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Tunisia Rejects EU 'Collapse' Claim

FILE: A Tunisian demonstrator waves a Tunisian flag during a rally in support of Tunisian President Kais Saied in Tunis, Tunisia. Taken Sun. May 8, 2022.
FILE: A Tunisian demonstrator waves a Tunisian flag during a rally in support of Tunisian President Kais Saied in Tunis, Tunisia. Taken Sun. May 8, 2022.

TUNIS - Tunisia on Tuesday dismissed as "overblown" concerns of a looming economic or social collapse after the EU's top diplomat warned of a "very, very dangerous" situation in the North African country.

Tunisia's foreign ministry rejected EU policy chief Josep Borrell's comments as "overblown, both in view of the well-established resilience of the Tunisian people throughout its history, and in view of the threat of migration to Europe from the south."

Borrell had warned Monday that if crisis-torn Tunisia "collapses economically or socially then we will be in a situation where new flows of migrants will come to Europe."

An EU delegation arrived in Tunisia on Tuesday to examine "the political and socio-economic situation" and discuss cooperation over irregular migration, according to a statement from the 27-nation bloc.

In the statement, it said Borrell's comments were "selective."

Tunisia has suffered over a decade of economic and political crisis since its 2011 revolution, culminating in a July 2021 power grab by President Kais Saied, whose rivals have accused him of mounting a coup.

Saied has since overturned the country's post-revolution constitution and granted himself almost limitless powers, as well as launching a crackdown against the opposition.

Tunisians have continued to struggle with joblessness and surging inflation, exacerbated by the fallout from Russia's invasion of Ukraine, pushing many to try to leave the country.

Tunis is in prolonged talks with the International Monetary Fund for a $2-billion bailout package to help the heavily indebted treasury balance its books.

- Migration -

Southern European leaders, particularly Italy's far-right government, are concerned at inflows of irregular migrants from and via Tunisia, which lies just 130 kilometers from the Italian island of Lampedusa.

According to Rome, more than 32,000 migrants arrived illegally in Italy from Tunisia last year.

Tunisians make up a large proportion of those attempting the dangerous journey, but many other Africans escaping violence and poverty from south of the Sahara also try to reach Europe via Tunisia.

Saied in February made an incendiary speech blaming "hordes of illegal migrants from sub-Saharan Africa" for a crime wave and saying a "criminal plot" was underway to change the nation's demographic make-up.

The World Bank effectively suspended new lending to Tunisia after Saied's remarks, a move that put pressure on the IMF not to approve a bailout.

Borrell on Monday said that finalizing the deal was "indispensable".

"Tunisia is a neighbor, is a close partner and what happens there has an immediate impact on us," he said.

"Not only because it increases migration flows, because it creates more instability and insecurity in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, in the Mediterranean."

In its statement, the Tunisian foreign ministry praised the "constructive support of several partners" including Italy, and said it was open to "a responsible, respectful and equal partnership with all its partners".