Published by Joint press release | 18 / Apr / 2024

4.8 million to stop migrants from Tunisia: Italian civil society appeals to the TAR

ASGI, ARCI, ActionAid, Mediterranea Saving Humans, Circular Spaces and Le Carbet are challenging the financing of the renovation and transfer to Tunisia of 6 patrol boats. The hearing at the Lazio Regional Administrative Court is scheduled for 30 April.

Prime Minister Meloni's visit to Tunis today confirms the strengthening of bilateral relations between the two countries, despite the Tunisian government's repressive policies towards migrants.

Last year, Italy played a leading role in the negotiations that led to the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between the European Union and Tunisia, and has largely financed the policy of blocking migration. The official visit by Prime Minister Meloni to Tunis this morning confirms the strengthening of bilateral relations between the two countries, despite the authoritarian drift of the Tunisian government, which since February 2023 has been pursuing an openly racist and repressive policy against migrants.

As part of this cooperation, in December 2023 the Italian Ministry of the Interior allocated 4,800,000 euros for the refurbishment and transfer of 6 patrol boats to the Tunisian National Guard (G.N.), replicating a model already adopted in Libya. This funding has been challenged by ASGI, ARCI, ActionAid, Mediterranea Saving Humans, Circular Spaces and Le Carbet, who have filed a precautionary petition with the Lazio Regional Administrative Court. The hearing is scheduled for 30 April next year.

Indeed, the plaintiff associations believe that support for the Tunisian G.N. increases the risk of violating fundamental rights and the obligation of "non-refoulement" of migrants, and is unlawful in several respects. In particular, the funding would violate national legislation prohibiting the funding and transfer of arms to third countries responsible for gross violations of international human rights conventions. The transfer of the patrol boats itself is being decided without the involvement of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defence and the many advisory and control bodies that play a key role in the complex procedural mechanisms of planning, verification and authorisation established by Law 185/1990 to monitor the flow of arms into and out of the EU.

In addition, the Tunisian G.N. has been found responsible for documented human rights abuses during violent interceptions at sea and after disembarkation in Tunisia, a country that cannot therefore be considered a 'safe country' under the parameters of the SAR Convention. The abuses committed by the Tunisian authorities against migrants have been widely documented by various international organisations and the United Nations itself. Numerous testimonies and reports denounce the violent methods used by the Tunisian Navy to intervene at sea: dangerous manoeuvres to block boats, which on some occasions have led to shipwrecks and even the deaths of migrants, the use of guns and sticks to threaten people on board, the theft of boat engines which are then left adrift, and other extremely dangerous practices. On many occasions, people intercepted at sea and brought ashore have been directly and illegally deported to areas bordering Libya and Algeria, where dozens have died after being abandoned in the desert.

It is therefore clear that the resources made available to the Tunisian authorities, instead of contributing to humanitarian initiatives, are constantly being used to commit acts that flagrantly violate the human rights of migrants at sea. Therefore, the appeal - filed by a pool of lawyers consisting of Luce Bonzano, Maria Teresa Brocchetto, Giulia Crescini, Giulia Vicini, Carmela Maria Cordaro, Cristina Laura Cecchini, Lucia Gennari, Loredana Leo, Nicola Datena, Maria Pia Cecere, and Miriam Fagnani - calls for the immediate suspension of the agreement pending consideration of the case.

17th April 2024

Front cover, photo by Ali Abbes

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