Germany's Merkel leaves Cairo for Tunis to continue talks on illegal migration

Karem Yehia, Tunis,Friday 3 Mar 2017

The chancellor's six hour visit will also include discussions on combating terrorism, the Libyan crisis and boosting German aid to the Tunisian economy

Merkel and El Chahed
File Photo: German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, and Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef El Chahed brief the media after talks at the chancellery in Berlin, Feb. 14, 2017 (Photo: AP)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is set to fly Friday from Cairo to Tunisia for a six hour official visit where she will meet Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi and other top officials, including Prime Minister Youssef Chahed.

Sources in Tunisia told Ahram Online that the meetings will mainly focus on four issues: illegal migration, combating terrorism, the Libyan crisis and boosting German aid to the Tunisian economy.

The chancellor is scheduled to give an "extraordinary speech" addressed to the Tunisian people, a spokesperson for the country's parliament, Hasan Fathaley, told Ahram Online.

“There will be talks with parliament speaker Mohamed Al-Nasser during her visit to Parliament headquarters,” Fathaley said.

Fathaley added that the Tunisian parliament speaker will visit Berlin in April.

The spokesperson said the visit has created big expectations among Tunisians, with the upcoming visits between high ranking German and Tunisian officials expected to boost cooperation between the countries.

Tunisia and Germany are celebrating 60 years of diplomatic relations this year.

Illegal Immigration: 'No accord reached yet’

Illegal immigration, a key concern for European countries facing a growing migrant crisis, will be top on the list of issues Merkel will discuss with Tunisian officials, according to Fathaley.

The German leader was in Cairo for talks with President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, in which both leaders discussed ongoing efforts to curb illegal immigration.

Egypt has recently opposed proposals to build refugee camps to house illegal migrants on the African continent.

Tunisian sources told Ahram Online that the parliament has not yet reached an accord with Germany over the proposed deportation of illegal Tunisian immigrants from the European country to Tunisia.

During a visit by Chahed to Berlin in February, reports emerged that the countries had reached an agreement on this issue.

However, Chahed told German media at the time that his government had rejected German demands to open refugee camps on Tunisian territory, and that no agreement had been reached.

Germany called for such camps after a terrorist attack on a Berlin market in December was claimed by Tunisian migrant Anis AL Emary.

Shortly after the attack, German officials hinted that Berlin would cut economic aid to Tunisia if the country did not accept the return of 1,500 illegal migrants, sparking anger from Tunisian politicians and media.

However, shortly after Chahed’s visit, Germany pledged $1 billion in economic aid to the country.

Speaking to Ahram Online, Tunisian Foreign Ministry Media Director Bouraoui Limam said there was “mutual understanding” between Tunisia and Germany on the return of illegal immigrants. He emphasised, however, that this was “not an agreement.”

“Tunisian foreign policy applies a framework consisting of three elements to deal with this issue. The vision is to support joint development and immigration. We already established such an agreement with France,” Limam said.

Limam said the elements of the framework include "proof that any yet-to-be-deported migrant is a Tunisian national, that he/she was residing illegally, and the condition that any Tunisians meeting these criteria be deported in small groups to preserve their dignity.”

“We will not concede to Germany collecting a group and just putting them [all] together on a plane.Three or four persons per trip will be enough,” he said.

The Tunisian official also said that as his country has made agreements similar to this one with France and Italy, Tunis was seeking a collective agreement on the issue with the EU.

Accompanying Merkel on her trip to Tunisia is a delegation of German businessmen and company directors, who will attend a conference with their Tunisian counterparts.

The two countries are expected to ink a final agreement on building a new Volkswagen automobile factory in Tunisia.

The factory is expected to be an unprecedented investment of this kind in the region, making Germany Tunisia's third largest European trade partner.

“Merkel's visit is very important. Our relationship with Germany is excellent. We deal in confidence with a country that really supports us,” Limam said.  

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