Berlusconi flies to Tunis to tackle migrant repatration

Reuters , Tuesday 5 Apr 2011

Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi meets Tunisian PM Beji Caid Sebsi to discuss immigration, rights group slams Italian government for state of immigrants in Italy

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi discussed in Tunisia on Monday how to repatriate thousands of Tunisian migrants, pledging to do so in "a civil manner" as more boats from North Africa reached southern Italy.

Berlusconi met Tunisian Prime Minister Beji Caid Sebsi to talk through a migrant crisis that has turned into a political headache for the Italian leader.

"There is a very strong desire from both sides to find ways for Tunisia to monitor its coast," Berlusconi told a news conference.

More than 20,000 illegal immigrants, mainly from Tunisia, have poured into the tiny island of Lampedusa in fishing boats and other small craft since the overthrow of former Tunisian President Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali in January loosened tight frontier checks that blocked the way into Europe.

"We will have to look at finding a solution for repatriations. We want it to be done in a civil manner," Berlusconi said.

He said an Italian technical commission would stay in Tunisia to work with local officials and that Italy would help monitor Tunisian coasts.

Italian ships transferred thousands of migrants to camps on Sicily and the mainland over the weekend, but more than 800 others have reached the overwhelmed island since Sunday evening.

As migrants have moved on, problems have sprung up elsewhere in Italy, with hundreds escaping from camps, and the government facing growing criticism over its response.

Amnesty International has accused Italy of failing to provide adequate shelter and sanitation. Medical charity Doctors Without Borders has said migrants on the Italian island were worse off than those living in refugee camps in war zones.

Rome has pledged more than 200 million euros ($280 million) in aid and credit lines to Tunisia and demanded that European Union partners help, especially since many of the migrants want to go to other countries, in particular France.

Italy will hold a top-level meeting with France at the end of this week, or early next week on the North African migrant problem, Berlusconi said. Almost all of the migrants from Tunisia are young men seeking work in Europe.

Italian officials are deeply concerned that the fighting in Libya could unleash an additional influx of migrants.

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