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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Outrage in Italy Over ‘Degrading’ Treatment of Migrants Caught on Video

A news report from Italy’s TG2 on images shot covertly by a Syrian migrant showing asylum seekers at a detention center on the island of Lampedusa being hosed down while naked.

Senior Italian officials promised on Tuesday to stop the “degrading treatment” of migrants held in a detention center on the island of Lampedusa, one day after video obtained by the state broadcaster showed asylum seekers being forced to stand naked outdoors as guards hosed them down.

The speaker of Italy’s lower house of Parliament, Laura Boldrini, posted a copy of the footage broadcast Monday night by Italy’s TG2 on her personal website, with the comment, “The way immigrants are being treated at the Lampedusa holding center as documented by TG2 last night is unworthy of a civilized country.”

The Syrian man who shot the footage, identified only as Khalid, told TG2 that detainees were being treated like animals. Having been in the facility for 65 days, he said, it was routine for men and women to undergo the same humiliating treatment every three days to cure scabies, which they caught at the detention center. According to the man’s account, he has been in Lampedusa since Oct. 11, the day that hundreds of Syrians drowned trying to reach the island.

The center, on an island 100 miles off the coast of Sicily, which is closer to Tunisia than to the Italian mainland, is run by a private company on behalf of the state, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.

After the footage was broadcast, Prime Minister Enrico Letta said “those images of Lampedusa shocked me,” and Interior Minister Angelino Alfano told reporters that prosecutors had demanded a report from the private contractor that runs the center within 24 hours. “We will find out who is responsible and we will make them pay,” he said.

Ms. Boldrini, a former spokeswoman for the United Nations’ refugee agency in Italy, wrote that Italians could not be indifferent to the footage revealing poor conditions at the Lampedusa detention center, particularly after the authorities failed to prevent hundreds of migrants from drowning near the island in October.

Last month, an investigation by the Italian magazine L’Espresso concluded that hundreds of Syrian refugees, fleeing the civil war in their country, had drowned on Oct. 11 off the coast of Lampedusa because three distress calls to Italy “were totally ignored.”

The distress calls were made on a satellite phone by Dr. Mohanad Jammo, a Syrian refugee from Aleppo, who recounted the ordeal in English in a devastating video interview posted online by L’Espresso. According to Dr. Jammo, the inaction by the Italian authorities delayed their rescue for hours, by which time hundreds, including his two young sons, had drowned.