Italy has begun airlifting migrants back to their point of departure after facilities on its southern outpost were swamped by hundreds of new arrivals.
The Italian island of Lampedusa is a target for illegal immigrants
Three planeloads of illegal immigrants were sent back to Libya from the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa.
More than 600 migrants reached Lampedusa during Saturday night alone.
Italian Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu said the government would continue the new policy, to cope with what he described as an emergency.
The decision to send many back to their point of departure marks an abrupt change of policy for the government.
"The desperate people who still think they can sail illegally to
Italy must know they will be sent back to where they came from as
soon as they have been given humanitarian help," said a statement issued by his office.
Lampedusa is the nearest geographical arrival point in the central Mediterranean for those seeking to enter the European Union by sea from North Africa.
Such migrants used to initially be taken to reception centres on Italy's mainland.
Three planeloads of people of various African, Asian and Middle Eastern nationalities were flown off the island on Saturday and more flights were planned in an attempt to relieve the pressure upon the island's only reception centre.
This centre - run by volunteers - can hold up to 200 people, but there were more than 1,000 new arrivals waiting for food and shelter at the last count.
Italy's political opposition has denounced the new policy as too hasty.
"These hasty repatriations look like collective expulsions which
are banned by international treaties to which Italy is a signatory,"
said the Left Democrats.
It said it doubted whether immigrants "had the time to submit an asylum request."
Thousands of would-be immigrants flood the shores of Lampedusa and the country's porous coastline each year.
Many are believed by police to sail from Libya in small boats run by people smugglers.
Italy has promised to give Libya equipment to detect and halt the boats, with training also pledged.