EU gives Italy help to deal with migrants

Feb. 21, 2011 at 10:19 AM
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BRUSSELS, Feb. 21 (UPI) -- The European Union has deployed a group of people to Italy to assist it in dealing with an influx of refugees fleeing northern Africa, officials said.

The group of about 30 screening experts, several boats and an airplane from nine EU-member nations and Switzerland were deployed to Italy Sunday, EUobserver reported.

The mission, called "Joint Operation Hermes 2011," was established to help Italian authorities deal with an influx of migrants.

Italian authorities have declared a state of emergency on the island of Lampedusa. More than 6,000 people, mostly from Tunisia, have fled to the island in the past two weeks.

EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said the operation is a "clear signal of European solidarity."

The commission will provide for the "early detection and prevention of possible criminal activities at the EU external borders," said EU's Warsaw-based border agency Frontex.

The Hermes operation will also assist Italian officials in establishing return operations for migrants with no valid asylum claims, Euobserver said.

Europol, the EU's police agency, said it would be "actively" involved in Hermes 2011.

The Italian news agency ANSA said about 1,300 migrants are now on Lampedusa and its 800-capacity holding center has exceeded capacity.

ANSA also said Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini warned of "repercussions" from unrest in Libya.

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