With the sentence in the case Hirsi Jamaa and Others vs. Italy, the Strasbourg Court condemned forced repatriation in high sea, applied repeatedly by the Italian Navy without giving the opportunity to the immigrants, pushed back against their will to the Libyan coast, to seek asylum or any other kind of international protection.
A landmark judgment, which could contribute to the reduction of the number of victims in the Mediterranean Sea: at least 1500 in 2011.
The sentence refers to the well-known Italian decision to return to Tripoli about 200 persons, with boats of the Italian Coast Guard, all of Somali or Eritrean citizenship (including children and pregnant women), against their will. The Italian authorities did not inform them of their real destination and took no steps to identify or to hear any of them. By doing so the immigrants intercepted in international waters on 6th May 2009, 35 miles South of Lampedusa, were denied the possibility to seek any form of international protection in Italy.
Upon their return in Libya, many among the refugees were subject to ill-treatment and violence. Others died by attempting again to reach Italy, according to testimonies of travel companions, family and friends who luckily reached the Italian coast, and who were met and welcomed by members of the Community of Sant’Egidio. Some of them have now received refugee status.
The Community of Sant’Egidio firmly insisted with the Italian government not to apply rules of indiscriminate expulsion, which are contrary to the European laws prohibiting:
1) According to the principle of non-repatriation, the expulsion to a country where there is a risk of being subject to torture or inhuman and degrading treatment;
2) The collective expulsion of foreigners as described in art. 4 of Protocol 4 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) before their identification and returning to the Libyan authorities;
3) The expulsion of persons without giving them the possibility to seek protection in Italy.
Several appeals were accepted and many of the refugees, after a second journey, saw their request of asylum accepted, thanks to the intervention of the UNHCR. Others fled to Tunisia after the start of the conflict in Libya, or were subject to retaliation from military groups who remained faithful to the regime.
We are not glad that Italy was condemned, even though it was a foreseeable scenario and the Community of Sant’Egidio had invited the Italian government to change its expulsion policies.