12 August 2020
The Italian government claims to have succesfully pressured the Tunisian authorities to take renewed action against migrant departures from the coasts of the North African country, according to a report in InfoMigrants.
Tunisia cracks down on migrant departures (InfoMigrants, link):
"Following pressure from the Italian foreign ministry in recent days, Tunisia announced on August 6 that it had made available more means to counter irregular migrant departures from the North African country. It will be deploying naval units, surveillance devices, and search teams at crossing points.
The decision seems to already be producing results, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Do Maio noted. "Several boats that left for Italy have been stopped near the Tunisian coast," Di Maio wrote in a Facebook post, adding that "this is an initial response to a complex phenomenon and a challenge that must evolve all of Europe. This is why we have also asked the EU for aid, since the Italian coasts are also European" ones.
Prior to this latest increase in means to counter irregular emigration, on August 2 the prime minister-designate and outgoing interior minister of Tunisia, Hichem Mechichi, announced that more means would be made available by the Coast Guard in the Sfax region, with the delivery of new equipment.
On the August 6 announcement, the Tunisian government underscored that "customs naval units, positioned along the entire coastal zone, include patrol boats with surveillance, localisation, and communication devices making it possible to intervene effectively at sea, to check for commercial, tourism and fishing boats travelling in the area and to counter forms of organised crime. They also ensure maritime intervention in full coordination with the Navy and the Coast Guard."
Moreover, the statement noted, the "the general directorate of the customs authority works against clandestine border crossing starting with the ports through surveillance devices that have made it possible to detain 404 people inside containers and towboats."
One factor leading to increased departures appears to be the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on Tunisia, where the economy offers little hope for many.
See: 'Entire families are arriving at our shores': Covid drives Tunisian exodus (The Guardian, link):
"In July alone, as the pandemic took hold and the waters calmed, 4,252 migrants were intercepted by Italian authorities, compared with 502 the previous year. These numbers do not include those who landed in Italy undetected.
Compared with many countries so far Tunisia’s brush with Covid-19 has been light. At the time of writing, only 1,678 cases of the virus had been detected, resulting in 51 deaths, though the threat of a potential second spike looms ominously.
However, for an economy still struggling to recover from the conditions that led to its 2011 revolution, the combined effect of the lockdown, the loss of its tourism season and the global economic downturn is proving devastating."
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