UN experts voice significant concern over legal rights of Italy’s migrant detainees

14 November 2008 – A group of independent United Nations experts today expressed “significant human rights concerns” over the legal rights of irregular migrants and asylum-seekers in Italy, while otherwise acknowledging the strength of the country’s judicial system.

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention examined the level of freedom in centres for irregular migrants and asylum-seekers during a two-week official visit to Rome, Naples, Milan and eastern Sicily that ended today.

At a press conference in Rome, members of the working group noted that the Italian Government had largely ignored the findings and recommendations of a 2006 commission it had established to study the legal basis under which detainees are kept in special centres set up for migrants and asylum-seekers are detained.

Although the group described the answers it received from Italian authorities and civil society regarding the massive recent influx of migrants escaping war, persecution and poverty searching for a better life as “admirable,” the experts warned the “strength of commitment of a government to human rights – among them due process guarantees – is really put to the test when faced with a real or perceived emergency.”

According to the experts, Italy currently faces three emergencies: the fight against mafia crimes, the alleged rise in common criminality by illegal immigrants, and the post-11 September 2001 threat of international terrorism.

Citing a recent amendment to the criminal code making the status of foreigners living in Italy without a permit an aggravating circumstance for any offence as an example, the working group said the Government had resorted to “extraordinary measures involving the deprivation of liberty” in response to the country’s emergencies.

“In other words, if an Italian citizen and an irregularly present foreigner steal a car together, the foreigner is to receive a significantly higher sentence than the Italian,” explained Aslan Abashidze, one of the independent experts on the working group.

The investigation of the working group – which reports to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council – paid particular attention to the situation of detainees belonging to vulnerable groups, including juvenile offenders and persons living with mental disabilities.

“We are very impressed with Italy’s juvenile justice system,” said Mr. Abashidze, adding that “Italy could serve as a model to many other countries in this respect.”


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