UN refugee agency says Turkish asylum-seekers at sea deserve hearings

The German container ship Lydia Oldendorff

22 October 2004 – The United Nations refugee agency today appealed to Malta and Italy to facilitate hearings for 13 Turkish asylum-seekers, who were deported from Italy and are waiting on board a German-owned container ship near Malta as the vessel prepares to return to Turkey.

"Returning an asylum-seeker to his country of origin without hearing his or her claim is against the fundamental principles of international refugee law and may amount to refoulement," the refugee agency’s spokesman, Rupert Colville, said, referring to the illegal eviction of a refugee.

The spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that under European Union (EU) law, Italy would appear to be responsible for assessing the claims of the asylum-seekers, thought to be 11 men and two boys.

Under the terms of the EU Dublin Regulation, the 13 should be able to disembark from the Antigua and Barbuda-registered Lydia Oldendorff in Malta and then be transferred to Italy, Mr. Colville added.

Alternatively, the owner, who flew to Malta, has said that he would be prepared to send his ship back to Italy, providing he received clear assurances within the next 36 hours from the Italian authorities that the 13 can disembark.

Mr. Colville said the situation aboard the vessel is "extremely tense" because of the limited quarters for the 13 asylum-seekers, 16 crew members and four newly hired security guards. At least one of the men reportedly has attempted suicide.

He urged Malta and Italy "to act in accordance with their responsibilities under international law without further delay."

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