The Great Debate UK
- Bill Frelick is Human Rights Watch‘s refugee policy director and the author of “Pushed Back, Pushed Around: Italy’s Forced Return of Boat Migrants and Asylum Seekers, Libya’s Mistreatment of MIgrants and Asylum Seekers“. The opinions expressed are his own. -
On May 6, for the first time since World War II, a European state ordered its coast guard and naval vessels to intercept and forcibly return boat migrants on the high seas without screening to determine whether any passengers needed protection or were particularly vulnerable. That state was Italy; the receiving state was Libya. The Italians left the exhausted passengers on a dock in Tripoli, where the Libyan authorities immediately detained them.
Since then, Italian patrol boats have continued to force the boat migrants, mostly Africans, back to Libya. Some of the operations are coordinated by Frontex, the European Union’s external borders migration control agency.
The policy is an open breach of Italy’s legal obligation not to commit refoulement—the forced return of people to places where their lives or freedom would be threatened or where they would face a risk of torture or inhuman and degrading treatment.