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‘Like concentration camp’: Strip-spraying migrants video shocks Italy

Published time: December 18, 2013 13:53
Some of the 100 migrants rescued by a Guardia Costiera boat off the shores of Lampedusa island are driven off on October 25, 2013 (AFP Photo / Filippo Monteforte)

Some of the 100 migrants rescued by a Guardia Costiera boat off the shores of Lampedusa island are driven off on October 25, 2013 (AFP Photo / Filippo Monteforte)

​Amateur video showing men and women stripped naked in the winter cold, to be sprayed for scabies, at a migrant center on the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa has outraged Italy, with politicians saying the scene reminded them of a “concentration camp.”

The channel RAI2, which aired the video, said it was shot with a cell phone by a migrant late Monday. It shows a row of young boys and men being told with words and gestures to strip naked in the cold as they get sprayed for diseases.

One of the migrants, identified as Khalid, later complained to the channel that the treatment was similar to that of “animals.”

The shock wave from the video has reached political circles, provoking a sharp backlash.

The president of Italy’s lower house of parliament, Laura Boldrini, said that “stripping men and women naked outside in the middle of winter" was "unworthy of a civilized country."

In a similar attack, the mayor of the island, Giusi Nicoloini, said the migration center resembles a “concentration camp,” adding that Italy should be “ashamed” and that the practice should be thoroughly investigated.

Italy’s prime minister, Enrico Leta, was questioned on the practice, telling Euronews that “these are extremely grave pictures that shocked us, and most of all, me. The government intends to conduct a thorough inquiry, to verify and if necessary punish those responsible.”

Following the report, the European Commission threatened Rome with legal action for possible breaches of the EU's regulations on granting asylum.

"The images we have seen from the detention centre in Lampedusa are appalling and unacceptable," the EC’s home affairs chief, Cecilia Malmstrom said on Wednesday, adding that "We will not hesitate to launch an infringement procedure to make sure EU standards and obligations are fully respected."

The matter is going to be brought up at a summit in Brussels, running from Thursday to Friday.

The sharing of the video comes after the sinking of a boat full of migrants, which sank just off the coast of Lampedusa in October, killing 366 people. The incident was seen to be among the worst in the two decades since the start of the Europe-wide migration crisis.

In the aftermath of the sinking, EU President Jose Manuel Barroso faced ridicule on his visit to the island for his handling of the situation and the failure to do more to help refugees from Syria – especially considering that the number of those who have fled its conflict now stands at more than 2 million.

Part of the reason why dangerous situations like this happen more frequently is that the influx of refugees continues to grow, while the limitations on crossings placed by EU states stay at a constant 12,000 per year, according to an Amnesty International statement last week.

The people seen in the strip-spraying video reportedly include some survivors from the October shipwreck, including Syrians and Eritreans.

A number of organizations have likewise criticized the conditions that exist in Italy’s Lampedusa migration center, among them Save the Children and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

"All European countries must do more to guarantee that migrants – and especially the children – who undertake these dangerous voyages receive the protection and assistance that they need," said an Save the Children report, explaining also that the center now houses 391 migrants, including 36 children – unacceptable for a facility built for 250. It added that the authorities failed to observe “basic human rights” in their running of the center.

The UNHCR has likewise been critical of the Lampedusa center’s running, calling its conditions unacceptable, also citing its problems with capacity and adding that instead of the 250, there are often upwards of four or five times that number.

Meanwhile, Italy’s navy on Tuesday rescued another 110 migrants and recovered one dead body, according to the statement. They had been discovered in a rubber raft south of the island’s shore and are now being transferred to a port in Sicily.

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