Home News Human rights group slams Italy’s policy on migrants

Human rights group slams Italy’s policy on migrants

Published on 22/09/2009

Rome — Human Rights Watch Monday criticised Italy’s new policy of returning boat people to Libya — where they may face "brutal treatment" — without giving them a chance to apply for asylum in Europe.

"Italy intercepts African boat migrants and asylum seekers, fails to screen them for refugee status or other vulnerabilities, and forcibly returns them to Libya, where many are detained in inhuman and degrading conditions and abused," the rights watchdog said in a report.

"The reality is that Italy is sending people back to abuse," wrote HRW’s refugee policy director Bill Frelick, author of the 92-page report.

"Migrants who had been detained in Libya consistently spoke of brutal treatment and overcrowded and unsanitary conditions," he added.

The bilateral policy that took effect in May "is an open violation of Italy’s legal obligation not to commit… the forced return of people to places where their lives or freedom would be threatened or where they would face a risk of torture or inhuman and degrading treatment," the report said.

Italian authorities send boatloads of migrants back "without determining whether some might be refugees, sick or injured, pregnant women, unaccompanied children, or victims of trafficking or other forms of violence against women," HRW said.

The report was based on interviews with 91 migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees living in Italy and Malta and one telephone interview with a migrant detainee in Libya.

HRW, citing accounts of beatings in Libya, called on Tripoli "to improve the deplorable conditions of detention in Libya and to establish asylum procedures that conform to international refugee standards."

The group also urged the Italian government and the European Union to ensure access to asylum and to "refrain from returning non-Libyans to Libya until its treatment of migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees fully meets international standards."

Libya is a major starting point for sub-Saharan Africans risking their lives in rickety boats with the hope of asylum or simply a better life in Europe.

Last year, 75 percent of those who arrived in Italy sought political or humanitarian asylum, and half of those obtained it, according to UN refugee agency figures.