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600 migrants break out of crowded Italian facility

Some of the migrants who broke out of an immigration facility on a Sicilian island took part in a demonstration. Some of the migrants who broke out of an immigration facility on a Sicilian island took part in a demonstration. (Mauro Seminara/ AFP/ Getty Images)
Associated Press / January 25, 2009
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ROME - Hundreds of migrants and refugees broke out of an overcrowded immigration facility on a Sicilian island yesterday to protest their treatment, authorities said.

About 600 people forced open the gates at the facility and marched toward the center of the island of Lampedusa before making their way back, according officials at the facility and news reports.

About 2,000 people have been crammed into a facility built for 850.

Just this week the UN refugee agency criticized Italy over conditions there, saying many people sleep outdoors under plastic sheeting, and urging authorities to address the "difficult humanitarian situation."

TV footage yesterday showed the migrants marching in the tiny streets of the island, chanting "Freedom! Freedom!" and waving to cameras. They joined a demonstration by residents of Lampedusa, who were protesting government plans to open another shelter on the island.

The residents don't want the island to be associated solely with immigrant arrivals, saying it should be returned to its role as a tourist destination. The government said the new center would speed up identification of the migrants and their possible deportation.

Thousands of illegal immigrants reach Italy every year by crossing over from North Africa on rickety boats. Many land in Lampedusa, a small island closer to North Africa than to mainland Europe.

Once there, they must prove they have a job awaiting them or be expelled.

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