A tug boat from the company Augusta Offshore | Photo: Augusta Offshore S.P.A/ FACEBOOK
A tug boat from the company Augusta Offshore | Photo: Augusta Offshore S.P.A/ FACEBOOK

Five Eritrean citizens have filed a lawsuit in the civil court in Rome against Italian authorities for what they claim was an illegitimate pushback to Libya on July 2, 2018.

Five Eritrean citizens, with the support of the Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration (ASGI) and Amnesty International Italia, have filed a suit with the civil court in Rome against Italian authorities, the private company Augusta Offshore and the skipper of one of its vessels, the Asso Ventinove.

According to a statement published on February 12 by ASGI, the plaintiffs claim that on July 2, 2018 they were "pushed back to Libya by the ship 'Asso Ventinove' run by Augusta Offshore as part of operations coordinated by Italian authorities in collaboration with the so-called Libyan coast guard."

ASGI said the plaintiffs asked the court to declare "the pushback operated against them illegitimate," saying that it "exposed them to months of arbitrary detentions and violence in violation, among others, of their right to asylum."

Details of the 2018 case

ASGI and Amnesty International Italia told a press conference on February 12 that the "facts cited in the case show that on July 2, 2018, Italian authorities requested and coordinated the intervention of 'Asso Ventinove' in rescue operations that were started by a Libyan patrol boat."

The statement continued, "in particular, Italian Naval ships Caprera and Duilio, deployed in Tripoli, asked the Asso Ventinove to take on board 150 people fleeing Libya who originally came from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan. The ship took the people back to Tripoli and handed them over to Libyan authorities. The fleeing citizens were thus once again illegally detained, abused and tortured."

This case "appears to confirm the centrality of Italian authorities in Libya. Moreover, it highlights the involvement of certain private actors, who have economic interests and activities in Libya, in contrast to departures from the country," the organizations said.

Action to declare pushbacks illegitimate

The case called for a national judge to evaluate "the legitimacy of the instrument of pushbacks, which is being used in the Mediterranean" and is even being seen as a key part of the European Union's so called "externaization policies," said ASGI's representative Adelaide Massimi.

Massimi added that such policies are "confirmed today and strengthened by the new pact on immigration and asylum. The intervention of commercial ships in the SAR search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean has become increasingly central as a consequence of externalization policies and the practice of criminalizing civil society organizations that are active in the Mediterranea," said ASGI's representative.

'Duty to preserve life at sea'

"We hope that the duty to preserve life at sea will be reaffirmed, as well as the respect for the non-refoulement principle that forces everyone to bring rescued persons to a safe port," said the legal representatives for the five plaintiffs.

The legal representatives added that there were so many human consequences resulting from Italian policies to stop the departure of migrants and refugees from Libya at all costs. Five years ago, Italy and Libya signed a memorandum of understanding which allowed for the involvement of Italian-flagged private commercial vessels to become involved in activies, "such as pushbacks." The representatives added that they wanted Rome's tribunal to recognize these activities as illegal.

"The plaintiffs are among the 50,000 migrants and refugees who were intercepted at sea and taken back to Libya with Italy's collaboration," said Ilaria Masinara from Amnesty International Italia.

The migrants "ended up in detention centers in terrible conditions and suffered serious human rights violations", she concluded.


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