The European Union’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, at talks in Tunis, has expressed support for Tunisia’s caretaker administration, as increasing numbers of illegal migrants from that country bring calls for help from Italy.
Tunis rejected a proposal from an Italian minister to send police to Tunisia’s coast to stop Tunisians from taking to the boats. Ashton offered her hosts general long-term encouragement.
Local Italian officials in Lampedusa say migrants are overwhelming their island, which lies closer to Africa than mainland Italy. Italy has appealed for European Union help, though the European Commission said Rome’s allegation it was left alone to deal with this was surprising.
A European Commission spokesman, speaking on behalf of EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, said: “I asked if they needed our help to cope with these exceptional circumstances. Their reply was clear: ‘No thanks, we do not need the European Commission’s assistance at this stage.’ Despite the lack of a request from their side, I immediately asked my services, the Frontex agency and the European Asylum Support office, to assess how the European Commission could support the Italian authorities in this difficult situation.”
Italy offered help with Tunisian migrants