Home News Immigrants revolt at holding centre on Italian island

Immigrants revolt at holding centre on Italian island

Published on 19/02/2009

Rome – Illegal immigrants tried to break out of a holding centre on the Italian island of Lampedusa on Wednesday, sparking a fire and clashes with security forces that left over 60 people injured, officials said.

"There was a revolt by immigrants,” police official Girolamo Fazio told Sky TG24 television. “There are currently 860 in the centre. Some of them sought to escape by breaking through a gate, but security forces pushed them back. A fire broke out in one of the buildings housing the illegal immigrants, largely destroying it."

A preliminary report found some 40 immigrants were injured in the incidents, said Laura Boldrini, a spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Italy.

Six of the immigrants were hospitalised, according to the ANSA news agency, which also said 27 security officers were injured.

The fire was brought under control and order restored, police said.

About 20 immigrants have been arrested over the fire, which they allegedly started to protest against the announced repatriation of 107 Tunisian illegal migrants, ANSA said.

The islands off southern Italy, especially Lampedusa, have seen a flood of illegal immigrants mainly from northern Africa reach their shores in a bid to enter Europe.

In January, the Italian government began a system to speed up the repatriation of the illegal arrivals that has raised tensions in the holding centre.

On January 24, some 700 immigrants forced down the gates at the centre and marched in protest through the streets of Lampedusa for several hours.

"These new measures have shattered the calm which existed at the holding centre, which had become a model for the responsible management of the influx of immigrants,” said the UNHCR spokeswoman. “The work by HCR and other organisations has gone up in smoke."

Some 31,700 immigrants landed on Lampedusa in 2008, a 75 percent increase from the previous year, according to official figures.