Tunisia and North Africa: “Clearly a Powder Keg”

Rescued male migrants are brought to southern Italian ports, 28 June 2015 (Photo: Irish Defence Forces / Wikimedia Commons)

The present migration “wave” cannot be stopped Matteo Villa, a researcher at Milan’s Institute for International Political Studies, told Italian news agency ANSA in a recent interview. Situations and tragedies similar to what is happening on Lampedusa are here to stay.

The increase in the number of migrants arriving on Lampedusa in recent days can be explained from several different angles, according to a recent interview by ANSA with Italian researcher Matteo Villa.

“Looking at the very short term, for the past two weeks there has been bad weather in Tunisia. As soon as there was a window of good weather they all left,” said the expert who works at the Institute for International Political Studies in Milan.

“The Italian government should put pressure on [Tunisian president Kais] Saied to accept money from the international community,” though in reality, Italy cannot do a great deal, he emphasized.

Government Acted In Time But Framework Lax

According to Villa, the current Italian government showed foresight when it introduced “the largest-ever decreto flussi [a law that determines how many non-European citizens can enter Italy for work]” in July.

“We will let many in, and the planning has been done for three years. Of course, looking at this wave, we are behind, but for the time being it is only possible to deal with it.”

When the migrants reach the coast of North Africa, the vast majority of them say that they have come so far and that as soon as they have the money they will take to the sea despite the risks of dying there, he explains.

“Over the past 12 months, we saw 160,000 people disembark [on Italian coasts]. We are back to the numbers seen in the 2014-2017 period, though we have not yet reached the peak at that time of 200,000. These past two days have however been a peak for Lampedusa,” the researcher continued.

“We have previously experienced an increase in departures. However, the reception structure of 2014-2015 is no longer in place. It was difficult to handle it even then, but we managed. Now the government is embarrassed because it cannot do what it did before,” said Villa.

Tunisian Authorities Are Rendered Unable By The Volume

The North African region, the researcher said, “is clearly a powder keg”. “You can try to seal off Libya but people will find a way to get out,” he noted.

“The Tunisian police continue to say that they have stopped people building iron boats, and yet several hundreds are still being built. This is an industry and Saied does not have much control” over it, Villa said.

He also pointed out that over the past 12 months, about 70,000 people who departed from Tunisia have been intercepted and taken back by the Tunisian authorities. “Thus it is not Saied letting them all leave; he cannot stop them. This shows how explosive the situation is and it is not clear how to solve it over the short term.”

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