Italy has released five million euros in emergency aid along with extensive credit facilities to help Tunisia’s turmoil-battered economy.
The move has been triggered by Rome’s alarm at the mass exodus of thousands of Tunisian migrants turning up on a Sicilian island hoping to make it to mainland Italy and future employment.
Italy’s Interior Minister Roberto Maroni is demanding the European Commission help with the costs of the crisis.
“I have asked, and I think it is fundamental, that Europe – at its top levels – meaning heads of state and government – defines a strategy, takes the initiative and starts a strong diplomatic action towards all the countries that are touched by these phenomena.”
EU Foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said on a visit to Tunis that a trade deal between Tunisia and the bloc should be agreed within months.
It is hoped these efforts will stimulate the country’s economy, creating jobs and lessening the need for migrants to try for Europe.
Over 5,000 illegal migrants have made it to the island of Lampedusa in just a week and that is set to quadruple according to some accounts.
Italy has described it as a humanitarian emergency. With unrest spreading in the region more illegal migrants are likely to attempt to enter Europe via its Mediterranean border.