The infamous immigrant retention centre in Lampedusa, the tiny Italian Mediterranean island where almost 400 African migrants drowned on October 3 last, is being dismantled.

The Italian government took the decision after a documentary detailed the appalling conditions in which migrants, rescued from leaky boats of fortune, were being kept while waiting for their asylum papers to be processed.

The film showed a line of men standing naked, shivering in the cold, waiting to be sprayed with disinfectant to rid them of lice and other vermin.

Lampedusa, which comes under the jurisdiction of the Sicilian capital Palermo, is an indispensible staging post for illegal immigrants wishing to migrate from Africa to Europe.

Following the airing of the documentary, a Moroccan–born Italian MP from the leftist Democratic Party decided to spend the night with the migrants crowding the Lampedusa holding centre.

Khalid Chaouki came to the island to verify the allegations made in the documentary and found the real conditions to be worse than those described. Immigrants are supposed to be held in these centres for no more than 96 hours. Mr. Chaouki found seven Eritreans who had been rescued from the October 3 shipwreck were still being held there A national outrage followed with the European Union threatening to suspend payments pledged to Italy in order to deal with the problem of asylum seekers. Some 41,000 illegal immigrants found their way into Italy last year.

About a dozen Tunisian and Moroccan migrants sewed up their mouths with needle and thread, going on hunger strike to protest against their detention conditions. Immigrants can be held in retention centres for up to 18 months under the Bossi-Fini laws passed in 2002 and tightened in 2009. Harbouring or in any way helping an illegal immigrant is now a crime in Italy.

Meanwhile, Spain has reintroduced razor wire on the fences separating the tiny Spanish outpost of Melilla on the north African coast from Morocco. Day after day thousands of Moroccans throng the separation barrier between the two countries, hoping to make their way into the European Union. Infra red cameras mounted on helicopters scan the border at night to catch illegals trying to cross the fence.

A few months ago desperate migrants threw themselves on the fence braving guards and bullets, with some of them managing to land on the Spanish side. The razor wire, which is extremely sharp and cuts through human flesh, is mounted on top of fences to discourage such attempts. An immigrant died after the wire sliced through his body.

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