The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Italy violated the rights of a group of Eritrean and Somali migrants by sending them back to Libya in 2009 after intercepting them at sea.
The 11 Somalia and 13 Eritrean nationals who filed a complaint with the Strasbourg-based body against Italy were part of a group of 200 migrants, including children and pregnant women, who left Libya aboard three boats trying to cross the Mediterranean.
They were rescued by Italian customs and coastguard vessels after running into difficulty 35 miles south of the island of Lampedusa, The Guardian reported. They were later returned to Libyan authorities under a bilateral accord then in place between Rome and Tripoli.
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On Thursday the European Court ruled that by sending them back Italy had exposed the migrants to the risk of ill-treatment, both in Libya and in their home countries if they were subsequently deported by Tripoli.
The court ordered Italy to pay each migrant in the case $20,000 in damages, stating that Italy had violated Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits inhuman or degrading treatment, and Article 4, which bans collective expulsions, according to the BBC.
The court acknowledged that Italy was struggling to cope with an influx of clandestine migrants entering the country by sea, but said “this could not absolve a state of its obligation not to remove any person who would run the risk of being subjected to (prohibited) treatment,” Reuters reported.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) welcomed Thursday’s judgement, calling it “a turning point regarding state responsibilities and the management of mixed migration flows.”
Italy’s 2008 deal with Libya regarding the return of migrants was suspended in February 2011 following the uprising against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.
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