NEWS - Archive March 2010

Headlines 26 March, 2010

THE ENDLESS ORDEAL OF WOMEN MIGRANTS

by EveryOne Group

26/3/2010- Women fleeing from countries where humanitarian crises are underway often fall victim to physical assault, violence and rape. Today, thanks to a report by Médecins Sans Frontiéres, numerous case have come to light of women being raped during their “journeys of hope”, on their way to Morocco, and sometimes on Moroccan soil. “They are horrifying figures,” say MSF, “because 59% of the women interviewed say they have suffered sexual assault”. In Libya (the country Italy has signed anti-immigration agreements with) the situation is even worse and should be the subject of indignation for all those who believe in civil values. There is much talk (in Italy and throughout the world) of the protection of women and children, but then - through irresponsible xenophobic policies - the authorities contribute to the ordeals that women, children and vulnerable citizens are going through. In Italy too, female “illegal” immigrants regularly fall victim to blackmail and violent treatment. Women who are “legally” here are often subjected to the same treatment and forced to provide “services” outside their normal work duties (under blackmail from employers or landlords) due to the difficulty of holding on to their residence permits, essential for remaining in Italy. This fear of becoming “clandestine” leaves them vulnerable to persecution and blackmail. Not to mention the women interned in the Centres of Identification and Expulsion. The Bossi-Fini law, the “security package”, the anti-immigrant measures are – there is no point in denying it – racial laws, and responsible for an endless ordeal for thousands of women and marginalized and destitute human beings. If only the institutions (both in Italy and in other EU countries, seeing xenophobia is now rife all over Europe) were to listen to the appeals and proposals of civil society and stop being blinded by racial hatred and a fear of refugees and minorities! We would then live in a proud and just Europe - not a continent where human rights are a “privilege” for the few, while the more vulnerable human beings are treated as slaves or pushed back as though they were filthy animals.
© email source

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INTERNATIONAL RIGHT-WINGERS GATHER FOR EU-WIDE MINARET BAN

Delegates from right-wing populist parties from across Europe are descending on Germany this weekend for a conference looking into the possibility of an EU-wide minaret ban. The hosts, an anti-Muslim German group, hope to use the gathering as a springboard to success in local elections.

26/3/2010- What could be more European than a castle? The Continent is dotted with them, often menacingly perched on forested hilltops overlooking rivers or ancient trading routes -- important bastions necessary for the defense of what developed into Europe's long and rich cultural tradition. These days, of course, European castles tend to be little more than bucolic tourist attractions. But it is perhaps no accident that a small palace in western Germany's former industrial heart has been chosen to host a convention ostensibly aimed at defending European culture. The castle in question is the centuries-old Horst Palace, a Renaissance structure in the Ruhr Valley city of Gelsenkirchen. The gathering is called, pointedly, the Anti-Minaret Conference. This Saturday, politicians representing right-wing conservative parties from across Europe will descend on the Horst Palace to discuss the dangers of Islam. Delegates from the Belgian nationalists Vlaams Belang will be there as will politicians from Geert Wilders's Dutch Party for Freedom, Pia Kjaersgaard's Danish People's Party and the Front National of Jean-Marie Le Pen. Others from Sweden, Austria and Eastern Europe are also on the invite list.

'Symbols of Radical Islam'
The hosts are a relatively new group of German right-wing conservatives called Pro-NRW (an abbreviation of the German state North Rhine-Westphalia) and the goal of the conference is clear: to follow in Switzerland's footsteps and ban minarets across Europe. And they want to use a provision of the European Union's new Lisbon Treaty to do it. "I don't think that minarets are part of our heritage," conference attendee Filip Dewinter, floor leader for Vlaams Belang in the Flemish parliament, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "They are symbols of radical Islam. The question is whether Islam is a religion like Protestantism and Catholicism and for me it is not. It is a political system, it is a way of life and it is one that is not compatible with ours." Pro-NRW and the other right-wing parties were galvanized when Swiss voters last November passed a ban on the construction of new minarets in the country. Since then, the Swiss People's Party (SVP), which launched the referendum, have become the darlings of the European right. Indeed, the SVP has loaned their controversial campaign poster, which depicts missile-like minarets jutting out of a Swiss flag behind an ominous, niqab-wearing Muslim woman, to Pro-NRW for its campaign in Germany. And anti-minaret movements on the Swiss model have sprung up around Europe. Dewinter has recently taken a closer look at whether a provision in the new Lisbon Treaty allowing for citizens' initiatives could be used to push through a Europe-wide ban on the construction of minarets. On Saturday, delegates at the Anti-Minaret Conference will discuss whether to begin collecting the 1 million signatures such a path would require.

