Migrant Push-Back Continues

South African Press Agency, Sept. 22, 2009

Italy’s government has “no intention” of halting the deportation to Libya of would-be immigrants intercepted in international waters, a senior government official said on Tuesday.

Interior undersecretary Alfredo Mantovano, during a parliament briefing, brushed off criticism of Italy’s controversial deal with Libya to “push-back” migrants attempting to reach Italian shores from the North African nation.

The European Commission, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and US-based group Human Rights Watch have all recently expressed concerns over the policy.

Critics accuse Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government of violating international accords by deporting would-be migrants to Libya before ascertaining whether they are political refugees and thus eligible for asylum in Italy.

From May 6–when the Rome-Tripoli pact came into effect–to August 30, Italy has returned 757 would-be immigrants to Libya, Mantovano said.

Never denied asylum

But he insisted that Italian authorities “have never denied” intercepted migrants the right to ask for asylum.

Each operation to escort migrants back to Libya lasted more than 10 hours during which none of the people involved, asked to be recognised as refugees, nor did they say they were fleeing from persecution in their countries of origin, Mantovano said.

Stressing how migrant landings have decreased by 94% since the “push-back” policy came into effect, Mantovano implied it has helped saved lives by deterring people from attempting the dangerous Mediterranean crossing.

Mantovano also referred to specific criticism from the UNHCR, and the fact that many of the would-be migrants come from war-ravaged or unstable countries in the Horn of Africa.

“I think it is out of place (for the UN) to have done nothing to prevent these situations, especially in Somalia and Eritrea, and then to expect that Italy alone should solve the problem,” he said.

As for criticism within the European Union of which Italy is a member, Mantovano said Italy would continue to “defend its sovereignty”.

“Evidently it suited some other European country that Italy would serve as Port of Europe,” he said, adding that “since the ‘push-backs'” the number of migrant landings in Spain has increased.

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