ROME — The United Nations warned yesterday that Italy is facing a humanitarian and sanitation crisis on the tiny island of Lampedusa because of the arrival of some 15,000 Tunisian migrants, amid fears more will flee there after coalition air strikes on Libya.
Lampedusa is housing some 4,800 Tunisians, almost doubling the island’s population of 5,000 and putting a severe strain on its immigrant holding center which has a capacity of just 850.
Italy had been transferring migrants off the island to be processed at holding centers elsewhere. But those centers are now full, leading to a backlog in Lampedusa, the primary point of arrival for North Africans because of its proximity.
The UN refugee agency said in a statement that some 3,000 of the migrants have been forced to sleep outdoors.
Interior Minister Roberto Maroni of Italy said measures would be taken to stem the flow and ease the burden on Lampedusa, including a visit to Tunis tomorrow to press for a resumption of the immigration treaty agreements and border controls.
Italy has been sending back the majority of the 14,918 Tunisians and Egyptians who have arrived following the popular revolts, saying they do not qualify for asylum or refugee status as there are no wars or humanitarian crises in their countries.