In the midst of yet further legal wrangles over his private life, the Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has made a plea to the European Union for help in dealing with a reported 5,000 Tunisian refugees who are entering Italy through the island of Lampedusa.
The Prime Minister said in a statement on 15th February 2011:
“After my call yesterday with the European Council President Van Rompuy, the Italian government has sent the European Commission a series of requests for action to tackle the new, major wave of immigration from Tunisia.
“We appreciate the personal commitment of President Van Rompuy Mallstroem and the Commissioner has accepted our demands, in particular the demand for a mission of the European border control, Frontex, a timely response to emergency.
“Soon I will have a telephone conversation with the President of the European Commission, Barroso.”
Frontex is the EU agency devoted to border security. Based in Warsaw, the border-management service has dispatched a fact-finding team to Italy to liaise with local authorities and monitor the situation on the ground. Frontex explained the problem:
“According to official data provided by Italian authorities, between January 1 and January 13, 2011, a total of 5526 migrants were recorded landing in the Pelagic Island, in a total of 116 incidents. This compares to 7,200 for the whole of 2008, the peak year for arrivals of irregular migrants in these islands to date, when Tunisians were the most commonly represented nationality, accounting for 23% of arrivals. Of the official 2011 figures, by far the biggest influx was noted in Lampedusa, where 5031 migrants were recorded between January 1 and January 13, in 80 arrivals.
“Irregular migration to the Italian island of Lampedusa is part of the Central Mediterranean route that also includes detections for border crossing from other Pelagic Islands, like Pantellaria, but also Sardinia, as well as detections reported from Malta.”
Since a series of protests led to the ousting of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, there has been uncertainty in Tunisia about the prospects for a democratic election after the Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi took power.