April 9, 2011 in Nation/World

France, Italy plan patrols to halt African immigrants

Colleen Barry Associated Press

MILAN, Italy – After days of fierce sparring, Italy and France patched up their differences Friday over the fate of thousands of Tunisian migrants, avoiding a major rift over European Union border control rules.

The two neighbors agreed to joint sea-and-air patrols to block any new North African migrants from sailing to European shores.

France also promised to honor temporary residency documents that Rome plans to issue to Tunisian migrants who have already flooded Italy in recent months. But Paris insisted the migrants must be able to prove they can financially support themselves – a condition that could prove insurmountable to thousands hoping to live in France, Tunisia’s former colonial ruler.

Top security officials from Italy and France sought a conciliatory tone as they struggled with the crush of more than 20,000 Tunisians who sailed on often rickety boats to Italy’s southernmost point, the tiny Mediterranean island of Lampedusa.

On Friday, Italy deported the first 30 Tunisians under an accord it reached with the government in Tunis earlier in the week. At the same time, though, a boatload of an estimated 500 migrants, believed to be mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, arrived on Lampedusa from Libya, state-run RAI television reported.

On the eve of the meeting, Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni had threatened to have France thrown out of the Schengen agreement – the border rules that link much of Europe into a visa-free travel zone – if it did not allow the free circulation of Tunisians carrying temporary Italian residency permits.

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