Posted on July 20, 2004

Italy Denies Asylum For African Refugees

AP, Buffalo News, Jul. 18

ROME — Italian authorities have rejected asylum bids by 37 Africans who landed in Sicily after a three-week voyage aboard an aid agency ship, but many of the men could be allowed to stay for humanitarian reasons, state television reported Saturday.

Earlier, 14 asylum-seekers were flown from Sicily to Rome, where they were taken to a detention center to await expulsion.

RAI state TV said that while the 14 had been ordered to leave Italy, the rest might win permission to stay on humanitarian grounds, even though they didn’t qualify for political asylum.

The Interior Ministry, which oversees the government’s crackdown on illegal immigration, said it could not immediately confirm reports about the asylum commission’s decisions.

Refugee aid groups said they would try to keep the 14 immigrants in Italy.

“We will try all kinds of legal remedies,” said Christopher Hein, head of the Italian Refugee Council.

A German aid group, Cap Anamur, said it had rescued the 37 Africans from a small craft in the Mediterranean on June 20. After a three-week standoff with the Italian government, the German ship docked in Sicily, where it was immediately seized by Italian authorities.

In the early weeks of the drama, the Africans were said to have fled Sudan’s war. But Italian authorities had said there were no Sudanese among them — only immigrants from Nigeria, Niger and Ghana.

Laura Boldrini, spokeswoman for the United Nations’ refugee agency, expressed concern over Italy’s handling of asylum cases.

The agency “restates the principle that asylum-seekers who have had a negative ruling can appeal” before being expelled, Boldrini said. She said Italy’s system allows for appeals only after immigrants have returned to the homeland, where they might be in danger because of their beliefs.