Italy signs deal to take in migrant workers from Tunisia

ROME (Reuters) – Italy on Friday signed a deal to take in some 4,000 workers from Tunisia, in line with pledges to help the northern African state stem the pressure from migrants at its borders.

The deal was signed during a visit by Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani to Tunis, where he was scheduled to meet his counterpart Nabil Ammar and President Kais Saied, his office said.

It envisages regular migration channels for “qualified workers” willing to come to Italy, an Italian briefing note said as Rome also promised to help Tunisia in its efforts to stop migrant smugglers and create job opportunities for the young.

“Tunisia is exposed to strong migratory pressure, particularly from sub-Saharan countries, and is the first country for repatriations from Italy,” the Italian document said, adding 1,615 migrants had returned there so far this year.

Sea migrant arrivals to Italy have almost doubled in 2023 compared to the same period in 2022, with around 140,000 people coming ashore so far. Some 91% came from Tunisia, prompting Rome’s efforts to help local authorities to stem the flow.

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi on Tuesday urged the European Union to enact a deal to support the African state’s efforts to stop migrant boat departures.

President Saied, who was invited to a migration conference hosted in Rome in July, faced criticism after he shut down parliament and began ruling by decree in what the opposition says was a coup.

(Reporting by Angelo Amante; editing by Barbara Lewis)