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Migration

European Union executive threatens legal action against Italy over migrant treatment

The European Commission has threatened to take legal action against Italy over its treatment of migrants. This comes as a video showing apparent mistreatment of migrants causes outrage in Europe.

The EU's Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom on Wednesday condemned what she called "appalling conditions" at some migrant centers in Italy, and said the EU was already looking into the matter.

"The EU is committed to assist Italy in receiving migrants, but it has to be done in decent conditions," Malmstrom said on Twitter, adding: "We will not hesitate to launch an infringement procedure to make sure EU standards and obligations are fully respected."

Officials confirmed that the Commission could take Italy to court over its possible failure to adhere to EU rules on acceptable conditions in detention centers, among other issues.

Her remarks come a day after a video showing male migrants from Africa standing naked in the cold while being sprayed for scabies at a detention centre on the island of Lampedusa stirred outrage in Italy.

Lampedusa's mayor Giusi Nicolini said the images reminded him of a concentration camp, and Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta promised to punish anyone held responsible.

Speaking of the video, Malmstrom said the scenes it depicted were "appalling and unacceptable."

'Staged scenes'

But the head of the contractor that runs the Lampedusa center for the interior ministry rejected the accusations.

Cono Galipo said the migrants seen naked had stripped down themselves through impatience while waiting to be disinfected and had "clearly staged the images seen."

Many of the tens of thousands of migrants that land in Italy every year pass through Lampedusa, which lies closer to the Tunisian coast than to the rest of Italy. Latest figures show that 14,000 migrants have passed through the island so far this year, creating a demand for accommodation that the island cannot adequately meet.

EU leaders are due to discuss migration at a summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday in response to the drowning of many migrants trying to reach Europe in recent months. More than 7,000 migrants may have perished this year at sea or while crossing deserts trying to reach a safe refuge, according to the Organization for Migration (IOM).

In October, 366 migrants, mostly from Eritrea, died when their boat caught fire and capsized within sight of Lampedusa's shore, prompting calls for an overhaul of European immigration and asylum policies.

tj/ph (AFP, Reuters)

DW.DE