'A Very Powerful Weapon'
The hurdles to such a strategy are high. Even if the Lisbon Treaty provides for citizens' initiatives, the legal mechanism governing such a procedure has yet to be decided on. Indeed, with the European Commission first set to send its proposal for citizens' initiatives to the European Parliament for consideration next week, a final legal framework may not be complete before the end of the year, an EU spokesman said. Even then, such an initiative would only require the Commission to take a closer look at a given issue. Should the commissioners determine that an initiative falls under the jurisdiction of European nation-states or violates EU human rights guidelines, no further action would be taken. Nevertheless, Dewinter seems invigorated by the possibility of putting a minaret ban on the European agenda. "Brussels is afraid of such a referendum and they know it would be a very powerful weapon in the hands of right-wing conservative parties," he says. "The collection of the signatures will be a political campaign in itself." Still, the planners of this weekend's conference have greater ambitions than merely discussing the possibility of a European-wide minaret ban. Pro-NRW, an outgrowth of the anti-Muslim group Pro-Cologne, is seeking to establish a political foothold in Germany ahead of important state elections in North Rhine-Westphalia in May. The group is testing the waters to determine if the kind of populist, Islamophobia that groups in the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium and elsewhere have tapped into exists in Germany as well. "The Islamization of our cities is continuing and there is broad fear among the populace," Pro-NRW head Markus Beisicht told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "If we do well in the elections, 2.5 percent of the vote or better, we will become a new brand name in Germany. There is a huge vacuum between the (far-right extremist) NPD and the (center-left) Christian Democrats and we want to fill it."

'Attacking Its Weakest Victim'
There is some evidence that he is right. A SPIEGEL survey last December found that, were a minaret referendum held in Germany, 44 percent would vote in favor of a ban while 45 percent would not. On the other hand, the majority of Germany's 4-million strong Muslim population has Turkish roots and has tended not to produce the kind of radicalism that has thrown a negative light on Islam elsewhere in Europe. That, though, has not stopped Pro-NRW from depicting Muslims as being violence-prone and aggressive. In addition to Saturday's conference, the group is staging vigils in front of mosques throughout the region, beginning on Friday. A planned march is to end in front of the huge Merkez Mosque in Duisburg. Police, though, are bracing for counter-demonstrations, with leftist groups having indicated ahead of the conference that they planned to disrupt it. Local politicians are likewise unimpressed. North Rhine-Westphalia's interior minister, Ingo Wolf of the Free Democratic Party, has described the "Pro NRW" gathering as "dangerous for our democracy." Cloaked as a legitimate movement, he said the right-wing group was fomenting fear of foreigners with its "anti-democratic and xenophobic ideology." Sigmar Gabriel, the head of Germany's center-left Social Democrats, spent Friday touring mosques in the Ruhr region in order to counter the intolerant message sent by the anti-minaret meeting. "The truth is that anyone who wants to ban minarets and compares Islam with terrorism is motivated by xenophobia." Beisicht is careful to insist that he and his allies have nothing in common with neo-Nazis, and he even tries to strike a moderate tone on occasion. "Religious freedom also applies to Muslims," he says, before insisting that minarets were a symbol of aggression. Ahead of Saturday's conference, however, his European allies were not in such an accommodating mood. "Islam is a predator and it is attacking its weakest victim," Dewinter says. "Europe is that weakest victim. We have a problem with our demography; we have a problem with our identity; we are embracing multi-culturalism. We are very weak and Islam knows that -- and it is going on the attack."
© The Spiegel

