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Italy pledges to improve conditions at migrant detention centers

Feb. 6, 2014 at 12:02 AM   |   Comments

ROME, Feb. 6 (UPI) -- An Italian official promised this week to improve conditions in the country's much-criticized immigrant detention camps amid a rising tide of migrant landings.

Deputy Interior Minister Filippo Bubbico, speaking in Rome Tuesday at a hearing of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, said the government will "review amount of the time" illegal immigrants are held in the so-called identification and expulsion centers, RAI television news reported.

"Italy is committed at this juncture to consider the possibility of revising the rules on residence times within the centers for identification and expulsion and to raise the quality standards of their conditions," Bubbico told the panel.

The detention centers have been blasted by human rights groups and opposition politicians as little better than concentration camps.

The issue of conditions in the centers sparked outrage in December when secretly-shot video was made public showing a naked man being sprayed with disinfectant by an aid worker in full view of other migrants on the Italian island of Lampedusa.

The incident brought a denunciation from European Union Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malstrom, who indicated the EU had begun an investigation of "the deplorable conditions in many Italian detention centers, including Lampedusa."

She promised to launch an infringement procedure "to make sure EU standards and obligations are fully respected" if problems were found and asserted assistance and support to Italy in managing the quickly rising waves of migrants could only be maintained if Rome can guarantee "a humane and dignified reception" for them.

Bubbico said Tuesday Italy is indeed taking seriously its responsibility to deal humanely with what he called a "relentless and massive influx of migrants from North Africa and the Near Middle East" to its shores.

"The migration issues and, in particular, the relationship between Europe and the countries of origin and transit of these migratory flows will be points that characterize the Italian presidency of the European Union in the second half of this year," he asserted.

The deputy minister contended the video shot at Lampedusa was "an isolated case" and that aid workers were attempting to eliminate the spread of scabies, but admitted spraying naked migrants in public was "entirely inappropriate from the operational point of view and unacceptable in human terms."

To keep such incidents from recurring, Bubbico said the interior ministry had issued "immediate instructions to the prefectures" develop a special plan of inspections "to verify that in the performance of the services provided in the centers the dignity and human rights of migrants are respected."

Meanwhile, Bubbico revealed new figures showing illegal immigration to Italy had jumped 325 percent from 2012 to 2013, with 42,925 migrants and asylum seekers landing by sea.

The trend is also continuing into the new year, with 2,156 foreigners reaching the Italian coast in January, a tenfold increase from 217 in January 2013.

The vast majority of the boats reaching Italy were launched from Libya, and the most frequent the country of origin of the migrants was Syria with 11,307 -- an exponential increase over the previous year, when just 582 Syrians were counted.

That was followed by Eritrea with 9,834 migrants -- more than four times higher than 2012 -- Somalia with 9,263 migrants, and Egypt with 2,618, RAI reported.

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