing a referendum in Poland. The Dutch government has failed because of migration. Many people are worried about this.”
Weber said the EPP was taking a moderate and pragmatic stance on immigration compared to its left and far-right counterparts.
“The EPP has the interests of our citizens at heart and that is why we want to solve problems,” he said, “we don’t want to use it like the right-wing extremists to scare people, and we are not moralistic like the left who are just telling us what we should do morally”.
“We are basically solving problems with the idea of a humanitarian approach, but with strict border control,” he added.
Migration is likely to be at the heart of many voters’ concerns ahead of next June’s European elections.