December 20, 2013

ROME/NEW YORK—Following footage showing migrants and asylum seekers ordered to strip naked and then be hosed down at a first aid and reception center on the island of Lampedusa, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières called today for the immediate closure of the facility until conditions can be improved to meet minimum standards of living and basic human dignity.

The video—which shows naked people being hosed down in an apparent effort to treat them for skin diseases--has triggered a wave of indignation among Italian and European authorities and illustrated once again the awful conditions and complete lack of respect for people in the center, said MSF.

“Our teams have visited the center 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 behavior by members of the staff; and lengthy periods of stay in a center not designed for it. We have systematically reported these issues to the authorities, but it has fallen on deaf ears. No action has been taken.”

The Lampedusa center is designed to ensure reception and provide first aid and shelter to newly arrived migrants for their first 48 hours in Italy. It is supposed to host a maximum of 240 people at a time. In its current condition, the center cannot fulfil this objective, said MSF.The highly-secured, closed center does not provide minimum living standards in those first 48 hours, let alone during the four to five months most people actually spend at the facility. In terms of health care, a private company provides poor quality medical services in the center, which should be the responsibility of the Italian Ministry of Health, said MSF.

MSF strongly urges that the people in the center be transferred to more adequate places either temporarily on the island, for example in hotels or another center, or in other centers 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 center once it is upgraded to an acceptable standard and returns to being a real transit center, 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 center’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 center. More than Italian and international outrage, these people need concrete action and truly humane treatment.”