African Absconders Head North for Europe
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In north Africa, people are still escaping the failed Arab Spring. The Italian island of Lampedusa is located just 70 miles from Tunisia, making it a handy first stop for boat people desirous of relocating to the welfare heaven of Europe.

And they do. Last year the many thousands of uninvited foreigners overran the small island (less than 8 square miles) and one batch rioted because they didn’t like the treatment: when 1500 Muslims were told they would be repatriated home, they burned down the immigration center and fought with Italian police. The Africans also left mountains of trash where they camped and harassed local girls, making themselves most unwelcome non-guests.

The mayor armed himself with a baseball bat, reflecting the anger and alarm of the locals by that point. The Lampedusa residents demanded that the Italian government solve the problem by heading off boats at sea, which it appeared to do at least for a while.

In 2011, more than 50,000 crossed the Mediterranean to reach the Italian island. This year the number is around 1500, a big change from the earlier chaos. However, Italian authorities fear that a worsening situation in Tunisia or Libya will unleash the thousands once again.

African Absconders Head North for Europe

Lampedusa and Malta take in African migrants, BBC, August 21, 2012

More than 400 African migrants have arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa over the past three days.

Over the weekend Italian coast guards rescued around 350 migrants – mostly from Tunisia and sub-Saharan Africa – near Lampedusa from two boats. A further 81 arrived on Monday.

Maltese authorities also rescued 80 migrants on an overcrowded dinghy.
Lampedusa and Malta are the nearest gateways to Europe for thousands of African migrants.

Lampedusa lies about 80 miles (120km) from Tunisia, while Malta is about 220 miles (355km) from the Libyan capital Tripoli.

Many of the migrants arrive on overburdened and poorly equipped wooden boats.

On Tuesday Italian media reported that two policemen were taken to hospital after being injured in protests by a group of 14 Tunisian migrants in the town of Ragusa on Sicily.

The men were being held at a detention centre in Ragusa when they climbed the roof and began throwing glass and other objects, according to Italian news website Adnkronos.

Last year tens of thousands of refugees fled the uprisings in Tunisia and Libya by sea, overwhelming Lampedusa and Italian immigration services.

A large number of Somalis also try to leave Africa via the Mediterranean, to escape conflict and famine.

Last week about 160 migrants from Somalia and Eritrea were seized by Malta’s navy, who also recovered two bodies from the sea.

In April, a Somali athlete who competed at the 2008 Beijing Olympics reportedly drowned when the boat she was travelling in sank.

Samia Yusuf Omar was trying to cross from Libya to Italy.

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