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– Twenty-First Century Crusades?
tension and backlash against Muslims in Europe
EU states hunker down as migrants
The European Union is failing to act fast enough to help Tunisia
overcome economic hardship that has fuelled an exodus, and few states
are willing to share the burden to ease the migratory flow, officials
Immigration is always a politically sensitive issue in Europe, but the
flood of illegal migrants pouring into Italy's island of Lampedusa since
Tunisia's January revolution has brought out a bunker mentality in the
27-nation European Union, officials lament.
"Right now it's 'every man for himself'... There is no spirit of
cooperation," an EU official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
"The atmosphere is not good," the official said.
Italy has pleaded for help from the rest of the EU to cope with the
arrival of some 22,000 migrants on its shores, many of them Tunisians
seeking a better future in other nations such as France, Belgium or
non-EU but wealthy Switzerland.
However, Italy's EU partners have shown little enthusiasm to take in
Italy wants to issue temporary permits allowing illegal migrants to
travel within Europe for six months, but the idea could anger its
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and French President Nicolas
Sarkozy will discuss immigration at a meeting in Rome on April 26.
Alain Lamassoure, an influential French member of the European
Parliament, complained about a lack of solidarity among EU states.
"In every European country, the tendency is to turn inwards while the
reverse should be happening. We must work at a European level,"
Officials say the problem must be addressed at its source, by prodding
Tunisia to step up its own efforts to keep people from fleeing the
"The problem is in Tunisia. We must convince Tunisian authorities to
stop the departures and take back citizens who arrived illegally in EU
countries," another European official said.
"But for this to happen, we need (to offer) incentives," the official
Tunisian authorities want financial aid to revive the country's economy
and provide jobs to a restless young population as a well as easier
access to visas to visit Europe.
As long as the EU drags its feet, Tunisian authorities will not act,
says the European Commission.
Tunisian officials have told European counterparts that agreeing to take
back migrants who travelled illegally to Europe would only exacerbate
Tunisia's unemployment problem.
A spokeswoman for EU neighbourhood policy commissioner Stefan Fuele
explained that Brussels could not negotiate an "advanced status" deal
with Tunisia because the country is still led by an interim government.
Such status, which Morocco enjoys, provides trade and travel advantages
to partner nations.
In a letter to EU governments, EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia
Malmstroem warned that the "continuous and possible increase" of flows
of refugees fleeing Libya looms as another "issue of major concern".
Malmstroem, writing ahead of a meeting of EU interior ministers next
week, called for short-term measures to cope with the situation,
including boosting the technical resources of operations coordinated by
the Frontex border agency in the Mediterranean.