They arrived looking as if they were going on holiday, complete with sunglasses, suitcases – and even a pet dog, a fluffy white poodle on a lead.
Dressed in board shorts and t-shirts, the 11 Tunisians turned up by boat on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa this week, seeking a new life in Europe.
The group was intercepted by the Italian coast guard and brought to the island’s main port.
They are part of a new wave of migrants from Tunisia that has the Italian government deeply worried.
After years in which Italy had to deal with hundreds of thousands of sub-Saharan Africans crossing the Mediterranean from the hellish internment camps of Libya, Tunisians are now the number one nationality coming across the sea.
Of the 13,700 migrants who have reached Italy by boat this year, more than 5,300 are Tunisian, according to Italian government figures.
Hundreds arrived on Lampedusa this week, including a woman who was clutching a kitten.
The overall number is still a fraction of the waves of asylum seekers who poured out of Libya in recent years – 181,000 in 2016 and 120,000 in 2017.
The exodus is being fuelled by a social, political and economic crisis in the country that was the birthplace of the Arab Spring in 1911.
Tourism in Tunisia had already been badly affected by the terrorist attacks that shook the country in 2015 – the first on the Bardo museum in Tunis and the second in the coastal resort of Sousse, in which 30 Britons were killed.
The coronavirus pandemic and lockdown have plunged the Tunisian economy into further crisis, worsening already widespread unemployment.
The country remains politically unstable, with the prime minister, Elyes Fakhfakh, resigning in mid-July after the biggest party in his coalition pushed for a vote of no confidence in the government.
One member of the group who turned up with the poodle told reporters, in good Italian, that she had lived in Italy before. She did not say why she had to leave. “Now I’m back. I hope to find a job and freedom because Tunisia is full of prisons, it’s horrible.”
Many of the Tunisians who arrive appear to be middle-class and educated.
The “exceptional” flow of migrants from Tunisia was being driven by “the coronavirus emergency and the consequent very serious economic crisis,” Italy’s interior ministry said.
“The economic crisis brought about by coronavirus was the detonator,” said Lorenzo Fanara, the Italian ambassador to Tunisia.
“But there has been a long economic depression. From 2011 until this year, economic growth has been zero, while the population has grown by a million,” he told La Repubblica newspaper.
Lampedusa is an obvious target – it is just 60 miles from the Tunisian coast and lies closer to North Africa than it does to Sicily.
Some of the migrants wade ashore on the island’s white sand beaches, to the consternation of tourists soaking up the sun.
The exodus is of such concern to Rome that the interior minister, Luciana Lamorgese, flew to Tunis earlier this week for a meeting with her Tunisian counterpart.
Lampedusa, a tiny scrap of sun-baked rock south of Sicily, is struggling to deal with the new wave of arrivals.
A few days ago, the island’s reception centre, which has a capacity for less than 100 migrants, was crammed with more than 1,000.
The mayor of Lampedusa called for a state of emergency to be called, saying the island cannot handle such numbers. Some of the migrants have been transferred to centres in Sicily or the Italian mainland, easing the pressure a little.
Tunisians may be suffering but in Italy there is little appetite for taking them in and the government is doing all it can to apply diplomatic pressure on Tunis to stop the boats from leaving in the first place.
Several Italian regions, especially those that suffered badly during the pandemic, say they will refuse to take in new arrivals.
“We want to stress that Veneto is not prepared to receive migrants unless they are people who are fleeing from war and death,” said Luca Zaia, the governor of Veneto in the north.
Adding to Italian concerns is the fear that some of the migrants could be infected with Covid-19, posing the risk of a flare-up in cases.
The migrants are placed in quarantine when they arrive, but many simply slip free of the unguarded reception centres in the hope of staying in Italy.
“These are uncontrolled migration flows which are creating serious problems relating to health security,” said Ms Lamorgese, the interior minister.
“Managing these flows in normal times is hard enough but now, with the problems associated with Covid-19, the situation is really very complex.”
Those who do remain in the reception centres are likely to be sent back to Tunisia under a repatriation agreement between Tunis and Rome.
The Italian interior ministry wants to step up the number of flights that take Tunisians back to their home country.