Refugee facilities in Italy inadequate: Council of Europe

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The arrival of north African refugees in Italy is better controlled but facilities in the key port of Lampedusa remain inadequate, the Council of Europe said Wednesday.

"While these arrivals continue to constitute a huge challenge for this tiny island, it is clear that the crisis of the early days, when migrants were left to wander the streets without shelter, has been overcome.

"The situation today is much more under control," Europe's top rights body said in a statement.

However the Strasbourg-based council added that "reception facilities on Lampedusa were inadequate for longer stays, especially for vulnerable groups such as unaccompanied children."

Therefore transfers to better-equipped centres elsewhere in Italy should be carried out within days, it said.

In particular, Tunisian asylum seekers who have spent weeks on Lampedusa island "should be dealt with as soon as possible," said the report, written by a five-member delegation from the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

"Too many have already died at sea trying to reach Europe," the delegation concluded. "Europe must try to protect asylum seekers and refugees in a way that they are not forced to risk their lives first."

More than 25,000 migrants and refugees from north Africa -- mostly from Libya and Tunisia -- have landed in Italy since the start of the year, fleeing unrest at home.

PACE plans a series of debates on the large-scale arrivals on Europe's southern shores at its summer plenary session in Strasbourg next month, including on the need for sharing of responsibility for them.

"Europe must share, not shirk, responsibility for the large number of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants arriving by boat to the island of Lampedusa," the report said.

A fresh wave of arrivals is expected in Lampedusa as the weather conditions improve.

© 2011 AFP

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