The GIZ Advisory Centre in Tunisia and the Fairy Tale of Successful Reintegration

The "Perspektive Heimat" programme, touted by the German government and the GIZ as a successful model, is supposed to help people who have returned to their countries of origin or been deported with their professional "reintegration". A closer look at a counselling centre in Tunis shows that it does not work and that it is actually all about other aims and objectives.

by Sofian Philip Naceur, who lives and works as a freelance journalist in Tunis.

Brightly lit conference rooms, offices with modern furnishings, new IT and training equipment and an entrance door secured with a combination lock: the "German-Tunisian Advisory Centre for Jobs, Migration and Reintegration" in the La Fayette district of the capital Tunis, jointly operated by the  German development aid agency Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and the Tunisian government, exudes all the charm of a German bureaucratic office. Tunisia’s Ministry of Labour seems to attach great importance to the centre, as it is located on the ground floor of the headquarters of the Tunisian state employment agency, ANETI (National Agency for Employment and Self-Employment) in the city centre.

The track record of the institution, however, which was founded in 2017 and highly touted as it were by the GIZ and has since been funded by the German government to a tune of EUR 575,000 per year, should by no means be taken at face value, as a look behind the scenes shows that caution is warranted with regard to the figures presented by the GIZ. While it remains largely in the dark exactly how the statistics are collected, the GIZ cannot provide convincing information on the sustainability and duration of the jobs it creates. The Centre has therefore also been subjected to sharp criticism by former GIZ employees and members of the German Bundestag.

Scarcely measurable impact

According to a GIZ spokesperson, the main task of the centre is to inform people in Tunisia “individually about job opportunities for them in their local area”, to describe “opportunities and preconditions for regular migration”, to warn against the risks of irregular migration and to offer Tunisian job-seekers counselling and qualification measures to improve their chances on the labour market in Tunisia. Another aim being pursued by the Federal Government and the GIZ with the institution, which is also referred to as the “Migration Counselling Centre”, is to support so-called “returnees” - usually meaning people who have been deported from Europe or who have left “voluntarily” - in their “social and economic reintegration” and thus to open up “prospects” for them in their country of origin.

The project is being implemented and financed as part of the “Perspektive Heimat” programme launched in 2017, with which the Federal Ministry for Economic Development and Cooperation (BMZ) and the GIZ want to “combat the causes of flight” and provide deportees from Germany with “prospects for a place to stay and a future” in their home countries. The figures presented on the impact of the measure seem breath-taking. It is therefore hardly surprising that the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and the GIZ talk about a “complete success”. In keeping with this narrative, the GIZ website presents “success stories” of people who have found a job with the help of the GIZ after their deportation or “voluntary” return from Germany - in Tunisia, but also in other countries where measures of the programme are financed.

So far, around 860,000 individual support measures have been instituted worldwide within the framework of the programme, explains the GIZ spokesperson. Around 170,000 people have been employed and around 68,000 reintegration measures have been implemented for returnees. In Tunisia alone, almost 45,000 “individual support measures for preparation or placement in employment or social integration” have been implemented since 2017. More than 2,000 people have found a job with the support of "Perspektive Heimat", including around 80 returnees. More than 2,500 business start-up measures have been offered, including 140 for returnees (figures as of April 2021). Meanwhile, it remains completely unclear how many of the jobs still exist today and how many of the business start-up measures have actually led to beneficiaries being able to make a living without external assistance.

While various project approaches were financed and initiated within the framework of "Perspektive Heimat", the model of migration counselling centres is now setting a precedent. The facility in Tunis run by the GIZ and ANETI is by no means the only one of its kind to have been set up with German development aid funds. According to the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, there are now 17 counselling centres in twelve countries, including Albania, Kosovo, Serbia, Morocco, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Afghanistan, Iraq and Egypt.

