Italy wants quick repatriations as 2,300 illegal migrants arrive

30th December 2008, Comments 0 comments

Some 1,500 migrants arrived on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa, south of Sicily, on Friday, followed by another influx of 819 people on Sunday.

Rome -- Italy threatened to speed up repatriation of would-be immigrants after some 2,300 sought to reach its shores in just two days, and Maltese rescuers plucked another boatload from rough seas.

A Maltese patrol boat picked up another 139 migrants, including 10 pregnant woman, off the coast of the Mediterranean island on Monday, an armed forces spokesman said, adding that they had no water, food or fuel on board.

The dramatic rescue came as Italy sent a delegation to Libya in an effort to halt the steady flow of illegal immigrants risking the crossing from North Africa to southern Europe.

Some 1,500 migrants arrived on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa, south of Sicily, on Friday, followed by another influx of 819 people on Sunday.

The island's reception center on Lampedusa, equipped to handle 850 people, was bursting with 1,100 migrants early Monday, the authorities said. During the day 250 of them were due to leave the island.

"We need to let it be known that those who land in Lampedusa will be repatriated within a few days," Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said on Radio Padania, the radio of his rightwing, anti-immigration party, the Northern League.

By Wednesday at the latest, "the first flights for the repatriations will be in place," Maroni said of the new direction the government was taking.

Previously, would-be immigrants would spend a few days in Lampedusa before being transferred to other Italian centers where they spend a few weeks or months waiting to see if they will be granted asylum or a residence permit.

However, the leftist organization Arci said the migrants were first entitled to the full benefits of the laws before being sent back to their homelands.

"People cannot be repatriated until all of the procedures set in the laws have been respected," said Filippo Miraglia of Arci.

"They would need an army and a huge number of judges in Lampedusa to approve all those expulsions," he said.

Miraglia added that with more than 60 percent of the migrants who arrive in Lampedusa asking for political asylum, the government risks sending the repatriated people to their deaths.

Virtually all the clandestine immigrants intercepted off the coast of Italy start their journeys in Libya.

"The solution to the problem of illegal immigrants landing in Lampedusa is to put in place patrols," Moroni said.

"We are ready to launch the patrols and are waiting for the go ahead from the Libyan authorities."

However, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said on Saturday that an agreement signed between Italy and Libya late last year to cooperate further on tackling illegal immigration could not yet be put into action as it still has not been ratified by the Italian parliament.

Silvio Berlusconi's right-wing coalition government is under increasing pressure both from the opposition left and from within its own ranks, over its failure to tackle the problem.

The number of would-be immigrants arriving in Italy by sea has risen sharply in 2008, according to interior ministry figures, from 14,200 between January and mid-September 2007 to 24,241 for the same period this year.


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