Berlusconi to remove migrants from island

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The Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, promised yesterday to clear thousands of Tunisian migrants from Lampedusa by the weekend after an outcry over a humanitarian crisis on the tiny southern island.

Mr Berlusconi, who visited Lampedusa yesterday, said the work of moving about 6,000 migrants living in makeshift tent encampments to other centres in Italy had already begun on six ships with a combined capacity for 10,000 passengers.

A quiet tourist and fishing port, Lampedusa, about 140 miles from Tunisia's coast, has been transformed into a rubbish-strewn encampment where hundreds of migrants from Tunisia have disembarked from overloaded fishing boats virtually every day. "From this moment on, within 48-60 hours, Lampedusa will be inhabited solely by Lampedusans," Mr Berlusconi told island residents, who have seen 19,000 Tunisians arrive since popular unrest toppled their president in January.

A much smaller number of migrants, mainly Eritreans, have also arrived from Libya, to Tunisia's east.