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Vatican criticises migrant policy

Msgr Marchetto voices concern on asylum seekers

09 April, 17:58
Vatican criticises migrant policy

(ANSA) - Vatican City, April 9 - The Vatican on Friday renewed its criticism of Italy's policy of intercepting migrant boats in the Mediterranean and taking them back to Libya.

"No one can be transferred, expelled or extradited towards a state where there is a serious risk that the person will be condemned to death, tortured or subjected to other forms of degrading or inhumane treatment," said the Vatican's immigration pointman, Archbishop Agostino Marchetto.

Marchetto, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, cited a Human Rights Watch report which last September said Italy had taken asylum seekers back to Libya without checking if there might be refugees or other vulnerable persons among them.

He said Libya's conditions in detention centres "varied from acceptable to inhumane and degrading".

Marchetto condemned countries on the Mediterranean's southern rim like Libya which have accords with European Union members but do not respect international treaties aimed at protecting people fleeing from conflicts and persecution.

Marchetto's statement sparked renewed calls from the centre-left opposition for Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right government to explain its treaty with Libya to parliament.

Pietro Mercenaro of the Democratic Party, chair of the Senate's human rights committee, noted that asylum applications had halved since the 'push-back' policy was brought in last May, depriving many migrants of an "essential" right ensnrined in international treaties and the Italian Constitution.

"Despite our numerous requests," he said the government had yet to address the treaty's impact and "all the problems it was easy to see happening regarding human rights and the right to asylum".

Leoluca Orlando, spokesman of the smaller opposition Italy of Values party, accused Berlusconi of "kissing the hands of those who violate human rights".

"His obsequious bows to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, in honour of the business interests of some of his friends, are shocking".

Orlando accused the government of backing the Church's conservative social stances for electoral needs while "ignoring it when it comes to human rights".

An immigration expert in Berlusconi's People of Freedom party, Margherita Boniver, responded by accusing the opposition of "not offering valid alternatives" to a policy which has met with scrutiny, but not disapproval, from the European Union. Boniver, who chairs the Italian parliament's Schengen Committee, said she soon hoped to visit Tripoli to see how the treaty was being enacted and the scope of migrant flows from central Africa into Libya.

She also noted that migrant arrivals from Libya had fallen by 90% thanks to the treaty, "an indisputably positive result".

"It is absolutely necessary to observe international law but just as sacrosanct to implement efficient immigration controls," Boniver stressed.

The government, which came to power on a law-and-order and immigrant clampdown ticket, has consistently stressed its new policies have brought Italy into line with other large EU countries that have strict border controls and do their best to keep out illegal immigrants.

Italy's northern European partners have criticised it in the past for being too soft on immigration, arguing that many of the migrants use Italy as a transit point for countries where checks are tougher and benefits easily available.

'PUSH-BACKS' ALSO CONDEMNED BY UNHCR. But Italy's 'push-back' policy, part of a huge reparations and business deal with Libya first inked in 2008, has come under fire not only from the Vatican but also from the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR and other human rights groups. The UNHCR's Italian spokesperson Laura Boldrini recently recalled that the Geneva Convention made it mandatory to help anyone stranded at sea.

Human rights groups say Libya does not have a system in place to deal with asylum claims.

Thanks to the agreement with Libya, only 1,900 illegal immigrants reached Italy from May to October 31, compared to 19,000 in the same period last year, Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said recently.

Under the initiative, migrants are rescued in international waters and taken back to Libya where humanitarian organisations can vet their asylum claims.

Libya is the main stepping-off point on the North African coast for migrants seeking to reach southern Italy.

Boldrini said immigrants taken to Libya, including women and children, were "being held in detention centres in terrible conditions".

photo: Msgr Marchetto

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