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Tunisia promises to step up border controls

EU 'will provide more help'

25 March, 15:56
Tunisia promises to step up border controls (ANSA) - Tunis, March 25 - Tunisia on Friday pledged to stem a migrant flow to Italy in exchange for training, resources and a 150-million-euro credit line, Italian ministers said after talks with the government in Tunis.

"Commitments" were made to staunch an exodus towards the Italian island of Lampedusa, closer to Tunisia than to Sicily, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini and Interior Minister Roberto Maroni told reporters.

Among other things, the credit line will be used to help Tunisians who accept voluntary repatriation to find a place in their native economy, Frattini said.

Tunisia will "intensify" controls of its sea borders to stop migrants heading off on the short hop, Maroni said.

"We asked the Tunisan government to reinforce maritime controls.

"It's a concern very much in their minds, and they told us they will intensify vigilance".

The minister described the result of the talks as "positive and encouraging".

"If it is followed by concrete acts, we will be able to stem the flow (of migrants)".

The control systems "worked perfectly up till December 31, 2010," he noted.

Frattini and Maroni met their Tunisian counterparts and Prime Minister Caid Essebsi.

Italy has repeatedly asked Tunisian authorities to restore police controls on the maritime borders, "which are currently non-existent," according to Italian officials.

Earlier this month, after the Tunisian uprising, Maroni offered to help Tunisia patrol its maritime borders but was rebuffed.

Italy has also set up a refugee camp on Tunisia's land border with Libya.

Maroni said Friday 15,700 Tunisians have arrived on Lampedusa since the New Year compared to just 4,000 migrants all of last year, when a 'push-back' policy with Libya was in effect.

Getting the border-control system up again is "fundamental," he said, "otherwise there'll never be an end to it".

He pointed out that "only 25 illegal immigrants arrived from Tunisia last year".

The minister has stressed that most if not all of the Tunisians on Lampedusa are economic migrants and will not therefore be included in the expected quota of 50,000 refugees from the Libyan war.

He reiterated earlier this week that the government was also "very worried" about a possible mass exodus from Libya.

"We are getting ready in case the earthquake happening in Libya is followed by a human tsunami".

On Thursday the United Nations said it expected between 200,000 and 250,000 refugees from the Libya crisis.

EU 'WILL DO MORE'.

All European Union members are ready to provide "concrete solidarity" with the countries bearing the brunt of immigration after the North African upheavals, a resolution from an EU summit in Brussels said Friday.

The European Commission will be tasked with drawing up a plan for handling migrant flows and refugee processing ahead of an EU summit in June.

Italy has been pressing for weeks for more help from the EU after Lampedusa was swamped and it geared to spread tens of thousands of expected refugees from Libya around its regions.

There were no landings overnight on Lampedusa, where a navy ship has been removing Tunisians to ease a humanitarian emergency that has seen the migrants outnumber the local population of 5,000.