Libya unrest may unleash wave of 350,000 migrants: Italy

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Rome, Feb 24 (IANS/AKI) The violent unrest in Libya may spark a wave of up to 350,000 immigrants toward European shores, warned Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, who asked the European Union for help.

“We ask that Europe do its duty,” he said during a Wednesday address to parliament in Rome. “We want Europe to do more managing the flow of migrants because countries cannot be left alone.”

Italy in May 2009 agreed to begin controversial joint patrols with Libya, turning back thousands of illegal immigrants aboard boats in the Mediterranean.

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi hinted that he may unilaterally scrap cooperation, warning that he would allow thousands of migrants to pass through his country on the way to Europe if the EU sided with opponents of his embattled rule.

Italy says more than 5,000 Tunisians have arrived by boat to its shores following the fall of that country’s ruler in January amid anti-government protests. Italy has asked the EU for 100 million euros to help bring the situation under control.

An Italian fishing boat rescued 38 Tunisian migrants early Wednesday in rough seas off the southern Italian island of Lampedusa near Sicily.

Frattini dismissed Libya’s official number of 300 dead during a week of protests, putting the death toll at 1,000 - the same figure used by reports citing eye-witnesses in the north African country.

“We don’t have exact numbers but the figure of 1,000 is likely,” he said.


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