The Tunisian government has announced its decision to send the fingerprints of Tunisians thought to have illegally emigrated to Italy to Italian authorities in an effort to locate missing individuals.
The majority of the missing are suspected to have departed particularly from the cities of Sfax, Zarzis and other southern towns in Tunisia from March, 2011 until April 2011. Many of their families still have no information regarding the whereabouts of their loved ones and fear the worst, given the frequency of bad weather conditions between the Tunisian coast and the Italian island of Lampedusa.
The families have held the policies of immigration control of the European Union, particularly of Italy, responsible for the disappearance of their family members. They maintain that if it were not for the legal impediments to migration, Tunisians would not put their lives in jeopardy to cross the “marine cemetery” of the Mediterranean in hopes of starting a better life in Europe.
After sending a letter to the Italian government, appealing for the reinvigoration of efforts to locate their loved ones, a group of Tunisian families traveled to Italy, where they were joined by organizations run by Italian and Tunisian women living in Italy, to demand that the Italian authorities, “proceed with an exchange of digital fingerprints of their sons to determine whether they had been found in Italy or not.”
Pontes, a Tunisian-Italian non-profit association based in Milan, has been involved in the process of locating some 250 missing Tunisians in Italy since last year. The association has organized sit-ins in Italy and Tunisia and has written letters to Tunisian authorities urging them to give renewed attention to the files of the missing immigrants.
Its president, Wejdane Majeri, said that Tunisian authorities informed the association on March 3, that the digital fingerprints had been transmitted from Tunisia to the Italian authorities in order to, “carry out research using the database of the Italian Ministry of Interior” and hoped that “this gesture will finally be accomplished.”
Nasser Essid, director of consular management for the Tunisian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that the ministry made the decision of sending fingerprints to the Italian authorities in collaboration with the Tunisian Ministry of Justice.
“So far we got the fingerprints 90% of those who were suspected to have left for Italy, which are being compared and authenticated to see whether they entered Italian territory or not,” he stated.
Majeri highlighted the sensitivity of the cause of the missing Tunisians “given media pressure around the issue.” However Majeri remained optimistic regarding the prospect of cooperating with Italian authorities, after the organization was received by the chief officer for immigration in Italy on February 29th, 2012 in Rome.
“Italian authorities seem to be open to addressing the issue,” she added.
Italian authorities have subsequently announced they would begin the process of searching for the lost immigrants as soon as they received the fingerprints of those reported missing from the Tunisian government.
There are 100,000 illegal Tunisian immigrants on Italian soil of whom 22,000 Tunisians have obtained a temporary permit to stay in Italy. Between January 14th and April 4th, 2011, 22,000 Tunisians left the country, among whom 400 minors, who mainly come from popular neighborhoods of Tunis, Sfax and other southern Tunisian cities, Essid stated.