The Italian navy has picked up 191 African immigrants stranded in the Mediterranean without food or water. One mayor says Italian sailors are becoming "taxi drivers" for traffickers.
A total of 191 African immigrants were rescued overnight by the Italian navy after drifting for three days some 60 nautical miles off the Libyan coast, without water or fuel.
UNHCR spokeswoman Laura Boldrini told FRANCE 24 on Thursday that most of the people stranded on the inflatable boat had come from Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Sudan, and were probably trying to reach Italy to request political asylum.
"I have just been told that a patrol boat from the Italian Navy is on its way to rescue them," said Boldrini. "That's excellent news because had the Libyan authorities tried to send a rescue team, it would probably have created panic on board with the risk of capsizing."
Despite recent efforts by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government to step up its fight against illegal immigration, there has been a sharp increase in the numbers of immigrants trying to enter Italy by sea in the last few days, partly due to favorable weather conditions.
According to Italian customs officials, some 12,500 illegal immigrants, mostly Africans, have landed since the start of the year in Lampedusa, Italy’s most Southern island.
This massive number of arrivals has created a controversy about the role of the Italian navy in the rescuing of immigrant boats sent out in the Mediterranean Sea by traffickers.
"The security forces are becoming taxi drivers for criminal organizations," said Lampedusa’s mayor, Bernardino De Rubeis, on Tuesday.
Date created : 2008-08-08