Coast Guard patrol boat returning to the Lampedusa port, August 4, 2020 | Photo: ANSA/ELIO DESIDERIO
Coast Guard patrol boat returning to the Lampedusa port, August 4, 2020 | Photo: ANSA/ELIO DESIDERIO

Tunisia has announced that it has made available naval units, surveillance devices, and search teams at Mediterranean crossing points to counter irregular migrant departures. The Italian government has said that the move was a result of pressure applied by Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio.

Following pressure from the Italian foreign ministry in recent days, Tunisia announced on August 6 that it had made available more means to counter irregular migrant departures from the North African country. It will be deploying naval units, surveillance devices, and search teams at crossing points. 

The decision seems to already be producing results, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Do Maio noted. "Several boats that left for Italy have been stopped near the Tunisian coast," Di Maio wrote in a Facebook post, adding that "this is an initial response to a complex phenomenon and a challenge that must evolve all of Europe. This is why we have also asked the EU for aid, since the Italian coasts are also European" ones. 

Tunisian government announcement 

Prior to this latest increase in means to counter irregular emigration, on August 2 the prime minister-designate and outgoing interior minister of Tunisia, Hichem Mechichi, announced that more means would be made available by the Coast Guard in the Sfax region, with the delivery of new equipment. 

On the August 6 announcement, the Tunisian government underscored that "customs naval units, positioned along the entire coastal zone, include patrol boats with surveillance, localisation, and communication devices making it possible to intervene effectively at sea, to check for commercial, tourism and fishing boats travelling in the area and to counter forms of organised crime. They also ensure maritime intervention in full coordination with the Navy and the Coast Guard."

Moreover, the statement noted, the "the general directorate of the customs authority works against clandestine border crossing starting with the ports through surveillance devices that have made it possible to detain 404 people inside containers and towboats." 

Reactions in Italy 

The government party Five-Star Movement (M5S) claimed that the change in Tunisia's policy was due to Di Maio. The progress was "thanks to the great work of applying diplomatic pressure conducted by Di Maio," M5S senators at the foreign affairs committee said, adding that this is a "significant step forward by the Tunisian authorities towards serious control of illegal migrant flows." 

The senators added that the party believes that "dialogue and cooperation for strengthening local institutions and the economy are the only way to counter migration at its roots" and not only deal with it when it becomes an emergency. 

The leader of the far-right opposition party The League, Matteo Salvini, instead accused the Italian government of being accomplices of traffickers. "It pledged to Europe to transform Italy into a refugee camp, otherwise there is no explanation," he said, saying that only a year ago "with Minister Salvini -- that ugly, racist, Fascist, Nazi, evil man, kidnapper and criminal who must stand trial -- there were a thousand migrant landings'' on Italian shores. 

This year, the party stressed, "with the good, generous, welcoming, rainbow-coloured government, we have gone from 1,000 to 7,000 per month."

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