A four-year-old Tunisian girl who arrived in Italy in early October without her parents on a makeshift boat carrying illegal migrants was repatriated to Tunisia on Thursday, authorities said.
"A delegate of the Tunisian child protection accompanied the four-year-old girl in her journey back from Italy and handed her over to her family on their arrival at Tunis-Carthage airport," said in a statement the Ministry of Women, Family, Children and the Elderly.
The return of the girl, "in good health" comes after a decision of the Italian judiciary allowing its repatriation, at the request of the Tunisian authorities, added the ministry.
A Tunisian diplomatic delegation had traveled to Sicily in late October to meet with the Italian family court judge in charge of this case.
The whole family of this girl -- the father, mother, the girl, and her brother of 7 years -- had planned to embark from the coastal town of Sayada (east) to illegally reach the Italian coast.
During this clandestine operation, the father had handed over his daughter to the smuggler on the boat to help his wife and son who were far behind, without realizing that the boat had left for Lampedusa, according to the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES), an organization that monitors migration issues.
The girl's parents, and street vendors, were taken into custody before being released.
According to FTDES, about 2,600 Tunisian minors, more than two-thirds of whom were unaccompanied by their parents, managed to reach the Italian coast between January and August 2022.
Tunisia, whose coastline is only 130 km from Sicily, is going through a serious political and economic crisis, with four million poor people out of a population of nearly 12 million. This situation is precipitating mass departures to Europe.
More than 22,500 migrants, including Tunisians and sub-Saharans, have been intercepted off the Tunisian coast since the beginning of the year, according to official figures.