Italy often returns asylum seekers

Below is an article written in the New York Times about the Human Rights Watch report detailing Italy’s failure to follow international standards on how to treat asylum seekers and unaccompanied migrant children.

Italy Often Turns Back Asylum Seekers Arriving Illegally From Greece, Report Says

ROME — Instead of following international standards on how to treat asylum seekers and unaccompanied migrant children who arrive illegally from Greece, the Italian authorities have been summarily returning them, according to a report by Human Rights Watch scheduled to be published Tuesday.

Officials in several ports along Italy’s Adriatic coast routinely return stowaways on ferries from Greece within hours, without adequately considering requests for asylum or, in the case of children, admitting them to determine their best interests, the report said.

Human Rights Watch said its findings were based on interviews with government officials, social workers and 29 men and boys who had been returned to Greece, which the organization said reflected broader practices in Italy.

Officials at the Italian Interior Ministry said Monday that they could not respond immediately to the assertions in the report, which was shown to reporters before publication.

The report said it was difficult to determine how many migrants were affected. In the southern Italian port of Bari, almost 900 migrants trying to enter Italy were intercepted from January 2011 to June 2012, and just 12 were allowed to remain, the report said; broadly similar figures were cited for Venice in 2010 and most of 2011.

Considering “that people are detected and returned also from Ancona and Brindisi, it’s safe to assume we’re talking about several thousand people a year,” Judith Sunderland, senior Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch, wrote in an e-mail.

Criticism of Italy’s practice of returning intercepted migrants to Greece is “unfortunately nothing new — it’s been going on for years,” said Christopher Hein, director of the Italian Refugee Council. Mr. Hein said the arrival of more youths from Afghanistan, Syria and other troubled countries “makes it more alarming.”

Recounting the harrowing details of illegal journeys into Italy — traveling in refrigerated food trucks or between axles underneath cars and buses — the report offered a stark reminder of what migrants risk in their attempts to reach European Union countries in search of a better life. Many do not make it alive.

Of the 29 people interviewed by Human Rights Watch, 13 were minors when they were returned to Greece; the youngest was 13, the group said. None were given access to legal counsel or social services, as required by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the report said.

Federico Fossi, a spokesman for the United Nations commissioner for refugees in Italy, called the assistance services for migrants arriving in Italian ports on the Adriatic Sea “discontinuous and inadequate.” The Human Rights Watch report noted that the “generally adverse conditions in Greece” meant that many of those who were returned would attempt the journey to Italy “again and again.”

The report said that the nongovernmental organizations, interpreters and human rights lawyers who try to assist arriving migrants often do not get access to them when they are detained in Italian ports, leaving many migrants unaware of their rights.

Instead, stowaway asylum seekers and minors discovered by Italian border officials are put on commercial ferries, where they are frequently kept in makeshift holding pens, for the return voyage to Greece, the report said. Economic troubles and rising xenophobia there have made the situation “dire,” according to the report. Amnesty International said in December that Greece was unable to provide “even the most basic requirements of safety and shelter” to asylum seekers and migrants.

Under European Union rules, asylum seekers generally must stay in the country in which they first entered Europe, and can be sent back there if they try to go elsewhere, but Greece is an exception: when the European Court of Human Rights found in 2011 that Greece lacked an effective asylum determination system, many members of the union stopped returning asylum seekers there.

Italy has not suspended transfers to Greece, but the Italian government claims that it assesses return cases individually. The Human Rights Watch report questioned that claim, saying that stowaways on ferries rarely get a review.

Mr. Hein of the Italian Refugee Council said that some migrants who hope to reach Northern Europe and are caught entering Italy prefer to be sent back to Greece for another try, rather than apply for asylum in Italy, where they would then have to stay.

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About Haley Behre

I graduated from Syracuse University in December 2011 with majors in newspaper journalism and women and gender studies. Using these majors, I aspire to become a journalist who writes about human rights issues. I have held internships at the Syracuse New Times, Dash Media PR Firm, Syracuse Post-Standard and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. I also had an internship at the Not For Sale Campaign Syracuse chapter, which is a non-profit organization dedicated to eradicating human trafficking. I was born in Seoul, Korea on September 30, 1990 and moved to the United States before I was one year old. When I was 8, my family and I moved to Norwich, England for three years. While I was here I was immersed into a new culture and got to experience many things other children my age do not get to. Over the three years, I visited Ireland, France and the Netherlands several times, and Belgium, Wales and Sweden once. In the winter of 2010, I got an amazing opportunity to visit Kenya for a month. This was by far the single most eye-opening experience of my life thus far. The natural beauty of the landscape and its people do not compare to anything I have seen. I currently intern for the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press in the hopes of getting a full-time job at a newspaper or non-profit after.
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