Italy, Tunisia reach pact on refugees

March 26, 2011 at 8:29 PM
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ROME, March 26 (UPI) -- Tunisia's new government has agreed to measures intended to block refugees from heading to Italy and convince those in Italy to return, Italian officials say.

The Italian government said it would provide a line of credit of 150 million euros ($210 million), the Italian news agency ANSA reported. Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Friday some of the money will be used for economic assistance for Tunisians now in Italy illegally who agree to return home.

Italy also agreed to provide training and resources for Tunisian border control.

Tunisian refugees have swamped the island of Lampedusa, officials say. The island, part of Sicily politically, has an immigration reception center and is closer to Tunisia than Italy.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said 15,700 Tunisians have reached Italy this year, almost four times the total for 2010.

Immigrants now outnumber the local population on Lampedusa.

Maroni said Italy wants to get a handle on the refugee situation in Tunisia in case the chaos in Libya causes a massive exodus.

"We are getting ready in case the earthquake happening in Libya is followed by a human tsunami," Maroni said.

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