Italy declares state of emergency over immigration

July 26th, 2008 - 6:31 pm ICT by IANS  

Rome, July 26 (DPA) The Italian government announced Saturday a nationwide state of emergency in reaction to a phenomenal increase in illegal immigration to the country’s south. The Silvio Berlusconi government’s move is to provide local authorities with greater means to deal with the rising tide of illegals arriving by boat.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni plans to build new intake centres throughout the country, the daily La Repubblica reported.

According to the interior ministry, nearly 11,000 people illegally migrated to Italy in the first half of 2008, twice as many that came in the same period in 2007.

The Italian government called a state of emergency with a wave of refugees in 2002 and it was renewed annually - even under the centre-left government of Romano Prodi.

As the intake centres in February 2008 seemed sufficient, the Prodi government limited the emergency measures to the three southern regions of Calabria, Sicily and Puglia.

The Berlusconi government at the behest of the Interior Ministry has now widened the powers to the entire country.

Warning of the introduction of a “police state,” the country’s opposition attacked the measures sharply, calling them abhorrent.

“Italy does not need inhuman and extraordinary measures,” said parliamentarian Rocco Buttiglione, the Turin-based newspaper La Stampa reported Saturday.

In response, Maroni criticised what he claimed was the opposition intention to make the state of emergency seem like an entirely new development, and called the opposition position “the worst Italian politics.”

The interior minister is to face parliament Tuesday.

Berlusconi, who was elected prime minister in April, had declared the fight against illegal immigration a priority.

A first step was the passage this week of a package of new security laws brought forward by the conservative government.

The number of illegal immigrants in Italy is estimated at around 650,000. Tens of thousands of refugees attempt the dangerous journey in less-than-seaworthy boats from North Africa into southern Europe each year.

Overnight another 73 would-be immigrants arrived in two boats at the Italian island of Lampedusa.

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