Italy Catches the Fallout from Tunisian Revolution

Italy is trying to cope with an immigration wave from Tunisia touched off by the regime change and the ensuing confusion

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Amiel Ungar, | updated: 13:02

Roberto Maroni
Roberto Maroni


With the abdication of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the revolutionary fanfare in the Middle East has temporarily abated and the backwash has started. The Italian government has declared a humanitarian emergency after nearly 4000 migrants availing themselves of a calm sea and sunny weather made the trek by boat from Tunisia to the Sicilian island of Lampedusa. Between Saturday night and Sunday a thousand more migrants arrived. The island is situated closer to Tunisia than to mainland Italy and obviously lacks the facilities to deal with such a massive influx.

The Italian government, already beleaguered by the charges surrounding Silvio Berlusconi and his dalliances, has declared a humanitarian emergency, allowing it to move funds and manpower to deal with the situation. Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, known for his adamant stance against illegal immigration, has called upon the European Union to deploy boats from the Union's Frontex border guard to intercept the boats off the Tunisian shore. Maroni warned the union that terrorists and Al Qaeda supporters as well as common criminals could exploit the exodus to infiltrate Europe.

As is the case with the asylum-seekers, some of them are genuine and have suffered from political developments in Tunisia, while others see a chance for personal betterment in the European Union. Once entry to Italy has been secured, they are free to move to all countries who have signed the Schengen agreement for a borderless Europe.

Under the old regime in Tunisia, an arrangement existed where Italy could send back Tunisian immigrants without granting them refugee status. Currently, due to the confusion in Tunisia, there is no one to talk with about the crisis. Foreign Minister Franco Frattini hopes that when Tunisian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abderraouf Ounais arrives in Italy next week, the cooperation agreements can be reconfirmed.

Amongst the recently arrived Tunisians were three women who explained to Corriere dellas Sera "For us it has become impossible to live there: there are acts of violence, rape and no one knows who it is in charge. The country is in a state of abandonment." Again this proves the familiar lesson: revolutions are the easy part. It's what comes next that is hard to deal with.