17th Mar 2018

Amnesty: Italy signs secret migrant deal with Libya

  • Amnesty: 'Italy has, at best, ignored the dire plight of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers' (Photo: Giampaolo Macorig)

Italy has signed a new agreement with the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) to "curtail the flow of migrants," according to a report by Amnesty International.

Details of the pact have not been made public.

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But the NGO in a report out on Wednesday (13 June) says it was signed on 3 April and entitles Italian authorities to intercept asylum seekers at sea and hand them back to Libyan soldiers.

It believes the agreement violates Italy's obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights because it does not contain human rights safeguards.

"Italy has, at best, ignored the dire plight of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers. At worst, it has shown itself willing to condone human rights abuses in order to meet national political self-interest," Amnesty said.

It noted that asylum seekers from Eritrea or Somalia who find themselves forcibly returned to Tripoli risk abuse and even torture.

Libya currently has no functioning refugee or asylum policy and migrants - for the large part from sub-Saharan Africa - are treated with contempt.

Many end up being accused of working as mercenaries for the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

During the conflict, armed fighters who opposed the regime routinely rounded up migrants. Some were sent to a football club near near al-Madina al-Kadima where they suffered physical abuse.

As of January 2011, there were 8,000 refugees and 3,200 asylum seekers in Libya waiting for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to process their claims.

The UNHCR was able to operate - albeit with limitations - under the Gaddafi regime.

Gaddafi stopped their work in June 2010. But - in a precursor of the new deal - Italy a few months later signed an agreement with the late dictator to halt irregular migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea.

Its past dealings with Gaddafi put Rome on the wrong side of the law.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled against Italy in February 2012 for forcibly returning migrants to Libya.

The case stems from an episode in 2009 where the Italian navy forcibly returned 11 Somalis and 13 Eritreans to Libya as part of a group of some 200 people who had left Libya on three vessels.

Italy said the operation was a rescue, but it did not even tell the people that they were being sent back to Tripoli.

It also said its bilateral agreements with Libya take precedent over international laws. But the court ruled that anyone who boards an Italian vessel at sea falls under the European convention.

Rome agreed with the court ruling and said any co-operation with the post-Gaddafi NTC would be informed by an "absolute respect for human rights and the need to safeguard the life of people at sea."

But for Amnesty, the April agreement represents a violation of the pledge.

"For the EU, reinforcing Europe's borders clearly trumps saving lives," the NGO's Nicolas Beger said.

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