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Latest update : 2009-01-25

More than 1,000 migrants broke out of an immigration centre on the Italian island of Lampedusa and demonstrated in the city streets a day after the United Nations criticised conditions in the camp.

REUTERS - More than 1,000 asylum-seekers and would-be immigrants broke out of an Italian reception centre on the island of Lampedusa on Saturday and marched to the town hall a day after the United Nations criticised conditions at the camp. Police said the group forced open the gates of the camp and marched peacefully to the nearby town centre.

Nearly 2,000 people are crammed into the camp, where Italian authorities hold people picked up or rescued trying to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa in small boats.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) made a rare criticism of Italy on Friday, expressing concern about the camp which it says is only built to accommodate 850 people.

Originally a temporary stop for people waiting for transfer to other centres in Italy, the camp's role has changed this year with tough new immigration rules meaning all those rescued are kept in Lampedusa until being granted asylum or expelled.

Hundreds of people are now sleeping outdoors under plastic sheeting, with overcrowding creating what the UNHCR called a "difficult humanitarian situation".

According to UNHCR, preliminary figures for 2008 showed that about 75 percent of those who arrived in Italy by sea last year applied for asylum.

Around 50 percent of those who applied were granted refugee status or other protection on other humanitarian grounds, it added.

Date created : 2009-01-24