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ANTI-ROSENKRANZ 'SEA OF CANDLES' DRAWS 3,000 (Austria)

26/3/2010- Around 3,000 people attended a "sea of candles" protest march against the Freedom Party’s (FPÖ) presidential candidate Barbara Rosenkranz in Vienna last night (Thurs), according to police. Rosenkranz has come under fire over failing to make clear her statements about Austria’s Nazi past and the existence of gas chambers at the Third Reich’s death camps. The ultra-conservative mother-of-ten accused press of "riding a campaign" against her as a person, and decided to declare under oath that she never doubted the existence of gas chambers earlier this month. She did so only two days after Kronen Zeitung publisher Hans Dichand called on her to do so in a comment. The newspaper backs her bid, and Dichand praised her a "courageous mother". Rosenkranz, who heads the FPÖ’s Lower Austrian department, then said she has always condemned the Nazi’s crimes. Ariel Muzicant, head of the Austrian Jewish Community (IKG), and TV entertainer Alfons Haider attended last night’s city centre gathering which was organised by an anti-Rosenkranz Facebook group. Analysts said the public debate over the politician’s controversial views has harmed the FPÖ’s standing. Polls have shown Rosenkranz has the potential to garner around ten per cent in the 25 April vote, while incumbent president Heinz Fischer is tipped for a landslide victory. Rudolf Gehring, head of the conservative anti-abortion party Die Christen (The Christians), announced yesterday he will also run for the post. The party, which is not represented in the federal parliament, reached 0.6 per cent in the 2008 general election.
© The Austrian Independant

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THOUSANDS SET TO PROTEST AUSTRIAN FAR-RIGHT PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE

25/3/2010- Up to 5,000 protesters were expected at a demonstration against Austrian far-right presidential hopeful Barbara Rosenkranz in Vienna on Thursday, organizers said. Rosenkranz's nomination has sparked an outcry across the country, as media and politicians of various parties have condemned the Freedom Party politician for her criticism of the law that bans revisionist propaganda and neo-Nazi activities. Although Rosenkranz has retracted the comments and made clear she does not doubt the existence of gas chambers in Hitler's concentration camps, she remains a controversial figure ahead of the April 25 election. The demonstration in front of the Hofburg presidential office was organized largely with the help of a social network group on the internet that has attracted over 88,000 members. Support comes also from various leftist organizations and parties, former centre-right Vice Chancellor Erhard Busek, and by Jewish and Muslim groups. 'We don't want such a racist politician to enter the Hofburg,' said Wolfgang Moitzi, the head of the Social Democrat's youth organization and an organizer of the event. According to the latest polls, current President Heinz Fischer of the Social Democrats is expected to win a second term in this largely ceremonial office, with 81 per cent of the votes. Last week's poll by News magazine saw Rosenkranz at 19 per cent. No other major parties fielded candidates, owing to Fischer's popularity and the fact that a challenger has so far never defeated an incumbent in a presidential election.
© DPA

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JEWISH SCHOOL IN BULGARIA VANDALIZED

25/3/2010- Anti-Semitic graffiti was spray painted on the walls of a Jewish school in the capital of Bulgaria. A Star of David equated with a Nazi swastika and the words "stop occupation" were spray painted on the wall of the Dimcho Debeljanov Jewish School, the only Jewish school in Sofia. The vandalism occurred on Sunday, according to the European Jewish Press. It is apparently linked to current events in Israel. “This act of vandalism has been made a week before the Jewish holiday of Pesach and the Christian Easter. At a time when all people, without difference in ethnicity or religion, should open their hearts for the good, these vandals have sown hate; hate which verges on terrorism… We appeal to citizens and to civil society to react definitely against such acts and to remember that whoever sows hate today reaps storms tomorrow,” read an official statement from Shalom, which represents the Jewish community of Bulgaria. There are about 5,000 Jews living in Bulgaria. “Bulgaria is justifiably proud of its friendly and protective relations with its Jewish community. World ORT trusts that this outstanding tradition will be translated into constructive efforts to ensure that the ugly upsurge in anti-Semitism seen in so many parts of the world does not manifest itself in your beautiful country,” World ORT, which supports the school, said in a letter sent to Bulgaria’s Ministry of Education.

