Tunisian foreign minister in Italy for migration talks

AFP , Thursday 13 Sep 2012

Tunisian FM Rafik Abdessalem visits Italian capital for talks with officials on illegal migration

Illegal Migration to Italy
In this photo released by the Italian coast guard, a rescue boat carries migrants at the Lampione Island, Italy, Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (Photo: AP)

Tunisia's Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalem travelled to Rome on Thursday for talks on the problem of illegal migration across the Mediterranean, a week after dozens died when their boat sank off Italy's coast.

Abdessalem was to meet his Italian counterpart Giulio Terzi and Interior Minister Annamaria Cancellieri, Tunisia's TAP news agency reported.

He will also visit the Italian island of Lampedusa, the closest to the coast of north Africa and a favoured destination for illegal African migrants heading to Europe.

On Thursday, Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki and Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali discussed the subject and ways of "fighting this phenomenon," which has led to "numerous human tragedies," the presidency said.

Abdessalem's trip comes less than a week after a boat loaded with migrants sank 12 nautical miles off Lampedusa, with just 56 of the 110 passengers rescued from the old 10-metre (33-foot) fishing vessel.

The survivors, apparently all Tunisians, were taken to a reception centre on the island.

The Islamist-led Tunisian government, which took two days to react to the disaster, has been heavily criticised for what the opposition described as a "failure of government policy."

Relatives of the victims gathered in Habib Bourguiba Avenue in central Tunis on Thursday, some carrying pictures of lost family members, to demand the swift repatriation of their remains.

The president of the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights, Abderrahmane Hedhili, told Radio Mosaique earlier that an estimated 40,000 Tunisians had emigrated illegally since last year's revolution.

He said another 2,080 had disappeared.

Each year, thousands of illegal migrants attempt to cross the Mediterranean in often overcrowded and unseaworthy vessels in a bid to reach the European Union.

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