Hundreds of illegal immigrants have broken out of a detention centre on the Italian island of Lampedusa and are staging a protest, officials have said.
Lampedusa mayor Bernardino De Rubeis told the AFP news agency the centre’s security fence had been toppled and that about 700 immigrants had escaped.
They are said to be complaining about conditions at the camp, which was built for 850 but is currently holding 2,000.
On Friday, the UN urged Rome to address the “difficult humanitarian situation”.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expressed mounting concern about overcrowding. Hundreds have been forced to sleep outdoors in the cold.
The UNHCR also criticised a government decision to hold those who survive the perilous sea-crossing on the Mediterranean island until their cases are decided. Previously, they were sent to other centres.
Mr De Rubeis said about 700 immigrants had fled the detention Lampedusa centre on Saturday morning and converged on the nearby town centre, shouting “Freedom” and “Help us”.
“It is a very tense situation,” he told the AFP news agency.
The migrants are said to be protesting about conditions at the detention centre and the government’s move to open a new Centre for Identification and Expulsion (CEI) at a disused military base on the island.
Residents have also protested against the government’s plans for the new holding centre, which Mr De Rubeis said they believed “would become a sort of prison”.
The Italian interior ministry says about 31,700 immigrants landed on Lampedusa last year – an increase of 75% from 2007.
In the past, those migrants seeking asylum would have been sent to the Italian mainland.
Now, under a new policy implemented in December, they are being held on the island. Those that fail immigration checks are sent back to their home country.
Correspondents say many would-be migrants are fleeing wars or poverty in countries such as Somalia and Eritrea and risk the dangerous Mediterranean crossing to enter Europe.