Jhinaoui calls on EU to be more forthcoming with Tunisia on migration

“Tunisia must move to bring the Palestinian issue back to the fore in the international agenda,” said the former FM.
Tuesday 22/12/2020
A file picture of Tunisian former Foreign Minister Khemaies Jhinaoui. (TAW)
A file picture of Tunisian former Foreign Minister Khemaies Jhinaoui. (TAW)

TUNIS--Political and trade unions and national figures in Tunisia are calling for changes in the existing political system.

Former Tunisian Foreign Minister Khemaies Jhinaoui, however, thinks Tunisia needs an expanded national dialogue to resolve its current crisis.

“Change can only be from within the state.. The dilemma lies in the electoral system, so let's change the electoral system, and then whoever wins the next elections (scheduled for 2024) will have a majority that can change the political system," he said in an interview with The Arab Weekly.

In addition to its internal political crisis, Tunisia is facing pressure from countries such as France to deport Tunisians residing illegally on its soil. Tunisian diplomacy was put to a serious test, prompting the prime minister to recently travel to Paris for a visit that sparked widespread controversy over the role of Tunisian  diplomacy under President Kais Saied.

Jhinaoui holds his country's decision makers responsible for failing to better clarify their position on the issue of illegal migration, as Tunisia faces mounting pressure regarding migrants who are illegally on European soil, especially in France and Italy.

"Instability and lack of vision are the main obstacles confronting Tunisian diplomacy," he said. "We live in a dynamic world, and the region is undergoing major changes that require our vigilance. Whoever shapes our official diplomatic agenda must determine what serves Tunisian foreign policy interests above all else, taking in consideration our strengths and weaknesses."

Regarding Tunisian Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi's visit to Paris last week, Jhinaoui said: “If I were one of his advisers, I would have advised him not to go during this period of time and to prepare his visit more meticulously and under less time constraints."

Mechichi's remarks during his visit to France, in which he linked illegal migration to terrorism, sparked uproar in Tunisia.

Reacting to Mechichi's statement that the migration file that terrorism at times emanates from illegal migration, Jhinaoui said: "I think he did not intend to say that exactly that way."

“Logic dictate that people come and go in the state's senior positions, But the state's policies endure. When I was minister of foreign affairs, we had a specific approach with regard to the migration issue and with regard to Tunisian migrants residing illegally in Europe," he noted.

"The gist of this approach is that any person residing illegally can be repatriated to Tunisia, but in full respect of his rights and dignity. This includes verification of his identity, because there are a few illegal migrants who tear up their passports and say that they are Tunisian'," added Jhinaoui.

A file picture of Tunisian former Foreign Minister Khemaies Jhinaoui. (AFP)
A file picture of Tunisian former Foreign Minister Khemaies Jhinaoui. (AFP)

The former top diplomat believes that within the framework of Euro-Mediterranean policies and support for stability in the region, "our European neighbours should help us, and this should come through investment, assistance with projects in the regions that are the source of illegal migration as well as with the recruitment of university graduates."

"We have proposed to the European side to organise revolving migration, as Europe needs cadres while we have at least 300,000 unemployed university graduates looking for jobs, including cadres that can meet the demands of the European market. If they succeed in their work, that is fine, and if they fail or engage in any unacceptable practices, we can always take them back," he said.

"But today there is an illegal migration that is not controlled by either Europe or Tunisia .. Today there are thousands of Tunisians in Europe who had been trained at home and whose education was funded by their own country. So Europe should take this into consideration and offer us more substantial help that would be commensurate with our privileged status with the EU as we have suggested before'."

“We must initiate and follow up on these issues and convince our European partners about the rationale of our approach. There should be broader cooperation with these EU countries to expand organised migration and curb 'illegal' outflows," he added.

Dynamic processes

North Africa has witnessed many transformations in recent weeks, starting with the Libyan-Libyan dialogue after a year of internal fighting between the Libyan National Army (LNA) and the Government of National Accord (GNA) militias, and finally Morocco's wresting of American recognition of its sovereignty over the Western Sahara.

"The issue of the Western Sahara is a national issue for Morocco. Rabat has launched an initiative since 2007 to extend autonomy to the Sahara, but under Moroccan sovereignty, the United States has met the Moroccan request. This, however, does not mean that the issue is not anymore on the agenda of the UN Security Council," Jhinaoui says.

The US recognition of Morocco's sovereignty over the Western Sahara a few days ago was in return for Rabat's normalising relations with Israel. And recently, the Tunisian prime minister said  that normalising relations with Israel "is not on the table" for his country.

Jhinaoui feels that “there is a great momentum today at the international level .. The Palestinian issue was until the 2001 managed within the framework of the Oslo process; and this process, as you know, was launched in 1993 and was supposed to lead in 1999 to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state."

"At that time, the approach that was adopted was a step-by-step confidence building process between the two parties (Israeli and Palestinian) aimed at advancing on the unresolved thorny issues of  the refugees, Jerusalem and the borders. But unfortunately the Israeli right stopped this process because it did not believe in the establishment of a Palestinian state," he said.

He added: “Tunisia must move to bring the Palestinian issue back to the fore in the international agenda, and take advantage of the non-permanent seat it currently holds in the UN Security Council to do so; because even if everyone recognises Israel, there is a Palestinian people that has the right to an independent state on its land, with Jerusalem as its capital.

The former foreign minister further noted that Tunisia should go beyond repeating slogans and should instead help the Palestinian people through diplomatic channels to regain their rights."

He pointed out that “Even in 1996, when we opened an office in Tel Aviv and Gaza, this was at the request of President Yasser Arafat, who was based in Tunisia at the time along with the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. And at that time, we helped the Palestinians return to their land and continue the quest for national rights from within their territories. We opened the liaison office to support the Palestinians and the Israelis towards further advancing the peace process and restoring Palestinian rights with the establishment of a Palestinian state and not for the sake of mere normalisation."