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Italy OKs Asylum for Kurd Refugees

January 2, 1998

ROME (AP) _ Despite a storm of complaints about Italy’s lax immigration policies, a top official said today that Kurdish refugees rescued from a freighter this week would be deported only in ``extreme″ cases.

Giannicola Sinisi, undersecretary of the Interior Ministry, said the all 386 people, mostly Kurds, found aboard a Turkish freighter off southern Italy on Thursday can apply for political asylum. As of today, 200 had done so, said Felice Colombrino, a ministry spokesman.

Those who do not file such requests will have 15 days to leave, a policy that lets them head for countries like Germany, Austria or France.

The failure to deport the refugees immediately has angered those countries, and today German Interior Minister Manfred Kanther called on Italy to step up measures to secure its borders.

It is ``not acceptable″ for Germany to pay for the failures of its EU partners, he said.

In October, Italy joined a group of European nations that eliminated border checks. But Austria has reportedly beefed up checks on its side of the Italian frontier, despite the fact that it is part of the plan to ease regulations.

The Austrian Press Agency quoted Interior Minister Karl Schloegel today as saying Italy makes it ``all too easy″ for illegal immigrants to move on to other countries.

Italy, however, has stuck to its guns, and President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro said in his New Year’s Eve speech that the nation’s doors were ``wide open″ to people ``living with persecution.″

Most immigrants come from Turkey, where the government’s 13-year war with Kurdish guerrillas has ravaged the economy, emptied scores of villages and killed nearly 37,000 people.

Turkey has insisted the would-be immigrants are seeking prosperity, not freedom from persecution. Last week, after a boatload of 825 immigrants ran aground in Italy, it asked that they be sent back. Colombrino said 260 of those refugees had applied for asylum.

Italy has asked Turkey to crack down on the smugglers responsible for transporting the people.

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