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Italy and France agree on patrols to stop Tunisian migrants

Italy and France have agreed to launch patrols off the Tunisian coast to stop migrants heading to Europe. The meeting followed a dispute between Paris and Rome over plans to let immigrants travel within Europe.

An Italian Coast Guard vessel escorts a boatload of would-be migrants

Thousands of migrants with no papers have arrived this year

Italy and France agreed on Friday to begin joint air and sea patrols off the coast of Tunisia to prevent migrants from heading to Europe.

Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni and his French counterpart Claude Gueant met in Milan to discuss the growing number of north-African immigrants arriving in Italy.

A Tunisian flag and hand making a victory sign, a symbol of the revolution

Many Tunisians are escaping poverty and post-revolution upheaval at home

"In order to spur the European Union to combat illegal immigration, we have decided in agreement with France to jointly patrol Tunisia's coast to block departures from Tunisia," Maroni told a news conference.

The meeting took place after a diplomatic dispute was sparked between Paris and Rome on Thursday. The Italian government agreed to grant six-month residence permits - conferring the right to travel in much of Europe - to more than 20,000 migrants, mostly from the former French colony of Tunisia. Many cite France as their intended destination.

Ahead of the meeting Gueant said that France did not want to "suffer a wave" of migrants while on Thursday Maroni accused France of a "hostile attitude" for refusing migrants the right to enter its territory.

By giving residence permits to migrants, Rome claims that they should have the right to travel within the visa-free Schengen zone. Most of the EU, along with Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, is covered by the Schengen convention.

Rough agreement on border controls

Gueant stressed on Friday that even migrants with residence would not be allowed into France without the correct identity papers or funds. "The Schengen convention will be strictly applied," he said.

Italian Foreign Minister Roberto Maroni

Maroni said he was satisfied with the talks with his French counterpart Gueant

Italian minister Maroni, who belongs to the anti-immigration Northern League party, said he was "satisfied" with the talks.

Earlier in the week, Maroni claimed that an agreement with the interim government currently in charge in Tunisia would allow the repatriation of the immigrants.

Some 25,800 migrants without documentation have arrived in Italy so far this year, about 21,000 of whom said they were from Tunisia.

Many claim to be fleeing a poor economic situation in the North African country and upheaval after the toppling of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January.

The overwhelming majority of the immigrants to Italy arrived via the tiny island of Lampedusa, which lies only 260 kilometers (160 miles) from Tunisia.

Author: Richard Connor (AFP, dpa)
Editor: Nicole Goebel

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