Since the collapse of Tunisian president Ben Ali’s rule on 14 January 2011, tens of thousands of people have been on the move as a result of the events in Tunisia and the ensuing events elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa. Many of those taking advantage of this transitional period are Tunisians who are leaving their country to seek better opportunity in Europe. Most however, are people who have fled from Libya to neighbouring countries due to fighting and threats to their safety.
So far Italy has received about 20,000 migrants and a smaller number of asylum seekers. The 20,000 migrants are almost all Tunisian nationals. At the same time, Tunisia has received over 150,000 asylum seekers and others who have fled from Libya.
Based on the raw numbers alone – 20,000 vs. 150,000 – Tunisia has received 7.5 times as many people as Italy over the past 2 ½ months. When you compare these numbers in light of the respective population of the two countries, the burden imposed on Tunisia is even more striking. Italy has a current population of approximately 61.0 million people. Tunisia’s current population is approximately 10.6 million. Assuming my calculations are correct, Italy has received approximately 3.3 persons per 10,000 of its population and Tunisia has received approximately 141.5 persons per 10,000 of its population. Tunisia has therefore received almost 43 times as many people per capita relative to Italy. There is no comparison between the humanitarian crises faced by the two countries. Tunisia is facing by far the greater burden.
Agence Tunis Afrique Press on Saturday attributed the statement below to an authorised source within the Tunisian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The statement notes the burden faced by Tunisia and asks Italy to show understanding and solidarity within the context of the ongoing migration talks between Tunisia and Italy. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi travels to Tunis today (Monday) for continuing migration talks with Tunisia.
Statement attributed to Tunisian Ministry of Foreign Affairs: “While reaffirming the strong historical ties that bind [Tunisia] to the friendly country [of Italy], especially since the signing of the agreement of friendship and good neighborliness in 2003, Tunisia calls on the government and the people of Italy to show proof of their solidarity with the Tunisian people in this important transitional stage that this country is now experiencing, after the glorious revolution, and especially in light of the challenges posed by the current situation on the Tunisian-Libyan border, with the arrival of more than 150,000 displaced persons who have been welcomed by the Tunisian people in a unique showing of solidarity, despite the difficult conditions faced by Tunisia, as witnessed by several countries and international and humanitarian organizations.”
(“Tout en réaffirmant la solidité des liens historiques qui l’unissent à ce pays ami, notamment, depuis la signature de la convention d’amitié et de bon voisinage en 2003, la Tunisie elle appelle le gouvernement et le peuple italiens à faire preuve de solidarité avec le peuple tunisien en cette étape transitoire importante que vit le pays, après sa glorieuse révolution et, tout particulièrement, dans le contexte des défis que pose la situation actuelle sur les frontières tuniso-libyennes, avec l’arrivée de plus de 150.000 déplacés, qui ont été accueillis par le peuple tunisien dans un élan de solidarité sans pareil, en dépit des conditions difficiles auxquelles la Tunisie est confrontée, comme en témoignent plusieurs pays et organisations internationales et humanitaires.”)
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