ROME – A video footage shot by a Syrian immigrant showing naked asylum seekers being hosed down with disinfectant in freezing conditions on the island of Lampedusa has sparked a chorus of outrage from the European Union, the United Nations refugees agency and the Italian government.
"The EU is committed to assist Italy in receiving migrants, but it has to be done in decent conditions," the EU's Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said on Twitter, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported on Wednesday, December 18.
“We will not hesitate to launch an infringement procedure to make sure EU standards and obligations are fully respected.”
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On the UN's International Migrants Day, the secretly-filmed footage showed aired by Italian Rai 2 state television showed male migrants, some of them naked, queuing up to be disinfected after being checked by nurses.
The shocking footage was said by the Italian media, as well as the mayor of Lampedusa, to be reminiscent of the treatment of prisoners in Nazi concentration camps.
Giusy Nicolini, the mayor of the island, which lies closer to North Africa than to Italy, said the images of naked immigrants reminded her of a “lager” or a concentration camp.
Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta promised to investigate and to punish anyone held responsible.
“The government will conduct an in-depth inquiry and will take to task whoever is responsible,” Letta was quoted by The Telegraph.
Angelino Alfano, the deputy prime minister, said that the officials responsible for the degrading treatment of the migrants “will pay”.
A migrant told TG2, a state-run TV channel, that women were also subjected to the same treatment.
But Cono Galipo, the head of the contractor that runs the Lampedusa centre on behalf of the interior ministry, rejected the accusations.
Galipo said in a radio interview that the migrants seen lining up naked had in fact stripped down because they were "impatient" as they awaited their disinfection shower and had "clearly staged the images seen".
"It should all be contextualized. We had just had three landings in which the risk of scabies was very high.
"Usually when there are a few people we do the treatment in the clinic but there were 104 people and there was no other space free," he said.
The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR in a statement joined the chorus of outrage, which coincides with the UN's International Migrants Day.
"The constant overcrowding that occurs is unsustainable and leads to a situation where, despite the efforts of humanitarian workers, the assistance offered is far below the minimum standards," spokesman Laurens Jolles said.
Amnesty International said in a statement that “no migrant should be asked, much less ordered, to strip naked in public”.
Laura Boldrini, the speaker of the lower Chamber of Deputies and a former spokeswoman for the UNHCR refugee agency who worked extensively on Lampedusa, called the treatment "degrading and unworthy of a civilised country."
Tens of thousands of migrants land in Italy every year, paying sometimes thousands of euros (dollars) each to smugglers who ship them from the shores of Egypt, Libya or Turkey on rickety and badly overcrowded boats.
Many of the migrants transit through Lampedusa, a tiny island that is closer to the Tunisian coast than to the rest of Italy and has turned into a major gateway for irregular migration into the European Union.
The latest figures show 14,000 migrants have transited through Lampedusa so far this year, including refugees from Syria, North Africa and sub-Saharan African countries.
The video comes only four days after a report by Amnesty International said that European leaders should "hang their heads with shame" over refusal to provide safe haven for Syrian refugees.
In a briefing, released last Friday, entitled; "An international failure: The Syrian refugee crisis", Amnesty stated that European Union (EU) member states have only offered around 12,000 places to Syrian refugees as part of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee's goal of securing 30,000 places.
The report highlighted a shameful failure of the EU in resettling Syrian refugees who have desperately left their homes to escape the running war.
The revolt against Assad began as peaceful protests calling for democracy and greater rights, but gradually turned to an armed struggle, pitting the Sunni majority against the president and his minority Alawite sect.
At least 125,835 since the start of the Syrian conflict, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights announced last week.
The UK based network, said that the toll included 44,381 civilians, 6,627 children and 4,454 women.
The fighting has forced more than two million Syrians to flee their home to neighboring countries in addition to the displacement of two millions others inside the country.
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