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Italy Expels African Asylum Seekers

UN Refugee Agency Criticizes Italy’s Expulsion Of African Asylum Seekers

The United Nations refugee agency today wrote to the Italian authorities criticizing the expulsion of a group of African asylum seekers at the centre of an international furore and voicing strong concern over the apparent disregard for accepted international and European standards and for the fundamental elements of due process.

“Irrespective of whether or not these people were indeed all from Ghana and Nigeria, and whether or not they were refugees or people trying to enter Europe for other reasons, we are very concerned at the manner in which their cases have been dealt with," UN High Commissioner for Refugees UNHCR) Director for Europe Raymond Hall said.

The whole unfortunate episode, which at various points threatened to embroil three states - Italy, Germany and Malta - in complex legal disputes, underlines the clear need for the European Union to adopt measures to ensure better burden-sharing among states, the agency said.

A group of 25 out of 37 people picked up in the Mediterranean by the German non-governmental organization Cap Anamur in late June was flown out of Rome to Ghana yesterday. Five others had earlier been deported to Nigeria. While UNHCR applauded Italy’s decision to permit disembarkation on humanitarian grounds, it regretted serious flaws in the subsequent handling of the asylum claims. Initial reports said the group were Sudanese but later reports indicated they were from Ghana and Nigeria.

Noting that diplomats from several possible countries of origin, including Sudan, were apparently brought to see the group shortly after they disembarked, the agency added: “Exposing possible refugees to a representative of the government that may be responsible for their flight is contrary to basic refugee protection principles.”

It also pointed out that despite strong pressure to deny asylum, the five-member Central Commission, which carries out refugee status determination in Italy and includes UNHCR in an advisory role, recommended that 22 of the 37 be allowed to stay for humanitarian reasons while another 14 were rejected. But most, if not all, of the 22 were deported yesterday, even though the procedure undertaken by the Commission to revise its original decisions was not yet formalized.

Since Monday, UNHCR was not able to obtain access to the group and its requests for information were left unanswered, the agency added.

“Acceptable standards for the treatment of asylum claims must be upheld in all instances," Mr. Hall said. "In this particular case, several aspects of the process fall short of international and European norms, including absolute minimum standards laid down in the recently agreed EU directive on asylum procedures. The politicization of these cases on all sides was also very unfortunate. We hope to be able to collaborate with the Italian authorities to ensure that, in future, asylum procedures include appropriate safeguards."

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