‘More than a million trying to flee Libya’

2011-03-02 11:02

Rome – Italy’s Interior Minister Roberto Maroni today repeated a warning that some of the 1.5 million people trying to flee Libya could be headed for Italy.

“There are 1.5 million clandestines in Libya: these days, they are fleeing to the west (Tunisia) and to the east (Egypt), but I expect in the future they could also head north” towards Italy, he told parliament.

Police checks on Libya’s borders were now non-existent, he added.

More than 100 000 people have already fled Libya to escape a vicious crackdown by Muammer Gaddafi loyalists which has left at least 1 000 dead, according to conservative UN estimates.

Maroni, a member of the populist, anti-immigration Northern League, cited the same figure of 1.5 million migrants and refugees in comments to his fellow EU interior ministers in Brussels last week.

But some ministers were sceptical of his warning of a flood of immigrants from Africa.

“There’s no refugee influx right now. Let’s not provoke one by talking about it,” German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said at the time.

And EU border management agency Frontex said the flood had eased to a trickle.

“For the moment, the departure of immigrants has not resumed, but everything depends on the development of the crisis in Libya and there is a major question mark over that,” Maroni told Italian deputies today.

There has been a wave of immigration since the revolution in Tunisia that ousted strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January and the wave of popular unrest in Egypt that in February unseated Hosni Mubarak’s decades-old regime.

Italy has already taken in 6 000 immigrants from Tunisia since the beginning of the year.

Nearly 350 Tunisians arrived overnight on the Italian island of Lampedusa, local officials said today, after a week in which poor weather had interrupted the flow of people fleeing the country.

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