ITALIAN REPUBLIC: Beatings and unlawful expulsions amid EU push to get tough on refugees and migrants

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5 Nov 2016
[International Secretariat]
Topic: Refugees and Migrants

The European Union’s pressure on Italy to “get tough” on refugees and migrants has led to unlawful expulsions and ill-treatment which in some cases may amount to torture. Beatings, electric shocks and sexual humiliation are among the numerous allegations of abuse.

‘Hotspot approach’, introduced in 2015 on the recommendation of the European Commission, for processing refugees and migrants at the point of arrival is not only undermining their right to claim asylum but has fueled appalling abuse.

The approach was designed to identify and fingerprint new arrivals to front-line EU countries such as Italy, swiftly assess their protection needs and either process their asylum applications or return them to their country of origin. Amnesty interviewed more than 170 refugees and migrants, and revealed serious failures at each of these stages.

In an ostensible effort to reduce the pressure on front-line states, such as Italy, the hotspot approach was twinned with a scheme to relocate asylum-seekers to other EU member states. However, the solidarity component of the hotspot approach has proven largely illusory: 1,200 people have been relocated from Italy so far, out of the 40,000 that had been promised, while more than 150,000 people have reached Italy by sea this year.

Fingerprinting by force

Under pressure from EU governments and institutions, Italy has introduced coercive practices to obtain fingerprints. Amnesty has received consistent accounts that arbitrary detention, intimidation and excessive physical force have been used to coerce newly arrived men, women and even children into fingerprinting.

Of the 24 testimonies of ill-treatment collected by Amnesty, 16 involve beatings. In several cases, refugees and migrants also claimed having being given electric shocks with stun batons. A 16-year-old boy and a 27-year-old man claimed police sexually humiliated them and inflicted pain to their genitals. The findings raise serious concerns and highlight the need for an independent review of current practices.


Under the hotspot approach, new arrivals in Italy are screened to separate asylum-seekers from those considered irregular migrants. This means that people, often exhausted and traumatized from their journeys and without access to adequate information or advice on asylum procedures, have to answer questions with potentially profound implications for their futures.

Police are required to ask new arrivals to explain why they have come to Italy, rather than simply asking them if they intend to seek asylum. Since refugee status is not determined by the reasons why a person has entered a country but by the situation they would face if returned to their country of origin, this approach is fundamentally flawed.


Under pressure from the EU, Italy has sought to increase the number of migrants it returns to their countries of origin. This has included negotiating readmission agreements with countries that have committed appalling atrocities. 

One such Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the Italian and Sudanese police authorities in August, allowing for a summary identification process that, in certain circumstances, may even take place in Sudan, after the expulsion has been carried out. Even if the identification takes place in Italy, it is so superficial, and so heavily delegated to Sudanese authorities, that it does not allow for an individualized determination that a person will not be at real risk of serious human rights violations upon return.

European nations may be able to remove people from their territory but they cannot remove their obligations under international law. Italian authorities must end violations and ensure that people are not sent back to countries where they are at risk of persecution or torture.

3 November 2016

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