23 May 2012
Refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants
By the end of the year, over 52,000 people had arrived by sea from North Africa, in particular on the island of Lampedusa, considerably more than in previous years. The authorities’ response was flawed and resulted in violations of the human rights of asylum-seekers, migrants and refugees. Actions included collective summary expulsions, violations of the prohibition of non-refoulement and unlawful detention. There were profound concerns that the implementation of agreements on migration control signed with several North African countries such as Libya, Tunisia and Egypt were resulting in asylum-seekers being denied access to international protection and in people being subjected to summary removals. Conditions in reception and detention centres fell short of international standards, and asylum-seekers and refugees were left destitute.
- In March, a humanitarian crisis unfolded on the island of Lampedusa as a result of the failure of the authorities to ensure timely transfers of enough people to Sicily or to other regions of Italy. Thousands of migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees were left stranded on Lampedusa in appalling conditions, with many of them having to sleep rough with limited or no access to sanitary and washing facilities.
- In April, the government reached an agreement with the Tunisian authorities allowing for the summary removal of Tunisian citizens. Like other agreements on migration control, its content was not fully disclosed to the public.
- In June, the government signed a memorandum of understanding on migration control with the Libyan Transitional Council, in which both parties agreed to implement existing arrangements. There were concerns that, as in previous years, this would lead to asylum-seekers being denied access to procedures to claim international protection, and to violations of the prohibition of non-refoulement.
- On 21 August, the authorities carried out a “push-back” operation after Italian vessels intercepted a boat travelling from North Africa towards Lampedusa. There were reports that this was not an isolated episode and that such operations were taking place on a regular basis.
- In September, a fire was started by people held in the overcrowded first aid and reception centre of Lampedusa, in protest at their detention there and the threat of forcible repatriation by the Italian authorities. The fire destroyed most of the facilities in the centre. Afterwards, some of those evacuated protested on the streets of Lampedusa. Clashes with the Italian police and some inhabitants of the island broke out and resulted in several people sustaining injuries. In response to these events, the Italian authorities resumed transferring people to other locations in Italy.
Legislation adopted in August to transpose the EU Returns Directive into domestic law violated migrants’ right to liberty. It extended the maximum period of detention of individuals solely for immigration purposes from six to 18 months. It also failed to reflect key safeguards included in the Returns Directive, thus undermining the promotion of voluntary returns, and favouring instead detention and enforced removals.
Following the decision of the European Court of Justice on the El Dridi case in April, the sanction of imprisonment of between one and four years for failure to comply with an order to leave the country was replaced by fines in August. The Court had been requested to assess the compliance of the Italian law with the EU Returns Directive.
In October, several organizations including UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, and the International Organization for Migration, denounced the fact that they were denied access to 150 individuals in Bari who had been intercepted at sea. Of those, more than 70 were immediately repatriated. All the organizations were partners of the government in the implementation of the “Presidium project”, which aimed to improve the capacity and quality of the reception of people potentially in need of international protection.
Read the full report here.