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Forced repatriations option for Tunisians, says Italy

FM Frattini again blasts Europe, France for lacking solidarity

31 March, 14:57
Forced repatriations option for Tunisians, says Italy (ANSA) - Rome, March 31 - Thousands of Tunisian migrants who have landed in Italy following unrest in North Africa may be forcibly repatriated unless the burden of hosting them is shared with other European nations, the Italian government said Thursday.

''They must be repatriated or distributed around other European countries,'' Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said in a telephone interview with a TV show following the arrival of around 20,000 mostly Tunisians this year.

He added that the hypothesis of ''forced repatriation is an extreme measure but it cannot be excluded''. The minister then repeated his criticism of the ''flagrant'' lack of solidarity Italy's European neighbours had displayed in failing to help with the migrant crisis in a significant way, ''starting with France'' after it blocked thousands of Tunisian migrants at the French-Italian border.

On Thursday Italy continued efforts to ship migrants from inundated Lampedusa and start spreading them around other parts of the country to end a humanitarian and sanitary crisis on the southern island and avert the risk of epidemics. Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi promised to clear the tiny island, nearer to Tunisia than Sicilia, of some 7,000 migrants within two to three days during a visit on Wednesday.

He also promised tax breaks and compensation for the islanders, who number around 5,000, and vowed to nominate them for the Nobel Peace Prize, claiming to feel a 'Lampedusan', having just bought a villa there. The island's mayor said the number of migrants there had fallen to 3,731 on Thursday.

The relocation plan has not pleased everyone though.

Interior Ministry Undersecretary Alfredo Mantovano tended his resignation Wednesday evening in protest at the number of migrants being moved near his home in the southern town of Manduria and several protests were staged in the areas of migrant camps in other parts of Italy. Frattini, meanwhile, added that an agreement struck last week with the Tunisian government to stop the wave of migrants from there in exchange for Italian resources, training and credit was starting to bear fruit.

He said Tunisia had stopped 20 boats heading for Italy carrying some 1,200 people in the last 48 hours after agreeing to intensify controls of its sea borders.

The Tunisian authorities said 12 people died Monday night when a boat sank near its coast, while a group of migrants saved at sea near Lampedusa said seven people travelling with them, including a child, had drowned, although the Italian authorities said the reports were unconfirmed.

Frattini also announced Thursday that he will meet representatives of the Transitional National Council, the authority of the Libyan rebels who are trying to end Muammar Gaddafi's 40-year rule, on Monday.

He denied claims Italy had been slow in nurturing relations with the Benghazi-based rebels, saying there had been ''intense contact'' via the Italian consulate in Benghazi and that he had spoken with Transitional National Council chief Mahmoud Jebril several times on the phone.

France was the first state to recognize the rebels and the United States has been talking to them for some time.

photo: migrants wait to leave Lampedusa.