Tunisians landing by boatload on Italian island

February 13, 2011 20:40

ROME — Hundreds of Tunisians are landing on a tiny Sicilian island by the boatload, swelling the numbers of illegal migrants arriving on Italian shores in just the last few days to well over 4,000.

Palermo-based coast guard official Claudia Viccica has told The Associated Press that in less than 24 hours since Saturday night 16 boats had arrived. The Tunisians are fleeing confusion following street protests and the ouster of the longtime president.

Many were kept in a fenced-in soccer field Sunday on Lampedusa island until ferries could take them to the mainland for document checks. Those ineligible for asylum risk deportation.

Viccica said during the night alone 10 boats arrived. Authorities rushed to reopen a Lampedusa detention center that had been closed as the Italian government cracked down on illegal migration.

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