MSF opens reception centre for asylum seekers in Lampedusa, Italy
19 September 2002
On September 16th, MSF started working in Lampedusa reception centre with a program that focuses on medical triage of asylum seekers. Lampedusa is the main island of the Pelagic archipelago, some 200 km southwest of Sicily. Over the past month, many refugees have arrived on the island mainly coming from the Maghreb Belt, Sudan, Kurdistan and Bangladesh. August saw an absolute peak with an average of 42 people each day. In August MSF conducted an assessment to check the health conditions of the refugees. The high number of refugees who arrived in Lampedusa had to be accommodated in the local reception centre, despite the fact that this health post has a maximum capacity of 80 people only. The refugees were staying in containers and tents. Sanitary structures were available but they were dirty and damaged. The reception centre also had to deal with a lack of drugs, medical equipment and staff. "Our conclusions were clear: there is not enough space to host 500 people, and the bad hygienic conditions could lead to outbreaks of diseases. Based on these findings, we decided to intervene", said Loris De Filippi, head of mission of the MSF Italian Projects. MSF has now sent a nurse specialised in tropical medicine to the island, to support the doctor and the nurse of a local NGO already present. Specifically MSF will be in charge of the medical triage of the refugees upon arrival, hygiene promotion and education, organisation and collection of medical data, and the management of an isolation ward if and when needed. "Initially, we will provide medical assistance until the 10th November, 6 days a week, with an on-call service over 24 hours and on Sundays. However, we are ready to extend our presence in Lampedusa beyond this date and increase the level of medical support provided if needed", said De Filippi. MSF activities in Italy focus on immigrants and asylum seekers in need of assistance. In March 2001, MSF opened a reception centre in the town of Brindisi on the Adriatic Sea - another key entry point for immigrants who reach Italy by boat. The centre, open to people with or without papers, offers social, medical and psychological assistance. In Rome, an MSF van reaches vulnerable immigrants in some of the city's outlying neighbourhoods.