UK to probe Italy migrant mistreatment claims

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
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.

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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