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Rome Court decision against Italy’s illegal migrant pushbacks is a significant step

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We warmly commend the decision of the Court of Rome, deeming the pushbacks of asylum seekers and migrants on the Italian-Slovenian border illegal; condemning the Italian Ministry of the Interior and acknowledging the inhuman and degrading treatment migrants are subjected to along the Balkan Route; Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said in a statement today. We further urge the EU Commission to step in to put an end to Italy's informal readmissions and illegal push backs in the Balkan Route.

On 18 January 2021, with a 13-page verdict the Judge Silvia Albano of the Court of Rome declared the illegality of informal readmissions of migrants and asylum seekers to Slovenia, increasingly carried out by Italy since the Spring of 2020, on the basis of a bilateral agreement with Slovenia signed in 1996 and never ratified by the Italian Parliament.

The sentence followed the case of an asylum seeker who applied for international protection in Italy but was pushed back to Slovenia, then Croatia where he was forcefully kicked out of the EU zone to Bosnia and ended up living on the streets in Sarajevo, like many other migrants. In 2020, Italy pushed back to Slovenia about 1,240 people, in turn rejected as far as to Bosnian territory. In the same year, Croatia has illegally kicked around 7,000 asylum seekers and migrants out of the EU zone to Bosnia.

Euro-Med Monitor has already reported on the illegal pushbacks in the Balkan route and called for the end of the humanitarian crisis occurring in Bosnia, particularly closed to the Croatian border, where reception centers are overcrowded and dangerously inadequate and thousands of migrants are risking their life sleeping rough or in improvised tent camps, with no food or water, covered under the snow, with temperatures well below zero.

The Italian Interior Ministry, Luciana Lamorgese, stated again on 13 January 2021 that Slovenia and Croatia are considered "safe countries". Yet the 27-year-old claimant himself reported before the Court how he, together with other migrants, was locked in a room without food, drinking water nor access to toilets for a whole night, threatened and kicked on several occasions, hit with batons wrapped in barbed wire, sprayed with pepper spray, and chased with dogs by the border police of these countries.

As a result of this case, the Court of Rome ordered the Interior Ministry to allow the claimant's immediate access to Italian territory and to examine his asylum application. According to the sentence, the pushbacks to Slovenia violate both constitutional obligations and international law, particularly the right to seek asylum, the right to effective remedy and the prohibition of collective expulsions. Moreover, these informal readmissions have consciously exposed migrants in transit along the Balkan route to inhuman and degrading treatment as well as to "real torture inflicted by the Croatian police", in violation of the principle of non-refoulement and the prohibition of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment.

"It is the first judgement of this kind" said Michela Pugliese, Legal Researcher at Euro-Med Monitor, "The Italian authorities can no longer ignore the fact that informal readmissions to Slovenia lead to refoulement in Croatia and Bosnia, to psychological and physical abuses, and to moral and material abandonment along the Balkan Route".

Euro-Med Monitor welcomes the judgement of the Court of Rome and calls on Italy to immediately stop the informal readmissions to Slovenia; to ensure that its practices and decisions are always consistent with human rights' obligations under national, European and international law, particularly migrants' right to seek asylum and access to asylum procedures, as required by the 1951 Refugee Convention, the EU Charter and the Italian Constitution.

Euro-Med Monitor calls on Italy, Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia to conduct prompt investigations into all allegations of pushbacks and ill-treatment at their borders and impose accountability measures on all police officers involved; to ensure that the authorities deployed at their borders respect migrants' fundamental rights and European law, particularly the prohibition of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment enshrined inter alia in Article 3 of the ECHR and Article 4 of the Charter.