(by Colleen Barry, MercuryNews.com) MILAN (AP) – After days of [disagreements], Italy and France patched up their differences Friday over the fate of thousands of Tunisian migrants, avoiding a major rift over European Union border control rules.

The two neighbors agreed to joint sea-and-air patrols to block any new North African migrants from sailing to European shores.

France also promised to honor temporary residency documents that Rome plans to issue to Tunisian migrants who have already flooded Italy in recent months. But Paris insisted the migrants must be able to prove they can financially support themselves-a condition that could prove insurmountable to thousands hoping to live in France, Tunisia’s former colonial ruler.

Top security officials from Italy and France sought a conciliatory tone as they struggled with the crush of more than 20,000 Tunisians who sailed on often rickety boats to Italy’s southernmost point, the tiny Mediterranean island of Lampedusa [with a population of 5,000].

On the eve of the meeting, Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni had threatened to have France thrown out of the Schengen agreement-the border rules that link much of Europe into a visa-free travel zone-if it did not allow the free circulation of Tunisians carrying temporary Italian residency permits.

France, for its part, had vowed to tighten border controls against an influx of Tunisians-moves that could have violated Europe’s visa-free border arrangement.

Italy has complained bitterly that it has been stuck with the logistical and financial nightmare of accommodating the illegal migrants, most of them from Tunisia and hoping to reach relatives already in France. While a few claim they are fleeing political instability, Italy says most aren’t seeking asylum but a better life in Europe.

The exodus began after the overthrow of Tunisia’s longtime dictator in mid-January.

French Interior Minister Claude Guenant appeared sympathetic to Italy’s dilemma, saying Friday that France would allow free circulation of migrants with a valid short-term Italian residency permit. But, he said the migrants must meet all of the Schengen terms, meaning they must have financial resources as well as documents.

The ministers did not take any questions after their brief statements, and it was not clear how many Tunisian migrants would be able to convince French authorities they would not be a drain on the nation’s coffers.

Both sides said they would work to prevent more Tunisians from fleeing in smugglers’ boats from their homeland to Italy.

“We have agreed on developing common action,” specifically joint sea and air patrols, Maroni said.

The two ministers also pledged to encourage immigrants with the temporary permits from Italy to head back to Tunisia on what Maroni called a “voluntary” basis. No further details on that concept were offered.

Maroni had already vowed to deport migrants who arrived on Lampedusa after Italy cut an immigration deal with Tunisia earlier this week, unless they were eligible for asylum or because they have a job waiting.

Italy transferred thousands of the Tunisians from Lampedusa to camps on the mainland, but hundreds ran away from the camps and headed straight to the French border.

Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s government has appealed for solidarity by fellow European Union nations on accepting the migrants, and Maroni echoed that stance.

“(It’s) not a French-Italian question but one that must be settled on a European level,” Maroni said.

Germany said Friday [that it] would take some of the migrants arriving from North Africa, offering to take in 100 refugees currently in Malta.

An EU island nation of about 400,000, Malta insists it cannot handle a large number of migrants. It has frequently turned to Italy’s coast guard boats or air force planes to patrol the waters between Europe and North Africa and help rescue migrant boats that run into trouble in stormy seas.

While the number of migrants on tiny Lampedusa has been [reduced] from thousands to a few dozen, more boats of illegal migrants kept coming to other Italian shores.

Coast Guard official Vittorio Alessandro, interviewed in Lampedusa by Sky TG 24, said authorities arrested three smugglers who had abandoned 53 illegal migrants Friday just outside the port of Pantelleria, another Sicilian island near the Tunisian coast. The passengers, who might have been thrown into the water before the smugglers tried to get away in the boat, were rescued, he said.

The nationalities of those new migrants were not immediately known.

Associated Press. Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from San Jose Mercury News. Visit the website at mercurynews.com.


NOTE TO STUDENTS: Before you answer the questions, read the information under “Background” below the questions.

