JANUARY 1 2009 10:37h
Illegal immigration has been high on the political agenda since Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi came to power vowing a crackdown.
A ministry spokesman said 36,900 migrants landed on the Italian coast since the start of the year, compared with 20,500 in 2007.
Most of them -- 31,000 in total -- made landfall on the island of Lampedusa, which lies between Sicily and North Africa.
Illegal immigration, a divisive and emotional issue in Italy, has been high on the political agenda since Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi came to power vowing a crackdown.
It was back in the news this week when about 2,000 migrants arrived on Lampedusa within a few days, swamping a local holding centre and prompting the government to declare an emergency and start deportations.
In an interview published by the newspaper Libero on Wednesday, Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said arrivals by boat would stop once the planned patrols with Libya -- used as a transit by Africans heading for Italy -- start in January.
"In 2008, the arrivals from Libya towards Lampedusa will cease. It's not a promise, it's a commitment," said Maroni, who belongs to the anti-immigration Northern League party.
"By the end of January, the patrols will start and we will have resolved the problem ... the boats will not arrive any more in Italian waters, but will be stopped in Libyan waters."