Italy, France consider giving Tunisia migrant boat alerts

ROME (AP) — Italy and France are considering deploying sea or air craft to alert Tunisia to the departure of clandestine boats ferrying migrants north to Italian shores, the Italian Interior Minister said on Friday.

The Italian Minister Luciana Lamorgese and French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin held talks in Rome on Friday. Darmanin declined to fault Italy for its handling of the Tunisian suspect, who landed on Italy’s Lampedusa island in September, was quarantined under pandemic rules and received expulsion papers from Italian authorities before reaching France in October.

“In no moment did I think there was something defective” in how Italy managed the case, Darmanin said, responding to a question at a news conference with Lamorgese after their talks. Instead, he thanked Lamorgese and Italy’s intelligence services for an exchange of information in the days following the attack in Nice.

Tunisians fleeing a virus-battered economy make up the largest contingent of migrants landing in Italy this year, and they are coming directly from Tunisia in boats sturdy enough not to need rescue. In recent past years, the majority of migrants reaching Italy southern shores came from sub-Saharan Africa and travelled across the Mediterranean in unseaworthy boats launched by traffickers in Libya.

Lamorgese said she and Darmarin discussed a plan that would involve deploying “naval or air assets that could alert the Tunisian authorities to eventual departures” and help them intercept the boats, “in their autonomy that we don’t want to violate.”

Under the plan, there would be “only an alert that we’d give the Tunisian authorities to make it easier to trace the vessels that depart from that territory to come to the Italian coasts,” the Italian minister said. “It’s obvious that this presumes the collaboration of the Tunisian authorities.”

Italy and France are launching, on an experimental, six-month basis, mixed brigades of Italian and French security forces at their common borders to strengthen controls, Lamorgese told reporters.

After his morning meeting in Rome, Darmarin said he was heading to Tunisia, Algeria and the island nation of Malta to discuss migration and terrorism issues.

“France and Italy must pinpoint a common position for the fight against clandestine immigration on the European level,” he said.

Tunisian Interior Minister Taoufik Charfeddine and his French counterpart Gerald Darmanin give a joint press conference in Tunis. PHOTO: AP