ROME (Reuters) - Some 200 mostly Eritrean migrants protested against asylum rules on the island of Lampedusa on Thursday as the European Union steps up pressure on frontline countries to enforce the regulations.
A video posted on a Sicilian news site showed a group of men, women and children wearing jackets and winter hats marching along the island’s cactus-lined roads and chanting in front of city hall.
“We are human beings! No fingerprints! We want freedom! We want to move from the camps! Italia respect our rights!” they shouted in English. Some also carried signs in both English and Italian. One read: “We are refugees. No fingerprints”.
Humanitarian organization Arci in Sicily said some of the protesters had been on the island for more than a month, held there because they had refused to give their fingerprints as EU law requires. Some have also begun hunger strikes, it said.
European law says migrants must stay in the country where they first enter the bloc, and that is determined by where they give their fingerprints. Until recently, most migrants have simply refused to be identified, moving north from Greece and Italy by foot, train or bus.
In an effort to stem the flood of migrants pouring into Germany, France and the rest of Europe from the frontline countries, the EU has called for stricter enforcement of the rules and detention in so-called “hotspots” until migrants agree to be identified.
“The migrants are aware that the procedure to identify them would impede their journey toward the European countries where they have large communities and, often, their families,” said Erasmo Palazzotto, a lawmaker for the small left-wing SEL party.
Palazzotto called on the EU to scrap its immigration law, known as the Dublin Treaty, to help Italy and Greece handle the mass sea arrivals, seen at about 1 million this year.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who was in Brussels for a meeting of EU leaders where the migrants issue figured large, has expressed increasing frustration with the EU’s handling of the immigration crisis but rejected suggestions that it is not enforcing EU law.
“The discussion on fingerprints is quite surreal,” he told reporters in Brussels before the EU summit. The EU has called on countries to go so far as to use force to get them. “It’s obvious that we have to take fingerprints and we are doing so.”
To relieve the burden of having to take in all the migrants expected to reach Greece and Italy, a relocation program has been set up for Syrian, Eritrean and Iraqi refugees but, so far, fewer than 200 have been transferred out of Italy.
The implementation of a quota system to relocate asylum-seekers from frontier states to other members of the 28-nation bloc is currently at less than one percent of what had been planned, Renzi complained.
Additional reporting by Francesco Guarascio in Brussels; Editing by Richard Balmforth