Rights bodies welcome condemnation of Italy for push-backs to Libya

Human rights organizations have welcomed the sentence against Italy for intercepting at sea and sending back to Libya Somalian and Eritrean migrants.

On 6th May 2009, 35 miles South of Lampedusa, in international waters, the Italian authorities intercepted a boat carrying about 200 Somalis and Eritreans, including children and pregnant women.

The migrants were taken on board of Italian ships, pushed back to Tripoli and handed over to the Libyan authorities against their will. They were not identified, neither heard, nor informed of their real destination.

The migrants were, in fact, convinced that they were heading towards the Italian coast.

“In this case, migrants pushed back to Libya did not only risk being subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment, they have in fact been ill-treated in the detention camps, as the survivors dramatically witnessed,” said Lawyer Antion Giulio Lana.

“What is most appalling is that the Italian Government has publicly stated that the migrants pushed back were not eligible for asylum and were not facing any risk in Libya,” said Lawyer Andrea Saccucci. Such statement has been unmistakably contradicted by what has actually happened.

The Italian Government, in its defence, argued that Libya had to be considered as a “safe country” and, furthermore, that the applicants had not expressed – in any way – to the officials on board their wish to apply for asylum or any other form of international protection.

The Court wholly rejected the objections of the Italian Government, considering that the migrants intercepted in International waters were not given any actual possibility to obtain an individual evaluation of their personal circumstances in order to benefit from the protection recognised to refugees from the International and Community law, in violation of Article 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

“Such a sentence proves that during the push-back operations the rights of refugees were systematically violated,” said Christopher Hein, Director of the Italian Council for Refugees.

He said that Italy has denied more than 1,000 people the possibility of applying for protection and pushed them back to Libya.

Mr. Hein urged the Italian government to insist on respect of the rights of refugees while re-contracting the co-operation agreements with the Libyan Transitional Government.

“This ruling confirms that States’ obligations under the ECHR do not stop at their physical borders,” said ECRE’s Acting Secretary General Allan Leas. “States cannot abdicate their principles, values and commitment to the protection of human rights by doing outside their borders what would not be permissible in their territories.”