Italy sued over migrant 'push back' deal with Libya after 20 migrants drown in Mediterranean

Italian authorities 'flouting their human rights obligations', says Global Legal Action Network

Harriet Agerholm
Tuesday 08 May 2018 21:54 BST
Miigrants try to reach a rescue boat from the Spanish aid organisation Proactive Open Arms after falling from a punctured rubber boat in the Mediterranean about 12 miles north of Sabratha, Libya
Miigrants try to reach a rescue boat from the Spanish aid organisation Proactive Open Arms after falling from a punctured rubber boat in the Mediterranean about 12 miles north of Sabratha, Libya

Survivors of a boat that sank in the Mediterranean are suing Italy over its collaboration with the Libyan coastguard.

At least 20 migrants died when a dinghy carrying 130 people sank on 6 November 2017.

The parents of two children who drowned in the incident are among the 17 people to file the application in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

According to the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) and the Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration, which made the application, the migrants died after the Libyan coast guard interfered in rescue efforts by humanitarian ship Sea-Watch 3.

The filing states Italy supplied the dinghy to the Libyan coast guard months before the mass drowning.

The country struck a deal with Libya in February 2017 to stop migrants from reaching Europe by training, equipping and funding their coastguard.

European leaders endorsed the agreement, praising it for significantly reducing the number of migrants travelling onto the continent from Libya.

But humanitarian groups warned the coast guard was forcing thousands of people to return to detention in inhumane conditions, beatings, extortion, starvation, and rape.

Two of the survivors of the boat which sank in November were subsequently sold and tortured with electricity, GLAN said.

“The Italian authorities are outsourcing to Libya what they are prohibited from doing themselves, flouting their human rights obligations,” said GLAN legal advisor Violeta Moreno-Lax. “They are putting lives at risk and exposing migrants to extreme forms of ill-treatment by proxy, supporting and directing the action of the so-called Libyan coast guard”.

Doctors Without Borders said last week it was “highly concerned” about around 800 migrants and refugees held in a overcrowded detention centre in the port city of Zuwara, Libya, around 80 miles west of the country’s capital, Tripoli.

Men, women and children had been detained without adequate food or water for more than five months and the situation was “critical” it warned.

In 2012 the ECHR concluded that Italy’s previous “push back” campaign breached international law, specifically the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment.

The court said it understood the pressures European nations were experiencing as a result of a large influx of migrants, but it did not mean they could shirk their obligation to protect individuals at risk of torture and death.

Britain has also been supporting Libya’s coastguard with training and equipment, despite the heavily documented evidence of refugee abuse.

Last year, The Independent reported on allegations that the Libyan coastguard was extorting money from migrants. Guards were stopping smuggler vessels offshore and detaining those onboard, before taking bribes to release them, according to a number of witness accounts gathered by Human Rights Watch.

Around 20,000 people were intercepted by the Libyan coastguard in 2017 and taken back to Libya, according to Amnesty International.

The submission to the European Court supported by the Italian non-profit ARCI and Yale law school’s Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic.

The application includes findings by Forensic Oceanography, part of the Forensic Architecture agency at Goldsmiths, University of London, which reconstructed and analysed the deadly incident.

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