The United Nations refugee agency has expressed concern over the overcrowded conditions faced by nearly 2,000 boat people, including asylum seekers, currently crammed into one reception centre on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa.
"The centre has a capacity for only 850 people and hence cannot accommodate such high numbers," Ron Redmond, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said.
"The result is that hundreds of people are now sleeping outdoors under plastic sheeting, and adequate reception standards cannot be maintained," he added.
The reception centre in Lampedusa was established to temporarily accommodate people rescued at sea while preparations are made for their transfer to various special centres set up throughout southern Italy to examine their situation, UNHCR said.
Until now, the agency explained, this arrangement has been seen as a model for management of what the agency calls mixed migratory flows, made up of persons who have moved for a variety of reasons, including political asylum, economic and other migration.
The agency said the practice so far has been to accommodate asylum seekers in open centres and have their applications examined by a status-determination commission, but the beginning of this year, the government decided that all migrants must remain in Lampedusa until a ruling is made on their cases.