Court judgment major step forward in refugee protection

Court judgment major step forward in refugee protection

 A group of Africans who were trying to reach Europe from Libya before being pushed back by the Italian navy and turned over to the authorities in Tripoli. Some may have been refugees or asylum-seekers. (M. Alwash/UNHCR)

Brussels, 28 February 2012 – The judgment by the European Court of Human Rights will go a long way towards strengthening the protection of persons fleeing persecution and other human rights violations, according to a statement from the Jesuit Refuge Service Europe.

In May 2009 a boat carrying approximately 200 forced migrants was pushed back by the Italian authorities to Libya. The migrants were never given an opportunity to lodge a claim for protection. Instead, they were handed over to the Libyan authorities under dictator Ghaddafi, placing them in in danger of being forcibly returned to their countries of origin, i.e. of persecution.

On 25 February last, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg published their judgment in the Hirsi Jamaa And Others vs Italy case. The Court unanimously held that several human rights of the applicants had been violated, including the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment and the right to judicial remedies.

Border controls and migration management, the JRS statement continued, remain legitimate but should never violate the rights of asylum seekers and refugees.

“We are profoundly satisfied by the recognition of the illegality of this practice – unanimously condemned by Italian and European NGOs – which has already cost the lives of far too many people”, said JRS Italy Director Giovanni La Manna SJ.

“We hope this sentence will definitively put an end to border management policies which systematically trample the right to asylum and encourage the Italian government to begin taking its responsibilities towards refugees seriously, including those to be stipulated in the new agreements with Libya.

Moreover, JRS Europe hopes the EU and its member states draw the appropriate conclusions.

“If asylum seekers are intercepted at the European borders they must have a chance to lodge a claim for protection and to challenge any negative decision. Simply closing the borders against these human beings would violate the values and standards upon which the EU is built”, said JRS Senior Advocacy Officer Stefan Kessler.

“All border control operations, be it on the Mediterranean Sea under the aegis of the EU border agency FRONTEX, or the erection of the infamous fence at the border between Greece and Turkey, must contain effective safeguards for the rights of forced migrants seeking protection”, Mr Kessler concluded.  Source: Jesuit Refugee Service. 

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