Judge: Italy Illegally Expels Asylum Seekers

An Italian judge ordered the Interior Ministry to assess a gay Pakistani man’s claim for asylum after he was forcefully and immediately expelled from Italy last summer.

A man fills up containers from a hose that delivers water to a shanty town where thousands of immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees live in southern Italy’s Foggia province. (Courthouse News photo/Cain Burdeau)

(CN) — Italy is illegally sending asylum seekers who cross its borders back into the Balkans, where they are routinely beaten and mistreated by police, according to an Italian judge.

In a ruling this week, Judge Silvia Albano with the Court of Rome found that Italian authorities illegally expelled a 27-year-old gay Pakistani man last July without processing his claim for asylum after he was picked up by police in Trieste, a city near the border with Slovenia. He said he was fleeing persecution for his sexual orientation in Pakistan.

The judge’s ruling, available only in Italian, is significant because it comes amid allegations the European Union’s border agency, Frontex, and national authorities are banishing asylum seekers without giving them a chance to have their claims for humanitarian protection heard. The EU’s anti-fraud agency raided Frontex’s offices in December as part of a probe into so-called illegal pushbacks, according to media reports. The EU’s ombudsman opened a similar probe in November.

Under international refugee laws, people legitimately fleeing dangers such as war and persecution must be given refuge. But European authorities have been found to be violating this obligation all along the EU’s borders. Croatia, Slovenia, Greece, Spain and Italy – EU border nations that see high numbers of asylum seekers – have all been accused of illegally expelling refugees and stopping them from reaching EU shores.

Harsh border policies, though, are supported by many Europeans who see mass immigration, much of it from the Islamic world, as a threat to their societies. Many who arrive also do not have legitimate claims for asylum.

The story of the Pakistani man, identified only as Mahmood by an Italian humanitarian legal group representing him, is a stark reminder of the harsh realities asylum seekers face in their attempts to enter the EU, a favorite destination for its social programs and prospects for work.

Under threat of being hit with truncheons by Italian police, Mahmood and other Pakistanis he was with were forced to cross back into Slovenia, according to the ruling.

Mahmood then suffered brutal mistreatment at the hands of Slovenian and Croatian police before being expelled into Bosnia-Herzegovina, which lies outside the EU. Croatian police allegedly hit him and others with truncheons wrapped in barbed wire, pepper sprayed them and pushed them across the border into Bosnia with German shepherd dogs.

“The Italian state should not have allowed such an informal rejection to take place without a guarantee that the rejected foreigners were going to be treated properly in Slovenia,” Albano wrote. She said Italian authorities must have known the Pakistani men faced harsh treatment by being sent back to Slovenia.

Albano ordered Italy’s Interior Ministry to process the man’s asylum claim. The judge said Italy was violating both the Italian constitution and international law by not hearing the case. Her ruling was signed on Monday but released later in the week.

The Border Violence Monitoring Network, a collection of nonprofit groups that help asylum seekers, said in a statement that the evidence provided to the Italian court showed “overwhelming proof” that Mahmood “had been unlawfully removed from Italian territory, without adherence to international law on asylum.” The network worked on behalf of Mahmood.

Since at least 2018, humanitarian groups in the Balkans have been warning about illegal pushbacks and scores of asylum seekers have described being treated harshly by police in Croatia. They have described being beaten by Croatian police and having their possessions, including valuables such as cash and telephones, taken from them.

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

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