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Tensions Rise in Lampedusa As Immigrant Influx Continues

  • Sabina Castelfranco

A man (c) who fled the unrest in Tunisia is helped by the Italian police after arriving at the southern Italian island of Lampedusa March 24, 2011

A man (c) who fled the unrest in Tunisia is helped by the Italian police after arriving at the southern Italian island of Lampedusa March 24, 2011

Thousands of immigrants continue to arrive on Italy’s Mediterranean island of Lampedusa and tension is very high. The local population is protesting and there are fears of violent incidents. Authorities are dispatching health inspectors to the island and six ships to help transfer immigrants elsewhere.

Tension continues to increase in the southern Italian island of Lampedusa as the arrival of thousands of immigrants from the North African coastline shows no signs of easing. The massive influx has the population on the island angry and desperate with what they say is the failure of Italian authorities to properly deal with the problem.

This week several local women chained themselves to the quay to stop any fresh landings. They blamed immigrants for recent crimes, including an assault and a theft.

This man said he came home and said his door was open. At first he thought it was his son but then said he found illegal immigrants inside who stole everything, money, his watch. And then they struck him in the face.

The mayor of the island said the islanders’ hospitable nature has been stretched to the limit.
At least 700 immigrants are due to be flown off the island on Tuesday. And to deal with the humanitarian emergency, authorities are dispatching six ships that will arrive in Lampedusa by Wednesday afternoon. The ships, capable of carrying some 10,000 people, will evacuate immigrants from the island to special tent camps and barracks.

One tent camp has been established near Taranto on the mainland, another is being set up in Trapani, in Sicily and there are discussions to set up a third one in Tuscany.

The government has also announced a special cabinet meeting Wednesday to discuss the immigration problem.

More than 18,000 migrants have already arrived in Lampedusa since the beginning of the year, according to the latest official statistics. That compares with 4,000 for the whole of 2010.

Italy has requested increased assistance from the European Union but little has been done so far.

The head Italy’s Bishops Conference, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, said Tuesday, the immigration emergency must be dealt with by the whole of the European community, which must find adequate solutions for these people. All of Europe, he said, has a debt, not just from today, towards Africa, and the time has come for true cooperation policies that can convince these migrants to stay in their own countries and make their lands productive.