Posted on October 7, 2004

Italy Resumes Expelling Migrants

BBC News, Oct. 6

Italy has resumed the forced expulsions of migrants to Libya, brushing aside criticism from the United Nations.

The UN refugee agency says the expulsions, which first started at the weekend, are preventing migrants from applying for refugee status.

After the flights were halted on Tuesday, at least two military planes carrying refugees left the southern island of Lampedusa on Wednesday.

Italy says the expulsions will continue in the short term.

UNHCR envoy Juergen Humburg has accused Italy of preventing the agency from meeting the migrants.

The expulsions were triggered after more than 600 people arrived on Lampedusa in one night.

More than 1,000 migrants, all claiming political asylum, have arrived by boat from North Africa in the past few days. The island is the nearest geographical point of arrival in the European Union from North Africa.

Italy has sent about a dozen planeloads of migrants to Libya since Friday.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is due to visit Libya on Thursday to discuss the crisis.

Earlier, the Italian interior ministry said in a statement: “The process of expelling illegal immigrants who arrive by sea will be completed over the coming days as the situation evolves.”

No official explanation was given for the suspension of the flights on Tuesday.


Mr Humburg, sent to investigate the situation, left Lampedusa on Tuesday after he was denied entry to the detention centre where the latest arrivals were being held.

He said the Italian government had to find ways to identify the asylum-seekers and the refugees among them.

“It is not acceptable from our point of view to reject these people just because they arrive in big numbers,” he said.

“Even if we have mass influxes of people who are fleeing persecution and human rights violations, we cannot make it a question of numbers. They should be given access to a safe country, to asylum, to protection.”

The Italian government has defended the policy, saying the repatriations will discourage people from setting off.

Mr Berlusconi’s trip to Libya will be his second in less than two months. He is expected to discuss with Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi ways of stemming the numbers of illegal immigrants heading for Italy.

Libyan Foreign Minister Abdel Rahman Shalgham told the BBC that the country was working with Italy to tackle immigration from “different dimensions”.

A boat carrying 21 illegal immigrants arrived on Lampedusa overnight — the first arrivals in three days.