The Italian coast guard ship Diciotti with rescued migrants on board enters the port of Trapani, Sicily, in July 2018 | Photo: ANSA/Igor Petyx
The Italian coast guard ship Diciotti with rescued migrants on board enters the port of Trapani, Sicily, in July 2018 | Photo: ANSA/Igor Petyx

Italy's highest court has ruled that two migrants had the right to refuse to be taken back to Libya after being rescued at sea. Because Libya cannot be considered safe, they had the right to pressure a ship's crew to turn towards Italy, the judges found.

After a hearing on Thursday (December 16), Italy's Court of Cassation ruled that migrants can resist orders to be taken back to Libya since the country cannot be considered safe. This was reported by various Italian news outlets late last week.

If a migrant rescued at sea refuses to be taken back to Libya, they have a right to do so under Italian law considering that people should not be returned to an unsafe place, the judges argued.

Italy's highest court had looked specifically at the case of two migrants who reportedly led the efforts to pressure crew aboard a private ship that had rescued them to head towards Italy instead of Libya in 2018.

Court in Palermo had ruled against migrants

The Court of Cassation overturned a previous decision by the Palermo Court of Appeals. That court had sentenced the two men to three years and six months in jail and a fine of €52,000. According to Italian weekly L'Espresso, the Palermo judges had accused the two migrants of aiding illegal immigration, violence and aggravated resistance to a public official.

Before that, a lower court in Trapani, Sicily, had ruled in favor of the defendants and acquitted them. That court had argued that "the two young people, escaped from the Libyan hell, had acted in order to save themselves and the other castaways from the risk of suffering new, very serious injuries to the rights to life, to physical and sexual integrity, to protect their prerogative to be taken to a place of safety and to obtain international protection," L'Espresso reported.

Italy's highest court now sided with the Trapani court.

The lawyers of the two defendants said that the decision by the Court of Cassation was a case of seeing international law and respect for human dignity prevail. They also said that it upholds the rights of people rescued at sea to be taken to a safe place where their lives are no longer in danger.

The case of the Vos Thalassa

The two migrants had been among 67 people rescued by the Vos Thalassa -- an offshore supply ship for oil platforms flying the Italian flag -- in the Mediterranean in July 2018. When the rescued migrants found out that the Vos Thalassa was headed south, towards Libya, they reportedly convinced the crew to turn around towards Italy.

The migrants were eventually transferred to the Diciotti, an Italian coast guard ship, and landed in Trapani, southern Italy.

Then-interior minister Matteo Salvini -- known for his anti-migration stance and for trying to enforce a 'closed ports' policy -- had accused the migrants of "hijacking" the ship.


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