Italy: Nearly 200 Tunisians transferred from southern island

(AKI) – Two flights were due to transport 176 Tunisian migrants on Friday from Lampedusa to other detention centres in Italy. Over 5,000 Tunisian illegal immigrants have landed on the tiny southern Italian island over the past ten days in search of work in Italy and elsewhere in Europe.

There are 1,700 Tunisians crammed into the island’s identification centre, designed to hold a maximum of 800 people. Migrants held at the centre on Thursday threatend to go on hunger strike to protest living conditions there.

Italian bishops on Friday called for the Italian government to consider issuing an emergency decree to offer “regular employment to immigrants.”

It also urged “greater international cooperation with North African countries, resources and development plants aimed not only at creating macro-projects but also meet the needs of families and cities.”

The Italian bishops’ commission and Catholic immigrant and refugee charity Migrantes also invited Italians, “especially in Sicily” to “show hospitality…to peoples, families and individuals who are on the move.”

Italian interior minister, Roberto Maroni, has warned of a “biblical exodus” from Tunisia. Youth unemployment is massive and the tourist industry has been hard hit by the recent unrest which caused president al-Abidine Ben Ali to flee the north African country in mid-January.

There are reports of tens of thousands of people waiting to leave Tunisia. The Italian government has said it fears a similar influx of migrants from Egypt, where a Tunisia-inspired popular revolt toppled the country’s autocratic president Hosni Mubarak earlier in February.

Italy has asked the European Union for 100 million euros in aid to tackle what it calls the “humanitarian emergency” in the Mediterranean.

Maroni last Saturday asked the EU’s border patrol agency to step up controls in the Mediterranean Sea and to cover part of the cost of deporting migrants.

He also asked Italy’s fellow EU member nations to share the burden of accommodating the migrants. Many view Italy as stepping stone and would like to work in France, Germany and other Northern European countries.

Discussions at a European Union summit next month on the bloc’s response to democracy uprisings in North Africa and in the Middle East will be enlarged to include immigration issues as requested by Italy, diplomats said on Friday.

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