So far this year, 348 asylum applications have been submitted from Tunisia to Austria, compared to more than 13,000 applications last year.
A migration agreement struck by the European Union and Tunisia in the summer is “slowly beginning to bear fruit,” Interior Minister Gerhard Karner said Thursday during a three-day trip to the North African country. According to Frontex, 1,652 people left Tunisia for Europe in October, compared to 16,396 in September. Austria wants to do its part by training border guards.
However, the beginning of the immigration deal was not smooth at all. Many European Union institutions criticized the agreement, which stipulated that the European Commission could pay financial aid amounting to 900 million euros to the economically affected country. Tunisia itself repaid €60 million in budget aid in October, and Interior Minister Kamel El-Feki said: “Under no circumstances can Tunisia serve as a border guard for other countries.”
Shortly after the agreement was announced, a kind of “final panic” prevailed, but now the agreement is showing its first results. “It is important that we support Tunisia when it comes to protecting borders; they can count on our support.” A conversation between El-Feki and Karner was also on the agenda Thursday. The Austrian Interior Minister stressed that this was “on an equal footing” and that cooperation with the third country was going well. I have always said: mainland security rather than sea rescue. People should not even make the dangerous journey across the sea.
348 asylum applications from Tunisia
Last year, Austria counted 13,126 asylum applications from Tunisia, after the abolition of visa freedom in November 2022, compared to 348 this year. The bilateral meeting also included the signing of a disaster relief agreement. “The goal is to provide assistance quickly and without bureaucracy,” Karner stressed. Countries such as Germany, Italy and Spain already have agreements like this.
The trip will focus on the opening of a training center for border guards on Friday. Austria and Denmark have jointly funded the centre, which has the capacity to accommodate 200 future border guards. Austria contributed nearly one million euros. Karner and Danish Immigration Minister Kari Debvad Beck will hand over the diplomas of the first 15 graduates tomorrow. “We think similarly with the Danes, even though the party families are different,” Karner said of his Social Democratic counterpart. Karner explains why Austria is going its own way despite the EU deal: “The EU has a comprehensive responsibility, but each individual member state also has a responsibility. We want to send a signal here and push the issue forward.”
The project was coordinated by the Vienna-based Center for Migration Policy (ICMPD) under the supervision of former ÖVP Vice Chancellor Michael Spindelegger. The next step is to expand the health facilities and sports stadium, and the Netherlands has also announced that it will join the project. “We don’t give you (ICMPD, note) money and say ‘do something with it,’ that’s a specific project assignment,” Carner emphasized. Various modules form part of the training, including a module on how to observe human rights. (Abba)
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