Italy vowed on Wednesday to increase deportations of migrants whose asylum requests have been rejected, after a riot in a reception centre sparked by the death of a young woman. The country, which has been on the frontline of migrants arriving across the Mediterranean from North Africa, is pushing for an agreement with Niger and a renewed deal with Tunisia to facilitate returns.
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“We have saved many lives but we cannot accept rule-breaking. We need to speed up deportations,” Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano, the country’s former interior minister, said in an interview with La Stampa daily.
He was “working to tie up agreements which will reduce arrivals and prevent departures” from the coast of North Africa, he said after a record 181,000 people were rescued from the Mediterranean and brought to safety in Italy in 2016.
Asylum seekers set fires inside the reception facility near Venice earlier this week in a protest over living conditions and access to healthcare after a 25-year-old woman from the Ivory Coast died.
The migrants cut the electricity and forced social workers to barricade themselves in their offices at the centre in Cona, where 1,500 people were housed in a space designed for 15 according to the local mayor.
The nearby hamlet, which has just 190 residents, has seen the number of migrants lodged in flimsy tents balloon over the past year.
Protesters had complained of a delay in calling an ambulance for the woman, who died in a bathroom of a blood clot.
Some 100 people were transferred today from the Cona centre to Bologna, where they were destined for other facilities.
They were met by a small group of Italian demonstrators holding banners reading: “Solidarity with those who revolt”.
Interior Minister Marco Minniti said at least one “Centre for Identification and Expulsion” (CIE) will be opened in every region of Italy in the coming weeks, where those who have had their asylum request rejected will be held before deportation.
Returning migrants is a costly, time-consuming process that requires bilateral agreements with the countries of origin.
Alfano said three countries were “key” to tackling the biggest migrant crisis since World War II: Libya, Niger and Tunisia.
The EU believes just over half the migrants arriving in Italy travel first through Niger and last month it offered Niamey 610 million euros (USD 635 million) to curb transit towards Europe.