Italian police, migrants clash after centre fire

AP , Wednesday 21 Sep 2011

The Italian island of Lampedusa is sight to clashes between migrants and police after the migrants' holding center is set on fire in protest to overcrowding

Migrants clashed with police Wednesday on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa a day after setting their overcrowded holding centre on fire to protest Italy's policy of forced repatriations.

Television footage showed riot police wielding clubs and beating the migrants as they jumped from a balcony near the island's commercial port. News reports said several people were injured.

Lampedusa's mayor Bernardino De Rubeis denounced the government for abandoning the island to cope with the chaos alone, calling the migrants "delinquents" and insisting the island wouldn't accept another one.

He demanded Italian President Giorgio Napolitano come to Lampedusa "to show some solidarity with people who have been violated repeatedly" by the arrival of so many desperate migrants.

Closer to Africa than the Italian mainland, Lampedusa was overwhelmed this past spring by thousands of Tunisians fleeing unrest during the social upheaval at home. Tensions flared occasionally, particularly when the holding centre became overcrowded.

The centre is designed to hold about 850 people; there are some 1,200-1,300 currently being held.

The UN refugee agency warned last week that the situation at the centre was getting tense, with prolonged detentions of both Tunisians and people fleeing Libya without any moves to determine whether they might qualify for asylum.

It said migrants were harming themselves, staging protests and that several large groups had left on their own.

The agency urged the government to take measures to transfer the migrants from Lampedusa to more permanent centres, noting that it is merely a temporary, first-stop shelter.

Some 26,000 Tunisians and 28,000 people of other nationalities coming from Libya have arrived in Lampedusa since the beginning of the Arab revolts. Italy has been sending the bulk of the Tunisians home if they don't qualify for political asylum.

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