TUNISIA, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisia will host the leaders of Italy, the Netherlands and the European Union on Sunday for talks aimed at paving the way for an international bailout and restoring stability to a country that has become a main source of migration to Europe.

from Tunisia increasingly autocratic president He is resisting conditions for stagnant $1.9 billion of International Monetary Fund support, which include cuts to flour and fuel subsidies, cuts to the large public administration sector, and the privatization of loss-making public companies.

President Kais Saied warns that such moves would trigger social unrest and chafes at what he calls Western dictates. But Tunisia’s economy is teetering towards collapse. The population is already restless and disillusioned with both Saied’s leadership and the country’s decade-long experiment in democracy.

That has led more and more Tunisians to risk dangerous boat trips across the Mediterranean in search of a better life in Europe. Tunisia is also a major transit point for other people seeking to migrate: Sub-Saharan Africans make up the majority of those leaving Tunisia’s shores, including some who fled racist abuse fanned by the Tunisian president earlier this year.

“Tunisia is a priority, because destabilization in Tunisia would have serious repercussions on the stability of the whole of North Africa, and those repercussions inevitably reach here,” said Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, whose country is the destination of most of Europe-bound migrants departing from Tunisia. he said he Thursday.

Halting the migration is one of the top priorities of the far-right Meloni, who is making her second trip to Tunisia in a week. She visited on Tuesday and will return on Sunday with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to meet with Saied.

European leaders are bringing a package of initiatives to improve security in Tunisia, paving the way for IMF aid, Meloni said.

The European Commission said the talks would focus on advancing an EU-Tunisia deal focused on the economy, energy and migration.

Tunisia’s budget deficit has been aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the fallout from Russia’s war in Ukraine, and IMF aid has stalled amid political tensions. Saied dissolved parliament and the constitution was rewritten to give the presidency more power, and has overseen the crackdown on opposition figures and the independent media.

After meeting with Meloni on Tuesday, Saied said Tunisia is struggling to deal with migrants from other African countries settling in or transiting Tunisia, and called for international help to fight migrant smuggling networks that “consider these immigrants as merchandise thrown into the sea or the desert sands.”

“Now all roads lead not only to Rome, but also to Tunis,” Saied said, according to a statement from his office.

While European officials put forward proposals on security, Saied said the solution is not just about security, but also “tools to eliminate misery, poverty and deprivation.”

The Italian and Tunisian leaders discussed holding an international summit on migration and development with countries of the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf.

An immigrant advocacy group, the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights, held a demonstration against Meloni’s visit on Tuesday and plans another for Sunday. The group and 30 other organizations issued a joint statement denouncing “the repressive policy of the Italian government towards illegal immigrants and the forced repatriation of the latter to their countries of origin.”

For years, Tunisia has been one of the few countries with repatriation agreements with Italy, so Tunisians who enter illegally and have no reason to claim asylum are sent back.

The visit to Tunisia comes days after EU countries sealed an agreement on a plan to share responsibility for migrants entering Europe illegally, the root of one of the bloc’s longest-running political crises. The plan is still in the early stages and may encounter resistance in the European Parliament.


Angela Charlton reported from Paris. Frances D’Emilio in Rome, Colleen Barry in Milan and Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this report.


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