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TUNISIA: More than 6,000 Tunisians have fled to Italian island

February 23, 2011 | 11:30 am

Refugees More than a month after massive protests led to the ouster of Tunisia's longtime president, waves of Tunisians are fleeing the country's political limbo by climbing into rickety boats and sailing across the Mediterranean to Europe.

More than 6,000 illegal immigrants have recently arrived on the small Italian island of Lampedusa, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency, an unintended consequence of the people's revolution that ousted autocrat Zine el Abidine ben Ali and inspired the uprisings in Egypt and beyond.

One Tunisian refugee, who declined to provide his name, said “people were attacked every day. Every day you heard that this man or that woman died.”

A woman, who identified herself only as Monia, said she fled southern Tunisia. “I had a good job and car for 10 years," she said. "But now I couldn't leave the house anymore. Girls were abducted; women were raped in their house. But in Tunisia it is impossible to talk about this. It's impossible for a woman to say that she has been raped. She bears it and keeps quiet.”

The United Nations Refugee Agency said it had established a temporary shelter at a maritime museum on the Italian island and was providing information on asylum. Some will apply, but most will continue their journeys to other parts of Europe, without papers, the agency said.

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Italian foreign minister says up to 300,000 Libyans may flee to Italy

-- Garrett Therolf

Photo: A boat full of immigrants prepares to dock in the port of the Italian island of Lampedusa early February 21, 2011. Credit: Roberto Salomone / AFP/Getty Images

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