Tunisia and the EU have signed a deal to tackle “irregular” migration – meaning those moving in breach of rules.
Tunisia has become the main departure point for migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.
The EU has been struggling to cope, with 72,000 migrants making the journey this year alone, mostly to Italy.
The deal includes $118m (£90m) to stop smuggling, strengthen borders and return migrants.
In recent months, black migrants in Tunisia have faced violent attacks due to an increasingly hostile environment.
Tunisia’s President Kais Saied had accused migrants of partaking in a “plot” to change the country’s demographic profile, blaming “traitors who are working for foreign countries”. He later denied being racist.
The EU-Tunisia deal says migrants at the border will be treated with the “full respect of human rights” and also seeks to carve out legal pathways for people to migrate.
The deal, which the EU describes as “strategic and comprehensive” also outlines a plan to boost Tunisia’s economic growth through “socio-economic reforms” and greater cooperation on a green energy transition, education, research and innovation.
The European leaders, including Italian and Dutch Prime Ministers Giorgia Meloni and Mark Rutte, who were in Tunis for the signing of the deal described it as an “important step” to deal with migration and an agreement which would also benefit “the Tunisian people”, according to the AFP news agency.
President Saied also defended his record on migration, saying that the country “gave the migrants everything it can offer with unlimited generosity,” AFP reports.
There is still a question mark over a long-term loan of $1bn (£764m) that the EU has previously offered to help Tunisia out of its economic crisis, because it depends on the outcome of separate talks with the IMF. However those negotiations with the Washington-based finance agency have since stalled.
Aside from the anti-migration comments, President Saied also faces opposition from Tunisians who accuse him of seizing control for himself.
President Saied, who was elected in 2019, has carried out a series of measures to enhance the powers of the presidency at the expense of parliament and the judiciary. Two years he ago sacked his prime minister, suspended parliament and a year later pushed through a constitution that gives him almost unlimited powers.
His critics have accused him of a coup, but President Saied said he was simply taking action to “save the state” after Covid severely damaged the economy.