Tunisia is willing, under certain conditions, to take back its citizens deported from France, the interior minister said on Saturday, after talks with his visiting French counterpart on measures against Islamist radicalization.
The former French colony is “ready to receive any Tunisians,” Taoufik Charfeddine said at the end of a visit by Gerald Darmanin, following a deadly attack in Nice last month allegedly carried out by a Tunisian jihadist.
“But this must be done in accordance with the terms and rules” under international law and conventions, and “to preserve the dignity of Tunisia” is returned, Charfeddine told reporters.
The French Interior Minister also met with Tunisian President Kais Saied.
Sources close to Darmanin said before the talks that he would provide the authorities with a list of about 20 Tunisians that France wants to deport, based on the fact that they had been convicted of terrorism charges or suspected of jihadist tendencies.
The French interior minister will visit Algeria on Sunday on a similar mission.
The Tunisian public is hostile to the return of suspected jihadists, and the authorities have refused to allow their citizens to return from France on the basis of travel restrictions linked to the coronavirus pandemic.
Tunisian citizens have made up a significant proportion of foreign jihadists in Syria, Iraq and Libya over the past decade.
In 2015, the UN said that about 5,000 Tunisians had flocked mainly to Syria and Libya to join the Islamic State (IS), while the Tunisian authorities gave a lower figure of 3,000.
Their return has been a concern in Tunisia, which has been in a state of emergency following a series of IS-claimed attacks in 2015 and 2016.
Sources close to Darmanin say that 70 percent of the more than 230 foreigners illegally in France and suspected of radicalism come from the Maghreb region, which includes Tunisia and Algeria, and from Russia.
His visit to Tunis was planned some time ago, but there will be another emergency after the killing on October 29 of three people in a church in the southern French city of Nice.
The alleged perpetrator of the attack, 21-year-old Brahim Aouissaoui, who arrived in Europe illegally in late September, is not the first Tunisian to be suspected of carrying out a deadly jihadist attack in Europe.
In 2016, 31-year-old Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel plowed a truck into an audience on Bastille Day at the Nice promenade, killing 86 people.
Later that year, a Tunisian citizen, Anis Amri, 24, carried out a similar attack at a Christmas market in Berlin, killing 12 people.
IS claimed both men as their supporters.