Tunisian migrants flee to Sicilian island

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Nearly 1,000 people escaping the turmoil in Tunisia landed on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa yesterday, in what the Italian government has proclaimed is a humanitarian emergency.

Struggling local authorities had called for more support to help handle the increasing stream of migrants into the island that is closer to Africa than mainland Italy, after thousands of arrivals in the past week.

The situation has alarmed Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government, which has given local authorities emergency powers to control migrant flows and block incoming boats. On Sunday, the Foreign Minister, Franco Frattini, repeated calls to the European Union for help after one boat sank off the coast of Tunisia on with at least one migrant reported dead.

"We have to mobilise countries around the Mediterranean which have boats, aircraft, helicopters," Mr Frattini said in an interview with the Corriere Della Sera newspaper.

Authorities have directed migrants to a Lampedusa football field while hundreds slept under open skies in its port, wrapped in space blankets. Local hotels and churches have also thrown open their facilities.

The Italian government has called for an urgent European Union meeting to work out an efficient response to the emergency. It also wants patrol boats stationed near the Tunisian coast to intercept migrants.