Migration accords signed between Tunisia and Switzerland in 2012 are bearing fruit, Tunisian Foreign Minister Khemaies Jhinaoui has told swissinfo.ch.
“To stop the flood of illegal immigrants, our two countries set up a programme of cooperation focusing mainly on support for voluntary return [of asylum seekers] and on professional training for young Tunisians in their own country,” he said. “According to our statistics, more than 1,600 Tunisian asylum seekers have returned home thanks to this support.”
Asked how many people had benefited from the training programme, Jhinaoui said “frankly not many for the moment” but “we hope to have about 50 by the end of the year”.
The two migration accords are seen as a model by Switzerland. They are part of an overall cooperation strategy signed with Tunisia in 2012 and renewed until 2020 during a visit to Tunisia by Swiss Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga last October.
The cooperation deal, launched in the wake of the Arab Spring, is built on three focus areas: democratic development, economic growth, and migration.
“Switzerland was the first country to support the democratic process when we were just starting to set up the new democratic institutions in 2013-2014,” Jhinaoui said.
Asked when funds linked to former Tunisian dictator Ben Ali which had been frozen in Switzerland would be returned, Jhinaoui recalled that not only did Switzerland freeze the funds as early as 2011 but has already returned CHF250,000 ($254,000) to Tunisia.
“Procedures are under way to free the remaining CHF60 million still blocked as part of criminal procedures in Switzerland to determine if their source is legal or not. Switzerland has extended the time limit until January 19, and in the meantime Tunisian jurists are receiving training from Swiss experts as part of judicial cooperation.”
swissinfo.ch/jc/interview by Rachid Khechana