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Why is the EU bribing this African autocrat?

A migrant waiting on the beach in Tunisia. Fathi Nasri/AFP/Getty

When top EU officials and European leaders visited Tunisia to propose a new deal on immigration last week, says Steffen Lüdke in Der Spiegel, they refused to take any questions from journalists. And who can blame them? Under the proposed agreement, Brussels would give Tunisia €1bn to stop migrants boarding boats to Europe and agree to take back any who manage to slip through. Proponents claim the arrangement would reduce the number who die trying to cross the Mediterranean. But let’s be clear-eyed about what this really is: outsourcing responsibility for asylum seekers to a “questionable partner” abroad.

Since Tunisian leader Kais Saied took office in 2019, he has become “increasingly authoritarian”, locking up opposition politicians and activists. He also propagates the right-wing “Great Replacement” theory – the idea that native populations are being replaced by immigrants – which has “made life hell” for black Tunisians. Sadly, Saied wouldn’t be the first autocrat the EU has paid to lock up people trying to flee tyranny. Brussels already has similar arrangements in Turkey, Morocco and Libya. The flaws in this “short-sighted externalisation strategy” are obvious: “dirty deals” with dictators don’t tend to be popular back home, and give the foreign leaders in question a perfect opportunity for blackmail. After the implosion of relations with Russia, Europe insisted it would become “less dependent” on shady autocrats. This Tunisia business shows that “exactly the opposite is happening”.