Milan: Seeking to diffuse a tense border
crisis, Italy and France have agreed to joint sea-and-air
patrols to try to block new Tunisian migrants from sailing to
The deal was announced today by Italian Interior
Minister Roberto Maroni after meeting with his French
counterpart in Milan.
Rome and Paris have been sparring fiercely over what
to do about the more than 20,000 Tunisians who sailed across
the Mediterranean to Italy in recent weeks after political
upheaval in their North African homeland. But some concessions
seemed to emerge after the meeting between Maroni and French
Interior Minister Claude Gueant.
"We have agreed on developing common action," Maroni
told reporters, adding that both sides would "take initiatives
to block the departure of clandestine migrants from Tunisia"
with joint sea-and-air patrols.
Only a day earlier, Maroni accused France of harboring
a hostile attitude toward the migrants from Tunisia, a former
French colony. Paris, in turn, had vowed to tighten its own
border controls in possible violation of EU-wide border rules
so that migrants couldn`t cross into French territory from
The two European neighbors also agreed today to work
out a system under which migrants receiving temporary
residency permits from Italian authorities would head back to
Tunisia during the permit period on what Maroni called a
"voluntary" basis. It was not immediately clear how that would
Gueant promised that France would follow the Schengen
free-circulation rules for those holding valid documents from
member states border rules followed by many European countries
but he insisted that the Tunisian migrants must have "economic
That appeared to be a concession, for France in recent
days has blocked the entry of hundreds of Tunisians who have
been trying to cross into France from northwest Italy.
Neither man took questions and details were not
Italian officials had criticized other European Union
nations for not helping it cope with a flood of migrants in
the last few months from the turmoil in North Africa. Maroni
tried to ease local tensions today by saying the matter is
"not a French-Italian question but one that must be settled on
a European level."