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Italian top court joins Freedom United in denouncing sea migrant return scheme

  • Published on
    February 27, 2024
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  • Category:
    Human Trafficking, Law & Policy
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Advocates feel vindicated as Italy’s highest court, the Court of Cassation, ruled earlier this month that it is illegal to send refugees rescued from the Mediterranean Sea to an unsafe territory – in this case, Libya.

The case began last year after Italy and Libya automatically renewed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which began in 2017. Under the MoU, Italy funds and trains the Libyan Coast Guard in patrolling the Central Mediterranean despite evidence of systematic abuses against migrants, refugees and people seeking asylum, including modern slavery, which the U.N. has said may amount to crimes against humanity.

Matteo de Bellis, from Amnesty International, thinks the court was only making official what everyone, including the Italian authorities, already knew.

“The Italian coastguard and government have long known that returning migrants to Libya would be unlawful, because of the conditions there. Instead, they looked for ways around those restrictions, such as helping fund, equip and train the Libyan coastguard.”

Libya is no safe harbor

The particular case at hand involves a captain of a tugboat which intercepted over 100 migrants in Libya’s Search and Rescue Zone of the Mediterranean Sea. The captain handed the migrants over to the Libyan Coast Guard, who in turn took them to Libya.

The court finds unacceptable “the high risk [that] the migrants [might be] subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment in the detention centers […] in Libyan territory, with the impossibility of seeing their fundamental rights protected.”

Freedom United, advocates worldwide and the United Nations have been saying for years that Libya is not a safe port of disembarkation given grave human rights abuses, including trafficking, physical violence, and extortion, happening at detention centers there.

Al Jazeera reports,

According to a spokesperson for the IOM, there are 3,500 refugees being held in the official detention centres across western and eastern Libya.

More are held in the unofficial centres, the bulk of which are thought to be clustered around the capital in northwest Libya. However, ascribing any kind of number to those detained is, by its nature, impossible.

After an extensive study on the treatment of irregular migrants in Libya last year, the United Nations cited multiple cases of torture and sexual slavery – a crime against humanity –  as being relatively commonplace in the network of detention centres.

Join the movement 

The Freedom United community will continue to protest the return of migrants to Libya.

Although we join advocates in celebrating the ruling, we cannot stop pressuring Italy and the E.U. to comply with international human rights standards and end its propping up of the Libyan Coast Guard. It remains to be seen what, if any, difference this ruling will have on the current arrangement.

Together, we can send a clear message that we will no longer tolerate these flagrant violations of human rights.

Take a stand today. Join the campaign to end slavery in Libya

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Bonnie
1 month ago

The EU should attack the cause and not the people looking for safety and dignity in their lives…by not supporting local governments that are corrupt and ruthless.Unfortunately the political interests of the countries (EU) count more and the short term effects need to be suppressed…thus the anti migrant propaganda.

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