The migrant crisis was at the top of the agenda for the meeting between the two leaders in Berlin. The topics included deportations of illegal migrants from North Africa in Germany, as well as Tunisia’s role in providing assistance to refugees.
In December, a failed Tunisian asylum seeker named Anis Amri deliberately drove into a Christmas market, killing 12 and injuring 56 others. He was slated for deportation but due to the Tunisian authorities disputing his nationality, he wasn’t sent back to his home country. Since then, Germany has wanted to speed up the deportation process - this topic was a focal point of discussion between the two nations this afternoon in Berlin.
"There are 1500 Tunisian nationals slated for deportation in Germany but only 116 have returned," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel, adding, "Those who don’t want to return voluntarily have to be forced to do so."
Merkel then went on to mention that the German government was trying to make voluntary return for migrants more "attractive." Such efforts included the launch of the "Starthilfe Plus program" at the beginning of February, which offers migrants not eligible for asylum up to 1,200 euros to return home voluntarily. Merkel also suggested that funding should be made available for Tunisians in Germany to start businesses back home.
Although the Amri case has made Germany focus on deportations of Tunisian nationals, Merkel said that only 1 percent of the migrants arriving in Europe over the Mediterranean were actually from there. The bigger issue was the unchecked migration off the coast of Libya, a country that has been under turmoil since a NATO-led coalition took out dictator Moammar Gadhafi six years ago.
Refugee centers in Tunisia?
Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed said that securing Libya’s maritime border should be first priority in dealing with migration, and that Tunisia couldn't hold large numbers of refugees by itself.
"Tunisia is a very young democracy. I don’t think that it can function or that we have the capacity to create refugee camps," he said in an interview with German daily "Bild" earlier today.
He also commented on the case of Anis Amri, the terrorist who carried out the truck-ramming attack in Berlin, by saying that, "Illegal immigrants who use false papers sometimes make things difficult and prolong the process."
PM Chahed and Chancellor Merkel also went to the site where the attack took place later in the day on Tuesday.
In regards to further cooperation on the migrant issue, Merkel concluded that the two nations had to "calmly discuss, with mutual respect, what possibilities exist."
Merkel has promised to visit Tunisia in the near future for further discussion.
Author: Wesley Dockery (with dpa, AFP, Reuters)