Treated like human cargo - Italy pushes protection seekers back to Greece. PRO ASYL and the Greek Council for Refugees publish report on arbitrary readmissions from Italian ports to Greece.
3 July 2012. 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.
The report is based on testimonies of more than 50 persons that have been pushed back from Italy to Greece in this way at least once.