Mon, Mar 14, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Migrant island spooks Europe as far-right campaigns

HELP NEEDED:Italy’s Interior Minister said some of the 1.5 million people trying to flee Libya could be headed for Italy, which couldn’t cope on its own

AFP, ROME

Thousands of Tunisians landing on a rocky Italian outcrop have put Europe on edge about the fallout of North Africa’s revolts — and a visit by a French far-right leader is set to raise tensions.

After a revolution in Tunisia in January sparked uprisings across the region, about 8,000 undocumented immigrants have made the perilous journey to the island of Lampedusa — more than the total for the whole of last year.

While the island’s fishing communities have been patient with the wave of migrants arriving on rickety boats, Lampedusa’s 850-bed immigrant centrer is heavily overcrowded and local authorities say the island has been overrun.

There are now fears that the strife in Libya will open the floodgates and bring hundreds of thousands more migrants — a concern that Europe’s leading anti-immigration advocates have been quick to seize on.

Shown by recent polls to be a favorite in France’s presidential election next year, French National Front leader Marine Le Pen is set to visit Lampedusa today with Mario Borghezio — a lawmaker from Italy’s Northern League party.

As she prepared for her trip to the 20km2 island that has a population of just 6,000 people, Le Pen said she wanted to see the front lines of the immigration crisis to “get an idea of what’s going on.”

“I have no intention of being provocative,” Le Pen said in an interview with Italian news agency ANSA.

Local lawmakers from the center-left opposition Democratic Party are not convinced.

“It’s a real provocation for all Lampedusans who believe firmly in Christian values, hospitality and human solidarity,” they said.

Migrants usually only stay a few days on Lampedusa and are then put on ships or planes to immigrant detention centers across Italy.

An agreement with Tunisia on returning those not granted asylum has fallen through since the revolution, meaning thousands are stranded.

Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, also from the Northern League, has warned that some of the 1.5 million people trying to flee Libya could be headed for Italy’s shores — and Italy can’t cope on its own, he says.

“Europe is being invaded,” Maroni has said.

However, Maroni too, said Le Pen’s trip should not “throw fuel on the fire” of a delicate situation on the ground in Lampedusa.

“We will ensure it is not used as propaganda for French domestic politics,” he said.

There are major divisions in Europe on how much burden-sharing there should be on immigration, with many northern European states skeptical.

“Europe’s job is not to rescue North Africans from their own governments ... and bring them to Europe,” Andrew Brons, an MEP from the far-right British National Party told the European Parliament last month.

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