Italy and Tunisia reached a new migration agreement on Tuesday. It was signed in Tunis by Interior Minister Roberto Maroni and Tunisian Minister Habib Essid. Italy reportedly pressed Tunisia to quickly accept the repatriation of the 20,000 Tunisians who have arrived in Italy. Tunisia refused to agree to the mass return of its nationals.
The compromise that was apparently reached will allow the 20,000 Tunisians who have already arrived in Italy to remain for at least six months with temporary residency permits and Tunisia in turn has apparently agreed to accelerated and simplified return procedures for newly arriving Tunisians that will not require fingerprinting or documentation. Italy reportedly believes that the accelerated repatriation procedures, once implemented, will act as a deterrent to those Tunisians who may attempt to leave Tunisia after the agreement enters into force.
The accelerated return procedures are troubling in multiple respects. While the overwhelming majority of persons who have reached Italy over the past two months are Tunisian nationals, over the past week or two for the first time there have been hundreds of non-Tunisians arriving in Italy and Malta. Many are from Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia and clearly have strong claims to international protection. An accelerated return procedure will mean that persons with claims to asylum or who are in need of other forms of protection may not be properly identified.
Where will the accelerated return procedures be carried out? Will migrants be rescued, brought to land, processed under the accelerated procedures, and then repatriated? Or will Italy attempt to revive its push-back practice and attempt to turn boats around at sea?
The text of the agreement has apparently not been yet made public (at least I cannot find it), but various media reports suggest that its provisions include the following:
- Six month temporary residency permits for Tunisian nationals who have already arrived in Italy (what happens when the six month period expires is not clear);
- Temporary residency permits will allow free travel within the Schengen zone (but if the holder of the permit is outside of Italy when the permit expires, the person could apparently be returned to Italy);
- Accelerated direct repatriation for newly arriving Tunisian nationals (the date on which the decree is signed will apparently determine whether a Tunisian receives the temporary permit or is subject to direct repatriation, the decree may be enacted as soon as today, Wednesday, 6 April);
- Increased cooperation between Italy and Tunisia police / security forces;
- Italy to provide 12 new and refurbished patrol boats and hundreds of off-road vehicles to Tunisia.
The announcement of this bi-lateral agreement comes one day after Frontex released its recently approved Fundamental Rights Strategy. Click here for yesterday’s post about this strategy. Note the following provisions within the strategy:
“14. [***] One particular objective in [Joint Operations] is ensuring that the right to international protection must not be hampered by the law enforcement action and that persons seeking protection are referred to the competent national authorities to assess their case.
15. [***] Corrective measures should be taken in case of breach or serious risk of breach of fundamental rights. As last resort, Frontex might terminate a JO if the conditions guaranteeing the respect for fundamental rights are no longer met. [***]”
It remains to be seen what Italy will do in regard to accelerated direct repatriations to Tunisia, but there is definitely the concern that the right to international protection may be hampered by Italy’s actions. Frontex’s Joint Operation Hermes Extension is currently hosted by Italy. Frontex may be obligated to act pursuant to its Fundamental Rights Strategy depending on what new practices are implemented by Italy.