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Italy: Judges say unlawfully-detained migrants faced degrading conditions at Lampedusa reception centre

Judges have agreed that Italy’s unlawful detention of Tunisian migrants, in degrading conditions on the island of Lampedusa pending collective expulsion, breached human rights laws.

As just satisfaction (Article 41) in the case of Khlaifia and Others v. Italy (application no. 16483/12), the European Court of Human Rights held that Italy was to pay each applicant 10,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage and the applicants EUR 9,344.51, jointly, in respect of costs and expenses.

Video statement from Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland

The complaint concerned the detention in a reception centre on Lampedusa and subsequently on ships moored in Palermo harbour, as well as the repatriation to Tunisia, of clandestine migrants who had landed on the Italian coast in 2011, during the events linked to the ‘Arab Spring.’

The court held unanimously that there had been:

a violation of Article 5 § 1 (right to liberty and security) of the European Convention on Human Rights;
a violation of Article 5 § 2 of the Convention (right to be informed promptly of the charge against the
applicants);
a violation of Article 5 § 4 (right to a speedy decision by a court on the lawfulness of detention);
no violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) in respect of the conditions of detention on board the ships.

The court held by a majority that there had been:

a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) in respect of the conditions of detention in the Contrada Imbriacola reception centre;
a violation of Article 4 of Protocol No. 4 (prohibition of collective expulsions of aliens);
a violation of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) taken in conjunction with Articles 3 and 4 of Protocol No. 4.

The court held that the applicants’ detention had been unlawful. They had not been notified of the reasons for their detention, for which there was no statutory basis, and had been unable to challenge it.

Concerning their conditions of detention in the reception centre, the court took account of the exceptional humanitarian crisis facing Italy on the island of Lampedusa in 2011 in the wake of the Arab Spring (55,298 migrants had landed around the time the applicants had been present there).

The court nonetheless concluded that the applicants’ conditions of detention had diminished their human dignity, although that had not been the case on board the ships moored in Palermo harbour.

The court further considered that the applicants had suffered a collective expulsion, as their refoulement decisions did not refer to their personal situation – the Court held in particular that an identification procedure was insufficient to disprove collective expulsion.

Furthermore, the court noted that at the time a large number of Tunisians had been expelled under such simplified procedures.

Lastly, the court considered that the applicants had not benefited from any effective remedy in order to lodge a complaint, because under Article 13, if a remedy was to be deemed effective in the case of a collective expulsion it had to have automatic suspensive effect – which in this case meant that it should have suspended the refoulement to Tunisia – and that had not been the case.

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