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Italy fears an increase in migrants from Tunisia's political crisis

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By Giorgia Orlandi
Migrants from Tunisia and Lybia arrive onboard of an Italian Guardia Costiera (Coast Guard) boat in the Italian Pelagie Island of Lampedusa on August 1, 2020.
Migrants from Tunisia and Lybia arrive onboard of an Italian Guardia Costiera (Coast Guard) boat in the Italian Pelagie Island of Lampedusa on August 1, 2020.   -   Copyright  ALBERTO PIZZOLI / AFP

In just eight months, the number of migrants arriving at Italian ports is already more than double that for the whole of last year. 

That increase, coupled with a fresh political crisis in Tunisia, is sparking fears in Italy that a new wave of Tunisians will soon arrive. 

Two weeks ago, Tunisia's President Kais Saied ousted the government and froze the activities of the parliament. Saied has yet to appoint a new prime minister and lay out a clear roadmap for the country's future.

Despite the political upheaval, experts say it is still too early to say what impact it will have on migration numbers. 

“Clearly we cannot compare the current situation to what happened in 2011," Francesco Piobicchi, from Mediterranean Hope, an organisation operating in Lampedusa, told Euronews.

"It’s not like during the Arab Spring (in 2011) when the country had been hit by a revolution that prompted tens of thousands of people to leave.

"It’s a different scenario, the country has been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and by a political crisis within an already existing crisis."

Nevertheless, Mediterranean Hope says the overall number of migrants who departed from Tunisia and reached Lampedusa has increased since last July.

Last year the number of Tunisians heading for Europe was the highest since 2011, reported AFP news agency, and there is evidence the flows are continuing. 

Rome said the number of migrants who reached Italian shores in May and June this year is more than triple compared to the previous year's figure. Up until August 9, just under a quarter of the total arrivals were Tunisians, according to data from Italy's interior ministry.

Italy and the EU recently promised to support the country’s economy as part of their efforts to stem migration across the Mediterranean Sea towards Europe.

Rome had previously offered Tunisia €11 million in 2020 to improve the Tunisian coastguard and provide training and support to contain migration flows.

Tunisian MP Majdi Karabi says it is not clear how the money was spent as departures have not yet stopped.

He believes previous governments should have done more to support Tunisia’s economy and failed to understand problems faced by the country’s youth.

“Depending on who the president will appoint as prime minister, Tunisia can either reach a compromise and improve relations with Italy and the EU, and as a consequence being better at managing the migration crisis, or, should that fail, the risk is to go towards a dictatorship,” he told Euronews.

Watch the full video report in the player above.