Massive immigration threatens humanitarian, security crises in Italy

London, February 20: A sea of humanity fleeing terrorism, oppression and poverty in the Middle East and north Africa has descended on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa in the Mediterranean, threatening an impending humanitarian crisis, and the security of the country, media reported on Friday. The Daily Mail reported on Friday that around 2,700 men, women and children have arrived over a period of five days after being rescued from rickety boats sailing to Europe from lawless Libya. The report describes the pitiful scenes in the tiny Italian island, where impoverished migrants are seen wandering the streets, begging for food and shelter.

Apart from the Syrians and Libyans escaping the stranglehold of the deadly terrorist group Islamic State (IS), a number of the migrants are known to have fled poverty, violence or religious oppression in Somalia, Eritrea, the Sudan, Nigeria, the Gambia, and Ethiopia.

Such a large-scale migration is bound to engender a humanitarian crisis, but an even more existential problem perhaps relates to the fact that the IS may be close to Europe’s shores, having entrenched itself in neighbouring Libya. Italy has warned of the “grave danger” of the IS building a foothold on Libya’s coast — around 290 km across the Mediterranean Sea from Lampedusa — from where it could attack Europe.

Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said this week that “time is running out” for the European Union (EU) to forge a “robust response” to the threat from just across the sea. In a further terrifying twist, European intelligence agencies have said that among the migrants waiting in Lampedusa are IS terrorists infiltrating Europe by the backdoor by pretending to be refugees. The migrants are known to have reached Lampedusa, Europe’s southernmost point, by paying huge sums to human trafficking gangs for a place on an overcrowded boat from a Libyan port. The lucrative trade in human beings is believed to be controlled by the IS, which is also fincing its flourishing terror cells. Lampedusa has long been a target for illegal migrants wanting a new life in Europe. Last year, 3,500 drowned making the attempt to sail to Europe from Libya.  Earlier this month, 300 more died when their dinghies sank in high seas during the perilous journey.

Today, authorities on the island are struggling to cope with the huge influx of migrants. In the first nine months of 2014 alone, 140,000 slipped into Italy, the vast majority through Lampedusa.

The migrants are gradually being flown off the island to holding centres in nearby Sicily and mainland Italy.

However, soon more boats are expected to arrive. As Libya descends into lawless chaos, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) says that the human trafficking networks are now operating with impunity. This week, an Italian official added that conditions at the reception centre on Lampedusa were “getting desperate”. It has accommodation for only 400 but 1,000 are crammed in. (IANS)

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