© JTA News

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FACEBOOK GROUP AGAINST ROMANES LANGUAGE IN CZECH SCHOOLS: 40 000 STRONG

24/3/2010- A group that disagrees with the decision to introduce Romanes language instruction in the Czech schools has started up on the social networking site Facebook. By Monday afternoon it had more than 40 000 fans, Lidové noviny (LN) reported yesterday. Last week the paper reported on the Czech Education Ministry’s intention to introduce Romanes as an elective subject at schools. Shortly thereafter, a group entitled “Petition against teaching Romanes at Czech schools” was created on the internet. The instruction in Romanes would be an elective subject. Strong racist and xenophobic comments on the idea are cropping up on the internet. LN reports that police may investigate the Facebook group. Detectives normally follow all such groups and their web pages. "If the content published is illegal, people who contribute to the pages could face prosecution,” police spokesperson Pavla Kopecká said. LN reports the group includes mostly high school students and youth. According to Gabriela Hrabaņová, director of the Czech Government Council for Roma Community Affairs, it is evident that there is a need to perform Roma outreach in the schools. "This group corresponds to the society-wide anti-Roma mood. The general awareness about the Roma could be changed if teachers were to speak about Roma culture and history with children in schools,” Hrabaņová said. The Czech Education Ministry has long planned to get more Romani children into elementary schools. Currently, these children often end up in former “special schools”, which are intended for children with light mental disability. Moreover, the ministry wants teachers themselves to focus on Roma culture and history, for example, during civics or history lessons. In many cases, school would be the first place children could learn information about the Roma that would be neither racist nor xenophobic. The Czech Government agrees with the ministry’s intentions and has recently approved a National Action Plan which counts on regular schools including more disabled children, as well as more Romani children, into mainstream education. Romanes language instruction would only be attended by children who have a genuine interest in it. LN reports that under no circumstances would it be introduced across the board as an obligatory subject, as most of the Facebook group members believe.
© CTK

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DID SARKOZY BOOST THE FRONT NATIONAL? (France, opinion)

By pandering to racism, Nicolas Sarkozy opened the door for the return of the Front National 
By Jim Wolfreys


24/3/2010- Last Sunday's regional election results in France suggest that Nicolas Sarkozy's presidency is running into the ground. For all the claims, following his 2007 election, that Sarkozy represented something new, his UMP party is now confronted by a set of problems familiar to every government of the past two decades. The electorate's disaffection from the mainstream political process, which many believed had been reversed by the high turnout in 2007, has again been reflected in a high abstention rate, with around half the electorate not voting in the regional poll. Frustration with the incumbent government, which the right's re-election in 2007 – the first administration to achieve this since 1978 – appeared to have overcome, is illustrated by the ruling UMP's paltry 26% share of the vote in the first round of the elections, and the failure of any cabinet minister to win a region, despite 20 standing. The real story of these elections, however, is the "return" of Jean-Marie Le Pen's Front National (FN). The party's strong second round showing of between 12% and 22% in mostly southern and north-eastern regions has revived another long-standing feature of French political life: permanent surprise at the continued existence of an electoral challenge from the extreme right. The Front's total vote was significantly down on its 2004 score, partly due to abstention, so any talk of a resurgence needs to be measured. But the result has exploded a central illusion of the Sarkozy phenomenon: that he had isolated the FN by "capturing" its electorate. Instead, a more realistic conclusion is that Sarkozy has facilitated the Front's gradual regeneration since its poor showing in the 2007 elections.

