Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio before the virtual preparation of the meeting Joint Economic and Trade Commission (JETCO) with Turkish Trade Minister Ruhsar Pekcan, Rome, July 29, 2020 | Photo: ANSA/ANGELO CARCONI (ANSA)
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio before the virtual preparation of the meeting Joint Economic and Trade Commission (JETCO) with Turkish Trade Minister Ruhsar Pekcan, Rome, July 29, 2020 | Photo: ANSA/ANGELO CARCONI (ANSA)

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio has announced that Italy must "forge an agreement on migratory cooperation with Tunisia" following the "Albanian model" from the late 1990s-early 2000s to control migration flows. The agreement with Albania enabled Italy to stop, seize and sink boats used for crossings.

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio on July 31 said in a live Facebook stream that the country does "not need slogans" but a new agreement with Tunisia to stop the flow of arrivals, citing the risk of a ''new wave''. 


Di Maio in particular said such an agreement should be modeled on one forged with Albania at the end of the 1990s which marked a ''turning point'', enabling to ''stop, seize and sink boats'' used for irregular crossings. 

The foreign minister said Italy has already presented its requests to Tunis through the Italian ambassador. The six-point agreement plan includes the possibility of "faster" repatriations not only by plane but also by sea, Di Maio said.

"You can repatriate 300-400 people with a ship," he said. "It is very important because repatriations must follow the same rhythm of arrivals," the foreign minister explained, stressing that Italy "can't afford" new waves of arrivals, also due to the "healthcare risk" of an emergency "we are keeping under control". 

"We cannot let our guard down if we see scenes like the ones in Porto Empedocle or Caltanissetta. If we are in the middle of a healthcare emergency, rules must be respected."

Around 100 people on July 27 ran away from a civil protection department migrant center at the Sicilian port of Porto Empedocle while 184 earlier that day escaped from the Piano del Lago migrant center in another Sicilian city, Caltanissetta. Police later tracked down 124 of the 184 people from the center near Caltanissetta. 

'360-degree approach' 

Di Maio said that "a 360-degree approach" is necessary to manage migration from Tunisia. The plan should consider the country's context, in particular political instability and the economic crisis. 

The minister spoke about the importance of preventing uncontrolled migratory flows rather than managing them. "We should not stop landings but departures," he said, urging Tunisia to monitor its coasts, especially the area of Sfax where the majority of departures occur. 

Di Maio went on to say that misinformation is also a threat. "We must put out the message that it is false that rules for stay permits in Italy have changed. This is propaganda used by the organizations selling journeys of hope" to migrants. 

In this context, the minister cited the EU and a deal reached in September last year in Malta on sharing the burden of asylum seekers who arrive via sea from North Africa, which is de facto suspended due to the coronavirus emergency. 

"I understand that during Covid redistributions stopped" but "now they must begin again." 

Funds to Tunisia blocked 

Di Maio on July 31 asked the Joint Committee for Development Cooperation to postpone discussions on allocations of funds by the Committee to Tunisia. "I am asking you to suspend this allocation of 6.5 million euros pending a broader, integrated plan proposed by deputy foreign minister Del Re, and another side in collaboration that we asked Tunisian authorities for in the area of migration," Di Maio said. 

The minister said the act was not "irreversible". 

"We are simply asking for a response on an increase of repatriations and an agreement to disable traffickers' boats" before allocating the 6.5 million euros, he said. 
 

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