SUE REID warned seven years ago that unfettered immigration would change Europe trends now
At a port in Sicily, overlooked by ancient Greek monuments, nine disgruntled young men with hands tightly bound were marched by police along the quayside.
The atmosphere was tense as they were escorted in thick black plastic wrist-cuffs to a waiting bus on a hot morning last week.
One bearded captive shouted 'brutes' in Arabic at the police, spitting in the air as he and the others were bundled into the bus bound for a detention centre in Port Empedocle, before being sent packing to their homeland. 'These illegal Tunisians came on people-traffickers' boats,' a grey-haired Italian immigration official told me as we watched the bus swing away from the quay.
'They are angry they will be repatriated in a few days' time to the same Tunisian port of Mahdia [from] where they set out.'
Tunisian Migrants, bound and detained are taken from the Sicilian port of Porto Empedocles by police, to be deported back to Tunisia
Refugees arrive in Porto Empedocle in southern Sicily after being rescued from their upturned boat by the Italian navy ship 'Bettica'
I never expected to witness this scene. Seven years ago I stood in the same spot at Port Empedocle and what I saw then convinced me that immigration into the liberal-leaning, border-free European Union was out of control.
I watched 540 Syrians, Libyans and Moroccans emerge, smiling, from an Italian naval ship that had plucked them from the Mediterranean following the capsizing of a trafficker's boat. In a surreal, carnival atmosphere, the rescued and cheering men, women and children walked down the gangplank to a waiting crowd of TV crews, international charity workers, UN officials, local police and Red Cross medics, as if they were celebrities at the Cannes Film Festival.
The crowd on the quayside shouted buongiorno (good morning) and applauded them. Some of the rescued children were carrying white teddy bears — gifts from the ship's crew.
I was so amazed that I wrote in the Mail a warning of the future: 'Whatever David Cameron [then PM] and his fellow European leaders tell us, the enormous one-way flow of migrants to the West is changing Europe irretrievably and for ever.'
Since then I have filed frequent reports on the epic journeys made by migrants. I have witnessed fatal tragedies as people made their way across perilous seas, heard stories of despair and been overawed by the determination of those fleeing horror and persecution in their quest for a new life.
But I also know of the discontent and distress of people in Europe and in the UK, people who feel their own cultures, religions and communities risk being marginalised by the relentless arrival of strangers.
Last year, the EU border agency Frontex recorded 330,000 illegal entries to Europe. A third came by sea from north Africa, the highest figure since 2016.
The Galaxy ferry in the Sicilian port of Porto Empedocles just arrived from the small island of Lampedusa carrying migrants who landed there after crossing the Mediterranean by smuggler boats
Tunisia, with a collapsing economy and deeply fragile democracy, is today the main north African departure point with 21,000 waiting to flee
Tunisia, with a collapsing economy and deeply fragile democracy, is today the main north African departure point with 21,000 waiting to flee, including many from sub-Saharan Africa. Most head on traffickers' boats to the Italian island of Lampedusa, only 90 miles from the Tunisian coast. It has been, and remains, overwhelmed.
Italy has long been in the front line of illegal migration. But as I saw this week, attitudes towards the endless flows are hardening here — and across the EU. Instead of the welcome mat of 2016, there are now manacles waiting.
Rocketing illegal migration has provoked support for Right-wing political parties across the EU's 27 member states — from Poland, Finland and Sweden in the north, to the Mediterranean nations of Italy and Greece. In Belgium, the Netherlands, France and the eastern part of Germany, there has been a routing of Leftist pro-migrant parties over the same issue, too.
At least a third of EU member nations are now run, or highly influenced, by populist-style governments or factions pledging to halt the uncontrolled immigration.
Walls are going up and border checks reinstated as European people say 'look after us first'.
In a startling example, Spain's pro-migrant socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez dissolved parliament last month, announcing a snap general election. He acted after conservative parties won easily in an array of regional and local polls.
Spain has faced vast migrant sailings to its shores from north Africa (although numbers are down this year as Italy bears the brunt). Under EU rules, the Spanish coastguard has been forced to rescue migrants at sea if they send an SOS message during their journey.
'The rich of Algeria, carrying their furs and jewels, even pay for places on traffickers' private yachts and we have to guide them in,' a captain at the Andalucian port of Almeria told me a few years ago.
Migrants arrive at the Sicilian port of Porto Empedocles by ferry