EU-Tunisia relations after the Arab Spring: migration policies, asylum, and human rights protection

By Giorgia Cantarale
Submitted to Session P4856 (Mediterranean Crossings and Tunisian Settlements, 1860-2017, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Tunisia;
Human Rights;
In the last few years, the European Union has pursued a geopolitical strategy that, as far as migration is concerned, has had serious impacts on its neighboring countries. In the frame of the EU’s foreign policy, North Africa is one of the three areas of interest. This contribution highlights European migration policies. In particular, it engages the following questions: what do the external borders mean for the EU and what are their impacts for refugees in Tunisia?
Tunisia has around 1,000 refugees coming mainly from Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea and Libya. Around 10% of them live in the southern regions of the country, such as in Medenine, Tataouine and Ben Gardene. The lack of an internal organ recognizing refugees and, on the whole, of a national legal system, largely constrains the refugees’ lives. Several hundred thousand people crossed the border from Libya into Tunisia in early 2011 following the overthrow of the Ghaddafi regime, and most of them are still holed up in a camp on the Tunisian side of the border.
For Tunisia, which had not experienced high immigration since colonial times, this prompted immediate practical challenges, and required the government to elaborate new migration and asylum laws after many years of inactivity in this policy field. In terms of mobility, in fact, the freedom of movement sealed in Article 13 of the Human Rights Declaration never features in these conversations about the democratic transition in Tunisia. Hence, Tunisia’s effectiveness in policing its maritime and land borders against the human right of “leaving one’s country” is at the center of the policy conversation about Tunisia.
In terms of forced migrations, the juncture between human rights and Tunisian democratization tends to be openly embraced by international actors, humanitarian organizations, and European institutions working in Tunisia. Tunisia is a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention and adopted a new Constitution in January 2014, which guarantees the right of political asylum in Tunisia and the principle of non-refoulement.