Rutte to Tunisia with Meloni, Von der Leyen for refugee talks

Giorgia Meloni (R) welcomes Mark Rutte to Rome in March. Photo: Francesco Fotia/AGF/SIPA

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte is heading for Tunisia on Sunday to take part in talks between president Kais Saied, European Commission chairwoman Ursula von der Leyen and Italian premier Giorgia Meloni.

The meeting is officially about a “broad partnership” between the EU and Tunisia in terms of the economy, energy and migration, the prime minister’s office said.  

The prime minister is known to be pinning his hopes on the European Union concluding a deal with Tunisia to cut the number of refugees crossing the Mediterranean by boat by allowing their claims to be processed in the north African country.

In March, Rutte and Meloni agreed to work together to try to get more agreements on housing refugees with African countries and said they were prepared to travel together in a bid to reach deals. 

Rutte is under growing pressure from his own party to take steps to reduce the number of asylum seekers arriving in the Netherlands this year or face a cabinet crisis.

Delegates at the VVD party conference in Apeldoorn last weekend accused Rutte of failing to honour his promise last autumn to take “substantial” measures to stop refugees crossing the border, one of the main concerns for the right-wing liberal party.

EU ministers are meeting in Luxemburg on Thursday to discuss new border procedures to cover asylum seekers who arrive without ID papers and those unlikely to make a successful claim to refugee status. 

The EU earlier reached an agreement with Turkey which agreed to care for mainly Syrian refugees in return for financial support. 

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