Tomorrow a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) medical team ends its activities at the harbour of the Italian island of Lampedusa. MSF has been forced to make this decision after the Italian Interior Ministry refused to sign a new Memorandum of Understanding; The Ministry has also failed to provide the necessary authorization to allow the MSF team to continue working adequately. MSF has provided free emergency medical screenings for migrants who arrive by boat on Lampedusa, south of Sicily, since 2002. MSF teams have visited 4,550 migrants since 2005; of these 1,420 were seen between January and October 2008. MSF’s presence on the island is necessary due to the high numbers of people landing on its coasts every year —in 2008 alone, more than 20,000 people — with regional health authorities there not providing medical services. “It is unacceptable that while MSF medical teams are able to respond to the same needs in many different contexts, also in very difficult and tense situations,” said Loris de Filippi, operational manager for MSF in Italy, “we are practically forced to stop our medical and humanitarian assistance on the territory of a European state.” MSF expresses concern about the lack of medical screening at the harbour of Lampedusa after its departure, particularly since its medical staff have noted an increase over the years in diseases linked to the migrants’ difficult travelling conditions (shock, hypothermia, skin burns, etc.). The population has also changed dramatically compared with previous years as more people are arriving from war zones or countries affected by droughts, places such as Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan and Ethiopia (30 per cent). Also remarkable is the increase in the number of women (12 per cent) and children (eight per cent). In addition, MSF has noticed more pregnant women among the passengers — 151 since the beginning of the year.
For these reasons, MSF recommends adequate health assistance for migrants at their landing be guaranteed at the harbour of Lampedusa and asks the Italian government to revise its decision and allow MSF’s medical team to restart its medical activities. MSF works in Italy, Malta and Greece to provide access to healthcare and medical assistance to migrants landing at the southern borders of the European Union.