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Migrant Italy complaint dismissed

European court strikes out case on mass expulsion to Libya

19 January, 19:10
Migrant Italy complaint dismissed (ANSA) - Strasbourg, January 19 - The European Court of Human Rights has struck out a complaint against Italy over its mass expulsion of migrants to Libya in 2005 under a ruling published on Tuesday. The Strasbourg court dismissed the complaint partly because most of the applicants could no longer be traced and partly because it believed Italian lawyers had ''invented'' some of the 84 applicants.

The complaint filed in 2005 related to the government's treatment of large numbers of mainly Palestinian migrants who had travelled by boat from Libya to Italy.

It said the Italian government had breached several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights by sending the migrants back to Libya en masse. It specifically alleged the government had violated a prohibition on inhuman and degrading treatment, the right to life and a prohibition on the collective expulsion of aliens. But after ordering a handwriting expert to examine the signatures and powers of attorney signed by the applicants, the court concluded that at least 34 of applications had been completed by the same person. All bar one of the other applicants were missing. Some had absconded from holding centres and others had been released from detention after the custody time-limit expired. A further 14 applicants deported to Libya could no longer be traced by their lawyers, meaning the court had no evidence on which to decide whether the Italian government had violated the right to life or the prohibition on inhuman and degrading treatment. But the court noted that all the deportees had been given an individual hearing with legal representation and an interpreter prior to deportation, meaning Italy had not violated the prohibition on collective expulsion. Commenting on the decision, the Italian Refugee Council (CIR) stressed that the Court had not approved the Italian government's actions. ''Italy was not found guilty but neither was it acquitted over its mass deportation actions of 2005,'' said CIR Director Christopher Hein.

''The Strasbourg court made no comment on the legality or legitimacy of those expulsions but struck out the complaint on formal matters''. Hein said he found it deeply worrying that the court's decision had partly been based on the fact that those returned to Libya could no longer be traced. ''If a person disappears, if a government forcibly repatriates someone and if this person can no longer be contacted, do they lose the right to justice?'' The international humanitarian organization Save The Children also pointed out that the decision had been based on ''technical shortcomings''. ''The Court does not enter into the merits of the violations complained of, and therefore is neither confirming or denying that they were subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment back in Libya,'' a statement said.

But a senator with the regionalist Northern League party said the decision marked a victory for those who fought illegal immigration.

''By dismissing the appeal of a hundred immigrants, the Court has struck a blow for truth and justice: those landings were illegal,'' said Angela Maraventano.

Meanwhile, the woman expected to become the next European home affairs commissioner expressed concern over the treatment of migrants and refugees seeking to enter Europe by sea, saying there had been ''too many human tragedies''. Answering questions during a hearing at the European Parliament on Tuesday, Swedish nominee Cecilia Malmstrom recalled that European member states had an obligation ''to protect those fleeing terrible situations in order to save their lives''. However, responding to a query by an Italian MEP, she acknowledged that ''some EU countries are under a great deal of pressure from the Mediterranean''.

Malmstrom also accepted that agreements with Libya, the departure point for many African migrants seeking to reach Europe by boat, might be necessary.

''Libya is not exactly a democratic country but we have to reach agreement on some cooperation,'' she said. ''Some small steps forward have been made but we must concentrate on ensuring that it meets its obligations to treat each individual in a humane manner''. The Italian government has come under fire from opposition politicians, the Catholic Church and refugee organizations for a 'push-back policy' implemented last year as part of an accord it signed with Libya.

Under the agreement, boat migrants intercepted at sea by Italian patrols are forcibly escorted back to Libya.

Critics say Italy is violating its international obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention by sending potential refugees to a country that has no procedures for vetting asylum claims.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni has rebutted criticism, arguing that the initiative is ''in line with existing legislation''.

The Italian government says the proper procedures are in place in Libya and describes the policy as a success, pointing to the massive drop in the number of migrants arriving in Italy by boat.

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