Distorted realities

While the GIZ and ANETI were quite willing to provide information and allowed to visit the centre in Tunis, the statements made in the course of the talks and an email exchange with GIZ headquarters in Eschborn remain emphatically vague. An exchange with Uwe Kekeritz, member of the German Bundestag since 2009 and spokesperson for development policy for the Bündnis 90/Die Grünen parliamentary group, reinforces the suspicion that GIZ has decided not to provide more detailed information in its public relations work about the advisory centres for good reasons. Kekeritz has visited several of these centres, including the one in Tunis. He sees no reason to speak of a “success model”. According to him, the work of the centre is “not very convincing”, and it remains unclear to what extent the counselling of stakeholders actually leads to a better integration into the labour market. Kekeritz also doubts the official figures on job placements, because the GIZ cannot make any statements about the duration and quality of the jobs placed. “Instead, they seem to be trying to create a distorted picture of the situation,” Kekeritz reports. “On site, we were introduced to a returnee. So I was counting on an exemplary success story that would prove both the need for and the proper functioning of the facility. The centre had organised nothing more for the man than employment in his own family's vegetable shop, however. The fact that German development cooperation is needed for this can certainly be questioned,” notes the Green political delegate in pointed terms.

While the GIZ spokesperson claims that “Perspektive Heimat” also creates “long-term structures to promote sustainable development in the partner countries”, Kekeritz does not believe that self-sustaining and viable structures are being created by the centre. Yet the centre in Tunis is obviously not an isolated case. Kekeritz's conclusion after his visits to several of these centres in African countries: “Everywhere it became clear that the programmes [note: in Germany] were desired for domestical political reasons, but were not viable in terms of development policy”.

Ex-GIZ staff draw a devastating balance sheet

Strong criticism of the returnee centres also comes from GIZ staff themselves – but only anonymously. Nevertheless, medico has been able to talk to former GIZ staff members who have worked for the GIZ in several countries and who criticise the returnee programmes, in some cases in no uncertain terms. It is not only the effectiveness of the projects that is questioned. The strategies being pursued by the GIZ and the figures presented are also viewed with suspicion within the GIZ. “The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development has indirectly set targets. The Ministry wants certain figures in order to be able to boast a success rate for the successful reintegration of returnees,” GIZ sources say. “In terms of figures, it’s all a farce, the statistics are nonsense”.

 The so-called “refugee crisis" of 2015 changed the entire development aid apparatus. Today, the guideline is that everything the GIZ does must absolutely contribute to reducing “migration pressure”. One former staff member did not mince words here: “We all know very well that all these reintegration projects are useless. They are wastepaper. It is literally speaking play-acting that is staged whenever the press comes around.”

Misleading GIZ rhetoric

It is indeed questionable whether jobs promotion or reintegration programmes actually lead to a reduction in “migration pressure”. Kekeritz also has his doubts in this regard: “There is nothing wrong with helping people to get a job in so-called developing countries. The whole thing has very little to do with migration, however. One should try to avoid creating the impression that willingness to migrate or the reintegration of returnees can be positively influenced through development policy,” says the MP.

The GIZ should actually be aware of this problem, as it commissioned a study in 2019 for internal use only. It is entitled “A review of the evidence on job promotion and mobility and implications for policy and practice” and has been provided to medico. The aim of the study was to review the relationship between job promotion and readiness to migrate. The 75-page document clearly states that job promotion has no significant effect on mobility. Also, “no causal link can be seen between job promotion and the economic dimension of reintegration”. Moreover, due to insufficient data and a lack of evidence, it cannot be confirmed that employment promotion reduces the willingness to migrate. Despite this clear verdict, GIZ continues to publicly claim the opposite.

“How cynical it must sound to the ears of refugees and migrants who have left everything behind, risked much and suffered terribly, when they are offered a ‘voluntary’ return that is geared more to Europe's domestic interests than to their desire and right to a self-determined life in dignity. The whole-hearted promises of ‘reintegration’ in the same societal conditions which were the reason for their flight and which have mostly even worsened since then, must seem like a mockery to them.”

Sabine Eckart coordinates the area of refugees and migration at medico international.