The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
Contact: Tim Shenk,Press Officer,Direct: 212-763-5764,E-mail:,

Fears for Migrants Forced Back to Africa

Italy Intercepting Migrants at Sea, Preventing Them From Receiving Humanitarian Aid


New Italian government policies to curb the influx of migrants have
led to a sharp decrease in the number of migrants and refugees arriving
by boat to Lampedusa, Italy. As a result, the international medical
humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans
Frontieres (MSF) is withdrawing its team from the island. Between May
and October 2008, more than 21,000 migrants and refugees landed on
Lampedusa after a perilous journey across the Mediterranean, according
to MSF. During the same period this year, MSF teams saw fewer than 200
migrants. MSF is extremely concerned for the fate of migrants
reportedly intercepted at sea and prevented from arriving in Italy.

Since the new government policies were implemented earlier this
year, many boats carrying migrants have reportedly been intercepted at
sea and forced back to Libya. The first official forced return
announced by the Italian government took place in May of this year.
Migrants are being denied the opportunity to land in Europe and receive
much-needed humanitarian assistance. They are also exposed once again
to the violence and abuse endured while trying to reach Italy.

"We often hear horrific stories from our patients about what they
endure during the journey," said Antonio Virgilio, MSF head of mission
in Italy and Malta. "They have crossed the desert, been locked up in
prisons where they have been given no food or water, they have been
mistreated, beaten up, women have been raped. They go through hell
before they finally manage to get on a boat to Italy or Malta. And now
they are being sent back to relive this nightmare all over again. This
is a huge threat to their health and even their lives."

For years Lampedusa has been a regular point of entry for migrants
and refugees who cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. Since 2002, MSF
has provided medical care to those who land on the island. Migrants and
refugees arrive in Lampedusa suffering from osteo-muscular complaints,
burns from exposure to sun and fuel, and dehydration as a result of the
dangerous sea crossing. Many are traumatized by the journey.
Increasingly, children and pregnant women-who are particularly at
risk-are among those making the journey. In 2008, one in 10 women seen
by our teams was pregnant.

In 2008 alone, MSF provided medical care to more than 1,400 migrants
and refugees who arrived on the docks of Lampedusa in need of urgent
assistance. Most people seen by MSF came from sub-Saharan Africa; one
third came from east African countries, including Somalia and Eritrea.
They endure the long, harsh journey to escape conflict, deprivation, or
widespread violations of human rights. During the journey, they are
often subjected to mistreatment and violence, including rape. Since
May 2009, however, MSF has assisted fewer than 160 patients.

In response to the worryingly low number of migrants who are landing, MSF is withdrawing its teams from Lampedusa.

"We have reports that some boats are also being sent to Porto
Empedocle, in Sicily," said Loris de Filippi, MSF operational
coordinator. "We have tried to assess migrants' conditions upon landing
and provide assistance, but we have not been granted authorization by
the local authorities."

MSF continues to provide humanitarian assistance to vulnerable
migrants and refugees facing increasingly restrictive policies in
mainland Italy.

MSF has been providing healthcare to migrants and refugees in
Italy since 1999. MSF also provides humanitarian assistance to migrants
in Malta, Greece, France, Morocco, Yemen, South Africa and Thailand.

Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) is an international medical humanitarian organization created by doctors and journalists in France in 1971. MSF's work is based on the humanitarian principles of medical ethics and impartiality. The organization is committed to bringing quality medical care to people caught in crisis regardless of race, religion, or political affiliation. MSF operates independently of any political, military, or religious agendas.