MARCH 29 2011 01:29h
Italy moving African refugees off island
Five commercial passenger ships, along with the military vessel San Marco, were used last week to move some of the refugees off the increasingly crowded island to Taranto and Augusta.
Palermo prefect Giuseppe Caruso said six more ships with a capacity to hold a total of 10,000 people are scheduled to remove the remaining immigrants to tent camps and barracks throughout Italy, the Italian news agency ANSA reported Monday.
Lampedusa lies 70 miles from Tunisia.
Boatloads of immigrants from Tunisia, Eritrea, Libya and Somalia, totaling almost 7,000 people or about 1 1/2 times the indigenous population, have arrived on Lampedusa in recent days, ANSA said.
"Until now the only migrants to arrive in Lampedusa were Tunisians," the BBC quoted Laura Boldrini, a spokeswoman for the U.N.'s refugee agency, as saying. "This is the first boat coming from Libya with people fleeing the military escalation, the vendettas and the retaliation attacks."
A group of fishermen towed four boats to block the port allegedly to prevent speedboats from passing products to aid refugee-laden vessels, ANSA said.
"We want our freedom back. That's all we ask. We are defending our dignity. We are tired," one protester said.
MILAN, Italy, March 28 (UPI) -- Italian officials say they will move more African refugees off the island of Lampedusa where they now outnumber the increasingly hostile resident population.