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Italy: State of Emergency over Tunisian Refugees

(Feb. 22, 2011) Italy has declared a state of emergency following the arrival, within five days, of 5,000 refugees from Tunisia on the small Italian island of Lampedusa, which is just 60 miles from Tunisia in the Mediterranean Sea. A center for receiving migrants has been re-opened on the island, but it is already overcrowded. The wave of people from the North African nation followed the January 14, 2011, fall of Tunisia's leader. The sea between Tunisia and the island is now under extra naval patrols, and on February 13, 2011, Tunisia sent security forces into the area as well. According to the Italian Interior Minister, Roberto Maroni, the state of emergency was declared because of a fear that terrorists could have entered the country along with the other immigrants. (Italy Aching Under Tunisian Migrant Wave, UPI.COM (Feb. 14, 2011),
; Nick Pisa, Italy Declares State of Emergency over Influx of 5,000 Tunisian Immigrants, THE TELEGRAPH (Feb. 13, 2011),

As of February 17, some of the refugees had been sent on to Rome by the Italian authorities, and there was a plan to return 107 illegal immigrants from Lampedusa to Tunisia. (Italy to Repatriate 107 Tunisians: Ministry, AFP (Feb. 17, 2011), World News Connection online subscription database, Doc. No. 200902171477.1_fea2001af8d26408.)

A spokesman from Italy's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Maurizio Massari, also commented on the need for European leaders to consider the possible threat to national security brought about by the movement of refugees from Tunisia, stating:

The influx of illegal immigrants from Tunisia needs to be dealt with utmost urgency for national security. … There is the possibility of infiltration by criminals who have escaped from prison or terrorists trying to get into Europe via our shores – that's why we need a European response. … Italy has asked for an urgent meeting with the European Council of Justice and Internal Affairs to coordinate a European response to this new emergency. (Pisa, supra.)