Tunisia and Italy agree plan to stem illegal migration


TUNISIA AND Italy have agreed a plan to stem the flow of illegal migration across the Mediterranean after up to 5,000 Tunisians landed on the Italian island of Lampedusa in the past week.

The deal requires Italy to provide practical aid, including radars and speedboats that will be operated by Tunisians, and to commit itself to respecting the north African state’s sovereignty.

Italy has pledged to donate €100 million in aid and to ease travel restrictions to Tunisia for Italian citizens, while it will also consider raising the quotas for Tunisian migrants entering Italy, the Tunisian news agency TAP reported.

The agreement, which was negotiated by Tunisia’s interim prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, and Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini, was an attempt to defuse a diplomatic row between Tunis and Rome over the Lampedusa landings.

Italian interior minister Roberto Maroni said at the weekend that the turmoil in Tunisia had set off a “biblical exodus” and called for Italian police to be sent to north Africa to help prevent people leaving by boat after some 5,000 Tunisians landed on the small Italian island over a number of days. Their arrival prompted Silvio Berlusconi’s government to declare a humanitarian emergency and to reopen the island’s detention centre.

The Tunisian government reacted angrily to Mr Maroni’s “unacceptable” comments and warned against infringement of its sovereignty.

Meanwhile, Tunisian authorities yesterday extended the state of emergency imposed as President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali fled last month but lifted the nationwide curfew, the official news agency reported.

Security has largely been restored in Tunisia, but pockets of sporadic unrest have been reported in the past week. In a statement, the interior ministry called for the police to be vigilant against “desperate attempts” to stir conflict between them and the army.

The police force is much larger than the army, but indiscipline and absenteeism have left it weakened. While the military enjoys greater trust among the public, it has been stretched by having to restore order in the cities and reservists have already been called up.

In a report on the Lampedusa landings, the International Organisation for Migration said Tunisians were paying people-smugglers $1,800 (€1,340) to make the crossing from near Zarsis, a thinly populated area where there is little security.