Strasbourg - 28.04.2010 - The Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) has published today the report on its ad hoc visit to Italy in July 2009, together with the response of the Italian Government. Both documents have been made public at the request of the Italian authorities.
The main purpose of the visit was to look into the new policy of the Italian authorities to intercept, at sea, migrants approaching Italy’s Southern Mediterranean maritime border and to send them back to Libya or other non-European States (frequently referred to as the “push-back” policy). In this context, the delegation carrying out the visit focused on push-back operations that took place between May and the end of July 2009 and sought to examine the system of safeguards in place to ensure that no one is sent to a country where there are substantial grounds for believing that he/she would run a real risk of being subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The delegation also examined the treatment afforded to migrants during the time that they were deprived of their liberty by the Italian authorities in the course of such operations.
In the report, the CPT expresses the view that, in its present form, Italy’s policy of intercepting migrants at sea and obliging them to return to Libya or other non-European countries, violates the principle of non-refoulement. The Committee emphasises that Italy is bound by the principle of non-refoulement wherever it exercises its jurisdiction, which includes via its personnel and vessels engaged in border protection or rescue at sea, even when operating outside its territory. Moreover, all persons coming within Italy’s jurisdiction should be afforded an appropriate opportunity and facilities to seek international protection. The information available to the CPT indicates that no such opportunity or facilities were afforded to the migrants intercepted at sea by the Italian authorities during the period examined. On the contrary, the persons who were pushed back to Libya in the operations carried out from May to July 2009 were denied the right to obtain an individual assessment of their case and effective access to the refugee protection system.
According to the report, Libya cannot be considered a safe country in terms of human rights and refugee law; the situation of persons arrested and detained in Libya, including that of migrants – who are also exposed to being deported to other countries by Libya – indicates that the persons pushed back to Libya are at risk of ill-treatment.
In its response to the report, the Italian authorities refer to the above-mentioned operations as the “return of migrants, intercepted in international waters, upon request by Algeria and Libya” and as search and rescue operations. The authorities state that in the course of such operations, during the period examined by the CPT, no migrant, once transferred onto an Italian ship, expressed his/her intention to apply for asylum. Further, the authorities state that English and French speaking personnel are present aboard Italian vessels in order to provide adequate information to migrants in the event of an asylum request, and when such a request is articulated the migrant is brought to mainland Italy. The Italian Government further argues that Libya is bound by international conventions under which it must respect human rights, and that it has ratified the 1969 Organisation of the African Union Refugee Convention, under which it must protect all persons who are persecuted and who originate from “areas at risk”. The Italian authorities also state that the UNHCR has an office in Libya which can respond to the protection needs of those persons who are returned.
The CPT report and the response of the Italian Government are available on the Committee’s website (http://www.cpt.coe.int)
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