Refugees break out of bad conditioned Italian camp
Local residents on the island held a protest against Italian government plans to build a new camp there to identify and expel illegal immigrants.
More than 1,000 asylum-seekers and would-be immigrants broke out of an Italian camp on the island of Lampedusa on Saturday and marched to the town hall a day after the U.N. criticised conditions at the camp.
Police said the group forced open the gates of the camp and marched peacefully to the nearby town centre.
Nearly 2,000 people are crammed into the camp, where Italian authorities hold people picked up trying to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa in small boats.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) criticized Italy on Friday about the camp which it says is only built to accommodate 850 people.
Originally a temporary stop for people waiting for transfer to other centres in Italy, the camp's role has changed this year with tough new immigration rules meaning all those rescued are kept in Lampedusa until being granted asylum or expelled.
Hundreds of people are now sleeping outdoors under plastic sheeting, with overcrowding creating what the UNHCR called a "difficult humanitarian situation".
Local residents on the island held a protest on Friday against Italian government plans to build a new camp there to identify and expel illegal immigrants.
"Residents of the island are not racist and have nothing against the immigrants, but they don't want a facility built on the island that would become a sort of prison," said Lampedusa Mayor Bernardino De Rubeis.
About three quarters of migrants reaching Italy by sea last year applied for asylum, of whom half got refugee status or protection on other humanitarian grounds, the UNHCR said.
Reuters Last Mod: 24 Ocak 2009, 16:00