The EU says it is deploying its border agency assets to help Italy handle the flow of Tunisian and other migrants from Northern Africa in the wake of political upheavals in that region.

EU internal affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said on Saturday the mission would assist Italian authorities in managing "these exceptional migratory flows."

Over 5,000 Tunisians have arrived in recent days on Lampedusa, a tiny Italian island that is closer to Africa than the European mainland, awaiting transfer to immigrant holding centers elsewhere in Italy. Italy has asked the EU for help.

Malmstrom said an unspecified number of border agency agents will be dispatched, together with aircraft and patrol vessels.