Opinion

Tunisia opens its borders to Europe and distrusts its neighbours

Tourism Tunisia

Tunisians will remember June 27 as the date that marked the reopening of their borders. For the binationals, it was a chance to return home and set foot on Tunisian soil after a long absence. While Algeria's neighbor is experiencing a resurgence of the disease and new outbreaks are appearing throughout the country, Tunisia seems to have the situation under control after several months of containment. But does it have no choice but to reopen its borders and open up to the world again? 

The country that lives off tourism can no longer remain isolated. Its economic health depends on the opening of its borders and the resumption of international flights. By 2019, tourism's contribution to GDP had increased compared to previous years to 14.2%. The sector, which generates 400,000 direct jobs, was losing momentum and announced a deficit of 2 billion euros!  

The summer season is already underway, but in this context of global recession, each country is trying to find solutions that will enable it to stay afloat, especially as the number of infections seems to have stabilized for some time. As of 15 June, the total number of cases was 1,096, including 49 deaths and 998 recovered, according to official figures. According to statistics, this is equivalent to 4 deaths per million inhabitants.

Tunisia, like the other countries, had opted for general confinement on 22 March. This was extended until 14 June, when domestic flights resumed and the long-awaited freedom of movement was restored. The reopening of the borders, however, is being carried out with great caution. Hoteliers welcome this first step, but from now on they will have to assume a new role: that of ensuring the good health of their guests. Draconian hygiene measures and physical distancing must be effective.  

"All tour operators (hoteliers, tour guides, airports...) are urged to implement this protocol drawn up in accordance with the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO), within the framework of a strategic and preventive action plan drawn up by the tourism department," said the Minister of Tourism and Crafts, Mohamed Ali Toumi. Only under these conditions will approved hotels be allowed to reopen. The label established by the government also stipulates that supervised and accompanied groups will be allowed to visit outside the hotels, in museums and other tourist sites. 

A number of hotels in different provinces have obtained government certifications to accommodate new arrivals. However, since the end of the containment, Egypt has seen an upsurge of contagion in its territory. It is currently one of the countries most affected by the COVID-19 in Africa. But Tunisia is much smaller than the Egyptian mastodon, which has a large population concentration, especially in large cities like Cairo or Alexandria.  

The Tunisian government has drawn up a list of countries classified as "green" and another as "orange". The former lists those that can enter Tunisia without any restriction, while the latter refers to those for which a negative PCR test is required of travel applicants. The latter must be carried out less than 72 hours before departure.

As for the countries "classified in red", these are the ones that do not appear on either of the first two lists. For example, Algeria is classified in the red zone. This is not good news for either Algerians or Tunisians. Algerians account for 30% of tourists in Tunisia. Last year, almost 3 million of them spent their holidays in the eastern neighbour, but with a closed border with Morocco, an inaccessible Tunisia and a long border with Libya (a source of permanent concern), the country is increasingly isolated and, this year, Algerians should spend their holidays at home.  

Tunisia is protecting itself as best it can in a difficult economic and political context. The World Tourism Organization (WTO) has warned that the number of international tourists will fall by 60-80% this year and nothing is yet certain.  

Tunisia is facing a serious economic crisis. Without its neighbours (especially Algeria and Libya), will it survive? Need we remind you that Libya generated a few hundred thousand jobs for Tunisians?  

The war in Libya continues to worry Tunisia. During his recent visit to Paris, President Kais Saied confirmed his country's position that he believes in an internal solution to the crisis. In addition, Tunisian Defence Minister Imed Hazgui reiterated his country's refusal to be a military base for any international force. "Our soldiers are deployed all over the country to protect our country. We do not allow any foreign party to use our soil to carry out military operations outside our country". Tunisia therefore opts for a political initiative and excludes any military intervention. Tunisia's borders remain a real headache. That is why the country is opening up to Europe, but remains closed to its closest neighbours.