Panicking migrants try to reach a rescue craft from their overcrowded raft in the central Mediterranean Sea, about 36 nautical miles off the Libyan coast on January 2. Picture: REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis
Panicking migrants try to reach a rescue craft from their overcrowded raft in the central Mediterranean Sea, about 36 nautical miles off the Libyan coast on January 2. Picture: REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis

Rome — Italy on Wednesday vowed to increase deportations of migrants whose asylum requests have been rejected, after a riot in a reception centre sparked by the death of a young woman.

The country, which has been on the frontline of migrants arriving across the Mediterranean from North Africa, is pushing for an agreement with Niger and a renewed deal with Tunisia to facilitate returns.

"We have saved many lives but we cannot accept rule-breaking. We need to speed up deportations," Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano said in an interview with La Stampa daily.

He was "working to tie up agreements which will reduce arrivals and prevent departures" from the coast of North Africa, he said after a record 181,000 people were rescued from the Mediterranean and brought to safety in Italy in 2016.

Asylum seekers set fires inside the reception facility near Venice earlier this week in a protest over living conditions and access to healthcare after a 25-year-old woman from the Ivory Coast had died.

The migrants cut the electricity and forced social workers to barricade themselves in their offices at the centre in Cona, where 1,500 people were housed in a space designed for 15, according to the local mayor.

Protesters had complained of a delay in calling an ambulance for the woman, who died in a bathroom of a blood clot.

About 100 people were transferred on Wednesday from the Cona centre to Bologna, where they were destined for other facilities.

They were met by a small group of Italian demonstrators holding banners reading: "Solidarity with those who revolt."

Interior Minister Marco Minniti said at least one Centre for Identification and Expulsion would be opened in every region in the coming weeks, where those who had their asylum request rejected would be held before deportation.

Alfano said three countries were "key" to tackling the biggest migrant crisis since the Second World War: Libya, Niger and Tunisia.

The EU believes just over half the migrants arriving in Italy travel first through Niger and in December it offered that government €610m to curb transit towards Europe.

Alfano said Italy was "close to sealing an agreement" with the West African country, while Minniti spent Tuesday in Tunisia for talks on "renewing" a repatriation agreement between Rome and Tunis.

Italy’s police chief, Franco Gabrielli, vowed at the weekend to deport more migrants who had no right to be in the country following the shooting in Milan of Tunisian refugee Anis Amri, the suspected attacker behind the Berlin Christmas market tragedy in which 12 people were killed.

AFP

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