Germany is debating measures to speed up the deportation of rejected asylum seekers from North Africa. Tunisia has agreed to support the government and asked for Germany to downgrade its travel warnings.
His country, Tunisian Foreign Minister Khemaies Jhinaoui told journalists in Berlin on Tuesday, would do its utmost to "help our German friends." Tunisia would "of course accept our citizens, if we can be sure that they are indeed our citizens and residing illegally in Germany."
His comments and visit to Germany come at a time when German officials want to limit migration from North Africa by designating Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia "safe countries", making it easier and faster to process asylum claims from nationals from those countries and deporting them.
While the political - in particular the security - situation remains strained in all three countries, youth unemployment remains the main challenge, pushing many young men to try their luck elsewhere.
Deportation: a question of documents?
The three North African countries would be added to a list that so far comprises Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. Politicians have sparked a debate on whether to include Afghanistan and Turkey, meaning their citizens would have very little chance of gaining refugees status. In the past, human rights organizations have repeatedly opposed such a designation.
The latest foray by Germany officials follows widespread public anger over attacks on women in Cologne on News Year's Eve, reportedly perpetrated by men from Northern African countries. The events led to many questioning Chancellor Angela Merkel's perceived open-door asylum policy, which has seen a record influx of refugees to Germany in recent months.
However, current agreements already allow for a repatriation of rejected asylum seekers. But if these lack valid identification documents, North African embassies in Germany have in the past often refused to issue the documents needed to repatriate their citizens.
Many refugees destroy their papers upon arrival in Europe, while others lose them or travel with fake documents.
Gabriel: cut development aid if countries don't take citizens back
On Sunday, Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel from the Social Democrats suggested that Germany could cut development aid to countries which were not willing to take back its citizens whose asylum applications had been rejected.
According to figures provided by the Development Ministry in Berlin, Morocco received 490 million euros in development aid and grants in 2016, followed by Tunisia (215 million euros) and Algeria (6 million euros).
In Berlin, the two foreign ministers seemed to have reached a tentative agreement: The two countries had agreed, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told journalists, to explore the possibility of issuing European laissez-passez documents to rejected asylum seekers.
A German delegation made up of experts would soon travel to Tunis to discuss the details, he added.
Khemaies Jhinaoui also asked Germany to downgrade the current travel warnings issued by the German foreign ministry following several terror attacks last year, including on tourists in the beach resort of Sousse. In the aftermath, the tourist sector, a major source of income in Tunisia, suffered major setbacks from which it has yet to recover.
It would be of great assistance if "our friends encourage their citizens to travel to Tunisia."