Silvio Berlusconi buys a villa in Lampedusa in a bid to show residents he is serious about resolving the ongoing humanitarian crisis on the island, where thousands of Tunisian migrants continue to arrive.
LAMPEDUSA, ITALY (MARCH 30, 2011) REUTERS -The Italian Prime Minister declared his support for the people of Lampedusa this week, saying he had bought a villa on the tiny island which has become a landing post for thousands of Tunisian migrants.
A quiet tourist and fishing port, Lampedusa, about 225 km from Tunisia's coast, has been transformed into a garbage-strewn encampment where thousands of migrants live in makeshift tent encampments waiting to be moved to other holding centres in Italy.
Visiting the island on Wednesday (March 30) Silvio Berlusconi announced that he had bought a property there.
"I asked yesterday morning how I could guarantee to Lampedusa residents that all the plans I will announce will be acted out and produce concrete results. I said to myself that I need to become a Lampedusan myself. I went on the internet and found a beautiful house in front of the Cala Francese bay. It is called Due Palme and I have bought it," he told cheering crowds.
There has been speculation in the Italian media that Berlusconi might reconsider the purchase, as the house is located only 50 metres away from the island's airport.
Sicily's regional governor Raffaele Lombardo was also quoted by Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera as saying he was doubtful Berlusconi would really have bought the property because of the airport noise.
But addressing Lampedusa residents on Wednesday, Berlusconi was dismissive of newspaper commentary about him.
"Now you have a person in the government who has an absolute interest. Tomorrow you will read in the leftist newspapers about a 'conflict of interests, once again Berlusconi is looking after his personal interests'. Very good. Let's take care of our interests!" he said.
The show of support for Lampedusa residents comes at a difficult time for Berlusconi: a tax fraud trial resumed this week and one where he is accused of paying for sex with a teenager starts next week.
His government is also struggling to deal with a growing immigration crisis the opposition says it has handled badly and given Italy another black mark internationally.
Amnesty International has accused the government of "failing to meet its obligations under human rights law," while the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres has accused it of not providing enough water for the migrants.
A strong smell of unwashed bodies hangs over the port where the mainly young male migrants, immediately recognisable in their unwashed jeans and short jackets, kill time, wandering around the streets and hillsides of the island.
Berlusconi is due to go to Tunisia on Monday (April 4) in the hope of striking a deal with the new government to stop the flow that has seen more than 20,000 illegal migrants arrive from north African shores this year alone.
World News >