Saturday, February 12, 2011

Italy sees increase in Tunisian refugees

Italy has long struggled with refugees crossing the ocean from North Africa. The people leave from ports of  Africa hoping to survive the trip in rickety boats. They hope to arrive to Italy to seek more economic opportunity. The rash of protests and revolutions throughout North Africa has helped to increase the number of people appearing on Italy's shores.

From the Times of Malta, this AFP article says that Italy is asking for emergency assistance from the EU to help with the increase of refugees. Italy is asking for the EU to patrol the Tunisian coast to intercept people who hope to land in Europe.

“We are asking for an immediate response from the European Union to a situation that Italy cannot deal with on its own,” it added.

Weary-looking immigrants were given blankets and checked out by health officials yesterday as they stepped off dilapidated fishing boats on the tiny island of Lampedusa – some 110 kilometres from Tunisian shores.

Nearly 1,000 immigrants have been brought to the Mediterranean island by coast guards in the past 24-hour period and more boats have been spotted. Most of the new arrivals are sleeping out in the open on the pier in Lampedusa.

“There are people fleeing the strikes and poverty. Some have made asylum requests, others just want to wait and see what happens in Tunisia,” said Federico Fossi, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Ms Fossi said a total of around 1,700 Tunisian immigrants including 50 children have arrived in the 20-square-kilometre island since the fall of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on January 14 and the ensuing weeks of unrest.

“There is a risk of a real humanitarian emergency,” Interior Minister Roberto Maroni warned, saying that the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia had triggered a “mass flight” by immigrants towards Italian shores.

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