Amnesty International has said Italy has committed human rights abuses that may amount to torture in some isolated cases as it tries to process the details of tens of thousands of migrants arriving by boat from Africa. Allegations include beatings, electric shocks and sexual humiliation in a small number of migrants who resisted having their fingerprints taken.
Italy has become the main arrival point in Europe for people fleeing persecution and poverty in Africa, most of them crossing the Mediterranean from lawless Libya in search of a better life. The European Union called in 2015 for Italy (and Greece) to set up “hotspots” to identify and fingerprint the migrants.
European law says migrants must stay in the country where they first enter and that is determined by where they give their fingerprints. Until last year, most migrants refused to be identified and headed straight for the richer north.
Amnesty researcher Matteo de Bellis said, “In their determination to reduce the onward movement of refugees and migrants to other member states, EU leaders have driven the Italian authorities to the limits, and beyond, of what is legal.”
Of the 170 plus refugees and migrants interviewed by Amnesty, since July 2015, most had not refused to give their fingerprints and reported no problems. But 24 people alleged having been subjected to ill-treatment by police. Several others said unnecessary or excessive force had been used to make them give their fingerprints. It also said some people were detained arbitrarily.
The report also condemned the assessment process for arrivals in the hotspots, which is aimed at selecting asylum seekers from those considered irregular migrants.
It said, “People, often exhausted and traumatised from their journeys and without access to adequate information or advice on asylum procedures, have to answer questions with potentially profound implications for their futures.”
Over the past three years more than 470,000 migrants, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa, have reached Italy by boat. Thousands have also died making the dangerous crossing, including at least 3,750 this year alone.