- January 24th, 2009
- Posted by Daniel Challis
Hundreds of asylum seekers broke out from detention and marched into the local town centre of the Italian island of Lempedusa (25.1.09), to protest over their treatment there.
The United Nations refugee agency had warned two days before it was concerned about the number of migrants living in the detention centre on the southern Italian island.
The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said there were nearly 2,000 migrants crammed into the centre which was only set up to accommodate 850.
With such limited space, many of the would-be immigrants, arriving from Africa in overcrowded boats, have had to sleep outside in the Winter cold with nothing more than plastic sheets to cover them.
(Those who protested this time went back to camp voluntarily after receiving assurances their plaint was being heard).
The UN said a new immigration policy in Italy was the reason for the overcrowding; the government there had changed the laws so each arrival would need to have their cases looked at individually before any decision by officials on where they should go next.
It said the overcrowding was a situation of â€œhumanitarian concern.â€
â€œWe urge Italian authorities to take all necessary steps to address the difficult humanitarian situation now unfolding in Lampedusa,â€ said the Director UNHCRâ€™s Europe Bureau, Pirkko Kourula.
The Lampedusa detention centre was set-up to temporarily to accommodate people rescued at sea while preparations were made for their transfer to other special centres to assess their particular situation.
Asylum seekers would then have their application examined by the territorial determination commission.
This isnâ€™t the first time the detention centre has had a problem with an influx of refugees.
Last year there was a sudden jump in the number of asylum seekers arriving on the island from Africa by sea (See EUAustralia, â€˜Migration Concerns For Europeâ€™, 30.08.08).
75% of migrants who arrived in Italy by sea in 2008 applied for asylum and around 50% of those who applied were either given refugee status or otherwise protected on humanitarian grounds.
Many of the intending migrants come to Lampedusa fleeing war or poverty in countries such as Somalia, risking danger at sea on the Mediterranean, to reach Europe.
People smugglers often charge them around â‚¬710 (AU$1392, dcerates.com, 24.01.09) for the perilous journey in substandard vessels.
Italian authorities say over 31000 immigrants landed on Lampedusa in 2008.
UNHCR The UN Refugee Agency, â€˜UNHCR’s concern on conditions for boat people in Lampedusa reception centreâ€™ (23.01.09), http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/media?page=home&id=4979af8a5, (24.01.09).