Sarkozy came to power on a promise to break with the compromises of previous governments. One apparent measure of his determination to do so was the trenchant language used on immigration. It is this combination of authoritarianism and anti-immigrant rhetoric that has contributed to Sarkozy's undoing at the expense of the FN. This is largely due to the demagogic nature of racism in the political arena. Since it is based on the myth that immigrants (or ethnic minorities in general, or Muslims) are to blame for unemployment, crime or other aspects of social decay, it has become a self-defeating tool for the government. Under Sarkozy, unemployment stands at its highest level for a decade, at 10%, and France has one of the worst youth unemployment rates in Europe. Here, the link between racism and authoritarianism is important. The debate over national identity engineered by Sarkozy's UMP has seen Islamophobia reach a new pitch – at one point the party spokesperson compared the burka to a "Mickey Mouse mask". Yet however shrill the scapegoating of Muslims, it has done nothing to obscure the government's impotence in the face of serious social and economic problems. Moreover, the realisation that Sarkozy is not an enforcer but a rather insecure figure in thrall to wealth and celebrity, has strengthened the claims of Le Pen to be the real authority figure in French politics. Le Pen has therefore been able to pick up support from those disenchanted by Sarkozy, his credentials as an authoritarian alternative bolstered by the government's legitimisation of the racism that dominated the FN campaign. At a time of economic crisis, with Islamophobia on the rise across Europe, the government has had to learn, like all its predecessors, that the far-right is strengthened, not isolated, when mainstream politicians pander to racism. Sarkozy has been playing with fire – and has now got his fingers burned.
© Comment is free - Guardian

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FRANCE, BRITAIN JOINTLY TARGET AFGHAN MIGRANTS

23/3/2010- France and Britain on Tuesday launched a new police mission to catch Afghan migrants trying to cross the Channel hidden in the backs of lorries. "This centre will allow us to better target our surveillance and to intervene immediately at the main places where illegal migrants board the lorries," said France's Immigration Minister Eric Besson. British and French officers will use the new base to coordinate their actions against illegal immigration at the northern French port of Calais, where thousands of lorries pass each day, some carrying migrants to Britain. Meanwhile "a campaign will be waged in Afghanistan to inform people there of the risks of clandestine immigration," Besson said as he inaugurated the site on Tuesday with his British counterpart Phil Woolas. "It is time to put an end to traffickers misleading migrants in order to exploit and extort money from them," Besson said. In September France closed a big migrant camp known as the Jungle and has since rounded up several migrants and sent them back to Afghanistan. Many other Afghans have fetched up homeless on the streets of Paris. "Calais is no longer a platform for international trafficking of migrants" since the Jungle was closed, Besson said. He said there were 75 attempts to cross the Channel illegally there in March, compared to 1,452 in September.
© Expatica News

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ROMA PEOPLE LIVE NOMADIC LIVES AFTER DEMOLITIONS IN SULUKULE (Turkey)

Many Roma people who moved to apartments in the Tažoluk neighborhood provided by the Mass Housing Administration, or TOKŻ, have returned to their original neighborhoods in and near Sulukule for socio-economic and cultural reasons. Most say the apartment expenses were beyond their incomes and also the life there was not suitable for them because they prefer houses with gardens near relatives and neighbors

243/3/2010- Members of Istanbul’s Roma community continue to live like nomads since the demolition of their houses, despite new apartments offered by the government, according to observers and NGOs. After the houses of the Roma people living in the Sulukule neighborhood of Istanbul’s Fatih district were destroyed during an urban transformation project carried out by the Fatih Municipality over the last three years, renters were allowed to move into apartments built by the Mass Housing Administration, or TOKŻ, in the Tažoluk neighborhood of Istanbul’s Gaziosmanpaža district. The initiative is part of government efforts to improve living standards of Roma people in Turkey, but members of the Roma community in Sulukule say they are still suffering from the results of demolitions.

Moving did not solve problems
Moving some Roma people to Tažoluk turned out not to provide a solution since many of them returned to Sulukule only months later after selling their apartments. “We could only stay four months there [in Tažoluk]. It was not suitable for us,” said Faruk Say, a Roma who returned to Sulukule. After the house he rented with his wife and two children in Sulukule was demolished, Say chose to move to the TOKŻ apartments in Tažoluk. He said living in Tažoluk was socio-economically difficult for them. “There was no life for us there. The streets were dark after nine. It was a lonely neighborhood,” said Say. “The monthly expenses of our apartments were more than we could afford.” “We should be earning 1,000 Turkish liras a month in order to live in the apartments in Tažoluk. There are many expenses other than rent, for example the natural gas, electricity and apartment expenses,” Say said.

