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Italy to speed up procedures as migrant flows continue

Latest wave rescued off coast, global conflicts rage on

25 March, 16:33
Italy to speed up procedures as migrant flows continue (By Christopher Livesay) (ANSA) - Rome, March 25 - As the latest wave of migrants arrived on Italian shores Tuesday, Interior Minister Angelino Alfano called for a reduction in the time they spend in detention centres. "Legislation is needed to reduce the time spent in centres for identification and expulsion (CIE)" by speeding up procedures, said Alfano. The government also intends to boost the system for asylum seekers so responses to applications "arrive sooner", the minister, who is also the leader of the New Centre Right (NCD) party, said. "We must protect the Mediterranean border, which is a European border, and therefore avoid open (migrant) landings," said Alfano. "On the other hand we must identify the migrants, grant asylum rights to those who are fleeing war and expel those who enter illegally". Introduced under the 1998 Turco-Napolitano immigration law, Italy's centres for identification and expulsion - initially known as temporary reception centres (CPT) - have come under repeated criticism for alleged inhumanity and abuses of migrants' rights.

Fifteen North African migrants made international headlines when they sewed their mouths shut with needle and thread at the Ponte Galeria CIE outside Rome before Christmas.

They have since been deported.

"Everyone made promises, but in the end, everyone forgot about them," said the Prisoner Rights Guarantor of Lazio, the region around Rome, when their deportations were ordered last month.

"They are forced into a terrible game of shoots and ladders. They emigrated from their lands passing through Libya and arriving first at Lampedusa," the rights supervisory body wrote, referring to the Italian island off Sicily, that is closer to North Africa than mainland Europe.

"Now they go home without ever committing a crime.

Expelled because they are considered undesirable on Italian territory".

Protests were mounted in December after authorities emptied a controversial holding facility on the island of Lampedusa, south of Sicily, which was at the centre of an international furore when a video was broadcast showing naked migrants being sprayed with disinfectants outside in the cold of winter.

Meanwhile migrants continue to come in great numbers. Last week, Italian Navy ships rescued approximately 1,000 migrants in small boats off Italy's southern coast in less than 24 hours. That rescue operation came after more than 2,100 migrants were rescued days earlier by the Italian Navy and Coast Guard vessels, as they fled North African across the Channel of Sicily. Tens of thousands of migrants arrive in Italy from North Africa every year and many others die attempting the crossing in often unstable vessels. Boat arrivals in Italy more than tripled last year from the previous year, fuelled by the conflict in Syria and strife in the Horn of Africa.

Despite Italian sympathies to their plight, the issue of undocumented immigration has been made more sensitive amid the global economic crisis, as many locals worry that migrants will compete for Italian jobs, as unemployment nears 13%, and is over 40% among the country's youth. Matteo Salvini, the head of Italy's regionalist Northern League, on Tuesday called on allies across Europe to join in fighting "mass immigration" in the run-up to May's European Parliament elections.

His anti-immigration party was bolstered over the weekend by victories in local French elections for Marine Le Pen's far-right National Front, a Northern League ally. The League presented a motion of no-confidence in Alfano on Tuesday, accusing him of overseeing the "emptying of prisons...dismantling of security policy".

Last week, Northern League activists demonstrated against the arrival of a group of North African refugees, due to be sheltered in a local hotel in the town of San Genesio in the Pavia area south of Milan.

The Northern League and anti-EU parties like it are expected to do well at EP elections on May 25.