29 April 2009

Patras: ECHR declared admissible the case of 35 refugees deported from Italy

ROME, 29 April 2009 – The European Court of Human Rights accepted the complaints made by the refugees of Patras. The Italian government will be brought to court for violating the fundamental rights of 35 Afghan and Sudanese asylum seekers, including many minors, who were repulsed without any formal procedure at the Adriatic ports and were deprived of the opportunity to apply for political asylum in the two countries. The appeals were submitted by lawyers Luca Mandro and Alessandra Ballerini, in collaboration with Fulvio Vassallo Paleologo, who collected the proxies after a visit to Patras in Greece with a delegation of the Committee Tuttiidirittiumanipertutti, a network of associations established in Venice about the issue of refusals of potential refugees in Greece. Once rejected, the refugees are being arbitrarily detained for several days in a container at the police station in the port of Patras. They are often released and returned to the slums where thousands of refugees live on the outskirts of the city, trying every night to climb in secret on the trucks about to embark for Italy. In addition to Italy, the European Court has decided to charge the Greek government in order to ascertain possible violations of fundamental rights of the applicants, although the lawyers had made no such request.

Readmissions from Italy to Greece in 2008

Since years, the ports of Venice, Ancona, Bari and Brindisi have become one of the main points of entry for asylum seekers in Italy. During 2008, the readmissions to Greece reached 5644, according to data from the Ministry of Interior. Most of them come from Afghanistan and Iraq. Many are minors. At the ports, some groups are working alongside the police to guarantee the right of asylum. But those same groups are often not even informed about the presence of refugees on board ships. The data leave no space of doubt. During 2008, in Venice, the Italian Council for Refugees (Cir) states that it has assisted 138 people, including 42 Afghans and 64 Iraqis. During the same period the Port Police states that it has intercepted and returned to Greece 1610 people. Which means that 92% of those who have illegally shipped to the capital of Veneto were returned without any access to asylum procedures. The same happens in other ports, although to a lesser extent. Ancona in a year were turned down 2106 people, compared with 259 assisted between November and December 2008 from the Cir. In Brindisi, the ratio is 184 against 730. While in Bari, also in 2008, 1198 were rejected. Not even all applicants assisted by associations decide to apply for asylum in Italy. The reason is simple. Their goal is to go to England or northern Europe, and if they leave fingerprints on the Italian border, they will be forced to reside in Italy.

Among those repulsed are many Afghans. One of them was Zaher, the thirteen-year-old who died last December 13 in Venice, crushed under the truck which was bound to enter Italy. Upon dismembering from the vessel, he did not reach the police, because he was afraid of being rejected in Greece. Rejection apllies to children as well. As it apllied to Juma K., rejected three times from Venice and Bari, at the age of sixteen. the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has many times expressed its concerns against readmissions of asylum seekers to Greece. In a note dated 13 April 2008 UNHCR asked the EU Members to abbey the EU Dublin II Regulation about the repulsion of Refugees to Greece. And the UN High Commissioner Guterres has spoken of the Adriatic border with the Italian Interior Minister Maroni, in their recent meeting. On 24 June 2008 the Tar (Regional Administrative Court) of Puglia region blocked the readmission to Greece of an Afghan refugee on the basis of this position of the UNHCR. A decision that the Norwegian government had independently taken in February 2008, blocking thus the readmission or refugees from Norway to Greece. The European Parliament adopted a resolution on Iraq on 15 February 2007 which also made references against Greece, albeit in an indirect way, without ever mentioning the country,.

Greece has the lowest rate of recognition of refugee status: around 2% against a European average of 20%. Tragic fact: no Iraqi has ever been recognized as a refugee. So Greece denies protection to thousands of applicants who are recognized refugees in the EU. Complaints about lack of recognition of the right of asylum in Greece are also made by civil society. The German NGO Pro Asyl, after a recent visit to the country 20-28 October 2008 wrote:” Greece is not able to guarantee the minimum requirements of an asylum system”. Out of 10,165 applications filed in the first half of 2008, 8387 were examined, and all of them have received a negative response. Human Rights Watch also took over the case. In the report “Stuck in a revolving door” reads: ” Greece denies protection to those vulnerable and abuses those in detention”. This is why HRW has called “…the Member States of the European Union to suspend readmissions of asylum-seekers to Greece.”