Five Eritrean citizens have landed today at Fiumicino airport, after the Court of Rome recognized their right to enter Italy through a visa aimed at accessing the international protection application. In 2009, Italy had rescued them with a Navy ship in the Mediterranean Sea and illegally pushed them back to Libya.
Amnesty International Italy and Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration (ASGI) celebrate and welcome such a symbolically meaningful arrival that restores right to asylum lawfulness, established by Article 10 of the Italian Constitution and violated by the Italian authorities. For years, the Italian authorities have been taking actions to prevent the access of those who attempt to arrive and seek protection through the Mediterranean Sea.
Supported by Asgi lawyers Cristina Laura Cecchini and Salvatore Fachile and thanks to the records supplied by Amnesty International Italy, they had filed a case with the Civil Court of Rome. On 28 November 2019, through its ruling no. 22917, the Court declared the illegitimacy of pushbacks, ordered the issue of an entrance visa to allow them to access international protection e and sentenced the Italian authorities to pay damages.
The ruling states that to make the right to asylum effective, it is necessary to “expand the scope of international protection to preserve the position of those who were prevented from submitting an application for international protection, due to the fact that they could not access the territory of the State as a consequence of an unlawful act committed by the Italian authorities, inhibiting the entry to the territory in the form of a collective refoulement, in violation of the Constitution and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.”
According to Amnesty International Italia and Asgi, it is an historic decision: it is the first time that an Italian Court has established a visa right for asylum seekers in Italy who are not present in the Italian territory.
The five citizens were in 2009 in a group of 89 migrants and asylum seekers who were pushed back by Italian authorities to Libya where they had been exposed again to inhuman and degrading treatment, violence and torture. They finally got justice and respect for their rights.
In fact, after arriving in Libya, they were all detained and only after being held for long months, they were released. In spite of the risk of being pushed back again, some of them had attempted once more to cross the Sicilian Channel. Some others lost their lives in shipwrecks later on, whereas others managed to reach the Italian coasts and get to other countries, such as Germany and Switzerland where they obtained international protection.
Sixteen of them, all Eritrean citizens, decided not to risk again a travel at sea and attempted to reach Europe by land. Through Egypt and Sinai desert, they arrived in Israel.
For approximately 10 years, these 16 Eritrean citizens have been stuck in Israel, where their asylum seeking right is not respected and they constantly risk being pushed back to African countries with bilateral agreements with Israel, including Uganda and Rwanda.
On 25 June 2016, they filed a case with the civil section of the Court of Rome against the Italian Presidency of the Council and the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defense and Interiors. On 28 November 2019, they obtained the already mentioned historic ruling.
“We are happy to be here. We trust justice again and now, we hope we get the protection we need”, said one of the five Eritrean citizens landed today at Fiumicino.
“Finally, the protection obligations are returned their lawful value, as established by Article 10 of the Italian Constitution. This arrival is a key precedent because the Italian authorities are forced to ensure the entrance in the Italian territory to access the international protection procedure. It does not happen because of humanitarian permissions but because of the establishment of a right that these people hold. The effects of these principles on all those very relevant policies in this historical period that systematically deplete the protection obligations, are patent”, stated Cristina Laura Cecchini and Salvatore Fachile, Asgi lawyers.
“Illegally pushed back to Libya from Italy in 2009, today, due to a ruling issued by the Italian justice system, five Eritrean asylum seekers have reached our country in the safest and most lawful way. This should be ensured for all those people forced to flee their country due to conflicts, political repression and other violations of human rights”, added Ilaria Masinara, Campaign Manager on migration and discrimination at Amnesty International Italy.
After the quarantine established by current laws, the five Eritrean citizens will be able to start the procedure to seek international protection in Italy and finally obtain all the relevant rights.
In the next months, three more pushed-back citizens are also expected to reach Italy. Currently supported by NGO Assaf, they are still stuck in Israel, having built a family there. In fact, they also have put forward a request to allow their wives and children’s entrance, considering their conditions in Israel and the associated risks. Consular authorities’ decisions are awaited.