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Italy Declares State of Emergency Amid Recent Kurd Influx - 2002-03-21

The Italian government has declared a state of emergency to deal with an influx of illegal immigrants. The move was prompted by the arrival of a ship in Sicily earlier this week carrying hundreds of Kurds.

The ship arrived Monday in the Sicilian port of Catania with close to 1,000 Kurdish migrants. And Italian authorities have been growing more and more alarmed ever since. They fear that hundreds more ships filled with illegal immigrants could be on their way to Italian shores. To deal with the potential problem, the government has declared a nationwide state of emergency over immigration.

The government's move will release funds for temporary shelters. It will also help speed up the processing of illegal migrants. Twenty-thousand arrived in Italy last year and the numbers continue to grow.

To avoid capture, most of the illegal immigrants try to get into Italy in small groups, not by the shipload as happened Monday. It was the largest single arrival of illegal immigrants in Italy in the past five years. The immigrants were taken to a makeshift refugee center on the Italian mainland.

The latest arrivals exposed divisions within Italy's governing coalition over how to deal with illegal immigration. While Interior Minister Claudio Scajola called for the Kurds to be granted asylum, Reform Minister Umberto Bossi said Italy was being too soft on would-be immigrants.

Mr. Bossi, who heads the anti-immigration Northern League party, added that legislation should immediately be passed to deport immigrants without jobs. He also said Italy should demand other EU countries help Italy pay for repatriations.

Thousands of illegal immigrants arrive in Italy every year. Some of them try to stay in the country, but for many others Italy is just a stopover on their way to other EU nations.