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Italy Hit With Wave of Illegal Immigrants

Italy is experiencing a new wave of arrivals of illegal immigrants with many having to be rescued at sea. In the latest tragedy, 150 Egyptians ended up in the cold waters of the Mediterranean after the makeshift vessel headed to the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa failed to make the crossing from Libya. For VOA, Sabina Castelfranco reports from Rome.

The bad weather conditions in recent days have not discouraged the journeys of many illegal immigrants who attempt the crossing from the coast of Libya to Italy. Despite the cost of the trip, the numbers of those who wait for their turn continue to rise. Some say they are paying $2,000 to get to the other side.

Every day coastguard and navy boats spot numerous vessels in international waters off the coast of Malta and Italy. They are ready to intervene in case of an emergency and say they often receive distress signals.

Arrivals are constant, especially in the summer months. But not all illegal immigrants make it to the end of their journeys due to the poor conditions of their boats. Rough seas also play a part.

This week a number of immigrants, including children, went missing after a large fishing vessel struck tuna pens just south of Malta and split in two. Italy's Ambassador to Malta, Paolo Andrea Trabalza says Malta and Italy work closely on the issue of illegal immigrants.

Trabalza says that for years Italy has had a military mission based in Malta that has been providing assistance. Maltese and Italian authorities work closely on the problem and plans are being worked out for a tri-lateral meeting with the Libyan authorities.

Italy's defense minister Ignazio La Russa has said Libya appears unable to close its frontiers to the massive transit of Africans in search of a better life. He said the Libyan authorities are in need of assistance to improve their border controls.

The defense minister said that the continuous tragedies must help to reflect on the fate of these immigrants who see Italy as a destination to put an end to their desperation and misery. Other political leaders say European nations and those on the other side of the Mediterranean must work together to deal with this dramatic problem.

Meanwhile, a monument to commemorate would-be immigrants who have died at sea while trying to reach Europe will be unveiled June 28 on the island of Lampedusa. The monument will be called Gateway to Lampedusa - Gateway to Europe and is a large door 16 feet high and 10 feet wide made of black clay.