How many...

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Posted by Jeff from ( on Tuesday, March 19, 2002 at 11:34PM :

... of the "Iraqi Kurds" do you suppose are "ours" from that ship?

I know, I know... even if they aren't, it's still horrible.

Immigrant Influx Stirs Italy's Political Waters
Wed Mar 20,12:06 AM ET

By Crispian Balmer

ROME (Reuters) - Italian ministers warned on Tuesday that Europe faced a tidal wave of illegal immigration as the latest shipload of 928 Kurdish refugees caused consternation and division in government ranks.

Reuters Photo
The Iraqi Kurds, including some 500 women and children, arrived in Sicily Monday crammed aboard a rusty old ship and were transferred Tuesday to mainland Italy where many will be granted political asylum, officials said.

Hard-line Reform Minister Umberto Bossi cried foul and said the new arrivals should be sent packing, with the European Union (news - web sites) paying for the repatriation.

But Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi urged compassion from a country which last century dispatched millions of migrants to the United States.

"This wave of immigration born out of poverty certainly causes problems but it appears indispensable to fill the void in the workforce left by a society which lives happily, and longer than before, but in which few children are born," he said.

"In emergencies, the humanitarian spirit must prevail above all else," he added.

La Repubblica newspaper quoted an Interior Ministry source as saying officials believed up to 50,000 illegal immigrants were preparing to sweep into Europe in the coming weeks, most of them aiming to land on Italy's enticingly long coastline.

Monday's boatload was the biggest single arrival of immigrants in Italy for five years and represented the first major influx Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government has had to deal with since it took power in June last year.


The exhausted and dehydrated immigrants were shuttled into a refugee center in Bari on the heel of Italy Tuesday afternoon. Some 36 people were taken to hospital.

"How could I stay in my village?" said Sefar, 42, an Iraqi Kurd who fled with his wife and three children. "Zero future, zero human rights, just war."

Fearing they would be turned back from Italian waters, some of the Kurds threatened to throw their children into the sea if they were refused entry. There were 361 children among them.

Their boat, the Monica, which was registered in Tonga, will be destroyed.

Interior Minister Claudio Scajola said Italy was duty bound to welcome the Kurds and promised to unveil emergency powers on Wednesday to help Italy's regions deal with a fresh onslaught of immigrants expected in the near future.

"The instability created in the Middle East by September 11 means that many more people will decide to set off in search of a better life. Italy is the natural entry point for the West, an aircraft carrier from which to take off," he said.

Speaking to reporters during a trip to the United States, Scajola urged greater co-operation among European countries, saying many of the Kurds wanted to travel on to Germany. He made it plain that Rome would do nothing to stop them.

Bossi, on the other hand, wants a draconian clampdown against illegal immigrants and he accused the government of turning soft on the problem.

"If we aren't firm, immigration will be uncontrollable," he told reporters.

More than 20,000 illegal immigrants came to Italy last year, either aboard rickety merchant ships which set sail from North Africa, Turkey or Asia, or aboard rubber-hulled speedboats which zip across the Adriatic from Albania.

Last month, Berlusconi's cabinet presented a bill giving the navy a much tougher role in policing the country's shoreline and handing magistrates more powers to send people without visas or work papers back home. The proposal is still before parliament.

-- Jeff
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