Italy declares 'state of humanitarian emergency'

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LAMPEDUSA, ITALY: The Italian government on Saturday declared a state of humanitarian emergency after an estimated 4,000 asylum-seekers from North Africa arrived in the Sicilian island of Lampedusa in the past four days, ANS news agency reported.

Commander Antonio Morana, in charge of the Italian coast guard on Lampedusa, said that 214 immigrants arrived at midnight in five different boats. The Italian Navy and Coast Guard are patroling by sea and air the waters between the African coast and Sicily. About 1,400 people were still awaiting transfer on Saturday late morning, while more than half of the immigrants have already been moved to local hotels and identification centers in southern Italy.

"The Council of Ministers, convened in a matter of urgency, has proclaimed a state of humanitarian emergency following the influx of the large number of citizens from North Africa. This resolution will allow the immediate adoption of the necessary measures to control the phenomenon and assist citizens fleeing from the North African countries," the government said in a statement.

Later on Saturday, the daily Corriere della Sera reported that a boat overloaded with immigrants sank in the Tunisian Gulf of Gabes after it broke in two. A young man is dead and ten people were rescued by patrol boats. Rescue workers were still searching for people.

The majority of the immigrants come from the Maghreb region, especially Tunisia, after the popular uprisings from the last weeks, but the rising tensions in Algeria could increase the numbers. On Friday, Italy appealed to the European Union for help to combat the crisis since the country cannot tackle the situation alone.

(Copyright 2011 by BNO News B.V. All rights reserved. )

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