Italy plans Mediterranean mission for refugees
By Dario Thuburn, AFPROME -- Italy on Monday planned a large-scale deployment of air and sea forces in the Mediterranean to manage the growing influx of asylum seekers and pressure the European Union to take action.
October 15, 2013, 12:08 am TWN
The plan is to triple the assets on Italy's southern maritime border ahead of an EU summit next week in which Italy wants the issue of increased refugee arrivals to be on the agenda.
“It is a deployment that will allow us to ask the European Union to do the same,” Defense Minister Mario Mauro said ahead of a cabinet meeting later on Monday with Prime Minister Enrico Letta.
Ministers said the mission would be humanitarian and for security, following complaints by migrant rights advocate who said it was just the latest example of a “Fortress Europe” mentality.
The cabinet is planning to approve the final details of the operation to begin on Tuesday, with media reports saying Predator drones could also be used as well as a new radar to track the boats.
Italy already has three navy ships patrolling in the region, as well as helicopters, ships and planes from the coast guard and border patrol.
The biggest Italian navy ship in the area is currently the Espero, a frigate with a crew of 225 men and women, a helicopter and a clinic.
Two border guard Piaggio P-180 planes also scan the sea with hi-tech sensors, although officers say they are frequently overwhelmed by arrivals.
The U.N. refugee agency estimates 32,000 asylum seekers have landed in Italy and Malta this year — many of them from Eritrea, Somalia and Syria.
The numbers have increased drastically since the Arab Spring revolts in North Africa in 2011 and there is a particularly serious problem in Libya which is unable to control its maritime frontier.