Page last updated at 16:47 GMT, Tuesday, 15 February 2011

MEPs warn of north African refugee 'crisis'

MEPs have warned of a refugee crisis, following the arrival of thousands of migrants from Tunisia on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa.

The Parliament held an emergency debate on 15 February 2011, with Italian authorities admitting they are struggling to cope.

A holding centre on the island designed for 850 people is reported to be overflowing. More than 4,000 migrants are said to have arrived there in recent days.

Maltese centre-right MEP Simon Busuttil said there should be a type of "Marshall Plan" of economic assistance for Tunisia but with full co-operation on migration expected in return.

Since Tunisia overthrew its president in January, police patrols along the coast have been patchy.

The Italian government has formally requested some €100m (£84m) from the EU to tackle the influx.

Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said most of the migrants were men in their thirties, although around 108 children had also arrived on the island.

She called on Frontex - the EU's external borders agency - to become involved, but also said that the Tunisian government should do more to patrol their own borders.

A number of MEPs said that those migrants do did not meet refugee status should be repatriated to Tunisia.

However Portuguese communist MEP Rui Tavares said they should be "integrated in Europe" to prevent vast refugee camps being set up along the Mediterranean.

Read Democracy Live's guide to how the plenary sessions work here.

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