Italy: Tunisian migrants clash with police on tiny southern island

Palermo, 21 Feb. (AKI) – A group of around 20 Tunisian migrants on Monday hurled stones at Italian police who intervened when a brawl broke out between them and other migrants at the southern island of Lampedusa’s overcrowded detention centre.

Police removed about 10 migrants from the detention centre after the scuffles between the Tunisians, who claimed migrants who arrived on Lampedusa overnight had tried to “queue-jump” and appropriate from migrants held at the centre for several weeks tickets allocated for transfers to detention centres on the Italian mainland.

A policeman was reportedly injured in one eye after a migrant allegedly attacked him with pepper spray.

The 10 migrants will be aboard the next flight transporting illegal immigrants from Lampedusa to other identification and detention centres, Adnkronos learned from an unnamed source.

Some 400 migrants were due to be transferred Monday from Lampedusa aboard four flights.

Some 50 riot police are now guarding the entrance to the detention centre.

“It’s a rapidly evolving situation, a pressure-cooker that could explode from one minute to the next,” the source told Adnkronos.

There are 1,350 Tunisian migrants being held in Lampedusa’s detention centre which is designed to accommodate 800 people.

Over 5,000 mainly Tunisian economic migrants have arrived aboard boats to Italy since the north African country’s ruler of 23 years, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, fled the country in mid-January amid a popular revolt.

Italy has warned of a “humanitarian emergency” and “an exodus of biblical proportions” in the Mediterranean. Ben Ali’s ousting was followed earlier this month by that of Egypt’s autocratic president Hosni Mubarak, who ruled the 80 million-strong nation for almost 30 years.

Italy has asked the European Union for 100 million euros to help secure its porous borders and on Monday representatives from the EU borders agency Frontex were due to visit Lampedusa’s detention centre for talks with officials.

There was a lull in the migrant landings last week after Italy’s foreign minister Franco Frattini signed an accord with the Tunisian government agreeing to cooperate on stemming the influx of migrants to Italy from North Africa.

But on Monday, the coastguard spotted a broken-down boat with about 15 migrants on board some 26 nautical miles off Lampedusa, whose passengers were said to be rowing towards the shore.

Thirty-two Tunisan migrants reached Lampedusa overnight while 53 landed there on Sunday aboard two boats.

Lampedusa’s mayor has banned the sale of alcohol to migrants, whose recent mass arrivals on the tiny island have strained its resources and relations with its 5,000 inhabitants

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