Rights court slams Italy over migrant conditions

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A migrant behind a fence at a temporary refugee camp in Lampedusa earlier this year. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP
15:20 CEST+02:00
The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday that Tunisian migrants had been unlawfully detained on the island of Lampedusa in 2011 in conditions that "diminished their human dignity".

At the time of the applicants' case, Lampedusa had been swamped by more than 55,000 migrants who arrived by boat in the wake of the Arab Spring, forcing Italy to declare a humanitarian state of emergency.

The applicants, three Tunisian men, were housed in a reception centre in Contrada Imbriacola, where they said conditions were "appalling".

No doors separated the toilets and showers from the other rooms, water was limited and the applicants were cut off from the world outside. Due to overcrowding, many had to sleep on the floor.

On September 20th, 2011, the centre was damaged by fire after the migrants rioted and the three were taken to a sports centre for the night.

They managed to evade their guards and made their way to a demonstration of 1,800 migrants in the centre of the island, where they were arrested.

They were subsequently housed on ships moored in Palermo harbour.

The three applicants had fled their homeland to head to Europe by boat.

They were eventually expelled to Tunisia on September 27th and 29th, 2011 and still live there today.

Judges at the Strasbourg-based court said the men had suffered a "collective expulsion" as the decision to expel them had failed to take into consideration their individual situations.

The court ordered Italy to pay each applicant €10,000 ($11,250) plus costs.

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The centre in Contrada Imbriacola was closed down in February last year after a video emerged of the dire conditions. It re-opened after refurbishment and is once again overcrowded with 800 residents and only 400 beds.

In 2011, Lampedusa became synonymous with the arrival of migrants by boat and several shipwrecks off its shores.

While it remains one of the many points of arrival for migrants crossing the Mediterranean from Tunisia and Libya, most are now taken to reception centres in Sicily.

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