Tunisia and the EU have signed an agreement to combat “irregular” migration, i.e. those who move in violation of the rules.
Tunisia has become the main point of departure for migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.
The EU is struggling to cope, with 72,000 migrants making the journey this year alone, mostly to Italy.
The deal includes $118m (£90m) to stop smuggling, strengthen borders and return migrants.
In recent months, black migrants in Tunisia have faced violent attacks due to an increasingly hostile environment.
Tunisian President Kais Saied had accused the migrants of participating in a “plot” to change the country’s demographic profile, blaming “traitors who work for foreign countries”. He later denied being racist.
Tunisia is suffering from an economic crisis and an increasing number of Tunisians are also trying to leave the country to go to Europe.
The EU-Tunisia agreement stipulates that migrants at the border will be treated with “full respect for human rights” and also aims to chart legal pathways for people to migrate.
The deal, which the EU describes as “strategic and comprehensive”, also outlines a plan to boost Tunisia’s economic growth through “socio-economic reforms” and greater cooperation on an energy transition. green, education, research and innovation.
European leaders, including Italian and Dutch Prime Ministers Giorgia Meloni and Mark Rutte, who were in Tunis to sign the deal, described it as an “important step” to tackle migration and a deal that would benefit also to the “Tunisian people”. , according to the AFP news agency.
President Saied also defended its record on migration, saying the country “has given migrants everything it can offer with unlimited generosity”, AFP reports.
There is still a question mark over a $1bn (£764m) long-term loan the EU previously offered to help Tunisia out of its economic crisis, as it depends on the outcome separate talks with the IMF. However, those negotiations with the Washington-based financial agency have since stalled.
Besides anti-migration comments, President Saied also faces opposition from Tunisians who accuse him of taking control for himself.
President Saied, who was elected in 2019, has taken a series of measures to strengthen the powers of the presidency at the expense of parliament and the judiciary. Two years ago he sacked his prime minister, suspended parliament and a year later pushed through a constitution that gives him almost unlimited powers.
His critics accused him of a coup, but President Saied said he was simply taking action to “save the state” after Covid badly damaged the economy.