ROME, Sept 12, 2012 (AFP) -
ROME, Sept 12, 2012 (AFP) –
Italy has seen a drastic reduction in the number of immigrants washing up on its shores, in part thanks to a deal with North African countries to prevent boat departures, the government said Wednesday.
Just over 8,000 would-be migrants have arrived in Italy since the start of 2012, compared to some 60,000 people last year when the Arab Spring uprising saw a vast increase in refugees and immigrants fleeing the region for the West.
“Our coastline’s particular exposure to illegal migration obliges the government to keep its attention focused on finding effective methods to counter the phenomenon,” said Italy’s Interior Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri.
“We have consolidated relationships with the coastal countries of North Africa, in particular with Tunisia and Libya… which has contributed to the reduction in the number of foreigners disembarking” in Italy, she said.
Italy is working in particular to “restore cooperative measures with Libya’s new government,” she said. During a visit to Tripoli in April, Cancellieri had said Rome was ready to help Libya in the fight against illegal immigration.
Rome was working to ensure the countries involved “combine the maximum efficiency in controlling borders with respect for human rights,” she added.
In February, the European Court of Human Rights sanctioned Italy for sending migrants intercepted at sea back to Libya, saying it had exposed them to the risk of ill-treatment, including torture.
Each year, thousands of illegal migrants, mostly from Africa, attempt the crossing of the Mediterranean in often overcrowded and unseaworthy vessels in a bid to reach the European Union.
A boat carrying over 100 Tunisian migrants sank off the coast of the southern island of Lampedusa on Friday. Rescue services only managed to pull 56 people to safety and the others were lost at sea.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, at least 280 people have lost their lives already this year.