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February 11, 2011

Italy Declares Emergency as Tunisian Immigrants Arrive

Italy's government has declared a humanitarian emergency after thousands of immigrants fleeing unrest in Tunisia landed on a small Sicilian Island.

In a statement Saturday, the government says the emergency status will allow Italy's civil protection officers to take action needed to help the citizens from North Africa.

Since last month, about 2,000 Tunisian immigrants have flocked to Lampedusa, an Italian island in the Mediterranean closer to north Africa than it is to Italy. Officials report hundreds more arrived Saturday.

Italian authorities say they have began using aircraft and ferry boats to take the Tunisians to identification centers on the island of Sicily.

Meanwhile, the official Tunisian news service, TAP says one man is dead and another is missing after a boat carrying 12 immigrants sank off the north African coast early Saturday.  The agency reports three other men from the boat were taken to a hospital.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said Friday that Italy has appealed to the European Union for help dealing with the influx of Tunisians.

Maroni expressed fear that criminals or terrorists could be among the fleeing Tunisian citizens.

Street protests in Tunisia led to the ouster of then-president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on January 14.

Since then, Tunisia has been struggling to restore order after frustration over unemployment, high food prices and authoritarian rule sparked a series of mass protests.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.