Tunisian migrants riot on Italian island

Riot at migrant detention centre follows controversial deportation deal between Tunisian and Italian authorities.

    The deal allows migrants who arrived on the island before April 5 to have short-term residence permits [Reuters]

    Tunisian migrants being held in a compound on the Italian island of Lampedusa have rioted after a controversial deal struck between Rome and Tunis last week paved the way for their deportation.

    Some of the migrants shouted "Freedom! Freedom!" at the centre where hundreds are being held. Other migrants started a small fire on Monday which was quickly put out by the fire brigade, local media reported, and dozens fled the enclosure.

    Several of the escapees later returned to the immigrant detention centre.

    Under the deal, Italy agreed to grant six-month residence permits to migrants who arrived before April 5, while Tunisia agreed to the deportation of anyone arriving after that date.

    Lampedusa measures just 20sq km and is closer to North Africa than to mainland Italy. More than 25,000 migrants have arrived in fishing boats from North Africa since the start of the year and most have been moved to detention centres on the Italian mainland.

    Two planes carrying dozens of migrants flew out of Lampedusa to Tunisia's capital, Tunis, during the day despite protests by the deportees that delayed the second flight.

    A first planeload of deportees left Italy for Tunisia on Sunday with around 30 migrants on board escorted by around 60 police officers.

    Meanwhile, two boats carrying 226 migrants arrived on the island on Monday, bringing to around 1,500 the number of boat people currently on Lampedusa.

    Around 1,000 of the migrants on Lampedusa are believed to be Tunisians; the others are refugees from sub-Saharan Africa who have been fleeing Libya.

    Italy has accused the European Union and France, Tunisia's former colonial master, of failing to help it deal with the wave of immigration. The issue topped the agenda of a heated meeting of interior ministers in Luxembourg.

    Roberto Maroni, the Italian foreign minister, said: "A document has been approved, with my abstention, that doesn't gives us a concrete measure. We expressed solidarity when we had the economic crisis facing Greece, Portugal and Ireland

    "But when faced with this social, geo-political crisis, the response from governments is: 'dear Italy, you must do everything and do it by yourself'. We have done everything we can and will continue to do so."

    His German counterpart, Hans-Peter Friedrich, said it was up to Italy to deal with the wave of migrants and find a solution with Tunisian authorities to stop people from reaching Europe's shores.

    "We cannot accept numerous economic migrants arriving in Europe through Italy," Friedrich said. "This is why we expect Italy to respect the existing legal rules and uphold its duty in discussions with the Tunisians."

    Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's prime minister, said on Sunday that 80 per cent of the more than 21,000 Tunisian migrants who have arrived since the start of the year wanted to join friends and relatives in France.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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