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Tunisian immigrants streaming into southern Italy

By the CNN Wire Staff
A boat carrying Tunisian immigrants arrives at the Italian island of Lampedusa on Sunday.
A boat carrying Tunisian immigrants arrives at the Italian island of Lampedusa on Sunday.
  • Interior minister: "There is the risk of a humanitarian emergency"
  • More than 1,000 immigrants arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa overnight
  • Migrant reception facilities are overflowing, according to Italy's state-run news agency

(CNN) -- Southern Italy is facing a potential "humanitarian emergency" as waves of Tunisians fleeing unrest in north Africa are landing on a coastal island near Sicily, the country's official ANSA news agency reported Sunday.

About 1,000 immigrants arrived on the island of Lampedusa overnight, the Coast Guard in Sicily told CNN. The tiny Mediterranean island is about 240 miles southwest of Sicily and off the coast of Tunisia.

"There is the risk of a humanitarian emergency," Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said Friday, according to ANSA.

Largely due to Italy's policy of pushing back those attempting to flee there from north Africa and the Middle East, crossings from Africa to the island and other sites had all but ceased, ANSA reported, but tumult in Tunisia last month and more recently in Egypt have restarted them.

Migrant reception facilities are already overflowing on Lampedusa, ANSA said. Maroni has spoken on the risk of terrorists hiding among former Tunisian jail inmates seeking asylum.

On Friday, Maroni wrote to the European Union asking it for help with the migrants, ANSA reported. He asked that the issue of "the crisis in North African countries and the impact on immigration and Europe's internal security" be discussed at the next meeting of EU justice and interior ministers.

Protests in Tunisia forced then-President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee the country. The unrest sparked a revolution in Egypt, which on Friday led to longtime President Hosni Mubarak stepping down. Protests have also taken place in Algeria, Yemen, Iraq and Jordan since the Tunisian unrest.

Meanwhile, Tunisia's official news agency reported Sunday that Ahmed Wanees, the nation's foreign minister, had submitted his resignation.

CNN's Hada Messia contributed to this report.