News / Europe

Italian Island Feeling Strain of Burgeoning Immigration

An Italian Coast Guard vessel rescues a boatload of would-be migrants believed to be from North Africa in the waters off the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, Italy, (File)
An Italian Coast Guard vessel rescues a boatload of would-be migrants believed to be from North Africa in the waters off the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, Italy, (File)

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Italians are marking the 150th anniversary of unification but in the tiny island of Lampedusa, flags are flying at half-mast in protest at the government’s failure to better deal with the immigration emergency.

The people of Lampedusa say there is very little to celebrate on their island, which is currently home to 3,000 immigrants. They are waiting to be transferred to other centers on the mainland but those too are now full. Local authorities are in despair because immigrants are not being moved on.

Mayor Bernardino De Rubeis, like the island’s population, does not care about the 150th anniversary of Italian unification.

De Rubeis says this is a day of mourning because we are witnessing the agony of 300 tourism business operators who are suffering due to this invasion. 3,000 immigrants he says are being forced to walk the streets of Lampedusa because transfers towards Italy are not being carried out.

While protests were being held on the island Thursday morning, the parish priest held an outdoor mass at the monument to the immigrant known as the “Door of Europe” to recall the many who have perished during the risky crossings on make-shift boats from North Africa.

Italy’s Interior Minister Roberto Maroni says 11,200 mostly Tunisian immigrants have arrived in Lampedusa since the start of this year but he fears this is only the beginning. Last year 4,000 arrived in total thanks to existing agreement with Libya.  Maroni added that to deal with the emergency, assistance has been requested from the EU, but so far this has been unsatisfactory.

Italy’s foreign undersecretary Stefania Craxi visited the island Wednesday to assess the situation.

She says it’s an impossible situation because the center on the island can only hold 800 and there are nearly 3,000 immigrants here, which is as many as the entire population on the island. She added that the situation had to be resolved in 48 hours.

A ship meanwhile has arrived in Lampedusa port with the Italian staff from civil defense department that will try to establish if a tent city can be set up in the former military base on the island because the holding center on the island cannot cope with the present numbers.   

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