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Italy warns of an immigration 'emergency' due to North African unrest

Italy says it can no longer depend on Tunisia to take back undocumented immigrants since the country's January coup. Italy's interior minister has warned of a brewing "humanitarian emergency," as hundreds arrive by boat.

Three men behind a grid fence on Lampedusa

Some 1,000 undocumented migrants arrived on Lampedusa this week

Italy appealed to the European Union Friday for help in stemming an immigration "emergency," as hundreds of undocumented immigrants arrived by boat from Tunisia.

Italian coast guards have intercepted six boats carrying hundreds of people, most of them from Tunisia. The latest was found Friday, carrying 181 people and has been taken to the tiny island of Lampedusa, where more than 1,000 people have landed in the past three days.

ANSA news agency also quoted officials from the Sicilian port of Trapani, saying nine Tunisian immigrants had been rescued Friday by coast guards from a sinking vessel.

"There is a risk of a real humanitarian emergency," said Interior Minister Roberto Maroni of the anti-immigration Northern League party. Maroni appealed to the EU presidency Friday for help and made a request for the EU's justice and home affairs council later this month to discuss "the crisis in North Africa and its effects on immigration and internal security in Europe."

Tunisia coup 'threatens European security'

Until the January coup in Tunisia, bilateral agreements had allowed Italy to repatriate undocumented Tunisia immigrants without consideration of granting refugee status.

"The problem is that the bilateral agreement that we have with Tunisia and which allowed up until now for an efficient management of illegal immigration is not being implemented because of the crisis situation," Maroni said.

Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Tunisian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abderraouf Ounais would visit Italy next week "to reconfirm the cooperation agreements."

Author: David Levitz (AFP, AP, dpa)

Editor:Susan Houlton

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