Europe

Boats from Libya join migrant influx in southern Italy

North African migrants wait at the port in Lampedusa, Italy (27 March 2011)
Image caption Local people say there are concerned about health conditions in the migrants' camps

Boatloads of migrants fleeing fighting in Libya are beginning to arrive in southern Italy, say officials.

The region is already struggling to cope with a huge influx of migrants arriving from Tunisia.

Since January, at least 15,000 migrants have arrived, many of them landing on the tiny island of Lampedusa which is struggling to cope.

Thousands of people are living in basic camps on the island, leading to health concerns and rising local tensions.

"Until now the only migrants to arrive in Lampedusa were Tunisians," said Laura Boldrini a spokeswoman for the UN's refugee agency.

"This is the first boat coming from Libya with people fleeing the military escalation, the vendettas and the retaliation attacks," she said.

Overnight on Saturday, a boat carrying some 300 migrants was escorted by the Italian coastguard to Linosa, an even smaller island some 50 km (35 miles) north of Lampedusa.

The passengers were mostly Somalis, Eritreans and Ethiopians and included a woman who had just given birth - she and the baby were flown to Lampedusa for medical care.

Several other boats from Libya, each carrying hundreds more migrants, are expected to reach Italy within hours.

Officials on Lampedusa, which is less than 160km from the Tunisian coast, have moved thousands of migrants to reception centres on the mainland, but some 5,000 remain.

The island's mayor has said he is desperate for help to relieve pressure on the island's very limited resources. Local people have said they are afraid of an outbreak of disease in the camps.

The Italian government has appealed to the international community for help.

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