1. When and why did more than 20,000 Tunisians sail to Italy illegally?

2. a) After initially keeping its border closed to the Tunisian migrants, what has the French Interior Minister said France would now do?
b) What condition did the French government place on its agreement? (see para. 3, 9)
c) Many of the Tunisians probably won’t be able to prove that they can support themselves financially in France. Do you think this (2b) is an unreasonable condition on the part of the French government? Explain your answer.

3. For what reason are so many Tunisians trying to get to France specifically?

4. Most of the illegal immigrants have been transferred to Italy from the island of Lampedusa, but more boats of illegal migrants keep coming to other Italian shores. Also, hundreds of Tunisians ran away from the camps on Italy’s mainland, and headed straight for the French border.
a) What agreement have the governments of France and Italy made for preventing future illegal immigrants coming to Europe from North Africa?
b) Do you think this is a good idea? Explain your answer.

5. a) What are the leaders of Italy and France asking the European Union to do?
b) Do you think this is a reasonable request? Explain your answer.

6. Asylum is defined as: protection or safety, especially that given by a government to foreigners who have been forced to leave their own countries because of religious or political persecution. The article does not describe current economic conditions in Tunisia, but implies that many of the migrants have come to Italy/France illegally for economic reasons.
As well as the flood of immigrants from Tunisia, almost all of whom are young men seeking work in Europe, Italian officials are deeply concerned that the fighting in Libya could cause many more illegal immigrants to come from North Africa.
How many job seekers/illegal immigrants do you think are too many for France/Italy to absorb? Explain your answer.

7.  What responsibility does the European Union have to address the North African refugee problem?



  • The European Union (EU) [created in 1993] is an economic and political union of 27 member states which are located primarily in Europe.
  • The EU operates through a hybrid system of supranational independent institutions and intergovernmentally made decisions negotiated by the member states.
  • Important institutions of the EU include the European Commission, the Council of the European Union, the European Council, the Court of Justice of the European Union, and the European Central Bank.
  • The European Parliament is elected every five years by EU citizens.
  • The EU has developed a single market through a standardized system of laws which apply in all member states including the abolition of passport controls within the Schengen area.
  • It ensures the free movement of people, goods, services, and capital, enacts legislation in justice and home affairs, and maintains common policies on trade, agriculture, fisheries and regional development. (from wikipedia)


  • Before 1914, it was possible to travel from Paris [France] to Saint Petersburg [Russia] without a passport.
  • When the First World War came to an end, the practice of issuing passports and performing routine passport controls at national frontiers remained and became the norm in Europe until the creation of the Schengen Area in 1995.
  • The Schengen Agreement created Europe’s borderless Schengen Area which operates very much like a single state for international travel with border controls for travellers travelling in and out of the area, but with no internal border controls.
  • The borderless zone created by the Schengen Agreements, the Schengen Area, currently consists of 25 European countries, covering a population of over 400 million people and an area of 1,664,911 square miles. (from wikipedia)


  • Tunisia was a French protectorate from 1881-1956.
  • With the proclamation of the Tunisian republic on July 25, 1957, the nationalist leader Habib Bourguiba became its first president.
  • The country was governed by the authoritarian regime of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from 1987 to 2011 before he fled following wide-ranging protests.
  • Street protests that began in the Tunisian capital Tunis in December 2010 over high unemployment, corruption, widespread poverty, and high food prices escalated in January 2011, culminating in rioting that led to hundreds of deaths.
  • On January 14, 2011, the same day President Ben Ali [who had ruled Tunisia since 1987] dismissed the government, he fled the country, and by late January 2011, Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi announced the formation of a “national unity government” with the head of the Chamber of Deputies, Fouad M’Bazaa, as the interim president. (from the CIA World FactBook)
  • Read a previous article on Tunisia at studentnewsdaily.com/daily-news-article/tunisia-coalition-hits-trouble-on-day-two.


Read background on Tunisia at the CIA World FactBook website.

Read a previous article on Tunisia at studentnewsdaily.com/daily-news-article/tunisia-coalition-hits-trouble-on-day-two.

Watch a news video from Feb. 14th on the Tunisians in Lampedusa:

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