Italy declares "state of humanitarian emergency" as more immigrants arrive

09:40, February 13, 2011      

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The Italian government on Saturday declared a state of "humanitarian emergency" following the arrival by sea of over 2,000 Maghreb immigrants in the last two days on Sicily coasts.

At an extraordinary summit, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's cabinet ordered to deploy on the field the civil protection unit -- responsible for tackling all national emergencies and calamities including floods and earthquakes -- in order to rapidly and efficiently assist and deal with the transfer of the refugees, most of whom have landed and are concentrated on the tiny island of Lampedusa.

The civil protection unit, according to a statement by the government, will be in charge of guaranteeing first aid and food to the immigrants, and moving them to refugee camps scattered across the peninsula both by plane and ship. The government has also increased sea patrolling and border controls.

A total of seven vessels, transporting over 272 immigrants, landed in Sicily during the night, and more are currently being intercepted by the coastal police.

The local authorities fear there would be additional sea arrivals in the coming days from the whole of North Africa, including Algeria and Egypt, following the resignation of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni on Friday stressed that the Maghreb crisis had triggered a "mass exodus," and warned of the risk that prison-breaking criminals and terrorists linked to al-Qaeda might mix with the incoming immigrants to easily infiltrate Italy and then travel to the rest of Europe.

Maroni also urged the European Union (EU) to adopt a burden- sharing approach toward the immigration revival triggered by North Africa's instability, as Italy acts as an entrance door for many illegal refugees seeking shelter in other European countries and cannot tackle the situation alone.

Source: Xinhua
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