Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 26 October 2014

Berlusconi to move out immigrants

Lampedusa residents protest during Silvio Berlusconi's visit to the island (AP)

Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi has promised to evacuate thousands of North Africans who have settled on the tiny southern island of Lampedusa.

A Navy ship and a commercial ferry have arrived at the island and at least three more are expected to take them to temporary shelters elsewhere in Italy.

"Within 48 to 60 hours Lampedusa will be inhabited only by Lampedusa residents," said Mr Berlusconi.

The premier was on his first visit to the island of 5,000 since the migrant crisis broke in January as unrest spread across North Africa. Some 18,000 have arrived on the island, overwhelming the local immigrant centre, and forcing many to sleep in makeshift tent camps or in fields as they wait for transfers.

Mr Berlusconi promised incentives to fishermen and tax breaks and a new urban plan to fed-up residents of the island, which is closer to North Africa than to mainland Italy. He even said he would put the island up for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Many of the immigrants have already been transferred to other centres in Italy, but about 6,000 remain on the island.

Tensions are so high that many of the island's residents staged protests on Monday.

Within the government, too, the crisis is creating some tension, with the anti-immigrant Northern League party pushing for quick repatriations. The opposition, meanwhile, accuses the government of poor handling of the migrant emergency.

Italy has asked fellow European nations to share the burden and take in some of the immigrants. So far, the EU border agency has sent a team in to help, but Italy is insisting on far more tangible support from individual nations.

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