ROME, (AFP) — Italy will give “humanitarian” permits to thousands of Tunisian migrants under a decree to be signed later on Thursday that will allow them to travel around Europe, the interior minister said.
“The prime minister will today sign a decree giving those already in Italy… a temporary residence permit for humanitarian protection that will allow them to travel around the Schengen zone,” Roberto Maroni told parliament.
Maroni said that more than 25,000 mostly Tunisian migrants have landed in Italy so far this year on 390 boats — mainly on the island of Lampedusa, a tiny outcrop that is closer to North African than to mainland Italy.
“The overwhelming majority of the migrants want to join friends and relatives in France or other European countries,” the minister said.
Maroni — a member of the anti-immigration Northern League party — also said he would meet his French counterpart Claude Gueant on Friday “to come up with a joint system for action” that would involve the European Union.
The minister stressed that the permits would cover only migrants who arrived before Tuesday, when he struck an agreement with Tunisian authorities that will also ease the rules for deporting future migrants back to Tunisia.
Under the agreement, Italy has also agreed to give Tunisia 10 boats and 100 offroad vehicles to patrol its coasts. The Italian interior ministry earlier said that Tunisian border checks were “practically non-existent”.