Tiny Italian Island Faces Flood Of Refugees
LIANE HANSEN, Host:
NPR's Sylvia Poggioli joins us on the line from Lampedusa, the small southern Italian island that has become the frontline of the exodus from North Africa. Good morning, Sylvia.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI: Good morning, Liane.
HANSEN: What do you know about the people who have fled Libya?
POGGIOLI: And Italian reporter who was in phone contact with the vessel when it was at sea said the African migrants were told to leave the country by Libyan authorities and they had to pay $1,000 each for the forced passage. Two more boats from Libya have been reported headed toward the island here, so this really could be the first sign that Gadhafi intends to carry out his threatened reprisals against Europe. He has said he will flood Europe with millions of migrants.
HANSEN: The island where you are, Lampedusa, seems to have been turned into, I mean, a giant refugee camp. This is an island. What are the conditions?
POGGIOLI: What's amazing is that up to now the new arrivals have been incredibly peaceful - there have been no incidents. And the local population has been tolerant beyond belief, helping them out with food and clothes. But the tension's very high and the situation could explode. During the night, I could hear many of the Tunisians chanting - libertad - the Italian word for freedom.
HANSEN: Sylvia, briefly, is the Italian government doing anything to ease the situation?
POGGIOLI: Now, the foreign minister went to Tunis yesterday to try to negotiate with the new authorities there, ways to monitor more carefully the Tunisian coast to prevent the exodus. And Italy went so far as to propose a payment of up to $2,500 to each Tunisian who voluntarily returns home. But the Northern League leader blasted the idea, saying why should we pay them? We should just pick them up and send them back.
HANSEN: NPR's Sylvia Poggioli in Lampedusa, Italy. Thank you, Sylvia.
POGGIOLI: Thank you, Liane.
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