Mon, Feb 14, 2011 - Page 5 News List

UNREST IN NORTH AFRICA: Refugees swarm to Italian island


Nearly 1,000 Tunisian migrants arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa overnight, where the government has already declared a humanitarian emergency, coast guards said yesterday.

“Since midnight, 977 people arrived on Lampedusa,” the harbor master on Lampedusa, Antonio Morana, said as two more boats approached the tiny island off Sicily.

Thousands of Tunisians have sailed across the Mediterranean in the wake of the North African country’s revolution a month ago.

Police estimated more than 2,000 illegal immigrants still remained on the 20km2 island yesterday despite an airlift put in place by the authorities to move them to the mainland.

“The situation is very difficult,” Morana said, saying boats were arriving non-stop.

A calm sea and good weather has favored conditions for the would-be migrants.

Most were packed into small fishing boats intercepted by coast guards and taken to Lampedusa.

Hundreds had to sleep in the open at the port because of a lack of facilities on the island, which also suffers shortages of fresh water.

Rome on Saturday declared a humanitarian emergency. The government said this would enable civil protection officers “to take immediate action needed to control this phenomenon and assist citizens who have fled from North Africa.”

In particular, the move will enable the central government to release funds for local authorities in areas that have been inundated by the wave of refugees, most of whom have fled to Lampedusa.

On Friday, Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni told reporters there were fears that terrorists and al-Qaeda supporters, along with common criminals who fled Tunisian prisons in the confusion of the protests there, could mix in with other Tunisians in the exodus.

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