ROME: Italy’s Interior Ministry has released €11 million ($13 million) to Tunisia’s government for use in efforts to stem the flow of migrants.
Italian Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese and Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio visited Tunis, accompanied by European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson and European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy Oliver Varhelji.
They met with Tunisian President Kais Saied, designate Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and interim Foreign Minister Selma Ennaifer. They discussed migrant flows, which have seen a spike this summer.
Thousands of people have been departing from Tunisia to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa, leading to opposition criticism of Italy’s government. Over the last few days alone, more than 700 migrants have landed in Lampedusa.
Italian authorities believe that since the start of the year, nearly half of the over 16,000 people who have landed on Italy’s shores departed from Tunisia.
Saied stressed the importance of “greater cooperation to tackle the root causes of migration.”
Di Maio said “Italy is willing to help,” and expressed his desire to “strengthen the partnership for shared development.”
Lamorgese said: “Tunisia isn’t alone. We’re ready to take all the necessary initiatives to support it in terms of instruments for the purpose of controlling illegal immigration. However, an extra effort is required by the Tunisian government because the pressure on our country, in particular on Lampedusa and Sicily, creates a situation of serious difficulty which is aggravated by the COVID-19 health emergency.”
He added that cooperation projects will be on standby “until the next Tunisian government is formed, hopefully next week.”
Rome is seeking the establishment of a shared information system that will promptly alert the Tunisian gendarmerie and Italian coast guard when migrant boats are at sea, in order to block them while they still are in Tunisian waters.
The €11 million from Italy will also be used for the maintenance of Tunisian patrol boats, the training of local security forces and the installation of radar equipment.
“I want to be very clear. Those who will arrive in Italy irregularly won’t be able to take advantage of any regularization opportunities. They will be sent back home on the spot,” Di Maio warned.
“Tunisia is considered a safe place. There aren’t people escaping from war there. So if Tunisians will try to reach Italy illegally they will only face repatriation.”
Di Maio said the EU will fund “a great plan for Tunisian youth” to provide an incentive for them to stay in their country. Johansson and Varhelji said the EU will do its best to provide support to Tunisia’s economy.