UN criticises Italian, Greek asylum policies
Posted by clandestina on 15 July 2009
By Judith Crosbie14.07.2009 / 13:29 CETRefugee agency warns of maltreatment, failure to accept asylum applications and changes to legal system.
The UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, today (14 July) criticised Italy’s treatment of would-be asylum-seekers and Greece’s decision to close down a camp housing asylum-seekers and change its laws on asylum.
The UNHCR said it feared that Italy’s new policy of intercepting migrants at sea may has resulted in failures to honour its obligations to asylum-seekers and in maltreatment of migrants. It says that, since May, Italy has picked up 900 people at sea and returned them to the north African coast from which they sailed.
In a statement, the UNHCR said it had “expressed serious concerns about the impact of this new policy which, in the absence of adequate safeguards, can prevent access to asylum and undermines the international principle of non-refoulement”, which is intended to prevent refugees being returned to places where their lives or freedoms could be threatened.
The UNHCR cited a case on 1 July when the Italian navy picked up 82 people 30 miles from the southern island of Lampedusa. A “significant number” of the group wanted to claim asylum but were sent back to Libya on a Libyan ship and placed in detention centres, the UNHCR said. It has asked the Italian authorities to provide information on those sent back to Libya.
It added that it had been told “disturbing accounts” of Italian personnel using force to transfer the migrants onto the Libyan ship, resulting in six people needing medical attention. Their belongings, including documents, were taken from them and have not yet been returned. “Those interviewed spoke of the distress they were in after four days at sea and said that the Italian navy did not offer them any food during the 12-hour operation to return them to Libya,” UNHCR said.
Of the group of 82, 76 were from Eritrea, including nine women and at least six children. A recent report by Human Rights Watch said Eritrea was “one of the most closed and repressive states in the world”, and the government stands accused of repression and abuse of its citizens, including detention, torture, forced labour and restrictions of freedom of movement and expression.
Greece was similarly criticised on a number of counts, including its decision to close down a makeshift camp in Patras on 12 July, which left many of its residents, including registered asylum-seekers, without a roof over their heads.
An unknown number of undocumented residents of the camp were arrested and taken to a police station in Patras, where, according to the UNHCR, translation and interpretation services may be inadequate. The organisation also voiced concern about the decision to transfer 44 unaccompanied minors to a special reception centre in Konitsa, northern Greece.
The statement was issued just after Greece adopted a law decentralising asylum decisions to over 50 police directorates and abolishing the existing appeals process in favour of a judicial review that will address only points of law. “These new developments are likely to make protection even more elusive for those who need it in Greece,” it warned in a statement.
Almost 20,000 applications for asylum in Greece were lodged in 2008. During that year, Greece awarded international protection to just 379 people.