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Italy: Tunisians deported under controversial bilateral accord

last update: April 28, 15:15

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Palermo, 28 April (AKI) - Thirty Tunisians were on Thursday due to be deported from southern Italy, where some 23,000 Tunisian migrants have landed since the unrest that toppled longtime president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January.

The migrants will be returned to their homeland aboard a flight from the Sicilian city of Palermo, under an accord signed by Italy's interior minister Roberto Maroni and his Tunisian counterpart on 5 April, the Italian interior ministry said.

The agreement allows up to 60 Tunisian migrants to be deported per day on two flights. Rights group Amnesty International last week wrote to the Italian government urging it to stop "summary deportations" and guarantee the migrants are properly assessed for asylum and other forms of protection.

Italy has repatriated 650 migrants since the pact was signed, according to the interior ministry. The migrants are deported from Sicily and the Italian mainland after being transferred from the tiny southern fishing island of Lampedusa where most arrive from Tunisia.

Italy fears it will bear the brunt of a wave of illegal immigration triggered by the unrest that has swept North Africa and other parts of the Arab world this year, and has called on the European Union to help it handle the influx of migrants.

The Italian and French governments appear to have smoothed over a row sparked over six-month visas issued by Maroni this month to tens of thousands of mainly Tunisian migrants who illegally entered Italy. Many of the migrants are expected to head for France - Tunisia's former colonial power - where they would like to find work and join family.

At a meeting in Rome on Tuesday, Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and French president Nicolas Sarkozy together called for a revision of the Schengen treaty which removes border controls among its 25 European members.

Berlusconi and Sarkozy said they have signed a letter to be sent to European Commission, the EU's executive body to propose changes to the treaty allowing individual states to temporarily suspend the free movement of people in certain circumstances.

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