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EU Officials to Visit Tunisia

FILE: Municipal workers remove material from a makeshift camp for migrants and refugees from sub-Saharan African countries after it was dismantled by the police, in front of the U.N. High Commission for Refugees headquarters in Tunis, on April 11, 2023.

BRUSSELS - European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen will visit Tunisia with the prime ministers of Italy and the Netherlands for talks on economic and migration concerns, the E.U. said Thursday.

The European leaders will meet Sunday with Tunisian President Kais Saied, whose country is going through a dire financial crisis that have aggravated political tensions.

Tunisia has also been flooded with migrants and refugees, many from Sub-Saharan Africa, because of its proximity to an Italian island, and the European Union.

E.C. head von der Leyen said "An agreement on cooperation in the areas of the economy, energy and migration will be at the heart of those discussions."

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni met Saied in Tunis on Tuesday to push efforts to secure an IMF bailout for Tunisia, while also supporting its efforts to tackle the growing migrant flows to Europe.

Last October, the debt-riddled North African country reached an agreement in principle for a nearly $2 billion deal with the International Monetary Fund, but discussions have since stalled.

The IMF has called for legislation to restructure more than 100 state-owned firms, which hold monopolies over many parts of the economy and in many cases are heavily indebted.

But Saied on Tuesday again rejected what he calls the "diktats" of the IMF before a loan is granted, his office said, even as the country struggles under crippling inflation and debt estimated at around 80 percent of its gross domestic product.

Meloni also advocated in Tunis for a "concrete approach to step up support for Tunisia in its fight against human trafficking and illegal migration" through the E.U.

Tunisia's coastline is less than 150 kilometers from the Italian island of Lampedusa, and has long been a stepping stone for migrants, mostly from sub-Saharan African countries, seeking a better life in Europe.

The flow of migrants from Tunisia intensified after Saied made a fiery speech on February 21 claiming that illegal immigration was a demographic threat to Tunisia.