As Tunisian migrants begin to arrive, Italy fears ‘epic emergency’

More than 4,000 Tunisian migrants have arrived on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa in since the fall of longtime strongman Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. On Saturday Italy declared a humanitarian emergency and called for EU assistance. A spokeswoman for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Simona Moscarelli, said Italy must fly migrants from Lampedusa ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
Mauro Seminara/AFP/Getty Images
Mauro Seminara/AFP/Getty Images
Mauro Seminara/AFP/Getty Images

More than 4,000 Tunisian migrants have arrived on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa in since the fall of longtime strongman Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

On Saturday Italy declared a humanitarian emergency and called for EU assistance.

A spokeswoman for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Simona Moscarelli, said Italy must fly migrants from Lampedusa to the Italian mainland as soon as possible.

More than 4,000 Tunisian migrants have arrived on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa in since the fall of longtime strongman Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

On Saturday Italy declared a humanitarian emergency and called for EU assistance.

A spokeswoman for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Simona Moscarelli, said Italy must fly migrants from Lampedusa to the Italian mainland as soon as possible.

"It’s quite a critical situation. That’s why we are asking the government to organise as many trips, as many flights as possible," she told the BBC’s World Today programme, by phone from Lampedusa.

She described the migrants as "a mixed flow" – some were fleeing insecurity in Tunisia, following last month’s uprising there, while others were seizing the chance to get to Europe to find work.

There appears to have been some miscommunication between Rome and Brussels as to whether Italy actually asked for help.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi signed a bilateral deal with Ben Ali in 2009 under which the Tunisian leader pledged to keep emigration from his own country, as well as the rest of Africa, under control. The new government has promised to continue the policy, but Italy isn’t taking any chances. A state of emergency has been declared, and Interior Minister Roberto Maroni from the anti-immigrant Northern League party has now called for a special EU summit to discuss the "epic emergency" resulting from the revolutions in North Africa.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.