Italian deputy PM in Tunisia for talks to end 'illegal' migration

In first official visit since right-wing government took power in Rome, officials discuss ways to open routes for Tunisians to move to Italy

Tunisian President Kais Saied meets Antonio Tajani, Italy's Deputy Prime Minister, at the presidential palace in Tunis. EPA
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Italy will accept more "legal migrants" as long as Tunisia steps up efforts to hamper irregular crossings from the north African state, Deputy Prime Minister Antonio Tajani has said.

He was speaking in Tunis on Wednesday evening, in the first official visit since Giorgia Meloni’s right-wing alliance took power in Italy in October.

Mr Tajani, who is also Foreign Affairs Minister, and Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi held discussions with Tunisia's President Kais Saied.

Migration was an important part of Ms Meloni's campaign for office and her government has started taking steps to prevent people from arriving by small boats seeking refuge.

Interior Ministry data shows 105,140 migrants reached Italy last year, compared to 67,477 in 2021 and 34,154 in 2020. The UN estimates 1,400 people died trying to make the crossing last year alone.

While Tunisia has long been a transit country, the number of Tunisians making the crossing has increased in recent years.

“Tunisia and Italy are both victims of the phenomenon of illegal migration,” Mr Tajani said. “We need to solve the issue from the roots and look at it through African lenses, not European ones.”

Mr Tajani also reiterated the Italian government's position that African youths need to be encouraged “to stay in their country” through “increasing investment in Africa”.

“We must work to allow young Africans to dream in their own country, it should be their dream to stay in their own country,” Mr Tajani said in a recorded statement at the Tunisian presidential palace.

Under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, which both Italy and Tunisia have signed, there are no barriers to crossing borders in search of sanctuary from war or persecution regardless of how it's done. However, Rome has sought to cast arrivals by dinghy as having tried to do so illegally.

The Italian minister also declared that Rome and Tunis want to work on exchanging inclusive strategies, which he said were necessary to “fight terrorism, poverty, disease and climate change".

Mr Tajani said that his government would work with Tunisia to propose agreements to open more regular pathways for "legal workers who are capable of integration [into Italian society]" while "the number of those arriving illegally and receiving lower wages is reduced.”

Mr Piantedosi met Tunisian Interior Minister Taoufik Charfeddine to discuss a new programme “training youths, who could be candidates for immigration, in specific professional fields according to the needs of the Italian labour market.”

They discussed ways to implement the training and ensure that a regular number of Tunisians are able to get visas to move to Italy.

Tunisia has high unemployment – at 16.1 per cent in the first quarter of last year – and inflation of more than 10 per cent, which has led to food shortages. In 2022, An estimated 18,000 Tunisians arrived in Italy, mainly via the dangerous route across the Mediterranean Sea.

Updated: January 19, 2023, 2:50 PM