Italy calls national emergency on migrant influx


Italy declared a nationwide state of emergency over the arrival of immigrants today as Silvio Berlusconi's right-wing government pushes forward with its crackdown on illegal immigration.

Parliament said in a statement that the state of emergency which gives police and local authorities additional powers to tackle the influx, was extended to the entire country to combat the "persistent and exceptional" arrival of illegal immigrants.

It did not give further details.

The state of emergency was earlier in effect only for the southern provinces of Sicily, Puglia and Calabria.

Italy's long shoreline and proximity to Africa make it a popular entry point into Europe for thousands of Africans who make hazardous journeys in flimsy boats each year.

The move by Mr Berlusconi's government, which won an April election promising a hard line on illegal immigration that it blames for crime, was immediately attacked by the opposition.

"This way it ends up only increasing the worries and insecurities of people, exactly the opposite of what should be done," Democratic Party politician Marco Minniti said.

The head of Medicins Sans Frontieres in Italy told the Ansa news agency that migrant arrivals on the southern island of Lampedusa in the first seven months of the year were up 30 per cent from a year ago but were stable compared to prior years.

Mr Berlusconi earlier this week won parliamentary approval for a new package of reforms to tackle the issue of illegal immigration.