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Italy accord with Tunisia, repatriation for new immigrants

Tunisia refuses to take 20,000 already in Italy

06 April, 14:11
Italy accord with Tunisia, repatriation for new immigrants (ANSA) - Milan, April 6 - Italy's interior minister Roberto Maroni reached an accord with Tunisian officials to patrol its coasts and to accept swift repatriation of new arrivals on Lampedusa, the southern Italian island off the coast of Tunisia swamped in immigrant landings since the fall of Ben Ali's regime.

Tunisian leaders however refused to accept the mass repatriation of 20,000 immigrants - currently kept in centers throughout southern Italy - that landed on Lampedusa in the last three months.

Italian officials had pushed hard for mass repatriation over nine hours of intense negotiations.

Rome sent Tunis a list several days ago of a thousand names of immigrants Italy was ready to deport by air and sea, with airplanes and ships ready to be deployed.

Maroni hoped Tunisia would agree to accept transfers of 100 people per day.

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

Tunisia did agree, however, to accept deportees who arrive on Lampedusa after the agreed-upon decree takes effect, and to simplify identification procedures.

In future, immigrants need only be recognized by Tunisian consular authorities, and will not need to be screened by fingerprinting.

The threat of swift deportation is expected to strongly deter new embarkations from Tunisia.

Italy will grant six-month visas to Tunisian immigrants already on its shores.

Italy will also donate six motorboats, four patrol boats, and 100 off-road vehicles to the Tunisian police force, to help re-launch regular patrols of the coast.

Maroni said he was "satisfied" by the agreement.

"In this way, a new phase of more intense cooperation between the two countries has opened. Now we must help them. If the commitments are we will have resolved the problem," said Maroni.

His Tunisian counterpart in the negotiations was Habib Essid.