Italy has defended its policy of turning back boats with immigrants at sea before they land on shore. Under a deal with Tripoli, Italy has been intercepting migrant boats in international waters since May and returning them, without screening for asylum applications, to Libya, which has not signed international treaties on refugees.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, with EU ministers in Brussels, raised doubts. Antonio Guterres said: “There are detention circumstances that are appalling and there is an effective risk that people that deserve and need protection will be sent back to their countries of origin.” Euronews’ Brussels correspondent asked for clarification from the Italian Deputy Home Secretary: “With this policy, aren’t you afraid that the people turned back will be returned to their countries of origin, where they might be tortured, which starts to get really illegal?” “Absolutely not,” answered Nitto Palma. “In Libya there are a lot of Eritreans and Somalis living, who are not sent back by Libya to Eritrea or Somalia, because of the fear of the dangers for them there.” The UN says 35,000 “boat people” arrived in Italy alone last year. Around 13,000 were given the international protection they applied for. Italy’s new policy has greatly reduced arrivals.