Sat, Jul 24, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Italy deports long suffering migrants despite protests

ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION The Italian interior minister told parliament that none of the asylum seekers were from Sudan, as several had claimed


Italy on Thursday deported most of the African migrants who arrived on a ship operated by a German relief agency, putting 25 of them on a plane to Ghana and drawing protests from humanitarian agencies and opposition politicians.

Earlier, government officials had said 27 had been sent to Ghana. There was no immediate explanation for the revised number.

A handful of others who were taken off the plane for causing a disturbance also will be expelled, officials said, in the final act of a case that highlighted the issue of illegal immigration in Europe.

The deportees were part of a group of 37 Africans permitted to dock in Sicily on July 12 after a diplomatic stalemate. The German vessel had plied the Mediterranean for weeks in search of a friendly port. Five of the Africans were flown out on Tuesday night.

The ship's operator, the Cologne, Germany-based relief agency Cap Anamur, said it rescued the Africans at sea on June 20 and that some had identified themselves as refugees from Sudan's Darfur region, which the UN says is suffering the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Italian Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu told parliament on Wednesday that "scrupulous investigation by police" ascertained that none was from Sudan, and none deserved asylum. He said six were from Nigeria and 31 from Ghana.

A disturbance on the plane delayed the aircraft's departure by two hours, said a senior government official, speaking on usual grounds of anonymity.

The Interior Ministry said on Thursday night that one Nigerian had been granted permission to stay in return for collaborating with Italian authorities investigating the ship's voyage. The six other would-be immigrants will be expelled "on the first possible flight," the ministry said. It was not immediately clear how many of the six were those who had been pulled off the plane.

The Nigerian, who was granted permission to stay in Italy, told private TG5 TV on Thursday that before leaving Libya, the 37 were told by a smuggler to say they were Sudanese when they arrived in Italy. The Nigerian said he had paid the smuggler US$1,000 to make the trip.

"His declarations [to authorities] allowed, in fact, a prompt reconstruction of the facts of the voyage and, above all, of the criminal activities of the organizers," the ministry said.

The government of Premier Silvio Berlusconi has promised to crack down on illegal immigration and stem the flow of refugees reaching its shores. A measure passed last year requires immigrants to have guaranteed jobs.

Even so, thousands of desperate immigrants set sail for Italian shores, many in small dinghies or rickety fishing boats, in hopes of slipping ashore undetected. Other European Union countries with long shorelines such as Spain and Greece face similar problems.

Humanitarian groups and opposition politicians have accused authorities of being overly harsh.

The Italian refugee group CIR said the expulsions caused "deep pain" and that they were carried out "without any sense of pity, without any consideration for the dignity and elementary rights of every person."

Communist senator Gianfranco Pagliarulo, echoing other opposition protests, called the deportations "enormously shameful," the Apcom news agency reported.

Italian authorities let the Cap Anamur ship into port after the Africans were described as being in a desperate state of mind.

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