Italy appeals to EU for help over influx of immigrants


WITH AN estimated 1,300 North African boat people having been picked up yesterday close to the island of Lampedusa, off Sicily, Italy’s interior minister Roberto Maroni made yet another appeal to the European Union for help in dealing with the anticipated arrival of massive numbers of refugees.

He claims that Italian intelligence reports had signalled the reappearance in Libya of organised crime groups, specialising in the trafficking of humans, and expressed the hope that next Friday’s EU summit on the Libyan crisis will formulate a “Marshall plan” to deal with the North African crisis. “I absolutely expect next Friday’s meeting to come up with an aid plan, a sort of Marshall plan which allows these countries to make the transition to a more democratic society, without the risk of terrorist infiltration . . . We have already asked the EU for a contribution of €100 million to confront this extraordinary situation. Obviously, the more boats arrive, the more the costs go up.”

Italy was ready to repeat the experience of the early 1990s, Mr Maroni said, when it absorbed the arrival of thousands of Albanians in the wake of the break up of East Bloc communism. However, he suggested that Italy, on its own, could not deal with the anticipated arrival of huge numbers of North African immigrants.

He said Italian intelligence had reported “thousands and thousands of young people” heading for the Tunisian ports of Zarzis and Djerba, and that it would require a “significant commitment” from EU countries to block their departure.

In response to Libyan leader Col Gadafy, who has threatened an “invasion” of biblical proportions of refugees into Europe if his regime falls, Mr Maroni said the invasion had already begun, given that more than 8,000 had landed in Europe in the last two months. This figure represented a significant increase on the total number of immigrants in 2010, he added.

The minister also expressed his opposition to western military intervention in Libya, calling it a “very serious mistake”.

“I believe, and I said this to [US secretary of state] Clinton that if you go into Libya in the wrong way, then it risks becoming the new Afghanistan or the new Somalia, in other words it will fall into the hands of terrorists. And that is the last thing we want. Before we opt for bombardments, before warmongers win the day, let’s develop aid policies,” he said.

Meanwhile, Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the international community would not stand by if Col Gadafy continued attacks on his own people.

He insisted the alliance has no plan to intervene in the country and said it would only do us with an international mandate. “However, it is an evolving situation and I can’t imagine the international community and the United Nations would stand idly by if Gadafy and his regime continue to attack their own people,” he said.

This could be done only with a UN Security Council resolution, he said.

His remarks came as European diplomats weighed the extension of sanctions against the Gadafy regime to include a €50 billion sovereign wealth fund which owns minority stakes in Italian soccer team Juventus and UniCredit bank. The proposed new sanctions would freeze assets held by the Libyan Investment Authority.

EU leaders are preparing for an emergency summit on Friday to discuss the increasingly violent situation in the country.