Italy On The Receiving End Of Tunisian Refugees
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
Sylvia, where are you?
SYLVIA POGGIOLI: I'm on the island of Lampedusa. It's a small island, which is actually closer to Africa than it is to the mainland of Italy.
INSKEEP: But it's part of Italy.
POGGIOLI: Oh, yeah, Italian island.
INSKEEP: So if people can get to that little island, which would not be quite so much of a boat ride as going all the way the Mediterranean, they are on Italian soil and they can claim refugee status?
POGGIOLI: Well, that's a little more complicated. Italians do not easily grant refugee status.
INSKEEP: But in any event, people are trying to get that island and hoping for refugee status. And how many people have made it?
POGGIOLI: You see many of them milling around, buying food, drinking coffee in cafes.
INSKEEP: You mentioned a holding center. Does that suggest that there has been a consistent issue, a consistent problem with people fleeing from the North African coast towards this Italian island?
POGGIOLI: Oh, yes. It's been happening for years now. It slowed down a lot after Italy took some bilateral agreements - first with Libya, also with Tunisia - to help stem the tide. But now, as you know, the recent unrest in Tunisia has opened up the borders for them.
INSKEEP: I want to understand this a little better. Because on the surface, you would think that a democratic revolution in Tunisia would be seen as a positive development. Who exactly is fleeing this?
POGGIOLI: The Interior Minister of Italy, who is a member of the anti-immigration Northern League, raised tensions when he said the migrant wave includes who escaped from prisons in the uprising in Tunisia. And he voiced fear that they might also include al-Qaida-linked terrorists.
INSKEEP: That's a fear that's being voiced. There's no evidence of that?
POGGIOLI: This is the quote directly from the interior minister, Roberto Maroni.
INSKEEP: Sylvia Poggioli, I wonder if you could give us a little broader picture of that island. What kind of a place is it? What's it look like when you walk around?
POGGIOLI: Well, it's actually a very flat island. Personally, I don't think it's one of the most attractive places I've been in Italy. But it's a place where in the summer people come for the beaches, for the resorts. It's just another Italian island in the South.
INSKEEP: And does it seem to have a lot of resources to deal with a lot of refugees or would-be refugees?
POGGIOLI: But there is anxiety. Everyone is carefully looking at the horizon. Today, the seas are pretty rough and that means no new arrivals are expected. But as soon as the waters calm down, the wave of migrants will likely resume.
INSKEEP: NPR's Sylvia Poggioli is on a tiny Italian island in the Mediterranean Sea. Sylvia, thanks very much.
POGGIOLI: Thank you, Steve.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.