A few weeks after the odyssey of 37 African refugees aboard a German ship off the Italian coast sparked calls for asylum centers in Africa, hundreds of refugees have reached the Italian island of Lampedusa.
Lampedusa has long been a landing place for refugees
Italian customs police escorted a boat packed with 229 would-be illegal immigrants to Lampedusa early Sunday, bringing to nearly 400 the number landing on the southern
island at the weekend.
The 229 men who arrived Sunday were comprised of Palestinians, Iraqis and Bangladeshis, and were in reasonably good condition despite suffering poor weather conditions at sea, officials said.
Five boats loaded with a total of 146 people, including several women, landed on Lampedusa within a few hours of each other on Friday night, the officials said.
The immigrants, reported to be from North and central Africa, were taken to the island's overcrowded reception center.
Officials said some 360 immigrants will be brought to other centres in Sicily and elsewhere in Italy by sea and air on Monday.
Italy's southern coastline is a magnet for boatloads of economic migrants from Africa and Asia searching for a better life in Europe.
However they are increasingly running foul of tough new anti-immigration laws to deter illegal immigration fuelled by people-trafficking gangs. Italy last week deported most of the 37 African asylum-seekers who landed in Sicily the previous week from a German aid ship.