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Italy, EU, investigate treatment of migrants on Lampedusa after video

By Hada Messia and Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
December 19, 2013 -- Updated 0002 GMT (0802 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Camp manager says video is misleading, rejects claims migrants were degraded
  • Secretly filmed footage shows a naked man being sprayed while others wait in line
  • Speaker of Italy's lower house condemns "degrading" treatment of migrants
  • The island of Lampedusa is a frequent destination for migrants seeking to land on EU soil

Rome (CNN) -- Video showing a naked man being sprayed by an aid worker, apparently as part of a medical treatment and in full view of other migrants on the Italian island of Lampedusa, has sparked outrage in Europe.

The secretly filed cellphone footage, aired on Italian state television channel RAI, shows a worker at a migrant center spraying the man while others wait for what officials said was a medical treatment designed to prevent a contagious skin condition called scabies.

While the camp manager told CNN on Wednesday that the video is misleading, the Speaker for Italy's lower house of Parliament, Laura Boldrini, said in a post on the body's Facebook page that the reported treatment of migrants was "degrading" and "not worthy of a civilized country."

"Those images cannot leave us indifferent," said Boldrini, who was the spokeswoman for several years for the U.N. refugee agency in Rome. She said efforts would be made to find those responsible and hold them accountable.

The Italian Interior Ministry ordered an inquiry Tuesday and said it expected a report from the local authorities within 24 hours.

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EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malstrom condemned the images -- reportedly shot by a migrant at the camp -- as "appalling and unacceptable." She said the European Commission would ask the Italian authorities to "shed full light" over what had happened.

"We have already started investigations on the deplorable conditions in many Italian detention centers, including Lampedusa, and we will not hesitate to launch an infringement procedure to make sure EU standards and obligations are fully respected," she said in a statement Wednesday.

"Our assistance and support to the Italian authorities in managing migratory flows can only be continued if the country guarantees humane and dignified reception conditions to migrants, asylum seekers and refugees."

Camp Manager Cono Gallipo told CNN Wednesday that accusations that camp staff were humiliating migrants were offensive.

"We are aware of what the video shows," Gallipo said. "But that is not exactly how things work and what really happened."

Usually, he said, migrants are given a preventative treatment for scabies inside showers contained in an enclosed cabin where greater privacy can be afforded. They are then given clean clothes to wear, Gallipo said.

But he said on the day the video was shot, which he said was December 13, migrants tired of standing in line began removing their clothes before getting inside the cabin. Some asked for the treatment to be done in the open to speed up the process.

"In retrospect we should have stopped the treatment that day," he said. "But at the prospect of either hypothetically breaching the law for omitting to give health assistance to a refugee or hypothetically breaching his/her right to privacy, I opted for the second one."

Shipwreck deaths

Lampedusa made global headlines when more than 300 African migrants died after their ship sank off its shores on October 3. Days later, another 34 people died when their boat capsized.

Hundreds more have been rescued from often unseaworthy vessels and taken to the tiny Mediterranean island's overcrowded detention center.

As the closest Italian island to Africa, Lampedusa is a frequent destination for refugees seeking to enter European Union countries and shipwrecks off its shores are common. Many of the migrants are from African nations, while others have fled war-torn Syria, officials say.

The Italian coast guard told CNN in September that there were some 1,250 migrants in residence, in a space designed for 250.

In the wake of the October tragedy, the U.N. refugee agency called on Italy urgently to renovate the Lampedusa detention center.

The agency's Rome-based representative, Laurens Jolles, said the center's capacity had been reduced from 850 to 250 by a fire in 2011 and had yet to be restored.

"The serious degradation of the reception center, with entire families forced to sleep in the open when it rains, is absolutely unacceptable," he said.

He described conditions and services there as below European Union standards and urged Italy to speed up the transfer of migrants and asylum seekers to better equipped centers on the mainland.

CNN's Hada Messia reported from Rome and Laura Smith-Spark wrote and reported in London. CNN's Marilia Brocchetto contributed to this report.

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