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Twenty-First Century Crusades?

Prediction 1: Continued tension and backlash against Muslims in Europe

EU states hunker down as migrants flood in

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 say.

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 migrants.

Italy wants to issue temporary permits allowing illegal migrants to travel within Europe for six months, but the idea could anger its neighbours.

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," Lamassoure said.

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 country.

"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 said.

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.

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