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Migrant emergency 'finished'

'Deal with Tunisia working' says Maroni

14 April, 17:16
Migrant emergency 'finished' (ANSA) - Rome, April 14 - The worst of the humanitarian crisis caused by the recent wave of illegal immigration has ended, Italian Interior minister, Roberto Maroni said Thursday.

"The acute phase of the emergency, if we can call it that, has ended," said Maroni, when asked about whether any new migrant processing centres or tent cities would be created for migrants arriving from North Africa.

"The agreement with Tunisia is working," the minister said. "Every day we are repatriating those who have arrived since April 5. We are improving our controls and coastal patrols".

On Tuesday Italy sought to play down threats of quitting the European Union after Maroni complained about the lack of support in dealing with its migrant crisis and questioned the value of membership.

Maroni questioned Italy's EU future after member states failed to share the burden of catering for the 28,000 migrants who have arrived this year following turmoil in North Africa.

President Giorgio Napolitano said Thursday the reasons that forced Italy to ask for support from other European countries to deal with the wave of immigration are generating more attention abroad, after he raised the issue with Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas at a meeting in Prague.

"I appreciated what prime minister Necas said," Napolitano said. "He showed that he had given the problem serious consideration, and saw it as not solely an Italian problem. He also expressed sincere support for Italy". Meanwhile, Belgium could reintroduce visa controls on people who arrive from Italy.

Marcin Grabiec, spokesman for European Commission spokesman for European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, said that Belgium had not called for "the closure of the Schengen area" but said the agreement provided for police checks and "the temporary reintroduction" of border controls "in exceptional situations." The Italian government has begun issuing visas for the mostly Tunisian migrants wanting to reunite with family members in other parts of Europe.

But France and other countries have said they will continue to block the migrants at their borders, despite the Schengen treaty that in theory abolished internal frontiers in much of the continent.

Two migrants drowned and at least one other was missing after a fishing boat crowded with almost 200 migrants ran aground in heavy seas off Pantelleria on Wednesday.

Around 30 Tunisians were flown home from the southern island Lampedusa Thursday under a new agreement between Rome and Tunis and another flight was expected later in the day.