The Italian Navy this week will begin turning back Africans who have transformed Lampedusa, Italy, into the site of a humanitarian crisis.
Island of Lampedusa, Italy
Hidden amid the hedges and stone walls of this sun-baked holiday island is the final resting place for dozens of boats that have brought thousands of illegal immigrants from North Africa in search of a new life in Europe.
Their chipped hulls bear Arabic script and crude drawings of swordfish and dolphins. Scraps of clothing and water bottles litter their grimy decks.
Starting May 15, the Italian Navy will work with its Libyan counterpart to intercept and turn back rickety boats packed with desperate Africans. Italy's interior minister, Roberto Maroni, has confidently predicted that "on that day I expect the flow of people entering Italy from Libya to stop and the problem to be resolved."
But with just six motor boats to patrol Libya's lengthy coastline, many Italians doubt the patrols will make much of a difference, especially considering the risks people are willing to take, says Laura Boldrini, spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Italy.
"People are prepared to make the crossing in all weather conditions, at any cost," she says.
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