UN declares conditions at Italian refugee center 'unbearable'

23rd January 2009, Comments 0 comments

Close to 400 would-be immigrants have arrived on the small Italian island in the past few days.

Rome -- The UN Refugee Agency described conditions at a center holding illegal migrants on Italy's southernmost island of Lampedusa as "unbearable" in a statement earlier this week.

"The situation worries us a lot: the center currently houses 1,840 illegal immigrants even though its capacity is 850 people," said Laura Boldrini of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). "Some immigrants are forced to sleep outside in the cold and rain with just a plastic sheet for cover," she said.

Close to 400 would-be immigrants have arrived on the small Italian island since Monday.

Boldrini said the government's immigration policy was partly to blame for conditions at the center.

"It's not just down to the influx of immigrants in recent days but also the government's new policy," she said.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni announced at the end of December that immigrants would be sent directly back to their country of origin instead of being transferred to other centers on the Italian mainland.

As a result, Boldrini said, immigrants who had arrived at Christmas were still at the center while they waited for the Italian authorities to check their identities and asylum claims.

Lampedusa has become the main arrival point in Europe for migrants coming from Africa.

Italy's interior ministry estimates that 31,700 immigrants landed in Lampedusa in 2008, an increase of 75 percent from 2007.


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