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24th Oct 2020

Amnesty: Italian police tortured migrants to meet EU target

  • Italy recently signed a repatriation agreement with Sudan (Photo: Ben Philabaum)

Italian police tortured asylum seekers with electric shocks and beatings, human rights group Amnesty International says.

EU pressure on Italian authorities to fingerprint every new arrival led to abuse at so-called hotspots where asylum claimants are initially identified, screened, and processed, the NGO claims in a 56-page report out on Thursday (3 November).

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"EU leaders have driven the Italian authorities to the limits - and beyond - of what is legal," said Matteo de Bellis, Amnesty International's researcher on Italy, in a statement.

Italy has four hotspots, staffed, in part, by officials from the EU's border agency Frontex and the European asylum support agency Easo.

People refusing fingerprinting can have them taken by force following EU commission rules in 2014 that called for a “proportionate use of coercion”. Last year, it threatened Rome with court action unless everyone was fingerprinted.

Those fingerprints are entered into Eurodac, an EU-level database used to identify asylum seekers, which helps determine the country responsible for processing their claims under the EU’s so-called Dublin rules on asylum.

Some Italian police officers, according to Amnesty, have resorted to beatings, sexual humiliation, and electric shocks to meet the 100 percent fingerprint target.

Of the 24 testimonies collected by the NGO, 16 involved beatings.

One 16-year old boy from Sudan said police had shocked him with stun batons.

"They gave me electricity with a stick, many times on the left leg, then on right leg, chest and belly. I was too weak, I couldn’t resist and at that point they took both my hands and put them on the machine," he said.

Another 27-year-old told the NGO that police in Sicily forced him to undress and sit on an aluminium chair.

"They held my shoulders and legs, took my testicles with pliers, and pulled twice. I can't say how painful it was," he said.

A 25-year-old woman from Eritrea said she was slapped repeatedly until she agreed to give her fingerprints.

Many others said they were sexually humiliated or beaten with sticks.

Unlawful returns to Sudan

Another 40 people from Sudan were also allegedly returned illegally in late August under a collective expulsion order without proper assessment of their asylum claims.

The order was part of a new bilateral arrangement on rapid repatriation, made public by Italian MPs last month, between Rome and Khartoum.

It includes provisions that allows the identification of people, who have not requested asylum, to take place in Sudan.

Amnesty says the deal may also lead to abuse.

One person from Sudan told the NGO that he had been arrested by Italian police. He then told a judge he didn't want to return to Sudan when asked his intentions.

"The judge asked me to tell the lawyer what I wanted, and I told the Egyptian translator that I didn’t want to go back to Sudan, as I am from Darfur. The judge said that I should go back to my country. It was very quick, I think they just wanted to deport us," he said.

Italy's new bilateral deal is also providing police inside Sudan - a state whose president is a wanted war criminal - with equipment and training.

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EU commission denied allegations of torture at Italian migrant hotspots, but said authorities can physically force people to be fingerprinted.

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