Tunisia: Italy Eyes More Direct Role in Intercepting Migrants

by | Apr 1, 2023 | Diplomacy, Security, Tunisia


In late March, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedozi provided details of plans that include joint Italian-Tunisian naval patrols of the Tunisian coast in order to intercept migrants. Piantedozi further detailed plans to increase intelligence cooperation with Tunisia to facilitate the disruption of the smuggling networks responsible for providing the boats used to carry migrants across the Mediterranean Sea.

Piantedozi noted that Italy planned to “intensify intelligence activity” around Sfax, where many boats used by smugglers are thought to be built or outfitted. He also indicated that similar efforts would be undertaken in the Libyan city of Benghazi, which is currently under the control of the eastern-based government affiliated with Khalifa Haftar.

The Italian government has expressed an explicit interest in pursuing activities that decrease the number of immigrants arriving in Italy and increase the number that are effectively returned to their home countries. This has included programs that include financial assistance for Tunisia and Libya when migrants are returned to either country if their application for asylum is denied in Italy.

Arrivals of migrants in Italy has increased dramatically in early 2023 with over 15,000 migrants arriving and a similar number intercepted and returned to Tunisia. This surge in attempts at irregular migration has come following inflammatory statements by Tunisia President Kais Saied that attributed the presence of black Africans in Tunisia to a conspiratorial plot to change the demographics of Tunisia and detach it from the Arab and Islamic worlds. These statements were followed by violence and arrests targeting sub-Saharan Africans in Tunisia, including by vigilante groups in some areas of Tunisia.


Italy remains determined to drive down irregular migration attempts, making more direct participation in the intervention process along the Tunisian coast an inevitability. Joint naval patrols and increased joint intelligence activity will likely have some effect, yet Tunisia remains stretched in terms of resources, personnel, and legal frameworks to effectively manage the irregular migration issue.

To what extent Italy’s direct involvement can change this dynamic remains to be seen. Our team will continue to watch the shifts in the security dynamic in Tunisia, particularly as it pertains to how irregular migration policies and patterns across the Mediterranean Basin continue to impact not only policy discussions, but lives.


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