Migrant boat sinks off Italy, 150 missing

By REUTERS
April 6, 2011 12:06

Thousands of illegal immigrants from North Africa arrive in southern Italy island only 150 km from Tunisia.

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Tunisia Refugees on Italian island of Lampedusa

Tunisian Refugees Italy 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

ROME- Around 150 people were missing after a boat carrying migrants from North Africa capsized in heavy seas near the southern Italian island of Lampedusa early on Wednesday, coast guard officials said.

Rescuers picked up 47 people from the sea after the boat sank at around 4.00 a.m. (0200 GMT) 40 miles south of Lampedusa, but high winds and rough seas made it difficult for coast guard boats and a police helicopter to operate.

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Thousands of illegal immigrants from North Africa have arrived in southern Italy since the beginning of the year, most of them aiming for the tiny island of Lampedusa, some 150 kilometers (95 miles) from the Tunisian coast.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi discussed in Tunisia on Monday how to repatriate thousands of Tunisian migrants, pledging to do so in "a civil manner" as more boats from North Africa reached southern Italy.

Berlusconi met Tunisian Prime Minister Beji Caid Sebsi to talk through a migrant crisis that has turned into a political headache for the Italian leader.

"There is a very strong desire from both sides to find ways for Tunisia to monitor its coast," Berlusconi told a news conference.

More than 20,000 illegal immigrants, mainly from Tunisia, have poured into the tiny island of Lampedusa in fishing boats and other small craft since the overthrow of former Tunisian President Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali in January loosened tight frontier checks that blocked the way into Europe.


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