Almost half returned
Roma people live and work in Sulukule as either musicians or vendors, making a living with low incomes, and their rents are also low. However, the municipality claimed that the Roma people were given good opportunities in Tažoluk. “They were all renters, but they still had the chance to own an apartment in Tažoluk by paying 250 liras each month,” said Mustafa Çiftçi, the project coordinator from Fatih Municipality. After 15 years of monthly payments, those renters would be the owners of the apartment, said Çiftçi, adding that they all received 100 liras in rent support from the municipality. However, Çiftçi agreed that almost half of the 127 Roma people who moved to Tažoluk either sold or rented their apartments and returned to Sulukule or nearby neighborhoods. According to Hacer Foggo, however, the numbers were less. She said only six or seven families remained in Tažoluk, according to Hacer Foggo, a member of the Sulukule Platform. “Most sold their houses starting from 5,000 liras and then returned to their old neighborhood. But now they are moving like nomads from one house to another since they cannot pay the rent,” she said. Foggo, who works at the Zero Discrimination Association, told the Daily News there should be research done in Sulukule to study the needs of locals before the start of the urban transformation project. “The reasons why some children did not attend school or disabled people were not leaving home should be examined, and social projects to improve their lives should be produced,” she said. Sevcan Küçükatasayar, 20, a former renter in Tažoluk who returned to Sulukule, said they could not live in an apartment building. “We used to live in a big house with a garden. All our relatives were in the same neighborhood. But in Tažoluk, my father opened a tea house and it went bankrupt because nobody went there,” said Küçükatasayar. Meanwhile, some Roma people said they were happy in Tažoluk. “Those who have a stable job can live there,” said Žahin Kumralgil, who lives in Tažoluk but spends his time in Sulukule. Many of the Roma who returned to Sulukule are also tired of talking to press and have lost hope for a better future, according to Žükrü Pündük, head of the Roma Association in Sulukule.

Removal of Discriminatory sentence
The ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, Bursa Deputy Ali Koyuncu also prepared a proposal asking for the removal of a sentence with discriminative connotations from the law, Anatolia news agency reported. The sentence reads: “The Interior Ministry is responsible for the deportation of gypsies and foreign nomads.”
© Hurriyet

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SEABORNE INTERCEPTION OF IMMIGRANTS TESTED IN COURT (Italy)

Italy has been sending boat migrants back to Libya to create a judicial vacuum. This controversial policy will now be tested in Europe’s highest court.

24/3/2010- None of them have ever set foot on European soil. Most are incarcerated in Libyan detention centres. Some may have already been sent back to their countries of origin. Yet, they are filing suit against the Italian state in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The plaintiffs are 24 immigrants from Somalia and Eritrea who tried to sail from Libya to Italy on May 6, 2009. They were intercepted by the Italian coast guard 35 kilometres off the island of Lampedusa and sent back to Libya immediately. Back in the north African country, the would-be immigrants were put in touch with two Italian immigration lawyers, who then brought their case to the ECHR in Strasbourg. The case is unique, said Thomas Spijkerboer, a professor of migration law at Amsterdam’s Vrije Universiteit. “For the first time, Europe’s highest court for human rights will look into the most controversial policy combating illegal seaborne migration any European state has implemented so far,” he said. Italy has been confronted with a growing tide of illegal immigration over sea. Last year, it decided to instantly send back intercepted immigrants to Libya, their most common port of departure. Usually, European coastal nations carry intercepted immigrants to their own ports first. There, authorities can treat any applications for asylum individually and check whether prospective deportees could be exposed to danger in the country if they were to be rejected and returned. This is the procedure required by human rights treaties. As immigrants tend to disappear into the illegal circuit soon after entering Europe, Italy has begun to deport them pre-emptively, intercepting the immigrants far out in international waters. Here, the Italian government argues, the immigrants have not yet entered ‘European’ waters, meaning they cannot claim the right to a formal admissions procedure. The proactive border patrol is very effective, a sharp decline in the number of immigrants since the practice has been introduced proves..

