About 1,000 illegal migrants fleeing unrest in North Africa have landed on the Italian island of Lampedusa overnight in a dozen or so boats, intensifying fears that a massive influx of people from Tunisia, Libya and other places will soon reach Europe’s shores.
Thus far, most of the migrants (virtually all of whom are eventually deported by Italian authorities) have come from Tunisia, although other boats have been sighted approaching the tiny island
Already, about 6.000 thousand people have arrived on Lampedusa since mid-January and been processed, overwhelming the local authorities. Facilities on island are overburdened – its reception center is designed only to handle about 850 people.
Italy has asked the European Union (EU) for financial help as it cannot cope with the growing exodus from North Africa.
Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi has used the threat of unchecked immigration to Europe as a bartering chip (although none of the arrivals at Lampedusa are believed to have come from Libya yet).
In a recent interview with the French newspaper Journal du Dimanche, Gaddafi warned that in the event he is removed from power: You [Europe] will have immigration; thousands of people from Libya will invade Europe. There will be no-one to stop them anymore.
Roberto Maroni, the Italian interior minister has added to the hysteria. He recently told a parliament committee: We believe there are about 1.5 million illegal immigrants in Libya, some estimate even 2.5 million.”