By Stephen Palmer – Silvio Berlusconi has threatened European countries with waves of immigration if they do not agree to take in thousands of African immigrants arriving in Italy.
The Italian Prime Minister said that many immigrants have expressed a desire to join “family and friends” in France, Germany and other countries, and if those nations refuse to take in a share of Africans, he could issue illegals with temporary permits that would allow them to travel freely within Europe.
Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni told reporters that the move was intended to "put pressure" on EU countries after their "utter refusal to collaborate".
The tiny Italian island of Lampedusa has been swamped with over 22,000 African migrants since mid-January, overwhelming the indigenous population of just 5,000. Approximately 16,000 have since been moved to detention centres on Sicily and the Italian mainland, but many have subsequently escaped and fled for the French border.
The number of migrants has been increasing in recent weeks, with 78 boats docking in Lampedusa from Tunisia in March alone.
Although most of the arrivals are from North Africa, thousands coming from Libya are Eritrean, Ethiopian and Somali.
Many of the 6,000-or-so migrants remaining on Lampedusa have protested about a lack of food, water and shelter.
Mr Berlusconi is set to travel to Tunisia tomorrow in order to plead with Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi to take back some of the thousands of his citizens who are invading Europe.
Mr Maroni and Foreign Minister Franco Frattini have already travelled to Tunis to offer the Tunisian government €80 million to “fight illegal immigration” and €150 million to help relaunch its economy.
European Union home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem has said that the immigrants “cannot go back to their countries” and "Europe has a duty to examine their asylum requests.”
European interior ministers will discuss the migration issue at a meeting in Luxembourg on 11 April.
British National Party leader Nick Griffin announced via his Twitter page yesterday that he has been invited by Italian nationalists to speak in Lampedusa, following Front National leader Marine Le Pen’s visit there last month.