April 8, 2011 / 12:18 PM / 9 years ago

Italy, France to block migrants leaving Tunisia

* Italian, French interior ministers meet over migrants

* Agreement first conciliatory step after immigration spat

* France, Italy hope to spur EU to combat illegal migrants

MILAN, April 8 (Reuters) - Italy and France agreed on Friday to carry out joint patrols of Tunisia’s coast to stem a growing wave of migrants heading to Europe to flee turmoil in North Africa, Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said.

The agreement is a first conciliatory step between the two countries, who have quarrelled over how to deal with thousands of mostly Tunisian migrants who have landed on the Italian island of Lampedusa, many hoping to proceed to France.

“In order to spur the European Union to combat illegal immigration, we have decided in agreement with France to jointly patrol Tunisia’s coast to block departures from Tunisia,” Maroni told a news conference after a meeting with his French counterpart Claude Gueant in Milan.

Rome has promised to grant the migrants temporary residence permits that would allow them to travel freely into France and other European countries that apply the Shengen agreement on freedom of movement.

The move angered France’s centre-right government, which has been pushing back migrants trying to cross France’s border with Italy. Maroni said on Thursday that France’s attitude was “hostile” towards Italy and contravened EU accords.

Gueant stressed on Friday that only migrants with sufficient economic means and valid identification papers would be allowed to remain on French soil.

“The Shengen convention will be strictly applied,” he said.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi are set to meet in Rome on April 26, with immigration from North Africa expected to be high on their agenda. (Reporting by Antonella Ciancio, editing by Andrew Heavens)

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