AFRICANGLOBE – Italy’s governing regime has promised an investigation into the treatment of migrants after a video was taken of naked African refugees being hosed down and disinfected in cold weather at a holding center on the southern island of Lampedusa.
The video, which aired yesterday on state-run RAI television, showed a dozen African migrants who lined up in a warehouse, then stripped to be hosed down with a solution to treat scabies. One of the migrants told RAI that men and women had been disinfected this way a few days ago.
The video was particularly troubling since the government had promised to improve conditions at the overcrowded Lampedusa center after more than 360 would-be refugees drowned offshore in October, a tragedy that cast worldwide attention on the plight of African migrants trying to reach Europe and the conditions they find when they reach land.
Politicians and refugee advocates denounced the incident, which the Lampedusa Mayor Giusi Nicolini said was reminiscent of a concentration camp.
Laura Boldrini, president of the lower Chamber of Deputies and a former spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency, called the treatment “degrading and unworthy of a civilized country.”
Premier Enrico Letta promised an investigation and said those responsible would be punished.
The video aired on the eve of the World Day of Migrants, and human rights groups were already geared up to denounce Italy for the conditions at its overcrowded holding pens.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said the conditions in Lampedusa, in particular, were unacceptable and demanded the immediate transfer of would-be refugees to other centres on the Italian mainland where their asylum claims can be processed.
The Lampedusa center is designed to hold some 250 people but often four or five times that many people are housed there.
UNHCR regional chief Laurens Jolles said:
The constant overcrowding is unsustainable and creates a situation in which treatment is provided that is below the minimum standards, despite the best efforts of humanitarian workers.
UNHCR denounced the continued detention on Lampedusa of Eritreans and Ethiopians, including some survivors of the October 3 tragedy. A judge has designated them as witnesses to the capsizing, which only 155 people survived.
In the days after the tragedy, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso had traveled to the island and announced that Italy would get 30 million euros more to help welcome and settle refugees to avoid the overcrowding that often occurs at Lampedusa, which is the destination of choice for smuggling operations from Libya and Tunisia.
The government also beefed up its maritime patrols, dedicating more ships, helicopters and even drones to locate and intercept migrant boats in trouble.