Italy told to explain why boat people were expelled

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The Independent Online

The European Court of Human Rights set Italy a deadline of yesterday afternoon to explain why it had summarily deported practically all the African would-be immigrants rescued from the Mediterranean last month by the German ship, Cap Anamur.

The European Court of Human Rights set Italy a deadline of yesterday afternoon to explain why it had summarily deported practically all the African would-be immigrants rescued from the Mediterranean last month by the German ship, Cap Anamur.

Thirty-seven people were plucked from their sinking rubber dinghy off the coast of Italy by the battered German freighter, whose owner and crew have specialised in rescuing "sea beggars" since the crisis of the Vietnamese boat people in the 1970s. They claim to have saved the lives of more than 10,000 people.

But the Cap Anamur provoked the fury of the Italian government when her captain demanded to be allowed to put the Africans ashore in Sicily.

A stalemate continued for more than two weeks, with the German-owned freighter anchored off Port Empedocle in southern Sicily. Finally, Italy relented when the captain reported his passengers were threatening to throw themselves overboard. The Africans were disembarked and processed; and the owner, captain and first mate of Cap Anamur put in prison, accused of promoting illegal immigration. The three were released last Friday.

Despite opposition protests of inhumanity, there has been no let-up in the government's tough stance. The original claim that many of the Africans came from the disaster zone of Darfur in the Sudan was rubbish, said the Home Minister Giuseppe Pisanu. "They are illegal immigrants without any right of humanitarian assistance," he told Parliament on Wednesday. All but one of the Africans were sent packing on a flight to Accra, Ghana, on the same day.

Italy has in the past taken in hundreds of migrants rescued close to Italian shores by coastguards every year. But the number has dropped steeply in the past year, partly as a result of joint UK-Italy anti-immigrant patrols in the Mediterranean.

It also reflects the Italian govern-ment's consensus on the need for tough action against illegal immigration. It is an especially popular theme for the "post-fascist" National Alliance and the separatist Northern League. Last week the two parties saw crucial parts of tough anti-immigrant legislation they had put through parliament rejected by Italy's constitutional court.

But concerns among opposition politicians and human rights group about the peremptory rejection of the latest would-be migrants have reached Strasbourg. "Illegal immigrants have the right to humanitarian protection," said a source.

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