Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Residents of the southern Italian island of Lampedusa are up in arms because of a newly-revamped camp for illegal immigrants

Daily Mail:

Newly-elected deputy mayor Angela Maraventan is leading the campaign against the camp which critics say is as good as a 'luxury hotel - while facilities for local residents in the rest of the town suffer.

Two years ago the island, a major transit point for thousands of boat people seeking a better life in Europe, drew scathing criticism for the squalor and abuse of its overcrowded camp.

That has now been revamped and will soon be replaced by a more spacious, air-conditioned site as Italy pledges a more humane approach in its fight against illegal immigration.

But the plan has not gone down well with Lampedusa's residents, who echo complaints heard elsewhere in Europe that their political leaders are doing more for illegal immigrants than for their own citizens.

This month they sent a clear message to Romano Prodi's centre-left government by voting en masse for a right-wing coalition - including the Northern League party that long dismissed Italy's impoverished south as beyond hope - to run the island.

"Lampedusa doesn't have a proper hospital, and its schools are literally falling to pieces. And now they want to open a luxury hotel for immigrants? No way," said Maraventano.

Lampedusa - Italy's southernmost point just 113 km (70 miles) off Africa's coast - is emblematic of the dilemmas faced by European governments wrestling with illegal immigration.

Tougher laws under Italy's previous centre-right administration earned it international condemnation and did not stop 74,000 immigrants reaching the island in the past five years - more than 12 times the population of around 6,000.

The softer stance taken by Prodi, which includes a proposal to give "clandestini" money to return to their homeland, is in turn triggering a popular backlash in a country where 43 percent see immigrants as a threat to public security, according to a recent poll.

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