ROME (Reuters) - Dozens of African child migrants are having to sleep on the bare earth outside the reception center on Italy's Lampedusa following an upsurge in the number of boats reaching the tiny island, agency Save the Children said on Saturday.
Lampedusa is wrestling with a big backlog in unaccompanied minors because Italian authorities stopped considering North Africa as being in a state of emergency some months ago, meaning no national agency is now charged with housing them.
More than 800 migrants are now staying on the island, Italy's southernmost point, bringing a reception center built to accommodate just 250 to the point of collapse, the agency said.
"In the last 10 days many new immigrants have arrived and there is a serious problem because unaccompanied minors are not being transferred. The new arrivals are added to those already housed in the center, which should only be a transit point," the agency's Raffaela Milano told Reuters.
"We're talking about children who arrive in Italy alone after journeys that are often lengthy and dramatic, who need immediate protection and support and must not fall victim to institutional inertia," she added.
The children are forced to sleep outside without bedding, along with adults, and have trouble accessing the reception center's limited toilet and shower facilities. The youngest of the unaccompanied children is an 11-year-old Somali boy.
Only two local officials are on hand to process the unaccompanied minors and their work is aggravated by the lack of a national database for places where they could be housed, Milano said. She urged Italy's Welfare Ministry to arrange for the swift transfer of the children.
Pope Francis visited Lampedusa's reception center this month and commemorated the thousands of migrants who have died making the treacherous crossing from North Africa in flimsy boats.
(Reporting by Naomi O'Leary, editing by Gareth Jones)