Tunisian Migrants Create Humanitarian Emergency in Italian island Lampedusa

Italy's Prime Minister Silvio BerlusconiNearly One Thousand Tunisians landed on the Italian island Lampedusa Sunday escaping turmoil in their country. The arrival comes after the Italian government declared the immigration situation a humanitarian emergency due to thousands of arrivals of illegal immigrants last week.

Lampedusa is closer to Africa than it is to mainland Italy, although the situation has alarmed Prime Minister Berlusconi. Declaring the situation a humanitarian emergency gives authorities additional powers to control migrant flows, part of which powers block incoming boats off-shore.

Ironically, in 2008 the Berlusconi government was elected due to their promise of a crackdown on illegal immigration. Prior to the recent wave of Tunisians, the government had “virtually halted seaborne migrant arrivals by striking a deal with Libya,” according to a report in Reuters.

Migrants have been directed to a Lampedusa soccer field. Hundreds of others wrapped in space blankets slept under open skies in its port. Hotels and churches have also opened facilities.

An urgent European Union meeting to work out an efficient response has been called by Italy as it wants patrol boats stationed near the Tunisian coast in an effort to intercept migrants.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni has blamed Tunisian authorities being unable to enforce bilateral accords on curbing illegal immigration after weeks of protests overthrew President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali last month for the new exodus. Maroni, a member of the anti-immigrant Northern League, said earlier this week that there was the possibility of "terrorist infiltrations" among migrants. In addition, Maroni said that criminals could take refuge in Europe under the pretense that they are seeking political asylum.

Officials are also worried that mass protests that swept President Hosni Mubarak from power on Friday, will provoke yet another wave of migrant arrivals.

Tunisia’s foreign minister is to visit Rome next week, Interior Minister Marino stated, where the European Commission has been asked for help and hopefully the situation will be discussed upon the foreign ministers arrival.

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