ROME—Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) will end its medical activities in a reception center for migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in Pozzallo, Sicily, and in other reception centers in Italy's Ragusa Province, due to unacceptable conditions including overcrowding and a lack of protection for vulnerable people, the organization said today.
The minimum standards are no longer met for effective collaboration with authorities, MSF said, reiterating its call for a concrete and long-term response to the medical and humanitarian needs of vulnerable migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.
"Despite our requests, the overcrowding, the lack of legal information, the lack of protection and the all-round precarious and undignified conditions in which people are received in Sicily continue," said Stefano di Carlo, MSF head of mission in Italy. "Under current circumstances, which we fear will continue, our capacity to offer an effective response to the medical and psychological needs of vulnerable people—including pregnant women, minors, and victims of torture—in Pozzallo and in secondary reception centers across Ragusa Province is extremely limited."
MSF has repeatedly highlighted the shortcomings of Italy's reception system for migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, during months of negotiations with the authorities and in a report presented to an Italian parliamentary commission last month.
However, local or national authorities have so far shown no concrete sign of improvement or a political willingness to improve conditions, raising concerns that an inadequate model of reception may become the norm in Italy.
"Less and less attention is given to the protection of vulnerable people who arrive after long journeys at sea," said Dr. Federica Zamatto, MSF medical coordinator for migration programs. "During the landing and in the first reception stage in Pozzallo, the health and psychosocial wellbeing of new arrivals must be made the priority. As the Pozzallo center is about to become one of Europe's 'hotspot' reception centers, we are extremely worried that this setup, which we find totally inadequate, might become the model in Italy."
During the past year, over 150,000 people have arrived in Italy by sea, and 15,000 of them have landed at the port of Pozzallo. The MSF team there, made up of medical doctors, nurses, psychologists, and cultural mediators, has been supporting the Ragusa Provincial Health Agency with medical screening and a 24-hour medical service, carrying out more than 3,000 consultations since February.
In secondary reception centers in Ragusa Province, MSF has provided more than 800 consultations for people in need of psychological support, particularly for those suffering from traumatic events.
While MSF is leaving Pozzallo, the organization will continue its activities in support of refugees and migrants elsewhere in Sicily and mainland Italy, through projects in Trapani, Catania, Rome, and Gorizia.
In May 2015, MSF made the unprecedented decision to begin search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea. As of today, the three boats operated by MSF have assisted over 23,000 people. In addition, a new team—made up of a psychologist and cultural mediators—has been providing psychological first aid in ports of arrival. The team has responded to 14 events in eight Italian ports, assisting 2,500 survivors of traumatic events during their sea journey.