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Italy: Tunisian refugee crisis easing

Italy: Tunisian refugee crisis easing
Tunisian Islamists shout slogans as they attend a protest against the Tunisian government demanding for the wearing of the veil for all Tunisian women on April 2, 2011 in Tunis. Tunisian women will soon be allowed to wear the Islamic headscarf in photographs on their identity papers, according to an announcement from the interior ministry. UPI\Hichem Borni | License Photo

ROME, April 14 (UPI) -- Tunisian refugees are being sent home every day, meaning a pact between Italy and Tunisia is working, Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said Thursday.

Maroni said the "acute phase" of the refugee crisis is over, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.

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"The agreement with Tunisia is working," Maroni said. "Every day we are repatriating those who have arrived since April 5. We are improving our controls and coastal patrols."

Italy had complained the large number of refugees arriving after massive political protests began in Tunisia in January, especially on the island of Lampedusa. The island south of Sicily is closer to Tunis than to any part of Italy and has become a holding place for African refugees.

President Giorgio Napolitano said he had discussed the refugee problem with Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas, who holds the rotating EU presidency.

"He showed that he had given the problem serious consideration, and saw it as not solely an Italian problem," Napolitano said.

Italy has long been a gateway for Africans trying to get to Europe, but the numbers swelled this year because of political unrest in North Africa. Earlier this week, Maroni accused the European Union of doing nothing to help Italy deal with the problem.

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