Sunday

25th Sep 2022

Commission dodges stance on Italian asylum

  • African immigrants are sometimes used as a political scarecrow by the Berlusconi government (Photo: nobordernetwork)

The European Commission on Tuesday (12 May) avoided giving a clear answer about the legality of Italy's recent move to send back African asylum seekers, a policy strongly condemned by the United Nations.

Since last week, Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right government sent over 500 African migrants back to Libya, under a new agreement signed with Tripoli allowing Italian authorities to ship them back without first checking if they are asylum seekers.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) warned that the move was against international conventions and urged Italy on Tuesday to take the migrants back, as several of them were clearly asylum seekers.

"We are asking the Italian government to readmit those persons who were sent back by Italy and are identified by UNHCR as seeking international protection," the agency said in Geneva.

Libya has no national asylum policy and has been known to deport African asylum seekers to countries of origin, where they risk persecution.

Pressed on the issue, the European Commission declined to answer if the agreement was in line with EU law, as Italian foreign minister and former commissioner Franco Frattini claimed.

"Nobody is challenging the fact that it's a serious problem in the Mediterranean, dramatic for people involved and member states. It is a complex legal issue to which there is no easy answer. But we can't tell you black and white today what the situation is," European Commission spokesman Johannes Laitenberger told journalists.

Interior ministers are set to discuss the matter again at their next meeting in June, the spokesman for justice and home affairs, Michele Cercone added.

"We have to look at the question of asylum, but also at the source and work with the UNHCR to try make sure that these asylum requests are managed by Libya," he said.

The commission's careful stance on Italy comes at a time when Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right alliance is set to beef up the ranks of the European People's Party in the June elections. The EPP already gave its support to commission President Jose Manuel Barroso for a second mandate starting on 1 November.

Mr Berlusconi made immigration and security his main platform in last year's general elections and seems to be repeating the strategy for the EU poll in June as well. The Italian parliament is also set to adopt an immigration package making irregular immigration a crime and to legalise vigilante "citizens' patrols" in cities to assist police by hunting out and reporting on any "illegal activities" perpetrated by immigrants.

The Italian premier last week said he didn't want Italy to become a "multi-ethnic society" as the left wants – comments which were fiercely criticised by the Catholic church and the opposition.

EU seeks crisis powers to take control over supply chains

The Single Market Emergency Instrument (SMEI) introduces a staged, step-by-step, approach — providing emergency powers to the EU Commission to tackle any potential threat which could trigger disruptions or shortages of key products within the EU.

Testimony from son rocks trial of ex-Czech PM Babiš

In a fraud trial relating to €2m in EU subsidies, Andrej Babiš son testified his signature on share-transfer agreements was forged. He claims his father transferred the shares to him without his knowledge, making him a front man for scheme.

‘Rushed’ EP secretary-general pick sparks legal complaint

The appointment has been criticised for being rushed — Alessandro Chiocchetti only takes up his new position in January — and for overlooking other candidates, whose experience in administration management was seen as more substantial.

Investigation

Dismantling Schengen — six months at a time

Several EU countries have put in place almost permanent internal border controls, circumventing the Schengen Agreement on free movement. The EU Court of Justice declared such controls illegal. Now they are trying to loosen Schengen rules in Brussels negotiations.

Podcast

How Europe helped normalise Georgia Meloni

Should Georgia Meloni be considered neofascist? She insists she's a patriotic conservative. And indeed, if she's prime minister, she's expected to respect Italy's democracy — if only to keep money flowing from the EU.

Editorial

Background reads: Italy's election

With Italy heading to the ballot boxes this Sunday, let's take a look at what EUobserver has published that can help understand the country's swing to the (far)-right.

News in Brief

  1. More Russians now crossing Finnish land border
  2. Report: EU to propose €584bn energy grid upgrade plan
  3. Morocco snubs Left MEPs probing asylum-seeker deaths
  4. EU urges calm after Putin's nuclear threat
  5. Council of Europe rejects Ukraine 'at gunpoint' referendums
  6. Lithuania raises army alert level after Russia's military call-up
  7. Finland 'closely monitoring' new Russian mobilisation
  8. Flights out of Moscow sell out after Putin mobilisation order

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  3. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  5. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling

Latest News

  1. Ireland joins EU hawks on Russia, as outrage spreads
  2. Editor's weekly digest: Plea for support edition
  3. Investors in renewables face uncertainty due to EU profits cap
  4. How to apply the Nuremberg model for Russian war crimes
  5. 'No big fish left' for further EU sanctions on Russians
  6. Meloni's likely win will not necessarily strengthen Orbán
  7. France latest EU member to step up government spending in 2023
  8. Big Tech now edges out Big Energy in EU lobbying

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us