Italy has promised Tunisia more than 10 million euros to reduce the number of migrants headed to Italian shores. Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio and Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese made an official visit to Tunis on Monday.
On their visit to Lamorgese and Di Maio were accompanied by European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson and European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy Oliver Varhelji.
They met with Tunisian President Kais Saied, Prime Minister-designate Hichem Mechichi and Interim Foreign Minister Selma Ennaifer.
The group discussed clandestine migration from Tunisia to Italy via the Central Mediterranean. The number of migrants who arrive in Italy -- mostly on the island of Lampedusa - from Tunisia has increased significantly in recent months. In the past few days, over 700 people have disembarked on the island.
Of the more than 16,000 migrants who have arrived in Italy without visas since the start of the year, nearly half departed from Tunisian shores.
The majority are young people, who are leaving their country in search of a better life. Tunisia is struggling economically, offering few opportunities for young people, and the coronavirus has further aggravated the situation, hitting its important tourism sector.
The meeting in Tunis
During the meetings on Monday, Tunisian President Saied said it was important to have "greater cooperation to face the root causes of migration."
Di Maio said he wants to "strengthen the partnership [between Italy and Tunisia] for shared development." The Italian foreign minister also said that Rome intends "to propose a great pact for Tunisian youth, an integrated plan with a particular focus on young people."
However, he said, the partnership "has to be carried forward by both sides;" adding that Rome expected "full collaboration and rapid results on the plan to fight immigration."
"Tunisia is not alone," Lamorgese said. She added: "We are ready to take all initiatives needed to support it in terms of aid and tools in order to control illegal immigration. But there needs to be extra effort, because the pressure on our country, in particular on Lampedusa and Sicily, is creating a situation of serious difficulty, aggravated by the COVID-19 health emergency."
More border control tech
Before the planned 11 million-euro-plan can go into effect, Tunisia must form a new government, which is expected to take place in the coming weeks.
Italy wants Tunisia to work with a computerized system that would alert the Tunisian police when migrant boats are at sea, so that it can stop them in Tunisian waters. The money is also supposed to finance the maintenance of patrol boats, the training of local security forces, and the installation of new radar systems.
Italy is reportedly also expecting an increase in the weekly number of people deported to Italy, which currently stands at 80.