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UN urges Europe to help Italy with migrant 'tragedy'

Last week, Italy threatened to close its doors to people arriving on boats not flying Italian flags
Rescue ship run by NGOs Medecins Sans Frontieres and SOS Mediterranee arrives in Italian port of Salerno with 1004 migrants, including 240 children, rescued on recent day from Mediterranean Sea (AFP)

The UN refugee agency is putting pressure on Europe to help Italy defuse the "unfolding tragedy" of tens of thousands migrants flooding its shores. 

Italy needs more international support to cope with a growing number of migrants who have braved a perilous Mediterranean crossing to reach Europe this year, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said on Saturday.

"What is happening in front of our eyes in Italy is an unfolding tragedy," Grandi said in a statement.

"In the course of last weekend, 12,600 migrants and refugees arrived on its shores, and an estimated 2,030 have lost their lives in the Mediterranean since the beginning of the year."

Italy, he said, was "playing its part" in taking in those rescued and offering protection to those in need. "These efforts must be continued and strengthened. But this cannot be an Italian problem alone."

The interior ministers of France, Germany and Italy will meet in Paris on Sunday to help Italy deal with masses of migrants arriving on its shores, the Voice of America reported.

Officials say French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb, German counterpart Thomas de Maiziere and Italy’s Marco Minniti will meet European Union Commissioner for Refugees Dimitris Avramopoulos in Paris on Sunday to discuss the situation, VOA said.

Last week, Italy threatened to close its doors to people arriving on boats that were not flying Italian flags. 

Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni has accused fellow EU nations of “looking the other way” and not doing enough to assist Italy with the surge in migrants, VOA said.

Europe has to get fully involved through an "urgent distribution system" of migrants and should widen legal channels so that migrants can be admitted, Grandi said.

He also called for greater international efforts to tackle the causes of migration, to protect people and to fight trafficking.

Since the beginning of the year, 83,650 people have reached Italy by sea, an increase of almost 20 percent compared with the same period last year, UN figures show.

Italy migrants increase 20 percent

Most of Italy's 200,000 places for accommodating migrants have been filled.

Many of the migrants need health care and support, with a large percentage of them non-accompanied children and victims of sexual violence, the UN says. 

The number of migrant children arriving on their own rose two-fold between 2015 and 2016, reaching 25,846 at the end of last year. 

Europe has been grappling with the worst migration crisis since the end of World War II with an influx of people fleeing wars in Syria and Iraq and others from Africa seeking an escape from poverty or political persecution.

And there continue to be flare-ups of violence sparked by the tensions among the migrants and refugees gathered in Western Europe.

In the northern French port city of Calais, riot police stepped in over the past two days to break up fighting among African migrants armed with sticks and rocks.

Fighting between Eritreans against Ethiopians on Saturday left 16 people injured, with police making 10 arrests. 

That followed brawls on Friday night when security forces used tear gas to disperse the feuding sides, Calais Mayor Philippe Mignonet said.

"In the past 12 hours, in terms of violence, there's been an escalation," he told AFP.

Calais has for years been a magnet for migrants and refugees hoping to cross the Channel to Britain. 

Last October, France broke up the notorious tent camp known as "the Jungle", transferring thousands of migrants to centres around the country.

But hundreds remain near the port, mostly Africans and Afghans, who clash sporadically with police as they make nightly attempts to stow away onto trucks heading across the Channel to Britain.

Last month, a Polish driver was killed when his truck burst into flames after hitting a roadblock set up by migrants hoping to slow the traffic to make it easier to jump onto vehicles.

French President Emmanuel Macron's new government has ruled out building a reception centre for asylum-seekers in Calais, saying it would only encourage more people to come, and has promised to reinforce security.

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