Italian rescuers say hopes are fading that they will find more survivors from a capsized boat that carried more than 200 migrants. Meanwhile, Rome is issuing permits to allow immigrants to travel across Europe.
Hopes that more survivors can be found are slim
Italy resumed a search for survivors on Thursday after a boat carrying more than 200 African migrants capsized off the island of Lampedusa, but rescuers admitted that hopes were fading fast.
Rescuers picked up 53 people from the sea on Wednesday after the boat got into trouble during stormy weather in the early hours of the morning.
Maroni said France was the destination of most of the migrants arriving in Italy
"We are still searching for 150 people. The hope of finding other survivors is fading by the hour." Interior Minister Roberto Maroni told the Italian parliament.
Helicopter pilots reported on Wednesday that they had seen some 20 bodies near to the accident site some 74 kilometers (46 miles) south of Lampedusa.
Efforts to find more survivors and to salvage the bodies were hampered by poor weather and rough sea on Thursday.
The search continues as Italy considers granting "humanitarian permits" to migrants that would allow them to travel across Europe.
No need for visas
Maroni, a member of the anti-immigration Northern League party, told parliament that more than 25,000 migrants had arrived in Italy without documentation so far this year, mostly through Lampedusa. He added that the permits would allow migrants, most of whom are French-speaking Tunisians, to travel around the 25-nation Schengen zone without visas.
Lampedusa has been a temporary home for thousands of migrants
"The prime minister will today sign a decree giving those already in Italy... a temporary residence permit for humanitarian protection that will allow them to travel around the Schengen zone," Maroni said.
"The overwhelming majority of the migrants want to join friends and relatives in France or other European countries."
Paris has already sent large numbers of immigrants arriving there through Italy back across the border. The policy, which is likely to be a source of friction between France and Italy, was announced ahead of talks on the immigration issue between Maroni and his French counterpart Claude Gueant on Friday.
There are no border controls within the 25-nation Schengen zone, which includes most members of the European Union as well as Iceland, Norway and Switzerland.
Author: Richard Connor (AFP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Nicole Goebel