Italian treatment of refugees in breach of human rights, say MEPs

21.09.05 @ 09:55

  1. By Teresa Küchler

BRUSSELS - Following a visit to an Italian refugee camp on the island of Lampedusa, a group of socialist MEPs are accusing Italy of breaking human rights laws and the UN's refugee Convention.

  • Immigrants sail across the Mediterranean from Africa to Italy - only to be flown back immediately, say MEPs. (Photo: European Commission)

The 12 MEPs say they were appalled by the state of the detention camp on Lampedusa, situated off the Sicilian coast, claiming it is run-down and lacking in fresh water and basic hygiene facilities.

They also say refugees' access to legal assistance and medical care is not safeguarded.

The Italian authorities have repeatedly received complaints about the overcrowded camp, however when the MEPs arrived they saw that their own delegation actually outnumbered the immigrants, with just 11 people residing in the compound.

Inhabitants of the island told MEPs that the immigrants had been flown out from the island three days earlier.

Martine Roure, a French socialist MEP, believes that the immigrants were deported to Libya without their legal status having been tested.

The Italian government has made a controversial agreement with the Libyan government to extradite rejected immigrants.

The camp authorities told the delegation members that the expelled immigrants were "economic migrants" who had not applied for asylum.

"In that case, Lampedusa is the only place in Europe where people arrive without applying for asylum", Mme Roure said.

The group of MEPs say they will now gather proof of violations of the UN human rights and refugee conventions to bring the Lampedusa case up for judicial examination.

However, they say it may be difficult as they were not permitted to take photos or film in the camp. They were also not allowed to see registers of the immigrants or expulsion orders.

Lampedusa is a small island of just 20 km squared located in the middle of the Sicilian Channel, with a population of 5,500.

The island has become an important outpost for people trying to reach Europe via Libya.

In March this year, the United Nations' high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) condemned the expulsion of 180 people from Lampedusa, saying it was far from certain that Italy had ensured it did not send genuine refugees back to Libya.

Libya has not signed the Geneva convention on refugees, and cannot, according to the high commissioner, be trusted as a place of safe asylum.

Italy has not declared the content of the extradition agreement with Libya.

However, MEP Stefano Zappala, from the Italian governing party Forza Italia and also a member of the Lampedusa delegation, warned against making snap judgements.

He said the European Parliament should take account of the national context in order to get useful information concerning the complex issue of immigration – including humanitarian, social and security aspects.

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