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Italy to stem a human tide of immigrants

The Italian Navy this week will begin turning back Africans who have transformed Lampedusa, Italy, into the site of a humanitarian crisis.

The harbor of Lampedusa Town, the only settlement in the island. North African smugglers ferry illegal immigrants from Libya to Italy. Once they arrive on the island, authorities haul the boats ashore and take them to a boat 'graveyard' where they are broken up and destroyed.

Nick Squires

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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.

Now Italy is set to launch a campaign to stanch the flow of boats bound for Lampedusa, the country's southernmost scrap of territory, a tiny island that lies closer to Tunisia than it does to Sicily.

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.


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