Thousands of people, many of whom left North Africa following recent unrest, are stranded on the Italian island of Lampedusa in appalling conditions, an Amnesty International delegation on the island said today.
The unequivocal assessment by Amnesty International's delegation came as Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi pledged “to clear Lampedusa within 48-60 hours".
There are currently about 6,000 foreign nationals on the island, mostly from Tunisia.
Anneliese Baldaccini, one of Amnesty International’s delegates on the island, said: “The Italian government must immediately deal with this humanitarian crisis that has been caused by its failure to organise timely and orderly transfers from Lampedusa to facilities on the Italian mainland.
"All those arriving in Italy must have their individual needs adequately assessed and be given access to fair and effective asylum procedures, something that is not possible because of the chaotic situation in Lampedusa.
"The Italian authorities should also not assume that people arriving in Lampedusa are economic migrants."
She continued: "The Italian authorities must live up to their human rights obligations. This means tending to people’s immediate needs and halting any plans to carry out collective removals.”
About 22,000 people have arrived in Lampedusa in recent weeks, with many already having been moved to other parts of Italy.
Many on Lampedusa have not been provided with the most basic humanitarian assistance such as shelter, medical care, mats, blankets and access to sanitary facilities, the Amnesty International team has found, while thousands continue to sleep outdoors.
Individual screening to assess potential protection needs has also completely broken down.
The Italian authorities have said they plan the imminent transfer of all foreign nationals remaining in Lampedusa to other parts of Italy.
Amnesty International has urged clarification as to where people will be moved, as well as the legal status of the facilities where they are expected to be hosted.