Italy’s prime minister and an array of top ministers on Tuesday were visiting Tunisia, a strategic and economic partner whose shared concerns include migration and the North African country’s unstable neighbor, Libya.
Present for the inter-governmental summit were Premier Giuseppe Conte, Deputy Premier Luigi Di Maio and anti-migrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, plus the defense and foreign ministers, reflecting the importance Italy places on its ties with Tunisia.
After taking office last May, Conte made Tunisia his first stop south of the Mediterranean in November. Accords were reached on help in controlling the more than 400-kilometer (250-mile) Libyan-Tunisian border and development of Tunisia’s interior, where jobless youths become candidates for migration.
Conte was meeting with Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi and Prime Minister Youssef Chahed. They were expected to sign cooperation agreements and hold a joint news conference.
A delegation of about 100 Italian business leaders was participating in a bilateral economic forum.
The 2011 Tunisian revolution triggered the Arab Spring, but the budding democracy is plagued with economic and security problems.
Italian and Tunisian authorities share concerns about the current uprising in Libya. In recent days, airstrikes have hit the Libyan capital as forces loyal to strongman Khalifa Hifter pursue a campaign to take Tripoli.
Libya slid into chaos after longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown and killed in 2011.
Under Salvini, Italy has essentially closed its ports to migrants fleeing Libya aboard smugglers’ boats. According to interior ministry data, 722 migrants arrived in Italy in 2019 as of Monday, compared with 9,419 during the same period last year and 37,034 in 2017.
Whereas Nigerian, Eritrean and other sub-Saharan Africans often made up the majority of migrants coming to Italy in previous years, Tunisians now take the top spot.
As of Monday, 226 of the migrants arriving this year were Tunisians, according to the interior ministry.