UK to probe Italy migrant mistreatment claims

Claims by a group of asylum seekers that they suffered mistreatment in Italy must be investigated before they face deportation from the UK, the country's Supreme Court has ruled.

UK to probe Italy migrant mistreatment claims
The UK Supreme Court ordered further investigation into the asylum seekers' claims of mistreatment in Italy. Photo: UK Supreme Court

The three Eritreans and one Iranian claimed that they suffered “inhuman” treatment in Italy, including being raped, and fear further mistreatment if they are sent back.

The group was due to be deported because, under European law, they should have stayed in Italy to seek asylum, as this was their point of entry into the EU.

But the UK’s Supreme Court on Wednesday challenged this earlier decision, arguing that Italy should not necessarily be deemed a safe country for asylum seekers.

It is not a prerequisite for Italy to have "systematically breached" asylum seekers' human rights, the Supreme Court said, but despite this the UK courts must examine their individual claims of mistreatment before deporting them.

Two of the Eritreans are women, who said that they were repeatedly raped in Italy, leaving one of them suicidal at the thought of being forcibly sent back. They and the Eritrean man claim they were left homeless and destitute in the country.

The Iranian man argued that he is in need of treatment for torture inflicted while a political prisoner in his own country, which he said would be unavailable in Italy.

The group’s case will now be sent to the UK’s Administrative Court, a process which could take some months.

Charlie Bagnall, a lawyer representing the Eritrean man, told The Local that the British court will need to examine their claims of mistreatment within the broader context of the Italian immigration system.

“The court isn’t there to pronounce on the Italian system, but evidence of the overall picture is going to come into it as part of the claim about fearing mistreatment,” Bagnall said.

He advocated a country “fact-finding mission” by the UK’s Immigration and Asylum Tribunal, to better assess future claims of mistreatment in Italy.

He said that getting a better picture of the issues affecting migrants in Italy would "set a framework for individual claims to be looked at".

"This is the best means to try to have a more efficient system [and] the sooner that happens with Italy, the better,” Bagnall told The Local.

Italy is currently struggling to cope with the number of migrants arriving on its shores. Last year, around 43,000 people arrived in the country by boat, an increase of 325 percent on 2012.

Only recently emerging from recession, Italy lacks the financial resources to provide adequate facilities for asylum seekers, who often spend months living in overcrowded immigration centres.

In December, a national TV channel broadcast footage of asylum seekers in the island of Lampedusa stripping to be hosed down with disinfectant, like in a “concentration camp” according to Mayor Giusi Nicolini. The Italian government promptly moved the migrants out of the centre and the EU demanded an inquiry into the way they were treated.

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How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.