Italy: MSF calls for temporary closure and evacuation of migrants centre in Lampedusa

20 Dec 2013
Press release

The first aid and reception centre for migrants and asylum seekers on the Italian island of Lampedusa must immediately be evacuated, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said today. The centre must be closed temporarily to allow for a radical improvement of conditions so that minimum reception standards and human dignity are respected.

Recent footage from Lampedusa’s closed centre showed migrants and asylum seekers being ordered to strip naked before being hosed down in an apparent effort to treat them for skin diseases.

The footage triggered a wave of indignation among Italian and European authorities and illustrated once again the awful conditions and complete lack of respect for human dignity inside the centre.

Lack of respect

“Our teams have visited the centre regularly over the past months,” says Loris De Filippi, President of MSF Italy. “Every time, we witnessed overcrowding, with people having to sleep outside; a lack of respect of medical confidentiality; insufficient showers and toilets; inappropriate behaviour by members of the staff; and too lengthy periods of stay in a centre unadapted to it.

“We have systematically reported these issues to the authorities, but it fell on deaf ears. No action was taken.”

The Lampedusa centre is supposed to host a maximum of 240 persons, but the number of people in the centre frequently exceeds its intended capacity. The centre is designed to ensure reception and provide first aid and shelter to newly arrived migrants for 48-hours only.

In its current condition, the centre cannot fulfil this objective. The highly-secured, closed centre does not provide the minimum standards, even for the first 48 hours, let alone for the four to five months that people are often actually detained for.

Poor quality medical services

In terms of healthcare, a private company provides poor quality medical services in the centre, which should be the responsibility of the Italian Ministry of Health.

MSF strongly urges that the people in the centre be transferred to more adequate places either temporarily on the island, for example in hotels or another centre, or in other centres on the mainland.

MSF medical teams in Lampedusa are ready to provide immediate emergency medical assistance to the migrants and asylum seekers during and after their relocation. MSF is also willing to provide medical care in the centre once it is upgraded to an acceptable standard and returns to being a real transit centre, where people do not stay for longer than 48-hours.

“The Italian authorities’ only answer to the latest scandal in Lampedusa has been public outrage and the replacement of the centre’s management team,” says De Filippi.

“This is just putting a band-aid on a gaping wound, which ignores once again the inhumane reality that people face in this centre. More than Italian and international outrage, these people need concrete action and truly humane treatment.”

Find out more about MSF's work on the Italian island of Lampedusa