By Christina Berger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe
CATANIA, Italy — Amnesty International called on Italian authorities on Friday to investigate the forcible return of 68 people to Egypt after they were intercepted near the coast of Sicily. Amnesty International is questioning whether the migrants were given the opportunity to apply for asylum and international protection.
Italian coast guard boats patrolling waters near Catania, Sicily intercepted the Egyptian fishing vessel on Tuesday. The boat was carrying about 130 migrants, who identified themselves as Palestinians. The authorities arrested seven suspected human traffickers when they boarded the fishing vessel, and the other people were taken to a sports facility in Catania. They were detained for 24 hours in order to facilitate identification and return arrangements, the Italian authorities said.
On Wednesday, 68 of the migrants were put on a plane to Cairo, Egypt because Italian authorities claimed they were illegal immigrants from Egypt and not Palestinians. Amnesty International is questioning how identifications were made and protection needs assessed, and whether these migrants were given appropriate information and opportunity to seek asylum in accordance with international refugee and human rights laws.
“All people rescued at sea must be given the opportunity to seek asylum and to have their claims assessed in a fair and satisfactory asylum-determination procedure,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia. “There are concerns that in this case none of the individuals, included the 68 deported, was given such an opportunity.”
According to Amnesty International, organizations such as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration, Save the Children, and the Italian Red Cross were repeatedly denied access to the migrants. This is believed to be the first time since 2005 that an official request from the UNHCR was denied in Italy.
For years, thousand of migrants from Africa attempted crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach Italy, but that number has been drastically reduced since Italy and Libya made a deal in 2008 requiring migrants intercepted in international waters to be returned to Libya. Human rights groups argue that this deal violates the rights of asylum seekers. Amnesty International has broadly urged Italian authorities to stop mass summary expulsion of foreign nationals in order to conform with international laws and standards aimed at protecting the rights of asylum seekers.
For more information, please see:
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL — Italy Urged To Stop Mass Expulsions — 29 October 2010
AFP — 128 immigrants intercepted off Sicily in Egyptian fishing vessel –27 October 2010
DEUTSCHE PRESSE-AGENTUR — Italian coast guard intercepts 128 migrants — 26 October 2010