Protesting migrants took staff as hostages in Italian reception centre

Rescuing refugees off the coast of Libya. [Frontex]

Migrants, visibly of African sub-Saharan origin, barricaded staff inside a reception centre in northern Italy in a protest over living conditions there after the death of a young woman.

The 25-year-old woman from the Ivory Coast died apparently of natural causes on Monday (2 January) afternoon at the centre in Cona, near Venice, the town’s mayor told La Repubblica TV.

Fellow migrants reacted angrily, cutting off the electricity supply to the centre, starting fires and blocking the exit, leaving 25 staff members barricaded inside, local media said.

Mayor Alberto Panfilio said calm had been restored at the centre, where up to 1,500 people have been placed in a facility originally meant for 15 migrants. Many were housed in tents.

Early reports said the protest had been caused by a delay between the young woman being taken ill and an ambulance arriving to treat her.

However, Panfilio said the ambulance had arrived promptly.

“This death is not directly linked to the high concentration (of people) but I hope it can be useful to change a situation that is no longer sustainable,” he said.

The mayor told local media that the centre had opened in 2015. Numbers had ballooned dramatically last year. Cona itself has just some 190 residents.

Italian Minister of Interior Marco Minniti yesterday ordered the transfer of migrants from Cona in other facilities in the region of Emilia Romagna. The first transfers are due today (4 January).

Northern League leader Matteo Salvini called for “mass expulsions” of the migrants, using military ships. Politicians from the ruling Partito Democratico accused Salvini of politicising the incident. Political Lucio Malan from Berlusconi’s Forza Italia asked for “adequate sentences” against immigrants who caused damage in the centre.

“Enough taxi service in the Mediterranean,” Malan said, referring to the rescue of migrants by Italian coastguards, the EU maritime operation Sophia and NGOs.

NGOs' responsibility questioned as Italy refugee arrivals surge

Speaking ahead of the EU summit tomorrow (15 December), which will, among other things, address the issue of migration, a diplomat questioned the role of NGOs near the Libyan coast which, in his view, contribute to the increase of refugees arriving in Italy.

The centre is one of many temporary migrant reception centres in Italy that are housing more than 136,000 people. In the past three years, roughly half a million migrants have arrived in Italy by boat.

Record number of boat migrants reach Italy in 2016

A record number of migrants have reached Italy by boat from North Africa in 2016, according to official data, as pressure on Italy’s shelter and asylum systems grows.

Reportedly Italy spent €4bn in 2016 to deal with the migrant crisis. Local authorities hosting migrants receive €35 from the national budget per migrant and per day.