| 9°C Belfast

Italy 'facing refugees crisis'

Close

Would-be migrants believed to be from Tunisia are seen on the shores of the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, Italy (AP)

Would-be migrants believed to be from Tunisia are seen on the shores of the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, Italy (AP)

Would-be migrants believed to be from Tunisia are seen on the shores of the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, Italy (AP)

Italy has warned it faces a humanitarian crisis with some 1,600 refugees from Tunisia arriving in its waters over the past two weeks following unrest there.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said he has asked the EU to take up the matter at its next meeting, as the political crises in Tunisia and Egypt are affecting Europe's internal security.

Mr Maroni has said he fears Tunisian terrorists are among those who escaped Tunisian prisons and fled during a month of nationwide anti-government protests that forced dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee on January 14.

"There is the risk of a real and true humanitarian emergency," Mr Maroni said.

The UN refugee agency said that since January 16, some 1,600 Tunisians had arrived in Italy, mostly on the island of Lampedusa - closer to Africa than the Italian mainland. Half of them arrived in recent days.

Numbers of illegal immigrants have fallen sharply recently after Italy's 2008 agreement with Libya to return would-be migrants without screening them first for asylum.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has condemned that policy as a violation of would-be migrants' rights to seek asylum and flee oppression, humanitarian crises and war.

The policy has worked in reducing the number of boat arrivals in Italy: in 2008, before it went into effect, about 36,000 migrants arrived illegally; by 2009 the number had fallen to 9,500, and in 2010 to 4,300, the UNHCR said.

PA