Tunisia and Italy agree to curb illegal immigration

April 7th, 2011 - 1:37 am ICT by BNO News  

TUNIS (BNO NEWS) — Tunisia and Italy on Wednesday reached an agreement on illegal immigration that includes the repatriation of new arrivals on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa, ANSA news agency reported.

Italy’s interior minister Roberto Maroni and his Tunisian counterpart Habib Essid agreed to the repatriation of new arrivals, but Essid refused to accept the mass repatriation of 20,000 immigrants who are currently kept in centers throughout southern Italy. Italian officials had pushed hard for mass repatriation over nine hours of intense negotiations.

Tunisia’s transitional government rejected the proposal saying it was not yet robust enough to handle such a plan, according to ANSA.

Tunisia also agreed to simplify identification procedures. Immigrants will only need to be recognized by Tunisian consular authorities, and will not need to be screened by fingerprinting.

Italy will grant six-month visas to Tunisian immigrants already on its shores. It will also donate six motorboats, four patrol boats, and 100 off-road vehicles to the Tunisian police force to intensify control of the maritime borders.

Maroni returned to Tunis Tuesday to continue negotiations after he accompanied Premier Silvio Berlusconi, who failed to reach an agreement, on Monday.

The Italian government has reportedly offered a credit-and-aid package worth some 250 million euros ($354 million) to help the Tunisian government with the migrant crisis.

On Wednesday, more than 250 people were feared to have drowned after a migrant boat sank about 40 miles (64 kilometers) off Lampedusa. It had earlier left the Libyan coast with migrants and asylum seekers from Somalia, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Chad and Sudan.

Since the beginning of February, the island of Lampedusa has been overwhelmed by the arrival of more than 20,000 migrants. The majority of them are Tunisian coming from the Tunisian ports of Zarzis, Djerba and Sfax. Over the past ten days, more than 2,000 mostly African migrants and asylum seekers have landed on the island after having sailed from the Libyan coast.

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