Thousands of protection seekers try to cross the sea from Greece to Italy every year. If they manage to arrive in Italy however, they are immediately returned to Greece without any individual assessment of their cases, without any legal safeguards, the report HUMAN CARGO – Arbitrary readmissions from the Italian sea ports to Greece by PRO ASYL and the Greek Council for Refugees has revealed.
Just like most other EU Member States, Italy has officially stopped returning people to Greece under the Dublin system, since the European Court for Human Rights in January 2011 determined Greece not to be a safe country for asylum seekers. However these massive arbitrary readmissions to Greece are carried out in a systematic way in direct violation of that ruling.
Almost all readmitted people interviewed for this research were homeless before and after their readmission to Greece. They had no access to food, water, sanitary infrastructure or to medical care. Some of them were also victims of racist and/or police violence in Patras or Athens.
In two of the described cases, minors who were readmitted were detained for 20 days in Igoumenitsa mixed detention centre at the port, until being transferred to a special reception facility for unaccompanied minors in Konitsa.
Denial of access to international protection
None of the people readmitted ever had a realistic chance to have their request for asylum registered. Allegedly, in most of the cases the Italian authorities did not ask any questions of the migrants; not even their names. Others say that they explicitly told the police that they wanted to apply for asylum, but the authorities did not register their claim.
Lack of protection for unaccompanied children
The report finds that unaccompanied children are registered by the Italian authorities as adults. In one case, an around 10 year old Afghan boy was registered as being 18 years old and was readmitted from Bari to Patras.
There have also been documented cases of minors separated from their family by the readmission procedure. In one case, two alleged under-age brothers were separated. One was readmitted as an adult and the other stayed in Italy.
Ill-treatment by Italian officers
Interviewees described being mishandled by Italian officers, slapped, punched and kicked in the police station where they were taken in order to be fingerprinted, on their way back to the ship and/or inside the provisional detention places of the ship.
Inhuman and degrading detention conditions on board
In almost all cases, those to be readmitted were held in a cabin used as a temporary detention cell that was made available by the ship companies. In other cases, people were kept in metal storage rooms, facing extreme weather conditions during winter and summer. The readmitted persons were not always offered food and water or had access to the toilet and sometimes had to urinate in plastic bottles.
Arbitrary readmissions must stop immediately
The findings of this report show that Italy is not fulfilling its obligations under international and European law. The practices of Italian authorities constitute a breach of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, the European Convention on Human Rights and the 1951 Refugee Convention.
PRO ASYL and the Greek Council of Refugees urge the Italian government to ensure access to asylum procedures for those arriving at Italy’s sea ports. The policy of arbitrary readmission to Greece must stop immediately.
We call upon European institutions to take immediate action in response to the human rights violations occurring in these Italian Ports. The European Commission, the European Parliament, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, its Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) and also the EU member states cannot accept the violation of international law by one of their members.
UN Special Rapporteur urges Italy to put human rights at the core of its border management policy:
ROME (8 October 2012) – At the end of his nine-day mission to Italy, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, François Crépeau, urged the Italian authorities to prioritise a human rights approach when dealing with irregular migration, and not to let security concerns overshadow human rights considerations.
“Ensure that migration cooperation with Libya does not lead to any migrant being returned to Libyan shores against their will, either by Italian authorities, or by Libyan authorities with the technical or logistical support of their Italian counterparts.”
“Although the EU has negotiated a number of EU wide readmission agreements, the absence of a clear regional framework for such agreements, including a lack of minimum human rights standards, has led to the creation of a number of bilateral readmission agreements between Italy and its neighbours which often do not appear to have human rights at their core.”
“In light of the decision of M.S.S. v Greece, in which the European Court of Human Rights held that Greece was not a safe country of return for asylum seekers, and given the testimony I heard from migrants who transited through Greece regarding extreme xenophobic violence against migrants, Italy should formally prohibit the practice of informal automatic ‘push-backs’ to Greece.”
Full access by international organisations
“Guarantee the full access by international organisations, including UNHCR and IOM, civil society organisations and lawyers to all areas where migrants are held or detained.”
“There is no general authority with investigative powers to monitor the activities of all migrant detention call places where migrants are held. I note the Praesidium Project is a positive step, as it provides a framework for access to some centres for a coalition of organisations including the IOM, UNHCR, the Red Cross and Save the Children. Yet, these organisations are still not given full and continuous access to all centers, most notably the temporary centers where the Tunisians and Egyptians are held for quick processing and removal.”
Regulatory framework with human rights at its core
“Develop a nation-wide regulatory framework, with respect for human rights at its core, for the organisation and management of all migrant detention centres.”
“Develop a simpler and fairer appeal system for expulsion and detention orders that integrates human rights considerations at each procedural step.”
“Develop a speedier identification system, including commencing the identification of foreign inmates whilst in prison, in order to make sure that detention of migrants for identification is limited to the shortest time possible, with a maximum of 6 months.
Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, after a four-day visit to Rome between 3 and 6 July 2012:
The Commissioner pointed out that once officially recognized, refugees and other beneficiaries of international protection do not receive the crucial support they need to integrate into Italian society, and are therefore forced to live in destitute conditions. The Commissioner said “I personally witnessed the intolerable circumstances faced by 800 such persons, struggling to survive in an abandoned building in Rome. This is unacceptable in a country like Italy”.
Referring to his visit to an identification and expulsion centre (CIE) in Ponte Galeria, where migrants are held while procedures for their identification are being carried out, the Commissioner also expressed deep concern about the conditions of detention in such institutions. He stressed that “many arrive in these facilities after serving a prison sentence. It must be possible to proceed with their identification while they are still in prison