24th Oct 2016

Italy trampling on asylum seekers' rights, NGOs say

  • Italian police are forcibly returning asylum seekers from Greece, claim NGOs (Photo: Valentina Pop)

Italy's readmission agreement with Greece and its recently leaked secret migration agreement with Libya have roused concerns among a number of NGOs.

A report released by Amnesty International on Italy and Libya on Thursday (5 July) and another one released on Tuesday (3 July) by the Greek Refugee Council on Italy and Greece both claim Rome is flagrantly violating the human rights of asylum seekers.

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Amnesty International told this website that Italy had already been condemned by a Court of Justice ruling for its controversial bilateral migration agreement with Libya in 2008. Italy was intercepting migrants at sea and returning them to Libya, a country that has no functioning asylum system.

The latest iteration, signed on 3 April in Tripoli and leaked by the Italian press on 18 June, refers back to the very same 2008 agreement previously condemned by the court.

"Italy is repeating the same thing despite the absence of any guarantees that people will be treated with a minimum of decency in Libya and in full knowledge of what is happening on the ground there," said Anneliese Baldaccini, an expert on asylum and migration at the Amnesty International Brussels office.

Amnesty claims the effect of the agreement is to ensnare asylum seekers in a country where the rule of law is spiralling out of control.

Father Mussie Zerai, who alerted the Guardian newspaper last year to a separate incident involving the deaths of 63 boat refugees despite massive Nato presence, told EUobserver he has reports the Italian authorities are now running joint operations with the Libyans again.

"A boat with a Libyan flag and a boat with an Italian flag stopped the Eritreans at sea on 29 June," he said.

His sources in Libya told him there were 76 Eritreans on the boat, including women and children.

Libyan police then escorted the asylum seekers to a new detention centre still under construction in the outskirts of Tripoli.

"The Libyans told them they will all be deported back to Eritrea," said Zerai.

Italy has already been reprimanded by the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights for intercepting Somali and Eritrean nationals at sea and sending them back to Libya without first reviewing any of their individual cases. The court ruled against Italy's favour in February 2012.

Fleeing asylum seekers in Greece meet Italian wrath

Meanwhile, the Greek Council of Refugees says that refugees, including some unaccompanied minors, are being denied basic rights by Italian authorities.

The refugees are taking ferry boats across the Adriatic to four ports in Italy. Those apprehended by authorities at the ports are "either refused entry to the Italian territory or are readmitted back to Greece."

The NGO documented a case where a 10-year old Afghan boy was registered as an adult and then readmitted from Bari to Patras in Greece.

Two families also reportedly told the police they had legal residing relatives in the EU but were not informed they had the right to apply for asylum in Italy. Both were instead returned to Greece.

Christopher Hein, director of the Italian Refugee Council, told EUobserver from Rome that several thousand asylum seekers and undocumented migrants have taken the ferries from Greece to Italy since 2011.

Hein said the two countries share a bilateral readmission agreement that was signed prior to the establishment of the EU's passport free Schengen border code.

"In principle, there are no internal borders in the EU. We have serious doubts if this is not contrary to the Schengen aquis [law]," said Hein.

Italy is using the agreement to circumvent its obligations under the Dublin regulation by shuffling the migrants back onto the ferries, he said. The ferry companies are then forced to deal with the migrants.

Hein said no ferry captain, to his knowledge, has ever refused the Italian authority’s request to re-board the migrants.

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