By Sara Rossi
MILAN (Reuters) - About 200 refugees fleeing Syria's civil war are camping out in Milan's central railway station after many were stopped from leaving Italy as they tried to reach northern Europe.
Many of the refugees, about a third of whom are children, are packed into a small room in the station next to a McDonalds outlet. Others are sleeping in corridors, as they wait for permission to travel to northern Europe on humanitarian grounds.
"I want to go to Germany, where my sister, father and mother live," said Amina, 33, who fled Damascus with her husband and three children after their house was destroyed. They have been living in the station in Italy's northern business capital for about a month.
"I want my children to be able to go to school and I want a job for me and my husband. But above all we need water and food," she told Reuters.
Italy has long been a stepping stone for migrants seeking a better life in the European Union but the fighting in Syria and unrest in North Africa have increased the flow of refugees making the hazardous journey to its southern shores in rickety boats, many of them departing from Libya.
However authorities in France, Switzerland and Austria have sent back many refugees coming from Italy because they do not have travel documents.
The Syrians in Milan station are trying to avoid making an asylum request in recession-hit Italy that would force them to stay in the country, and instead are hoping for a permit to travel elsewhere in the EU, aid worker Andreina Rossitto said.
After making their way up through Italy by train, they are aiming to reach countries such as Germany, Norway and Sweden where they believe they will get more support, an official from the Project Ark aid organisation told Reuters.
REFUGEES SENT BACK
"Many have tried crossing the border with Austria, France and Switzerland but they have been blocked by local authorities and sent back to Italy," said the official, who declined to give her name.
"They are sleeping on the ground, they have no toilets to use...they need food, blankets and medicine-- some children have caught the flu," she said.
Milan city authorities said in a statement on Thursday they had set up a crisis unit after about a hundred Syrian refugees arrived at the station in recent days, but they called for more support from Prime Minister Enrico Letta's government.
Italy has deployed ships, helicopters and unmanned drones off Sicily after hundreds of migrants drowned when their boat sank close to the tiny island of Lampedusa earlier this month.
On Wednesday a U.S. Navy ship rescued 128 men from a raft that ran into difficulties in rough seas off the coast of nearby Malta.
Italy and Malta have requested more EU funds to help face the growing refugee crisis and have called for it to be put on the agenda of the next European Council meeting on October 24-25.
(Writing by Catherine Hornby; editing by Barry Moody)