Italy expecting 50 000 new refugees
Rome - Italy said on Monday it expects an influx of about 50 000 refugees fleeing unrest in north Africa and asked other European nations to help support the new arrivals.
"According to the lowest estimates, 300 000 to 400 000 Africans are displaced between the Maghreb and Libya," Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Alfredo Mantica told La Stampa newspaper.
"Some of them have already returned to their homes, but the majority cannot, particularly those coming from East Africa: Sudanese, Ethiopians, Eritreans (and) Somalis. Potentially, we are talking about 50 000 people," he said.
"Europe must look after these refugees coming from Libya. It is the crux of the problem. It's this that will move the discussion on the functioning of the Schengen, on European solidarity," he said.
"There are refugees that we are not able to repatriate," he added.
The number of refugees arriving in Italy has surged following the waves of unrest that have spread across North Africa.
Journey by boat
Thousands of Tunisians immigrants searching for work in Europe, and refugees fleeing the fighting in Libya have swarmed Lampedusa, a small Italian island half-way between Sicily and Tunisia.
Mantica said the number of Tunisians coming to country "rapidly reduced then stopped", following an April 5 agreement with Tunis calling for stronger surveillance of coastal areas and swift repatriation of migrants trying to enter Italy since the deal was signed.
On Sunday, a boat carrying 528 refugees from sub-Saharan Africa fleeing unrest in Libya broke down near the port of Lampedusa, but all the passengers on board were saved.
Previously, a boat carrying 655 people arrived on the island.
Several thousand Africans fleeing Libya on makeshift rafts have landed in at Lampedusa in recent weeks.