Anti-torture experts: Italy and Spain should strengthen air deportation safeguards

Anti-torture experts want Italy and Spain to improve the treatment of foreign nationals deported by air from the countries.

The reports from the Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) publish its findings in respect of two return flights that it monitored: one from Rome to Lagos (Nigeria) on 17 December 2015 and the other from Madrid to Bogotá (Colombia) and Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic) on 18 February 2016.

The two joint removal operations of foreign nationals by air were co-ordinated by Frontex (now European Border and Coast Guard) and organized by Italy and Spain, with the participation of other countries.

The CPT received no allegations of physical ill-treatment of detained persons by staff and the escort staff were, in general, engaging and supportive of the needs of the foreign nationals.

However, the CPT is not fully convinced of the policy of the Italian and Spanish authorities of informing detainees of their imminent removal only on the very day of departure. To address this concern, it recommends that adequate information in writing be provided to all persons being removed several days in advance of the flight and that access to a lawyer and to telephone be allowed to returnees before their removal.

The report on the joint removal operation from Rome to Lagos (Nigeria) is critical of the fact that some Nigerian citizens were subject to removal from Italy while court appeals in relation to their asylum requests were still pending.

Proper information flows between courts and law enforcement authorities on pending appeals and their suspending effect of the expulsion orders should be established.

In their response, the Italian authorities acknowledge the necessity to improve the existing mechanisms and refer to ongoing legislative reforms aiming at reducing the timeframe for the processing of asylum applications and reviewing the suspending effect of appeals lodged against the rejection of those applications.

The report on Italy also covers other issues such as the need of a systematic medical examination of persons to be removed prior to their departure, the recruitment of escort staff and the measures to be taken to avoid their professional exhaustion syndrome as well as the establishment of effective complaints and monitoring mechanisms.

An incident of a medical nature occurred to a returnee during the flight from Madrid to Bogotá and Santo Domingo highlighted the importance to ensure that every person being removed undergoes a medical examination a few days prior to his/her departure with a view to produce a fit-to-fly certificate.

The CPT’s report on the monitoring of the joint removal operation to Bogotá and Santo Domingo also covers issues such as the independence of health-care staff on board return flights, the necessity for escort staff to receive training in particular on the psychological aspects of escort duty as well as the modalities of the risk assessment of returnees.

The Spanish authorities in their response acknowledge the necessity of these recommendations and refer to the existing Spanish legislative framework.

Both reports also address specific recommendations to Frontex, in particular in relation to the need for developing more precise common rules on the use of means of restraint as different approaches by the respective national escort staff remained visible to the CPT’s delegations during the monitoring of the joint removal operations.

Further, the CPT advocates for the creation of an effective complaints mechanism for the conduct of Frontex escort staff and remains unconvinced that the EU regulation on the European Border and Coast Guard provides for a rigorous complaints mechanism in terms of guarantees that the complaints will be dealt with in an effective, expeditious and thorough manner.

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