The German Ministry of the Interior gives indications that border troops from Tunisia are using German equipment for their crimes in the Mediterranean. Organisations report stolen engines and drowned refugees. These troops received dozens of engines, inflatable boats and training from Germany.
More than 130,000 people are reported to have crossed the Mediterranean to Italy in small boats this year to seek refuge in Europe. Most departures are now no longer from Libya, but from Tunisia. There, the refugees, most of whom come from sub-Saharan countries, are driven into the desert by the state and persecuted by the population in pogroms.
Human rights organisations regularly report that the Tunisian coast guard steals the engines of migrant boats on the high seas, thus exposing the occupants to drowning. The Federal Ministry of the Interior, in its answer to a parliamentary question, gives indications that maritime equipment from Germany is used for these crimes.
In the last two years, the Federal Police has donated 12 inflatable boats and 27 boat motors to the Tunisian border troops, according to the answer of the German Ministry of the Interior. In addition, the Federal Police has sent trainers to train the authorities in the use of “fast control boats”. This measure was repeated this year as a “further qualification”. In addition, there was a “basic and advanced training course” on repairing Yamaha engines.
Already in 2019, the German government supported the coast guard in Tunisia by providing them with equipment for a boat workshop. In addition, 14 training and advanced training measures were carried out for the National Guard, the border police and the coast guard. These trainings were also aimed at learning how to use “control boats”.
Tunisia has also received dozens of rigid-hull inflatable boats as well as patrol vessels from the USA since 2012. Several larger ships for the coast guard also come from Italy, and these donations are financed from EU funds. Germany could also be indirectly involved in these measures: according to the answer from the Ministry of the Interior, the German Federal Police has supplied Tunisia with six special tool kits for engines of 35-metre-class ships.
By supporting the Tunisian coast guard, the German Federal Police is “actively aiding and abetting the wanton drowning of people”, comments Clara Bünger, the refugee policy spokesperson of the Left Party in the Bundestag, who is responsible for the enquiry. “The equipment and training for the coast guard serve to prevent people from fleeing in violation of international law,” Felix Weiss from the organisation Sea-Watch, which rescues refugees in the Mediterranean, also says in response to a question from “nd”. The German government is thus partly responsible for the atrocities committed by the Tunisian counterpart, which recently claimed dozens of lives in the desert.
Tunisia also receives support from Germany in the desert region where the state crimes took place. The Ministry of Defence has financed an enhancement initiative” along the border with Libya, using surveillance technology worth millions of euros from the arms companies Airbus and later Hensoldt. This technology includes, among other things, radar systems and high-value sensors. The project was led by the US military.
During the same period, the Federal Police began its support in Tunisia and opened a “Project Office” in the capital in 2015. A year later, a “security agreement” was concluded, after which Germany donated dozens of all-terrain vehicles, binoculars, thermal imaging equipment and other material to Tunisian authorities as part of a “Border Police Project”. The Federal Police also installed body scanners at the airport in Tunis and trained the officers there in their operation. In addition, training was provided on “information gathering from the population”.
Other measures taken by the Federal Police include the construction and expansion of three police stations and barracks with control rooms. The funds for this project, which was carried out with France, the Netherlands, Italy and Switzerland, came from EU development aid.
According to the answer now available from the Ministry of the Interior, 449 Federal Police officers have been deployed in Tunisia over the past eight years. A total of 3395 members of the Tunisian National Guard and the border police have been trained, including in Germany.
The German government said it had “condemned the reported disappearance of refugees into the desert in the summer and demanded that these practices be stopped and clarified”. Most recently, the Minister of State of the Federal Foreign Office, Katja Keul, urged the observance of “general principles of the rule of law” during a visit to Tunis in August.
The office of the Green MP did not answer a question from “nd” on whether these repeated requests were successful from her point of view. The Foreign Office subsequently wrote: “Due to Tunisia’s geographical location on the southern edge of the Mediterranean, it follows that we must try to cooperate with Tunisia.”
After concluding a “Migration Pact”, the EU wants to provide the government in Tunis with a further €255 million from two financial pots for migration control. Despite known human rights abuses by the beneficiary authorities, the first €67 million of this will now be disbursed, the EU Commission announced on Friday. The package, announced in June, includes new vessels and thermal imaging cameras and other “operational tools”, as well as necessary training.
In a project already launched in 2017, the EU is also funding the development of a modern surveillance system along the Tunisian coast. By connecting to EU systems, the Tunisian border police and navy will exchange information with other EU Member States and Frontex.
Published in German in „nd“.
Image: German Federal Minister of the Interior Nancy Faeser at the meeting with Tunisian President Kais Saied (MoI).