1,200 immigrants land on Italy's Lampedusa
Boats carrying more than 1,200 Tunisian immigrants landed on the Italian island of Lampedusa on Monday, as French far-right leader Marine Le Pen said she intended to visit the outcrop.
Officials said over a dozen boatloads were intercepted by Italian coastguards and brought to the island, located closer to North African shores than to mainland Italy and a gateway for illegal immigration into Europe.
"Europe is being invaded," Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, a leading member of the anti-immigration Northern League party, told reporters.
"Around 8,000 illegal immigrants have arrived in the past month -- a lot more than the number who came over the whole of 2010," he said.
Maroni and other government ministers have also said they fear a vast increase in immigrant numbers if the unrest in Libya continues.
Meanwhile in Paris, Le Pen said she would visit Italy next week and could travel to Lampedusa to condemn what she said was the European Union's "impotence" against the recent rise in illegal immigration.
Twenty-five migrants on one of the boats that arrived on Monday had to be rescued by coast guards near the island as their vessel risked sinking.
Among the arrivals was also a German woman and her daughter who had trouble returning to Europe after her divorce from a Tunisian, Italian media reported.
Vittorio Alessandro, a spokesman for the local port authority in Lampedusa, warned worsening weather conditions made the journey from Tunisia perilous.
"We are expecting a worsening of conditions and this puts the lives of people who have set sail at risk," Alessandro told news channel SkyTG24.
The new arrivals joined around 100 migrants who had crossed the Mediterranean from Tunisia over the weekend despite poor weather.
Lampedusa has been swamped by thousands of arrivals in recent weeks and the local 850-bed immigrant centre is severely overcrowded.
Local officials say they are expecting more arrivals in the coming hours.
The government resumed airlifts out of the island to take the migrants to immigrant detention centres on Sicily and mainland Italy.
The exodus from Tunisia follows a popular revolt that ousted strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January and sparked the uprising in Egypt that led to the fall of Hosni Mubarak last month.
© 2011 AFP