Italy to send ships, planes to ease refugee crisis in Libya

March 4th, 2011 - 11:36 am ICT by IANS  

Rome, March 4 (IANS/AKI) Italy will send ships and planes to help rescue thousands of people caught between the borders of Tunisia and Libya, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini has said in Rome.

Frattini also said his country will provide medical and food assistance to people in Benghazi, a coastal city in eastern Libya captured by forces opposed to Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi.

“We have information that thousands have been injured (in the fighting) some of them seriously,” Frattini told reporters during a press conference.

The UN Refugee Organisation (UNHRC) Tuesday warned of a looming refugee crisis in North Africa, where over 140,000 people have fled the unrest in Libya and crossed into Egypt and Tunisia.

More than 6,000 people have been detained in southern Italy following the fall of Tunisia’s authoritarian government in January. Most of the migrants were reported to be Tunisian men.

Italy has launched an appeal for help from the European Union for what it fears will be an inundation of illegal migrants leaving North African shores amid political turmoil.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government says the situation in Libya threatens to unleash further waves of immigrants after it put on hold a security pact with Libya to jointly patrol the Mediterranean for boats transporting migrants.

Italy is Libya’s biggest trading partner. The two countries in 2009 announced a deal that would grant Italian businesses favourable tax and export privileges.

Amid an international outcry over Gaddafi’s violent crackdown on opponents, Italy suspended a so-called friendship agreement between the two nations that provides $5 billion over 20 years as compensation for Italy’s 1911-43 rule and to fund the building of a motorway along the Libyan coast.

Italy will launch its mission to Tunisia within the next two days by sending ships loaded with supplies to establish a refugee camp in Ras Ejder along the Tunisian coast and close to Libya, Frattini said.

The facility will be run along with the UN Refugee Organisation. So far, Italy has earmarked a tourist ferry and $5 million for the plan.

–IANS/AKI
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