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Wednesday, 20 March, 2002, 17:29 GMT
Italy declares migrant emergency
Kurdish refugees in Bari
Hundreds more may be following the nearly 1,000 Kurds
The Italian Government has announced a state of emergency to deal with the influx of immigrants landing on its shores.

This is a move to try to tackle a very large and worrying phenomenon

Enrico La Loggia
Regional Affairs Minister
Nearly 1,000 Kurdish boat people arrived in Sicily on Monday and reports say at least four more boats are on their way to Italy.

"This is a move to try to tackle a very large and worrying phenomenon," said Regional Affairs Minister Enrico La Loggia.

"There are probably other arrivals on the way and we need to be prepared," he said after a cabinet meeting.

Boats under surveillance

The state of emergency allows extra funds to be released to deal with the crisis.

It is not yet clear how long it will remain in place, but the BBC's Rome correspondent says it is more an administrative measure than a signal of alarm.

A government statement called for a "co-ordinated response on a European level" to deal with the increase in illegal immigration.

Kurdish refugees on board Monica
The refugees made the journey crammed into a freighter
The 960 mainly Iraqi Kurds - the largest single group ever to land in Italy - who arrived on Monday have been moved from Sicily to the Italian mainland, where they are being housed in a temporary camp in the city of Bari.

They have each been given food and clothing and an identification number while their asylum applications are being processed.

The Corriere della Sera newspaper reports that satellites have picked up at least four more boats heading for Italy's shores.

Each is thought to be carrying several hundred people.

An Interior Ministry source told Reuters news agency that several dozen boats in the Mediterranean were under surveillance.

Turkish police on Thursday stopped 185 people planning to travel to Italy by boat, the Anatolia news agency reported.

However, previous reports that boatfuls of people were on their way have so far not been confirmed.

Right-wing backlash

Italian politicians are divided over how best to deal with the migrants.

There is a limit to everything and I'm fed up with these crocodile tears

Umberto Bossi, Northern League
President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, has called for a "spirit of humanity" towards the refugees.

But Umberto Bossi, leader of the anti-immigration Northern League and a member of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's cabinet, has said they should be sent home immediately.

He said he was fed up with the "crocodile tears" shed over the migrants.

The ship that arrived in Sicily on Monday, the Monica, was towed into the port of Catania after some of the migrants threatened to throw their children into the sea.

Italy, with a 4,720-mile (7,600-kilometre) coastline, is a popular target for asylum seekers, many of whom use it as a gateway to Europe.

Expulsions of asylum seekers from Italy have increased by about 30% since Mr Berlusconi's conservative coalition came to power in June last year promising to take a tough line on refugees.

The BBC's Jon Sopel
"The refugees are being housed in 500 caravans"
The BBC's James Coomarasamy
"Volunteers bring the refugees basic supplies"
Opposition politician Valdo Spini
"Humanitarian principle must prevail"
See also:

19 Mar 02 | Europe
Destination: Europe
04 Jul 01 | Europe
Immigrant ship rescued off Italy
16 Jun 01 | Media reports
Divers locate 'phantom shipwreck'
20 Mar 02 | Europe
Analysis: Italy's asylum struggle
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