UNHCR calls for solidarity with Italy on Tunisian migration

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The UN refugees agency called Tuesday for solidarity with Italy as the country deals with thousands of Tunisian asylum seekers who have fled instability in the North African country.

"The Italian Government has clearly stated its commitment to providing access to asylum procedures for those who are seeking international protection," noted Melissa Fleming, spokeswoman of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

"We welcome this commitment and urge solidarity with Italy as it faces this new chapter of mixed migration.

"UNHCR hopes that any mechanisms designed to control irregular migration will continue to ensure access to asylum for people in need of protection," she added.

About 5,000 migrants, most of them Tunisians, have arrived on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa in recent days, after the uprising that drove out former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali last month.

Fleming said that most of those who have arrived in Lampedusa said they were there in search of employment, although there were others "citing fear of violence and a breakdown of law and order in their home regions."

The UNHCR pointed out that the people smugglers are exploiting the situation by promising young Tunisians a better life in Europe, prompting them to take the journey, which can be perilous.

The UN agency said it had unconfirmed reports that at least four people have drowned.

Meanwhile, survivors said that at least five have drowned while another thirty are missing after a boat of asylum seekers was alleged to have been deliberately rammed by Tunisian coast guard.

Earlier Tuesday, the EU border management agency FRONTEX said it will send 30-50 personnel, some vessels and aircraft to help Italian authorities handle the wave of migration.

© 2011 AFP

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