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Italy PM Tunisia Trip Tied to IMF Loan

FILE: Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni holds her end-of-year news conference in Rome, on Dec. 29, 2022.

ROME - Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni will travel to Tunisia on Tuesday looking to make progress in unblocking loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for the north African state, two diplomatic sources told Reuters.

Italy is concerned that without the funds, Tunisia faces a full-blown financial crisis that could push a fresh wave of migrants across the Mediterranean Sea in search of a better life in Europe. Specifically, to Italy.

A government source in Rome said Italy wanted to start unblocking part of the international financing to Tunisia in exchange for progressive reforms, in an effort to swiftly improve the economic situation of the country.

Talks between Tunisia and the IMF for a $1.9 billion loan have been stalled for months, with Tunisian President Kais Saied rejecting key terms for the proposed deal.

Saied in February told his security forces to expel all illegal immigrants, denouncing what he said was a conspiracy to change Tunisia's demographics by making it more African and less Arab.

The resulting crackdown helped fuel a surge in migrant departures towards Italy. About 26,555 of the 51,215 boat migrants who reached Italy by the first week of June this year had set sail from Tunisia, the latest United Nations data shows, against 3,658 in the same period of 2022.

Meloni, who took office last October, has already visited Tunisia's two neighbors, Algeria and Libya.

Her right-wing coalition promised to be tough on boat migration, but the number of new arrivals has more than doubled this year, putting the government on the defensive.