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CONTACT: Amnesty International - USA
AIUSA media relations office, 202-509-8194
Amnesty International Urges Italy to Effectively Address Tunisian Migrants 'Emergency'
WASHINGTON - February 16 - Amnesty International has urged the Italian authorities to deal with the humanitarian needs of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers leaving Tunisia following recent unrest.
More than 5,000 migrants have landed on the Italian island of Lampedusa, according to authorities, who have described the events as a "humanitarian emergency."
"A 'humanitarian emergency' demands a humanitarian response, not a law and order one," said Nicola Duckworth, Amnesty International's Europe director.
"This means that boats carrying migrants and asylum seekers from Tunisia, Egypt or other North African countries must not be pushed back," continued Duckworth. "Everyone arriving is entitled to be treated with dignity, to be granted assistance and access to a fair asylum procedure."
However, the country's foreign ministry has suggested that Italy and other E.U. countries should "stop the Tunisian wave," and recently deployed more boats to patrol the country's coasts.
Amid increasing tension over the issue, on Monday night Italian border police reportedly shot at a boat carrying Egyptian migrants and asylum seekers, wounding the vessel's pilot.
Italian authorities have reinforced the patrolling of the coast following the wave of migration in the Mediterranean.
Large numbers of people were forced to sleep outdoors for several days before the Italian authorities reopened the reception center on Lampedusa.
Italy routinely detains irregular migrants, and in the past has conducted mass expulsions, in violation of international law.
"Detention should only ever be a last resort, not an automatic response," said Duckworth. " No one should be sent back before they are able to make their case or explain their circumstances before the relevant authorities, and certainly there should not be any mass forced expulsions."
Frontex, the European Union's agency for external border security, has agreed to support Italy's calls for assistance in stemming the flow of migrants from North Africa.
"The main objective of any patrolling of national or international waters carried out by Italy, Tunisia or any other force, such as Frontex, should be the safety and security of those found at sea," added Duckworth.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.