Italy conveys to Tunisia concern about spike in illegal migration

Security fight not sufficient to stem tide, says President Saied.
Wednesday 29/07/2020
A file picture of families of Tunisian would-be illegal migrants who died in a shipwreck. “They have been eaten by fish,” said the woman placard (C). (AFP)
A file picture of families of Tunisian would-be illegal migrants who died in a shipwreck. “They have been eaten by fish,” said the woman placard (C). (AFP)

TUNIS - Raising her country’s concern about  the spike in Tunisian illegal immigration, Italian minister of the interior, Luciana Lamorgese, held talks, Monday, with Tunisian President Kais Saied and her counterpart, Hichem Mechichi.

At the end of her meeting with the Tunisian president, she said she conveyed to Saied her concern about the recent spike in the number of Tunisian illegal migrants crossing the Mediterranean to Italian shores.

Trying to dissuade would-be migrants, Lamorgese said Rome will not grant legal status to freshly-arrived migrants. “Announced measures about legal status procedures concern only previously-settled migrants, she said.

Tunisian President Kais Saied meets Italian Interior minister Luciana Lamorgese(L) at Carthage Palace in Carthage, July 27. (AFP)
Tunisian President Kais Saied meets Italian Interior minister Luciana Lamorgese(L) at Carthage Palace in Carthage, July 27. (AFP)

According to a statement by the Tunisian presidency, Saied emphasised to the Italian minister that “security solutions cannot resolve the phenomenon of illegal migration”, which, he said, is “essentially a humanitarian issue” requiring a “totally new approach”.

Lamorgese held separate talks, later in the day, with Mechichi, an Italian-speaking member of government who was tasked Saturday by the president with forming a new Tunisian cabinet.

No exact figures are available of Tunisian illegal migrants who have made it to Italy in recent months.  But Tunisian magazine Leaders put their number at 5,700 since the beginning of the year.

There have been in recent weeks, many Tunisian newspaper accounts of boats carrying would-be migrants intercepted by Tunisian authorities.

In one single day, July 19, ten boats hailing from Tunisia landed in Lampedusa, Italy.

Last week, about 80 Tunisian illegal migrants arrived in Lampedusa the same day that the Italian minister of the interior was visiting the island.

There have been announcements in Tunisia of arrests of human traffickers, of trafficking rings dismantled and the discovery of sizeable amounts of hard currency in the possession of traffickers.

Mustapha Abdelkebir, president of the Tunisian Human Rights Observatory, sees a combination of factors at play in the illegal migration outflow.

“The reasons for the surge in migration have to do with objective factors related to the overall economic situation, the increase in unemployment, the prevailing anguish especially among youth because of the false promises made by successive governments,” he told The Arab Weekly.

Map-locating-the-Italian-island-of-Lampedusa-near-where-a-number-of-migrants-drowned-after-their-boat-capsized.-

“There is also the economic fallout of the pandemic and the protracted unemployment of family providers, which have led whole families to try to emigrate,” added Abdelkebir.

According to Tunisian government and UN reports, Tunisia’s unemployment rate is expected to surge to 21% at the end of the year. GNP growth will retract by about 7%.

The raging war in Libya has also deprived many young Tunisians of the prospect of travelling to the next-door oil-rich country to seek jobs. With authorities concerned about infiltration of their borders by terrorists and the possible overflow of the armed conflict into their country, the army has intensified its watch over border movements hindering informal trade, a source of revenue for many young unemployed.  A number of incidents involving smugglers trying to force their way through have been recorded in recent weeks.

Another dimension of the illegal migration problem is that of unemployed graduates. A third of Tunisia’s jobless population is comprised of young people with university degrees.

This year, Italian authorities have said more arrivals are coming from Tunisia.

Most migrants land on the Italian islands of Lampedusa and Sicily, while others make it to southern parts of the mainland.

As they held a conference earlier this month with EU and African nations on the illegal migration crisis, Italian authorities published figures showing that a total of 8,988 migrants have reached Italy so far this year, compared with 3,165 for the same period in 2019, but still far fewer than the 17,296 migrants who arrived over the same timespan in 2018.

This year, the majority of migrants are Tunisian, followed by those from Bangladesh, Ivory Coast, Algeria and Sudan, the data showed.

Italy, which is struggling to recover from a devastating coronavirus crisis that has killed nearly 35,000 people, is now seeing hundreds of migrants arrive at its shores every day.

migration-graph

The recent arrivals have sparked protests by locals in some Italian areas, after a few dozen migrants tested positive for the coronavirus after disembarking.