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IMMIGRATION

Torturing migrants gets Somali man life sentence in Italy

A Somali man who tortured dozens of his compatriots and other migrants in a Libyan camp was sentenced to life in prison by an Italian court on Tuesday.

Torturing migrants gets Somali man life sentence in Italy
The Somali man who tortured dozens of his compatriots and other migrants in a Libyan camp. Photo: Mahmud Turkia/AFP

Osman Matammud, 22, was convicted of murder and multiple counts of torture on the basis of testimony from migrants after he was recognised by chance outside a migrant centre in Milan.

Matammud, who tried to pass himself off as a regular asylum seeker, was arrested in September 2016 after being reported to authorities for using torture to extort money from migrants in a transit camp in Bani Walid, a town in the Libyan desert.

Migrants from sub-Saharan Africa often spend time in such camps while waiting for their families to pay more money to people traffickers who have promised to get them to Europe. Torture is used to speed up and sometimes increase the payments.

A total of 17 victims testified against Matammud in the Milan court, with some saying he had beaten people to death and let others die from a lack of food, water or medical treatment.

Two young women told the court he had raped them.

“Matammud was a case of someone losing all moral compass, of being overcome by a delirious sense of power as a result of having the lives of others in his hands,” lead prosecutor Marcello Tatangelo told the trial last month.

The young Somali man claimed he was just like any other migrant arriving in Italy and had been himself the victim of violent attacks in Libya.

His lawyer portrayed Matammud as being caught up in a war between rival Somali clans. “I've told the truth, I've not lied, nor have I committed any crime,” Matammud said in his final appeal.

Testimonies by the victims left a mark on the investigators. “In a 40-year career, I have never come across horror on the same level, and you have to imagine that what happened in Bani Walid is taking place in every camp,” another prosecutor, Ilda Boccassini, said in January.

POLITICS

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.

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