Italian aid for Arab refugees to help avoid influx of immigrants


FACED WITH a potentially massive exodus towards Italy of Tunisian and Libyan boat people, the Italian government yesterday approved a two-part humanitarian mission to Libya.

Speaking after a cabinet meeting, foreign minister Franco Frattini said that while the aid mission will be entirely Italian, it is being carried out at the specific request of the Tunisian and Egyptian governments.

The first part of the mission will be concentrated on the border between Libya and Tunisia where, according to the UNHCR and the IOM (International Organisation for Migration), almost 80,000 displaced refugees, 70 per cent of them Egyptian, remain stranded.

With the help of both the UNHCR and the IOM, Italy hopes to repatriate a majority of the Egyptians, transporting them by both air and sea using civilian charter flights and civilian and military ships. The Italian ferry company, Grimaldi, has already offered a ferry for no charge that can transport 1,500 people, said the minister.

The second part of the aid mission concerns Libya directly with the Italian navy patrol ship, the Libra, due to sail out of Catania, Sicily, today headed for the Cyrenaica region of Libya and for Benghazi in particular, carrying more than 10 tonnes of food, clothes and medicines. Mr Frattini said that €5 million had been set aside to cover the cost of the two-part, aid mission.

Asked about the possibility of joint military intervention in Libya, he “categorically” ruled out any Italian involvement, “for obvious reasons linked to our colonial past”.

“We might however be able to make our military bases available for such an operation but only if there is a clear UN mandate,” he said. “Obviously, any type of [military] action needs to bear in mind the delicate political and cultural context of the Arab world.”

Interior minister Roberto Maroni yesterday repeated his concern that Italy may shortly have to deal with a “mass exodus” from north Africa, saying that his ministry has prepared a “plan B” for such an eventuality. Yesterday, social research institute Censis pointed out that already in the first two months of 2011, more clandestine immigrants had landed in Italy than in all of 2010 – 6,333 compared to 4,406 last year.