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Italy refugee video sparks European outrage

AFP , Thursday 19 Dec 2013
Views: 1070
Views: 1070

A video of asylum-seekers being hosed down at a migrant centre in Italy caused outrage in Europe on UN Migrants Day, with the EU executive condemning "deplorable conditions" and warning it could withhold support.

The male migrants -- some of them naked -- are shown lining up to be disinfected after being checked by nurses in what appears to be an open space at the centre in footage shown by Rai 2 state television.

The EU's Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem on Wednesday condemned "appalling conditions" at some of the migrant centres in Italy including the island of Lampedusa and said an EU investigation was already under way.

"The EU is committed to assist Italy in receiving migrants, but it has to be done in decent conditions," Malmstroem said on Twitter.

In a statement, she added: "Our assistance and support to the Italian authorities in managing migratory flows can only be continued if the country guarantees humane and dignified reception conditions to migrants."

After Lampedusa's mayor Giusi Nicolini said the images were reminiscent of "a concentration camp", Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta promised to investigate and to punish anyone held responsible.

The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR in a statement joined the chorus of outrage, saying that the overcrowding in the Lampedusa centre was "unsustainable".


But Cono Galipo, the head of the contractor that runs the Lampedusa centre on behalf of the interior ministry, rejected the accusations.

Galipo said in a radio interview that the migrants seen lining up naked had in fact stripped down because they were "impatient" as they awaited their disinfection shower and had "clearly staged the images seen".

"It should all be contextualised. We had just had three landings in which the risk of scabies was very high.

"Usually when there are a few people we do the treatment in the clinic but there were 104 people and there was no other space free," he said.

The journalist behind the report, Valerio Cataldi, said it showed the "shameful medical treatment" in Lampedusa.

He said in an article on online news site Articolo21 he was concerned for the Syrian migrant who shot the footage, saying that the man was questioned by police for two hours after the report was broadcast.

Cataldi said the man was a law graduate, which made him "passionate about causes that he believes just".

Tens of thousands of migrants land in Italy every year, paying sometimes thousands of euros (dollars) each to smugglers who ship them from the shores of Egypt, Libya or Turkey on rickety and badly overcrowded boats.

Italy complains it has to shoulder an unfair burden as one of the main points of entry for migrants into Europe, although countries in northern Europe point out that they resettle a far higher share of refugees.

Many of the migrants transit through Lampedusa, which is closer to the Tunisian coast than to the rest of Italy and has turned into a major gateway for irregular migration into the European Union.

The island's 381-bed facility is often too full and many migrants have been forced to stay in unsanitary conditions and sleep out in the open, awaiting transfer to other migrant centres in the rest of Italy.

The rocky outcrop hit the headlines in October when a boat laden with migrants -- mainly from Eritrea -- caught fire and capsized within sight of the shore as they were trying to signal to Italian coast guards.

The shipwreck claimed 366 lives in the worst Mediterranean migrant tragedy yet, prompting calls for an overhaul of European immigration and asylum policies.

The European Union has published a list of proposals aimed at avoiding a repeat of the tragedy which are to be put to an EU leaders' summit on Thursday and Friday.

They include beefing up border surveillance, boosting EU assistance to member states facing the biggest influx of migrants, improving the fight against human trafficking and opening more legal channels to reach Europe -- including resettling more refugees in the EU.

Tackling the problem is particularly tricky at a time when Europe is in economic stagnation and governments fear that appearing to ease migration could cause a backlash among their crisis-hit populations.

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