Fresh refugee influx hits Lampedusa

Up to 1,000 new arrivals from north Africa take advantage of good weather to reach Italian island in the Mediterranean.

    The mayor of Lampedusa called the situation on the tiny island 'out of control' even before the latest influx [EPA]

    More than 1,000 illegal immigrants escaping political turmoil in north Africa arrived on the southern Italian island Lampedusa in the Mediterranean during the night.

    Taking advantage of good weather, the group, most of them from Tunisia, arrived in more than 10 boats in the early hours of Monday.

    Some of the boats made it to the shores of the tiny island on their own; others were intercepted by the coastguard and their passengers taken off.

    So far, none of the illegal immigrants were believed to have left from Libya, but Italian officials fear an exodus from its former colony if the situation worsens.

    The new arrivals on Lampedusa come on top of a previous wave of refugees who flooded the island five days ago, when around 350 migrants from Tunisia arrived by boat overnight.

    Thousands fleeing turmoil in North Africa, mostly from Tunisia, had already reached Lampedusa before bad weather interrupted the flow last week.

    Local authorities said the new arrivals were transferred to a reception centre and are in good condition.

    Last month the Italian government said it planned to deploy security forces on Tunisian soil to stop illegal immigration.

    Bernardino De Rubeis, Lampedusa's mayor, has called the situation "out of control".

    Italy has asked other European countries to help, with the influx of migrants to its shores expected to swell as thousands more seek to escape unrest in Libya amid an uprising against Muammar Gaddafi's regime.

    "We believe there are about 1.5 million illegal immigrants in Libya, some estimate even 2.5 million," Roberto Maroni, the Italian interior ministry, told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday.

    In an interview with Al Jazeera, Franco Frattini, Italy's foreign minister, said his country was "bearing the burden of people that violate international and European law".

    He said: "One simple fact is very clear: Italy is by far the country that has been saving lives and rescuing the hugest number of migrants in need on the Mediterranean.

    "We saved thousands and thousands of human lives and we are very proud of it."

    Roberto Maroni, the interior minister, said last week an aid mission to Tunisia to provide food and medical help was aimed at handling the refugee situation in north Africa, but it was already preparing for a potential surge of immigrants to Italy.

    More than 7,000 migrants from Tunisia have arrived in Italy since the overthrow of longtime leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in mid-January.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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