Liotard: ‘Italian reception of refugees is brutal'

28 June 2005

Liotard: ‘Italian reception of refugees is brutal'

SP Euro-MP Kartika Liotard is astonished and shocked by the degrading situation which she encountered in the refugee camp on the Italian island of Lampedusa: “There are no human rights here. This has nothing whatsoever to do with any sort of humane reception.”

“With the temperature at 42 degrees Celsius (107 Fahrenheit), the refugees have to sit in the full sun and receive no more than half a litre of drinking water per day,” said Ms Liotard, still sounding in shock as she spoke on the telephone from Lampedusa, where she is participating in an official delegation of the European Parliament's United Left Group (GUE/NGL). It is extremely rare for international observers to be allowed to visit the island or the refugee camp, a fact confirmed by a member of the Italians section of Doctors Without Borders who accompanied the delegation who said that aid organisations were also largely excluded.

According to Ms Liotard, the camp was “swept clean” a few days before the delegation’s arrival – but she wasn’t referring to any improvement in hygiene. “Four days ago there were around a thousand refugees here – now there’s only a few hundred. Where are these people now? How is their request for asylum being dealt with? No-one from the authorities here can tell us. Questions are routinely referred to the Ministry or simply go bluntly unanswered.

“It is truly brutal. No-one should be treated in this way. When we walked to the camp I saw people grabbing the barbed wire fence, which was several metres high, in an attempt to make contact with us. It looked like pictures of a prison camp instead of a place where refugees are received. It’s unbelievable that this is happening in Europe. The people have barely enough to drink and have to wash in salt water. This causes painful skin irritations, but nobody dares to ask for a doctor. They sit around on concrete floors and there’s certainly too few beds. When we arrived we were told that it was forbidden to take photographs. Obviously they don't want these pictures to get out, and believe me, it’s not for nothing that they fear this.”

From conversations with refugees and aid organisations it turns out that problems go far beyond what the delegation was able to see. Refugees are forced to sign declarations written in Italian, a language which plainly few if any can read. Use of the telephone is extremely limited. They are given a telephone card worth only 3 euros, and they can’t be called back. Yet they have, officially, the right to make contact with their legal advisers and families.

The refugees come mostly from North Africa, but also from Iraq. Those remaining in the camp said that it had been above all black Africans who had been suddenly taken away the day before the delegation's arrival. Where these people are now is far from clear.

The GUE/NGL had recently proposed a resolution calling for independent observers to be allowed to visit the camp on Lampedusa unannounced. Said Liotard: “After what I have now seen I understand why the Italian government is not willing to allow this and also why it is more than ever necessary that it should happen. When we get back to Brussels we will also certainly be speaking to the European Commission about this and demanding that Italy bring to an end this inhuman imprisonment of refugees.”

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