This photo grabbed from an aerial video made available by the Italian Coast Guards on March 11, 2023 shows a boat overloaded with migrants during a Coast Guards rescue operation on March 10, 2023 off the coast of Calabria, southern Italy. (HANDOUT / GUARDIA COSTIERA / AFP)
MILAN – Europe risks seeing "tens, maybe hundreds of thousands" of sea migrants arrive on its shores from North Africa if economic aid is not granted soon to Tunisia, Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said on Friday.
Bailout talks between Tunisia and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have been stalled for months, with the US, among others, demanding far-reaching reforms from President Kais Saied to free up the cash.
Having received more than 20,000 boat migrants so far in 2023, Italy is on track to beat the all-time high for arrivals set in 2016, when 181,436 people reached the country mostly in flimsy boats
"Tunisia urgently needs aid. We cannot waste time", Tajani told RAI public radio.
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Tajani said he had proposed to fellow EU foreign ministers on Monday to split the bailout funds into installments, with a first payment freed up immediately and later ones linked to progress on reforms.
"We risk having tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of people in the Mediterranean Sea who will be on the move …," Tajani said.
Having received more than 20,000 boat migrants so far in 2023, Italy is on track to beat the all-time high for arrivals set in 2016, when 181,436 people reached the country mostly in flimsy boats.
Most are coming through North Africa from sub-Saharan Africa, but a senior official in Rome says the Italian government is worried that many Tunisians will be on the move, too, if their country's economy collapses.
READ MORE: More than 30 dead after migrant shipwreck in southern Italy
According to United Nations data, at least 12,000 of those who have reached Italy this year set sail from Tunisia, against 1,300 in the same period of 2022.
On Thursday, a Tunisian judicial official said at least five migrants had died and another 33 were missing after four boats sank off Tunisia while trying to cross the Mediterranean to Italy.