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EU threatens Italy over migrant treatment

Hosing-down video 'appalling and unacceptable'

18 December, 14:25
EU threatens Italy over migrant treatment (By Elisa Cecchi) (ANSA) - Brussels, December 18 - The European Commission and Italy have opened probes into the treatment of migrants at a reception centre on the Italian island of Lampedusa after a video showed migrants there stripping outdoors before being hosed down with disinfectants.

Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom on Wednesday said the Commission has opened an inquiry and threatened to stop EU support for Italy in dealing with the thousands of migrants who arrive every year on the island between Tunisia and Sicily.

Malmstrom said that the images in the video, shot with a cell phone by a Syrian refugee and aired by Italian State broadcaster Rai on Monday night, were "appalling and unacceptable".

"The EU has already started an inquiry," she added. "We will not hesitate to open an infraction procedure to ensure that European standards are being respected. "We will contact the Italian authorities to have more information about these events and ask them to shed full light on what happened.

"Our assistance and support to the Italian authorities in managing migrant flows can only continue if the country guarantees humane, dignified conditions in the reception of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees".

The State attorney's office in Agrigento, Sicily, on Wednesday opened a probe into suspected mistreatment of migrants at the centre.

The prosecutor's office will obtain a copy of the film, partially shown on the Tg2 newscast, revealing migrants queuing in a crowded courtyard and then having to strip naked in mixed company in the cold winter weather while a worker sprayed them with medication.

The man who filmed the scene told State broadcaster Rai the procedure is repeated every few days on both men and women against scabies, a skin condition, at the permanently overcrowded centre which houses migrants from Africa and the Middle East who survive the perilous crossing to Italy by boat.

He said migrants residing at the centre are treated "like animals". Meanwhile the Italian government has vowed to investigate the incident and that those behind the degrading treatment will be held responsible.

Justice Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri on Wednesday called for caution, saying a "probe needs to take place before we can judge what happened" while acknowledging the images were "upsetting".

On Tuesday Italian Premier Enrico Letta said he was "shocked" by the footage and that the cabinet would carry out an "in-depth probe and sanction wrongdoing, if proven".

Italian Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said "we will find out who is responsible and we will make them pay".

Prosecutors on the case have requested a detailed report from the private company the government hired to run the detention center, the deputy premier also said Tuesday.

Cono Galipò, the chief executive of the Lampedusa Accoglienza cooperative that runs the reception centre, said Wednesday that the migrants decided on their own to strip down.

"The treatment we were doing, performed under the terms of a protocol, was taking an hour and a half and, at a certain point, some of the immigrants ran out of patience and took off their clothes," Galipò told local radio Città Futura.

Lampedusa, which is closer to North Africa than mainland Italy, is often the first point of European arrival for migrants, who make the crossing in all types of vessel, from rubber rafts to fishing trawlers, which are almost always overcrowded.

The flow of migrants attempting to reach the EU has moreover been fuelled by unrest in Egypt and civil war in Syria.

Some of the migrants currently residing at Lampedusa's centre - which was made to accommodate a maximum of 300 people but has often housed as many as 800, especially during the summer - survived one of the worst boat disasters ever in Europe in October.

An estimated 366 children, women and men, mostly Eritrean nationals, died when their boat sank off Lampedusa.

The disaster was just one thread in a pattern of desperate and often fatal attempts by migrants fleeing war and famine in the hope of finding a better life in Europe. It prompted the EU to pledge an additional 30 million euros to help Italy cope with the tens of thousands of refugees arriving from North Africa every year. On Tuesday, the Italian Navy rescued 110 migrants from Africa aboard an overcrowded dinghy off Lampedusa. A passenger died during the crossing.

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