Roberto Salomone/AFP/Getty Images
Tunisian immigrants who arrived on the island of Lampedusa wait to board a ship that will bring them to a reception center.
Tunisian immigrants who arrived on the island of Lampedusa wait to board a ship that will bring them to a reception center. Roberto Salomone/AFP/Getty Images
Since the uprising that led to ouster of president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, January 14, some 5,500 Tunisians have reached the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa, which is in the Mediterranean Sea south of Sicily.
The island, population 5,000, has become so overwhelmed with Tunisian immigrants that the mayor declared a state of emergency and Italian authorities asked the European Union for $130 million to shore up security.
Today, reports Reuters, the EU offered Italy money and other assistance.
The BBC reports that most of those arriving in Lampedusa say they are looking for a better life in Europe. The vast majority are young.
Italy's Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said he wanted Europe to get ahead of the situation in North Africa. The BBC reports:
"It is a question that risks igniting an extremely fast process of change in North African countries, that can have devastating consequences on the institutional and social structures of European nations," Mr Maroni said.
"I have asked, and I think it is fundamental, that Europe at its top levels - meaning heads of state and government - defines a strategy... and starts a strong diplomatic action towards all countries that are touched by these phenomena."
Reuters reports that the EU has agreed to help Italy and might also send a team of its own "to help with border surveillance."
EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmstrom said it was also asking Tunisian authorities to accept Tunisians returned for not needing "international protection."