Italy sees 300,000 fleeing Libya turmoil - minister

MILAN Wed Feb 23, 2011 1:04pm IST

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MILAN (Reuters) - Up to 300,000 migrants from Libya could flee to Italy because of turmoil in the North African nation, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said in an interview published on Wednesday.

About a third of Libya's population, or 2.5 million people, are immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa who could flee if Muammar Gaddafi's government falls, he told Corriere della Sera newspaper.

"We know what to expect when the Libyan national system falls -- an abnormal wave of 200,000 to 300,000 immigrants. Or rather, 10 times the Albanian (refugee) phenomenon that we saw in the '90s," Frattini said.

"These are estimates, and on the low side ... It is a Biblical exodus."

Interior ministers from Italy, Cyprus, France, Greece, Malta and Spain will meet on Wednesday in Rome to set a common policy on the upheaval in North Africa and make a recommendation to the European Commission.

Tens of thousands of illegal immigrants try to make the journey from the northern coasts of Tunisia and Libya to islands off Italy every year.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson)

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