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September 1998, Volume 5, Number 9

Italy: North Africans, Kosovo

Some 3,000 North Africans arrived by boat in southern Italy in July, as many as arrived in the first six months of 1998. Many paid $2,000 each to be smuggled to Lampedusa, only 60 miles from Tunisia. The government sent 1,000 extra police to Sicily and set aside funds to establish "welcome centers" or detention camps for the migrants.

Since March 1998, illegal migrants are to be detained until they are granted asylum or repatriated; the aim was to show the EU that Italy is "not the leaky sieve of Europe." However, the law permits the government to detain migrants for only 30 days. When authorities announced that so many migrants were coming that they could not be processed within 30 days, in part because most migrants destroy their documents, the government on August 12, 1998 began to release detained migrants with orders to leave Italy. Before March 1998, Italy did not detain migrants; instead, it gave them 15 days to leave the country.

On August 5, Italy and Tunisia signed a readmission agreement that obliges Tunisia to accept the return of illegal Tunisians apprehended in Italy. In return, Italy promises to invest $50 million a year for three years in Tunisia to create jobs and discourage emigration. Previously, Italy complained that the Tunisian embassy in Rome did not help to identify Tunisians, and that Tunisian authorities did not respond to requests to escort ships loaded with migrants, and intercepted in international waters, back to Tunisia. If the boats are not escorted back to Tunisia, the migrants simply try again to reach Lampedusa.

In late July, there were reports from several detention centers in Italy that detainees were escaping. On July 27, 10 police officers and 20 immigrants were slightly injured when 146 Moroccans and Tunisians set fire to containers that had been their housing and then tried to escape from the island of Lampedusa. In Agirgento, southern Sicily, several hundred illegal immigrants held running battles with police on July 30. About 100 illegal immigrants awaiting repatriation from Sicily began a hunger strike on August 3 protesting conditions at the detention center.

Local politicians in Italy's southern regions, especially Sicily, urged the federal government to create more secure detention camps in light of continued violence at the camps.

Italy reported in August 1998 that 16,000 foreigners were apprehended since March 1998. In August 1998, Italy returned 143 Pakistanis on an Alitalia flight.

Kosovo. The United Nations is warning that there are 200,000 potential asylum seekers--one-tenth of the Kosovo's population-- fleeing toward Italy and France. The UN estimated in August that more than 40,000 are in Albania and Montenegro, and tens of thousands are hiding in Kosovo's forests.

The Italian police report that most of the illegal migrants crossing the Adriatic by speedboat are ethnic Albanians from Kosovo--boats can reach Italy from Albania in three hours. If they are caught, they are sent back to Albania's Durres port. About 12,700 ethnic Albanians from Kosovo have fled into Albania since June.

In 1997, Italy had net migration of 126,000. For the first time in 1997, Italy ran a deficit in remittances--more funds were sent out of Italy by migrants then were sent to Italy by Italians abroad.

Richard Owen, "Italy's legal loopholes fuel fears of migrant invasion," The Times, August 13, 1998. Paul Betts, "Italy becomes the target for wave of illegal immigrants," Financial Times, July 31, 1998. "Police, illegal immigrants injured in Italian shelter revolt," Agence France Presse, July 30, 1998. Frances D'Emilio, "Wave of boat immigrants show problems of 'border-free' Europe, Associated Press, July 29, 1998.