- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 25, 2002

ROME The Italian coast guard caught a boat carrying 202 Iraqi Kurds arriving in Southern Italy yesterday the latest in a heavy week of illegal landings that prompted prosecutors to accuse Italian fishermen of helping migrants get ashore.
Several coast guard vessels accompanied the 60-foot white wooden boat into the Santa Maria di Leuca port, located near Lecce, on the heel of boot-shaped Italy.
On board were 202 Iraqi Kurds, including one woman and her newborn child, who were both taken to a hospital for a routine check, a port official said.
The others were taken to a holding center and were expected to be sent home unless any qualified for political asylum, the official said.
He said the passengers were in relatively good health and had been traveling for about three days. Italian news reports said the boat originated from Izmir, Turkey.
The landing was the latest in an unusually busy spell of illegal arrivals, most of them landing in Sicily and its nearby islands. Last weekend, more than 450 migrants in several boatloads pulled into the tiny island of Lampedusa.
A Sicilian prosecutor put five members of a fishing crew under investigation after they said they responded last Sunday to a distress call from a boat carrying 151 immigrants off Ragusa, in southeast Sicily, Italian news reports said.
The prosecutor, Domenico Platania, was investigating whether crew of the Cicho had aided and abetted illegal immigration because they entered international waters, picked up the migrants and brought them back to Sicily rather than to nearby Malta.
The fishermen say Maltese port authorities didn't respond to a request to let them dock, the Italian news agency ANSA said.
The case has sparked concern that prosecuting the crew would dissuade other boaters from responding to vessels in distress.
Thousands of would-be immigrants reach the hard-to-guard Italian coast every year, many of them North Africans hoping to travel farther north to countries such as Germany with proportionately larger immigrant populations.
For the first seven months of this year, 9,000 immigrants arrived in Sicily, compared with 2,000 in the same period last year, the AGI news agency reported yesterday, citing figures from the Interior Ministry.
The conservative government has recently passed tougher legislation to crack down on illegal immigration.

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