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Italian island turns to nightmare for stranded Africans

By Charlotte Phillips, one of Amnesty International’s delegates currently on Lampedusa

The negligence of the Italian authorities has turned the island of Lampedusa into the site of a humanitarian crisis.

In the last few weeks and months, thousands of Tunisians, mainly young men, have found themselves stranded on this tiny island after leaving poverty-stricken Tunisia since the onset of the political unrest there.

There are no showers, no toilets and no shelters. Around 4,000 people are currently sleeping rough. The luckier ones sleep in makeshift tents that they have pulled together from bits of plastic sheeting they have found. Others simply sleep on pavements and on beaches, without even a simple blanket to keep them warm.
Despite efforts by aid agencies on the ground, most Tunisians find themselves without the most basic of provisions.

A meal of pasta and bread is provided three times a day humanitarian agencies, but Amnesty International has heard stories of people going hungry. Each meal is served in one plastic bag, with two paper plates. Litter is strewn everywhere on the ground because there are no dustbins.

Speaking to an Amnesty International delegate, a 23-year-old Tunisian man said: “The conditions in Lampedusa are miserable. I have not showered for five days and I am forced to go to the toilet in front of thousands of people."

Despite the appalling circumstances, everyone has remained remarkably calm and resilient, including the people of Lampedusa who have responded with incredible sympathy and generosity. An elderly woman standing at the door of her house told us: “I really feel for these young men and think of their mothers who must be beside themselves with worry."

Thus far, the Italian authorities’ response has been abysmal. Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister, visited the island yesterday and announced that the crisis would be dealt with in the next two days. However, it is still not clear where all the people will be transferred to and what the status is of the centres that are supposed to host them.

Amnesty International’s delegation on the island at present is monitoring the developments.

Thousands stranded in 'appalling' conditions on Italian island (News, 30 March 2011)