27 July 2005
More than 150 illegal immigrants arrived Wednesday on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa. The group included Africans and Palestinians in search of a better life. The latest group arrived on the island only to find the reception center for immigrants already full.
Italy's reception center for immigrants in Lampedusa is facing a new emergency. The center has been built to hold 190 people, but once again those numbers have been more than tripled. The center is now dealing with more than 700.
The arrivals of desperate people in search of a better life do not seem to be easing up. During the past week there have been boatloads of illegal immigrants arriving on the southern Italian island.
The coast guard sighted a wooden boat with 168 illegal immigrants about 30 kilometers from the coast.
Two coast guard officers boarded the boat with bottles of water. The immigrants were told to sit down for fear the the boat would capsize. The officers drove the boat as a coast guard patrol escorted it to Lampedusa.
The illegal immigrants were helped to disembark and told to sit down in rows of five on the dock. This group was made up entirely of men. They were mostly Africans, from Togo, Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Liberia, but there were also some Palestinians.
They said they had paid between $1,000 and 1,500 for the four-day trip from Tunisia. They had no idea where they had arrived. But all of them, despite their clear state of exhaustion, were happy to have arrived somewhere.
Their ages varied. Most were 20 to 30 years old, but one was just 14. A tall athletic looking African spoke in French. He said he fled Togo because of fighting that broke out following the presidential elections.
He said when the problems began in Togo he fled with members of his family to Benin because others were getting killed. Then he told his mother he needed to journey on to look for a better life because the situation was too harsh for them.
At the port, a physician from the non-governmental organization Doctors without Borders assisted them as another member of the group handed out water and biscuits to the immigrants.
Dr. Claudia Lodesani said they appear to be in quite good health, but are facing the usual problems linked to their journey; dehydration due to the heat, headaches, body pains because they have been in uncomfortable positions on the boat. They are also anxious and ask to be visited because they need to hear that they are okay.
As hundreds of people continue to arrive on the island, thousands of tourists are soaking up the sun and swimming in the crystal blue waters of the nearby beaches. Most of them are completely unaware of what is going on.
No one sees the immigrants here. They arrive at the port and are immediately taken away to the reception center near the island's airport for identification. Then they are shipped out on planes or ships to other parts of Italy and eventually sent back home unless they are able to obtain political asylum.