Italy is considering deploying ships and aeroplanes to alert Tunisia to the departure of clandestine boats ferrying migrants north to Italian shores, while also strengthening information channels between the two countries to halt the departures.
Naval and aerial assets would be deployed off Tunisian territorial waters to monitor sea migration flows, Italian Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese said on Friday at a news conference in Rome with her French counterpart Gerald Darmanin.
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“We would give an alert to Tunisian authorities to make it easier to track down the [migrant] boats that leave from those territories to come to Italian shores,” she said. “Such plan supposes the full adherence by Tunisia.”
The proposal is part of an “operational plan” that Italy would like to submit to Tunisia on strengthening cooperation against human trafficking and undocumented migration.
The draft plan was first mentioned by the Italian Interior Ministry on Tuesday, after a national security meeting called in the wake of attacks in France and Austria.
More than 27,000 refugees and migrants – over 11,000 from Tunisia – reached Italy via the sea from January 1 to October 29 this year, compared with 9,533 in the same period last year, according to Italy’s Interior Ministry data.
The vast majority of Tunisians arriving by sea are rejected as they are classified as economic migrants, but while official channels established between Rome and Tunis provide the return of only 80 migrants per week, Italian authorities hand over an expulsion order to all the others.
Many of them continue their way towards Northern Europe, rather than returning to Tunisia.
The process has come under increasing scrutiny following the killing of three people on October 29 at a Catholic basilica in the French city of Nice by the 21-year-old Tunisian Brahim Aouissaoui.
He had landed on Italy’s Lampedusa Island on September 20 and later disappeared, after ignoring repatriation orders.
Darmanin said he “never at any time” thought that Italy was to blame for what happened in Nice, and said France would support Italy in its endeavours to limit undocumented immigration from Tunisia.
Since 2014, more than 20,000 migrants and refugees have died at sea while trying to reach Europe from Africa, according to the International Organization of Migration (IOM). More than 800 have died this year alone.