A landmark case
“For the first time, the ECHR can rule on member states’ attempts to prevent seaborne immigrants from ever entering into their judicial systems, magically making the entire immigration problem disappear,” Spijkerboer said. “Italy is trying to create a seaborne judicial vacuum.” Human rights organisation have condemned the Italian practice, and say the country is putting immigrants’ lives at risk. Libya has a miserable reputation when it comes to the protection of illegal immigrants. Human Rights Watch, the AIRE Centre and even the United Nations refugee body, UNHCR, have voiced their objections to the ECHR. The organisations have specifically intervened in the case Hirsi v. Italy, named after one of the 24 Somalis and Eritreans. “That a UN organisation like the UNHCR has intervened shows just how important this case is,” Spijkerboer said. The Italian government defended the return of the Somalis and Eritreans last year. Prime minister Silvio Berlusconi then said “normally speaking, no one can apply for asylum” aboard Italian coast guard ships. The outcome in the Hirsi case is important because it could set a precedent for other southern European nations looking to limit seaborne migration. Spain currently returns intercepted immigrants to Senegal and Mauretania, other common staging points for immigrants. The Spanish patrols have African agents on board, who judge any requests for asylum on the spot. This practice has also been criticised, because some think it is impossible to properly evaluate a request for asylum at sea. Italy on the other hand, does not even consider requests. “If the EHRM rules in Italy’s favour, other coastal states could adopt the same practice”, Spijkerboer said. While most immigrants to Spain are from western Africa, Italy attracts mostly asylum seekers from the Horn of Africa and the Middle East. “If you send these type of people back,” Spijkerboer said. “Chances are even bigger you put them in danger. The Italian practice is the most serious.”

Violation of human rights
The Italian lawyer Anton Giulio Lana has been granted the power of attorney to act on the behalf of 24 returned would-be immigrants. Lana was put in touch with his clients by an international NGO that operates in Libya. Speaking on the phone from Rome, Lana explained: “I would rather not say what NGO is helping us. It needs to be able to operate in Libya for the time coming.” According to Lana, Italy has violated Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights that prohibits “torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. Deported immigrants run the risk of being exposed to such treatment in Libya. The convention also forbids collective expulsion of foreigners, and according to refugee law, deporting asylum seekers to a country where they could face persecution is illegal. The agent representing the Italian state in the ECHR replied to an email asking for his perspective writing he would not comment on “a pending case”. According to Spijkerboer, the law regarding Hirsi v. Italy is crystal clear. “What Italy is doing is not allowed. A European judge should put a stop to it.” The professor has no doubt the 24 immigrants were within Italy’s jurisdiction when they were intercepted, meaning they had a right to European protection, even if they were still on international waters. The Italian coast guard ship was acting on the behalf of the Italian state after all. Prior rulings show that the ECHR shares this view, Spijkerboer said. A ruling by the ECHR may take a few years, because Strasbourg has a backlog of some 120,000 cases. “The judges will put this case on top of the pile,” Spijkerboer said. “They feel it is important.” The case’s merits may look good, the judges could still rule it inadmissible nonetheless. For instance, Italy could ask Libya to help the 24 migrants by relocating them to another safe country. This would upend the argument that Italy has put them in an unsafe situation. “That would solve the problem for the 24 plaintiffs,” Spijkerboer said. “But Italy would avoid a conviction and no legal precedent would be set.” The immigration lawyers could also lose contact with their clients in Libya. Spijkerboer thinks they would then still retain power of attorney but he acknowledged the possibility posed a risk. “That would be high irony: the returned migrants would be unable to claim their European rights because they have lost touch with Europe. It would be rewarding Italian policy,” Spijkerboer said.
© The NRC

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