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Letta says 'disgrace' Lampedusa survivors probed

Govt may change law criminalising undocumented migrants

09 October, 14:37
Letta says 'disgrace' Lampedusa survivors probed (ANSA) - Rome, October 9 - Premier Enrico Letta said Wednesday it was a "disgrace" that the 155 survivors of last week's migrant-boat disaster off Lampedusa were being probed on the basis of an Italian law that makes being an undocumented migrant a criminal offence.

Letta added that his grand-coalition government would consider changing this law, which is controversial even though many other developed nations have similar measures in place. "As premier I felt ashamed at such zeal," Letta replied during a visit to Lampedusa with European Commission President Josè Manuel Barroso when asked about the fact prosecutors had put the survivors under investigation. "This is a huge human drama," added the premier, a member of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD).

The prosecutors stressed that the opening of a probe was a formal procedure that did not mean charges would be pressed.

Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said he was not convinced about the need to change a law that experts says is rarely applied.

"I think we are doing the most important thing by working with the other European Union member States, the European Commission and the island of Lampedusa," said Alfano, a member of the centre-right bloc that drafted the current migration legislation. "If legislative interventions were needed to avoid sea tragedies, they should be done immediately. I fear that this is not the solution to the problem". On Wednesday Letta apologised for the conditions at Lampedusa's migrant centre, which is massively overcrowded with many people forced to sleep outside as boats with new arrivals continue to land on the island.

The 850-person migrant centre has been reduced to a 250-person capacity since a 2011 fire destroyed part of the facility.

"I apologise for the inadequacies of our country in relation to a tragedy like this," Letta told a news conference, promising the government would intervene.