Malstroem could sanction Italy for Lampedusa condition

(ANSA) - Rome, October 22 - Italy is "making efforts" to improve its migration situation, but could still face European sanctions if more isn't done to improve conditions at the overcrowded Lampedusa migrants' reception centre, European Commissioner for Home Affairs and Immigration Cecilia Malmstroem warned Tuesday.

"Italy is making efforts to improve the overall situation," acknowledged Malmstroem.

But she said it would be well advised to use the 30 million euros it recently received in extra European Union support to improve conditions on the island's massively overcrowded Imbriacola holding centre, which has been swamped with migrants who are rescued at sea or wash ashore after fleeing North Africa.

Otherwise, Italy could be slapped with charges of failing to meet its obligations towards migrants as set out in European rules, Malmstroem warned during an interview with Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera.

"I think (those funds) could also be useful to alleviate the conditions in the Lampedusa centre," said Malmstroem.

A shipwreck near the southern Italian island of Lampedusa, in which 366 migrants - mostly Syrians, Somalis and Eritreans - lost their lives on Oct. 3 has focused international attention on the plight of migrants and conditions on Lampedusa.

The EU quickly offered an additional 30 million euros in funding to assist with handling the waves of migrants who continue to arrive in Italy, often on rickety boats.

"It is my firm intention to ensure that all member States effectively implement EU legislation, which provides for dignified conditions and humane shelter for migrants: otherwise, I will not hesitate to have recourse to infringement proceedings," warned Malmstroem.

She said she understood the pressures facing border countries such as Italy, which is often the first point of arrival for migrants.

But they receive financial help to meet their obligations from the EU, she said.

"At the national level, States have the responsibility to control the borders and rescue boats in distress, fulfilling international law...they receive funds and assistance from the EU to do it," she said.

The United Nations human rights agency in Italy has blasted deteriorating conditions at the centre, which was severely damaged in a 2011 fire that destroyed part of the facility and reduced its capacity to only 250 people from its original capacity of 850.

Earlier this month, exasperated migrants held at the Lampedusa reception centre protested their conditions, complaining they were being forced to live "like animals".

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