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Italy Seeks to Deploy Police in Tunisia to Stem Tide of Refugees

A would-be immigrant is escorted to register at a re-opened detention center on the island of Lampedusa, Italy, Sunday, Feb. 13, 2011.

Tunisia’s interim cabinet says it plans to discuss a response to the thousands of people who have fled the country and landed on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa during the past few days. Italy has expressed serious concern over the mass influx of refugees and says it wants to deploy police to Tunisia to tackle the problem.

More than 4,000 refugees have arrived on Lampedusa in recent days and Italy has declared a state of humanitarian emergency. It has also called for European Union assistance.

The latest mass departures from the Tunisian coast are the result of a lack of police and border controls, following the ouster of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years in office.

A spokeswoman in Italy for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says some Tunisians are fleeing because they are worried about violence and the instability in their homeland while others who were close to the former president are seeking protection.

The Italian government is so concerned with the mass arrivals that it says it will seek permission to deploy its police in Tunisia to stem the tide of refugees.

Italy's Interior Minister Roberto Maroni says Europe is not doing anything to help stop the influx of people crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

Maroni says he asked the European Union for emergency to intervene because "there is an institutional and political earthquake" underway in Tunisia that could "devastate" Europe.

Hundreds of refugees been flown from Lampedusa to Sicily or the Italian mainland, or put on ferries bound for Italian ports. The refugees are being taken to holding centers for processing.