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Almost all Lampedusa migrants airlifted out, says MP

17 shipwreck survivors-State's witnesses remain

24 December, 16:15
Almost all Lampedusa migrants airlifted out, says MP (see related story on migrants' hunger strike in Rome) (ANSA) - Palermo, December 24 - Italian center-left MP Khalid Chaouki on Tuesday said 169 of 219 refugees held at a controversial migrant holding center on the island of Lampedusa have been flown to Rome and to the Sicilian city of Palermo.

The facility sparked international condemnation from the EU and human rights advocates after a video showing naked migrants being sprayed with disinfectant was broadcast last week.

Another 17 survivors of two fatal shipwrecks, one on October 3 and one on October 11, in which over 300 perished, are still being held on the island pending a green light from the interior ministry, because they are State's witnesses in human trafficking cases.

The Democratic Party (PD) member of the Italian Lower House on Sunday barricaded himself along with the refugees inside the so-called First Hosting Center (CPA) to protest conditions there.

He was joined on Tuesday by Lampedusa Mayor Giusi Nicolini, an outspoken opponent of Italy's current anti-immigration laws.

''We're staying until the interior ministry gives the OK for these 17 refugees to leave,'' Chaouki said. Integration Minister Cecile Kyenge voiced her ''satisfaction'' at the migrants' transfer out of the facility.

''I am committed to increasing government monitoring and to bringing such facilities up to EU standards. Our new prison decree also aims to streamline migrant identification so that they won't have to spend time in detention centers in future'', the minister said.

Every year, tens of thousands of migrants make first contact with Europe on the Italian island between Tunisia and Sicily after the hazardous crossing over the Mediterranean from North Africa.

Chaouki on Sunday issued the government an ultimatum, stating that he would not leave until the overcrowded facility lives up to its obligations as a transitory center.

''I am not moving until the center returns to the role it was assigned by international treaties as a temporary facility, where stays cannot exceed 96 hours'', Chaouki said.

His demonstration began the same day news broke of 10 immigrants who sewed their mouths shut with needle and thread to protest their continued confinement in a secondary detention center in a western suburb of Rome.

Eight Italian Red Cross operators and volunteers are set to reach Lampedusa on Tuesday night ''as requested by the interior ministry'', Italian Red Cross President Francesco Rocca said.

Their job will be to verify human rights standards at the government facility the island and to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants as they disembark.

''We are increasing our presence in favor of migrants on Lampedusa. This year, people are arriving in winter as well and we are ready to do our part to welcome them'', Rocca concluded.