Italy puts pressure on Tunisia to control wave of migrants

Illegal migrants are seen on a boat after being rescued by the Tunisian navy off the coast near Ben Guerdane, Tunisia. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 01 August 2020

Italy puts pressure on Tunisia to control wave of migrants

  • Large numbers are creating problems for Italy's health system 

ROME: Italy is putting political pressure on Tunisia after a recent wave of migrants arrived on its southern shores and islands.

Italian authorities are struggling to manage migrant numbers on the island of Lampedusa, which is 100 miles from the Tunisian coast, transferring hundreds of migrants on ferries to the mainland daily.

They said the huge numbers arriving in packed dinghies and small boats across the channel of Sicily also carried a risk of COVID-19.

“We have at least 1,000 people every day staying there,” the mayor of Lampedusa Salvatore Martello told Arab News. “Those poor people live in terrible conditions, especially with the heatwave we had in the past few days.”

While in the past the main departure point from north Africa was Libya, most immigrants now reach Italy from Tunisia.

Italy’s Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese, speaking to the Corriere della Sera newspaper, said the country now had “an uncontrolled flow” from Tunisia that was creating serious problems for the health system. It affected local communities living near hosting centers from where Tunisian migrants in particular tried to escape before the end of the mandatory quarantine period in place to contain the spread of coronavirus.

As of July 24, 5,237 out of the 11,191 migrants who landed in Italy in 2020 came from Tunisia, according to official data. They included nearly 4,000 Tunisian citizens.

“The difficult political situation in Tunisia has been encouraging people to flee from that country to reach Europe,” Marta Grande, chairman of the Foreign Committee of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, told Arab News. “Instability can boost emigration from that country and weaken controls by local authorities. It is a fact and we have to cope with that.”

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio decided to postpone discussions on allocating funds of 6.5 million euros ($7.6 million) to Tunisia if it did not show a “real commitment” to preventing uncontrolled migratory flows.

"We are all perfectly conscious of the importance of cooperation for development toward some countries in order to prevent uncontrolled migratory flows, but in this phase we are asking Tunisia, a country which is considered as a ‘safe port’ for migrants, for clarification regarding an increase of arrivals to Italy,” Di Maio said in a press conference proposing an agreement on migrants to the Tunisian government. “It's good to have a 360-degree approach on the issue, it must be mainly focused on prevention of illegal emigration from that country. We must make sure that illegal migrants do not leave that country. Tunisia must increase patrols, especially in the area of ​​Sfax, from where most of the boats leave. Italy cannot afford a new wave of migrants. We cannot lower the guard.”

Regional authorities in Sicily blame migrants for the recent increase of COVID-19 infection cases on the island and a ferry is going to be deployed off the coast of Lampedusa in the next few days to hold migrants in quarantine before they reach the mainland.


Indonesia keeps Bali closed to foreign tourists

Updated 14 August 2020

Indonesia keeps Bali closed to foreign tourists

  • As foreign visitors remain barred from entering the country, government plans to boost domestic tourism to keep hospitality sector afloat
  • COVID-19 has shattered Indonesia’s target to welcome 17 million foreign visitors this year, dealing a major blow to national revenue

JAKARTA: Indonesia will remain closed to foreign tourists at least until the end of the year, a senior minister announced during a meeting with the country’s business community on Thursday. 
As Indonesia still grapples with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Pandjaitan said that all non-essential foreign visitors will remain barred from entering the country, while the government will try to boost domestic tourism to keep the hospitality sector afloat. 
“With regard to foreign tourists, I think we will not be welcoming them until the end of the year,” Pandjaitan said during the virtual forum with Indonesian businesspeople, shelving a plan laid out by the provincial government of the holiday island of Bali — Indonesia’s most popular tourist destination — to reopen for international visitors on Sept. 11. 
Pandjaitan’s remarks also ended speculation as to whether the central government would revoke a regulation issued by the justice minister in late March banning foreigners — except those arriving for essential, diplomatic and official purposes — from entering Indonesia amid ongoing efforts to contain the virus outbreak. 
Bali authorities were hoping for the regulation to be revoked ahead of the island’s plan to reopen to foreigners.  
Ida Bagus Agung Partha Adnyana, head of the Bali Tourism Board, said industry players in Bali were ready for the Sept. 11 plan but acknowledged that the central government’s decision to keep foreign arrivals suspended “must be based on a more urgent reason.” 
“There could be a macro outlook behind Jakarta’s decision, and it could be for everyone’s greater good,” Adnyana told Arab News. 
According to Pandjaitan, Indonesian authorities will focus on promoting domestic tourism as Indonesians who were planning to go for holidays abroad, including those who were set to travel for Umrah, will be unable to do so this year so due to international travel restrictions.  
“There is plenty of money around. No one is going on the Umrah pilgrimage, and those who used to go to Singapore or Penang for medical treatment are not going anywhere either. These are people with money to spend, and we estimated there could be tens of trillions of rupiahs. We want them to spend the money here,” Pandjaitan said. 
According to Umrah tour operators, about 1 million Indonesians travel to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage each year, with many of them also visiting other sites in the region. 
The COVID-19 outbreak has shattered Indonesia’s target to welcome 17 million foreign visitors this year, dealing a major blow to its national revenue. 
According to Adnyana, tourism in Bali alone contributed 120 trillion to 150 trillion rupiahs ($10 billion) a year to the country’s coffers. 
He also expressed concerns that the pandemic may still affect the government’s plans to revive the industry through domestic tourism as many potential travelers may be unable to make trips to other parts of the country amid concerns of contracting the disease and internal restrictions imposed as part of the response to contain the virus.

On Friday, President Joko Widodo said in his 2021 budget speech before the parliament that 14.4 trillion rupiahs would be allocated for the tourism industry’s recovery with a focus on developing several main destinations: Lake Toba in North Sumatra; Borobudur Temple in Central Java; Mandalika in Lombok island; Labuan Bajo on the Flores island, which serves as a gateway to see the Komodo dragon on Komodo Island and Mount Kelimutu, which has three volcanic crater lakes of different colors; and Likupang Beach in North Sulawesi.