Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Berlusconi visits migrant island of Lampedusa

An Italian policeman watches over migrants on the island of Lampedusa (29 March 2011) Some 20,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean since the upheavals began

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Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi has arrived on the island of Lampedusa as ships move thousands of migrants who have recently arrived there.
Hundreds, travelling mainly from Libya and Tunisia, have been arriving on the shores of the tiny island south of Sicily each night.
Its residents have protested, occupying the town hall and threatening to cut off supplies if ships do not arrive.
Officials say sanitary conditions on the island are now "desperate".
About 20,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean since the upheavals in North Africa and the Middle East began in January.
Some 7,000 migrants - more than the total population of the island - are now living there in makeshift camps.
There were no new arrivals on Tuesday night, Italian media reported, the first night with no new immigrants for some time.
On Wednesday morning, five ships arrived, sent by the Italian government to Lampedusa to take migrants to camps on the mainland. One of the ships was the naval vessel San Marco and the rest were civilian ferries, reports said. Another boat was expected later.
Lampedusa map
Mr Berlusconi's plane arrived on the island shortly after 1300 local time. Speaking the previous evening, he described the immigrants as "poor wretches".
"They are fleeing from a world without freedom, democracy, or prosperity. That is exactly what they have come looking for in our country," he said.
Repatriation The prime minister, who is visiting Lampedusa with Interior Minister Roberto Maroni and Justice Minister Angelino Alfano, is expected to give details of compensation measures for Lampedusa, whose tourism industry has been hit by the influx.
Although most of the immigrants on the island are expected to be transferred to Sicily or camps on mainland Italy, negotiations are said to be under way to repatriate a number of people to Tunisia.
Most of the arrivals since January have sailed from Tunisia, but in recent days boats have come from Libya as well.
The BBC's Duncan Kennedy, in Rome, says that Italy, as the former colonial power in Libya, does not want to provoke the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, into sending thousands more migrants fleeing.
Early on in the crisis, Col Gaddafi threatened to do just that, if the EU backed military action.
Migrants who can prove they are refugees from a conflict are eligible for asylum in the EU under human rights conventions.
The European Commission says EU member states must address the surge in migration produced by the unrest in North Africa.
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