23rd Oct 2016

Commission probes Italy asylum abuse allegations

  • Thousands of undocumented migrants from Greece have arrived by ferry to ports in Italy since 2011 (Photo: Paolo Margari)

The European Commission is looking into allegations Italy is abusing the rights of asylum seekers by sending unaccompanied minors back to Greece.

EU law requires member states to thoroughly process asylum claims and applications.

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But according to a joint-report by the Greek Refugee Council and the German-based Pro Asyl earlier this month, Italy is returning undocumented migrants and asylum seekers to Greece without any proper checks.

“If appropriate the Commission will not hesitate to take action in conformity with the powers conferred to it in the treaties,” a spokesperson from the Commission told this website in a statement on Friday (20 July).

The report documents cases where unaccompanied minors were forced back to Greece after having arrived in Italy in search of refuge.

The Commission says the “matter is complex” and that it must take into account the situation of the minors involved, depending on whether they are in need of international protection or whether they are irregular migrants.

Italy and Greece share a bilateral agreement that entitles both to send back migrants from either nation. The agreement was signed prior to the establishment of the EU's passport free Schengen border code.

Desperate asylum seekers in Greece are paying smugglers thousands of euros to leave the country for another EU member state. Many attempt to reach in Scandinavia or the Netherlands where asylum procedures are easier.

Several thousand asylum seekers and undocumented migrants have also taken ferries from Greece to Italy since 2011. In many instances, Italian port authority and customs reportedly shuffle the migrants back onto the ferries.

The Commission notes that EU asylum laws impose obligations on member states to ensure effective access to procedures for third-country nationals seeking international protection.

“These provisions must be respected in all circumstances and override any bilateral readmission agreement member states may conclude,” says the Brussels executive.

In Greece, local anti-racism campaigners say immigrants and asylum seekers are facing a rise in violence given the spread of far-right political movements like the Golden Dawn party. The past three months have seen some 300 immigrants beaten, say the campaigners.

Human Rights Watch, an international NGO, documented an incident where an 18-year-old Somali man, Yasser Abdurraham, was punched and knifed by a group of six or seven men on motorcycles. Others have been indiscriminately beaten with clubs studded with nails.

The Malta-based European asylum support office (EASO), in a report released on Friday, says Greece may have embarked on a series of reforms to improve its asylum reception conditions but reports continue to raise alarms including, among others, the “deteriorating detention conditions amounting to inhuman or degrading treatment.”

Afghans top EU asylum seekers

Meanwhile, the EASO report also states the vast majority of asylum seekers to Europe in 2011 came from Afghanistan.

Some 26,159 new applications were registered in 2011, representing a 35 percent increase compared to 2002 just after the start of the US led war against the Taliban.

Their primary destination in Europe was Germany, followed by Sweden, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands.

The EU police body Europol based in the Hague told this website that criminal networks are facilitating the flow into the Europe.

In March, the agency along with national authorities in Hungary dismantled a network involved in smuggling more than 150 people from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkey and Palestine into Austria and Germany via Hungary.

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