As growing numbers of migrants cross from Tunisia to Europe, Italy is sending $13 million to the African nation’s government to slow down the migration and help with an economic decline worsened by the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report.
The number of migrants leaving Tunisia has grown five times this year — about 5,700 people, according to estimates from the Tunisian Forum of Economic and Social Rights, an aid group charting migration flows.
More migrants landing in Italy now came from Tunisia than from neighboring Libya, according to Italian government figures released Saturday. A total of 16,347 migrants reached Italian shores over the past year, a 149% increase compared to the previous 12-month period.
Tunisia’s unemployment rate stood at 15% before the pandemic and has since climbed to 21%. The country has struggled for economic restoration since protesters overthrew a longtime autocrat in 2011, unleashing Arab Spring uprisings around the world.
The EU provided hundreds of millions of euros to Tunisia earlier this year to help it fight the virus.
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Top Italian and European Union officials promised Monday to support Tunisian development efforts to create jobs and keep young people from trying to flee the North African country.
During a visit to Tunisia, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said Italy was ready to hand over aid, notably for youth programs, according to the Tunisian president’s office.
But Di Maio insisted that migrants who make it to Italy illegally would be sent back.
The Italian government has a repatriation agreement with Tunisia and is determined to slow the pace of arrivals.
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Tunisian President Kais Saied begged for more development aid, noting that “security solutions alone are not likely to end irregular migration.”
Tunisian Secretary of State Selma Neifer pushed for more opportunities for Tunisians to work and cross borders legally in Europe.
“Tunisia can count on the European Commission and on all its friends,” the EU’s commissioner for neighboring countries, Oliver Varhelyi, said, according to the Tunisian president’s office.
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Varhelyi also promised to promote job creation in Tunisia.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.