Berlusconi: Lampedusa for Lampedusans

The Italian Prime Minister is visiting the tiny Mediterranean island that has become ground-zero for Europe’s new refugee crisis: "The ‘Free Lampedusa’ plan began at midnight… In 48-60 hours Lampedusa will be inhabited only by the people of Lampedusa," Berlusconi told cheering residents. The premier’s visit came as another rickety boat carrying around 100 people ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images
Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images
Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

The Italian Prime Minister is visiting the tiny Mediterranean island that has become ground-zero for Europe's new refugee crisis:

"The 'Free Lampedusa' plan began at midnight... In 48-60 hours Lampedusa will be inhabited only by the people of Lampedusa," Berlusconi told cheering residents.

The premier's visit came as another rickety boat carrying around 100 people was towed into the port and aid organisations warned that living conditions for immigrants were untenable.

The Italian Prime Minister is visiting the tiny Mediterranean island that has become ground-zero for Europe’s new refugee crisis:

"The ‘Free Lampedusa’ plan began at midnight… In 48-60 hours Lampedusa will be inhabited only by the people of Lampedusa," Berlusconi told cheering residents.

The premier’s visit came as another rickety boat carrying around 100 people was towed into the port and aid organisations warned that living conditions for immigrants were untenable.

More than 6,000 people, mainly from Tunisia, are being held in cramped and unsanitary conditions on the Island. Boats are arriving today to begin evacuating them to reception centers on Sicily and mainland Italy. Many may be deported back to Tunisia.

The crisis has also opened up a rift between Italy and the E.U.,  particularly France:

Mr Frattini accused France of a lack of solidarity by sending back Tunisian migrants who had tried to cross the Italian border with France at Ventimiglia.

Hundreds of Tunisians who landed at Lampedusa have moved on to reception centres on the mainland and have then travelled to north-west Italy in an attempt to enter France.

The foreign minister said it was "well known that 80% of those arriving in Lampedusa speak French and maybe have relatives in French cities".

Berlusconi, who never misses an opportunity to pander, also got cheers from the crowd by announcing that he had bought a villa on the island and suggesting that that Lampedusa be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize:

"I will become Lampedusan," he said. The Ansa news agency reported that he later went to visit the villa in question.

Given what Berlusconi is currently dealing with back on the mainland, an remote island closer to Africa than Italy might make sense as a getaway destination.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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