|UN slams Italy over migrant centre|
|Overcrowding on Lampedusa as immigrants await repatriation|
| (ANSA) - Rome, January 21 - The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR on Wednesday slammed Italy for allowing ''unsustainable'' overcrowding at a migrant centre on the southern island of Lampedusa.|
After another boatload of illegal immigrants arrived on the island in the early hours of the morning, the number of people crammed into the 850-bed centre rose to 1,850, most of whom are forced to sleep outside.
''The overcrowding results above all in the standards of assistance for immigrants being lowered,'' said UNHCR regional spokesperson Laura Boldrini.
''But there is a risk that the situation could deteriorate further, putting at risk the safety of the migrants and asylum seekers, humanitarian workers, doctors and people in charge at the centre''.
Boldrini called for the overcrowding problem to be resolved as soon as possible, especially in view of rising protests from Lampedusa residents.
''Their concerns are understandable, but migrants and asylum seekers cannot be made the scapegoats in this situation,'' she said.
Under a new measure introduced by Interior Minister Roberto Maroni last month, all new arrivals must remain on the island before being identified and repatriated. In the past, immigrants have been transferred to other centres on mainland Italy, but under the measure only immigrants recognised as asylum seekers can be moved.
A number of Egyptian immigrants have so far been repatriated thanks to an accord with Cairo facilitating such transfers, but Italy lacks similar deals with other countries.
Immigrants from Tunisia, Nigeria, Somalia and Eritrea are currently stuck at the centre.
Lampedusa Mayor Bernardino De Rubeis on Wednesday appealed to Premier Silvio Berlusconi to resolve the situation and also called on Pope Benedict XVI to pray for ''the illumination of Maroni's mind''.
''I think Maroni is confused. He can't repatriate immigrants when their provenance isn't clear, and he can't repatriate people when accords do not exist. He risks repatriating people who are fleeing from war to other countries,'' he said.
De Rubeis also stressed that the islanders were against Maroni's plans to build an 'identification centre' on Lampedusa to facilitate the repatriation process.
''We want to be welcoming towards these desperate people but we will not accept prisons nor expulsion centres,'' he said.
The Lampedusa centre's chief, Cono Galipo', said Tuesday that he was ''seriously worried'' about the situation.
''Until now we've been able to cope with the emergency by inventing temporary solutions like the use of tents, but if there are any more landings we won't know where to put them,'' Galipo' said.
The head of the interior ministry's civil liberty department, Mario Morcone, arrived on Lampedusa to review the emergency on Wednesday.
BARROT TO VISIT LAMPEDUSA.
European Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot announced on Wednesday that he will visit the centre in the coming months.
Last week Maroni appealed to European Union interior ministers to introduce EU accords with immigrants' countries of origin to speed up the repatriation process.
Maroni has also promised to iron out areas of contention in a deal between Italy and Libya that will give the go-ahead to joint patrols of the Libyan coastline to prevent boats setting out by the end of January.
According to United Nations Refugee Agency figures, some 36,000 people landed on Italian coasts last year - a 75% increase compared to 2007 figures.
The statistics reveal that Italy took more than half of the 67,000 immigrants who arrived by sea in Europe last year.
The majority of Italy's illegal immigrants - around 31,000 - arrived on the island of Lampedusa, which is closer to the north African coast than the Italian mainland.
UNHCR said around 75% of the arrivals ask for asylum, and 50% are recognised as refugees