A boat carring Tunisian migrants enters the port of Lampedusa.ANSA-Archive/ETTORE FERRARI
A boat carring Tunisian migrants enters the port of Lampedusa.ANSA-Archive/ETTORE FERRARI

The number of Tunisians who are leaving their country at night to reach Italy's coasts is rising. The mayors of Lampedusa and Pozzallo have expressed concern that these youths could include criminals and jihadists.

A rising number of young and unemployed Tunisians are leaving their country at night, aboard small vessels or fishing boats, to reach Italy's coasts. Their number isn't very high yet, but the trend is worrying Italian authorities, who fear they will be confronted with another mass immigration from Tunisia, similar to the influx after the 2011 uprising, when thousands landed on Lampedusa.

The mayors of Lampedusa and Pozzallo have also expressed concern that these youths could include criminals and jihadists. In September, 554 migrants were arrested by Tunisian forces. According to National Guard spokesman, Khalipa Chibani, the number was three times more than the previous month.

Arrivals were at their peek during the last week of September also because of good weather conditions. lso on the rise were the foiled attempts to leave for Italy - a total of 17 during the week from September 24 to September 30 with the arrest of 332 people.

Given that the foiled attempts are likely to be a minority compared to the successful ones, experts have warned that a serious strategy needs to be put in place. Departures from Tunisia are different compared to the ones from Libya because fishing vessels are used and because Tunisians are often "economic migrants" looking for a better future in Europe.

Risk of foreign fighters and criminals

The interior ministry in Italy is also aware of the fact that the highest number of foreign fighters who reach Europe are from Tunisia and that is why it is important to focus on these specific landings that risk, given their number and frequency.

Some experts in Italy have warned that many of the youths who reached Italy are criminals who were pardoned by Tunisian authorities, as is customary during certain festivities. However, the Italian embassy in Tunis has played down the report, saying, "Each year, during celebrations to mark the end of Ramadan, the government releases detainees serving time for smaller crimes. We are mostly talking about small consumers of drugs. It has always happened therefore this cannot be considered a meaningful element to explain the increase in departures in 2017."

Young people seeking a better future

Poverty, the lack of development of certain regions, youth unemployment - which is over 40 percent in the southern part of the country - could explain the phenomenon. In this respect, the so-called Arab spring has failed and young Tunisians leaving from the coasts of Sfax, Monastir, El Haouaria, Zarzis and Bizerte in the north are seeking a better future.

Many of the migrants are very young and "try to cross repeatedly, putting their lives in danger, because they are convinced it is their only chance to have a future," according to Tunisian activist Mounib Baccari, who works with the association Alarmphone, a hotline for people crossing the Mediterranean.

Meanwhile western countries are concerned that, once migration flows from Libya slow down, a new route from Tunisia will gain momentum. This is why representatives of the European Union and international organizations are visiting Tunis to redefine global migration policies that will be able to manage effectively the phenomenon while respecting human rights. 

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