Migrant misery continues as Italy backlash gathers force

Rome (AFP) - Italy's financial and customs police said Wednesday they had rescued 98 starving migrants who had been drifting in the Mediterranean for two days without food or water.

The asylum seekers picked up overnight by the Monte Cimone patrol boat off Sicily had been at sea for a total of 12 days in a 50-metre boat.

It was unclear whether the migrants had crewed the boat themselves before it lost power and began taking on water, or whether they had been abandoned by people smugglers.

Among those on board were 35 women including three who were pregnant.

A group of around 30 Syrians meanwhile made it to the coast of the southern region of Puglia, apparently under their own steam on board a clapped-out boat described as unsuitable for getting out of a harbour far less crossing the Mediterranean.

The latest dramatic chapters in what is becoming a humanitarian saga were played out against a backdrop of signs that a backlash against Italy's acceptance of thousands of migrants washing up on its shores is gathering force, particularly in the north of the country.

Authorities in the mountainous region of Val d'Aosta on the border with France said Wednesday they would not accept a batch of 79 people allocated to them by the Interior Ministry as part of efforts to spread the burden of processing new arrivals.

Regional president Augusto Rollandin said it was "absolutely impossible" for the region to find adequate lodging for the new arrivals as its one, 62-bed reception centre was already full.

The region's stance left the centre-left government in Rome facing a tricky dilemma over whether to force the migrants onto the region at the risk of inflaming passions over the issue, or back down with the risk that other regions will follow suit.

- Growing impatience -

Italy's refugee-reception facilities are stretched to breaking point with 80,000 people currently being housed in them and local authorities are growing increasingly impatient with the demands placed upon them.

Earlier this year, authorities in Rome were forced to move a group of several dozen migrants out of a reception centre for their own safety following months of attacks by residents in the rundown Tor Sapienza district of the capital.

In the large northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto, politicians of the influential and virulently anti-immigrant Northern League have threatened to refuse to house any of the asylum seekers but authorities have so far continued to go along with the government's requests.

Italy's coastguard said it had rescued a total of 650 migrants on Tuesday and a total of over 1,700 were landed at various ports on Wednesday as a consequence of what was one of the busiest weekends on record for rescues in the waters off Libya.

Maltese-registered container ship "Kreta" berthed at La Spezia on the Italian Riviera with 400 migrants who had been given emergency food and water supplies by the Sardinian port of Olbia en route in what local authorities portrayed as a display of human solidarity.

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