• Thousands have died in their attempt to cross the Mediterranean and desert to reach Europe this year (Photo: noborder network)

Italy asylum conditions spark EU threat of legal action

19.12.13 @ 09:28

  1. By Nikolaj Nielsen
  2. Nikolaj email
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BRUSSELS - Poor detention conditions for asylum seekers in Italy sparked threats of legal action by the European Commission on Wednesday (18 December).

A covert video circulated earlier in the week shows Italian authorities hosing down naked asylum seekers outside in the cold at a centre in Lampedusa.

“The images we have seen from the detention centre in Lampedusa are appalling and unacceptable,” said EU commissioner for home affairs Cecilia Malmstrom.

Malmstrom said the commission would not hesitate to take Italy to court if condition standards do not meet EU norms. She noted other detention centres in Italy are also on the commission’s radar for possible abuse.

The images were first broadcast on Italian television channel RAI on Monday.

The footage, taken on a Syrian refugee's phone, shows staff telling around dozen men to strip naked.

The men are then hosed down with powerful jets of water, ostensibly to protect the migrants against scabies, a skin disease.

EU ministers and Italian authorities had earlier called for greater action to protect the welfare and safety of migrants when some 350 drowned off the Lamepadusa coast in early October.

Many, including Syrian refugees, disembark in overcrowded boats from the North African coastline and risk their lives to get Europe.

Thousands of migrants have perished in the attempt this year alone, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

The issue is up for discussion at the two-day EU summit in Brussels.

Preliminary draft conclusions note that long-term decisions and “strategic guidelines for further legislative” planning on asylum and migration will not be taken until June next year.

Instead, EU leaders are set to repeat their commitments to prevent another Lampedusa tragedy from happening and will discuss commission proposals on how to best reduce the risks.

The commission plans include better resettlement procedures for Syrian refugees and boosting search and rescue operations out at a sea in order to reduce deaths by drowning.

Some member states, including Denmark, Luxembourg, Greece and Spain, say the extra rescue ships may act as a pull factor, reports the Guardian.

One priority, according to the draft conclusions, is to set up and improve relations with ‘third countries’ like Egypt, Libya, Algeria and Lebanon to help reduce the flow.

“Information campaigns, regional protection programmes and mobility partnerships are important components of this comprehensive approach,” notes the draft.

But conditions for EU-bound refugees in some of the third countries have drawn criticism too.

Amnesty International, in a report out in October, said authorities in Egypt have taken a severe stance towards refugees from Syria.

It says conditions in the country are another incentive for the asylum seekers to risk the dangerous journey to EU.

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