Lampedusa (Italy): MSF claims sanitary conditions below humanitarian standards. Calls on Italian authorities to improve reception conditions for migrants

April 1, 2011

Lampedusa (Italy): MSF claims sanitary conditions below humanitarian standards. Calls on Italian authorities to improve reception conditions for migrants © Halimatou Amadou/MSF

Rome, According to the independent international medical organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), hygiene and sanitary conditions in the migrant reception centres on the island of Lampedusa are intolerable. Proper assistance needs to be provided.

At the present time in the port on the island of Lampedusa, 3,000 migrants are forced to share 16 chemical toilets. There are just two water tanks available, from which authorities offer each migrant 1.5 litres of water per day. These conditions are below humanitarian standards, which require twenty litres of water per person per day and one latrine for every twenty persons. “It’s difficult to believe that one is in Italy, a G8 country! Living conditions on the island are worse than those seen in the refugee camps in other parts of the world where MSF works,” complained Kostas Moschochoritis, Director of MSF Italy.

Since February 14, MSF has been working with local health authorities to provide medical assistance to migrants and asylum seekers as soon as they land on the island. The medical team on the island performs a triage, working out of a mobile clinic. Since the popular uprisings and violent confrontations that have shaken the Arab world, Lampedusa has seen more than 18,000 migrants arrive on the island.

The Italian government is now transferring migrants by ship from Lampedusa to identification and detention centres in Puglia, Sicily and other area in Italy. MSF is concerned with sanitary conditions on the island and in these centres, which could also be overpopulated. “The poor sanitary conditions could lead to the spread of infectious diseases. There needs to be better reception conditions and access to care in the centres where migrants are being transferred,” stated Barbara Maccagno, medical officer in charge of MSF projects in Italy.

“Most of the influx has come from Tunisia in the last several days, but we have also seen migrants from the Libyan coast. These are people who have come originally from Eritrea, Somalia, Gambia, Nigeria or Sudan. We are especially concerned about those who are arriving from Libya, because they have had to endure longer and more dangerous ocean trips,” Dr. Maccagno continued.

In the coming days, MSF will, for the second time, be distributing 3,000 hygiene kits containing blankets, soap and towels for homeless migrants in the port but without proper, concrete sanitary facilities, this will only amount to a drop in the ocean. “These reception conditions are intolerable and cannot be allowed to continue because they are an affront to the dignity of these persons,” stated Kostas Moschochoritis.

MSF operations are funded by private donors, and the organization receives no institutional funding from the Italian government. MSF was previously on the scene in Lampedusa from 2002 to 2009, with a mobile clinic managed by a team consisting of one doctor, one nurse and a cultural mediator. During that time, the MSF team was mobilized 24/7 to deal with the migrants arriving on Lampedusa. During periods in which the numbers of arrivals increased (particularly during the summer), staffing was increased. The mobile clinic was set up at the port of Lampedusa and equipped with all the medical equipment needed to provide initial medical care to migrants presenting health problems. Overall, MSF has provided medical assistance to some 5,000 migrants.

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