Italy pushing IMF to help Tunisia and avoid instability, minister says | SaltWire

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by Crispian Balmer

ROME (Reuters) – Italy wants the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to free Tunisia’s $1.9 billion loan, fearing that without the cash, the country would become unstable, unleashing a new wave of migrants toward Europe, Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said.

Tunisia’s bailout talks with the IMF have been stalled for months, with the United States, among others, demanding far-reaching reforms from President Kais Saied to free up cash.

Efforts to secure a bailout have been hampered by Tunisia’s political turmoil since July 2021, when Saied seized most powers, shut down parliament and proceeded to rule by decree.

Syed has never publicly supported the IMF deal, leaving donors concerned that he could reverse the final reforms once the money arrives or blame them for any resulting economic pain.

However, Tajani has spoken to IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva and urged her to show flexibility to prevent a possible financial collapse.

“I reiterated the need for the Fund’s prompt intervention in favor of Tunisian stabilization and development with economic and financial support,” Tajani told Reuters.

The minister has spoken about the problem with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and raised the issue with counterparts in Slovenia and Croatia ahead of an upcoming meeting of EU foreign ministers.

An official said Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni was also “working on the phone”, warning that Italy would face an “invasion of migrants” in the coming months if Tunisia did not receive the money.

Italy has taken in 20,046 boat migrants so far in 2023, a record number, setting the country on course to beat the highest level of arrivals set in 2016, when 181,436 people landed in a fleet of makeshift boats. Arrived.

According to unofficial UN figures, 12,000 of those arriving in Italy this year made the sea voyage from Tunisia, compared with 1,300 in the same period in 2022 – a reversal of the previous pattern whereby Libya was the main launchpad for migrants.

“Uncontrolled irregular migration can only be reduced by improving conditions of security and economic stability,” Tajani said.

“pushed out”

However, a government official in Rome said the situation was complex, acknowledging that most of those leaving Tunisia this year were Africans from sub-Saharan countries who decided to move to Europe as a result of the crackdown on outsiders.

Last month, Saied said in comments that were widely criticized by rights groups and the African Union that undocumented sub-Saharan African immigration was a conspiracy aimed at changing Tunisia’s demographic makeup. He ordered security forces to expel any expatriates living illegally in Tunisia.

A senior UN official said it was forcing people to flee the country, even though they had previously had no intention of crossing the dangerous border into Europe.

Among arrivals in Italy this year, the country of origin is Ivory Coast (3,223), followed by Guinea (2,906). The UN official said they had largely migrated from Tunisia. By comparison, 1,535 Tunisians had visited Italy so far this year.

“The stability and prosperity of Tunisia with respect to fundamental rights and freedoms is vital to the stability of the entire Mediterranean region,” Tajani said.

Meloni took office in October promising to reduce illegal immigration flows, but since then the numbers have only increased.

The issue has become more sensitive after at least 86 migrants drowned in a shipwreck near southern Italy late last month, prompting allegations that not enough was done to rescue them – the government denied the allegation.

(Reporting by Crispian Balmer)

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