Follow-up from UNHCR on Italy's push-backs

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 12 May 2009, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Several of you have asked about any follow-up from UNHCR on Italy's recent push-backs to Libya of persons intercepted or rescued at sea since May 6.

UNHCR Rome is sending a letter to the Italian government noting that while UNHCR appreciates the challenges which irregular migration poses to Italy and other EU countries, we remain seriously concerned that the policy now implemented by Italy undermines access to asylum in the European Union and carries with it the risk of violating the fundamental principle of non refoulement which is enshrined in the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees and in EU law as well as in other instruments of international human rights law. The non refoulement principle does not carry with it any geographical limitation. States are obliged to respect this principle wherever they exercise jurisdiction, including on the high seas.

UNHCR's concern is heightened by the fact that Libya is not a State party to the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees, and does not have a national asylum law or refugee protection system. There is, therefore, no assurance that persons in need of international protection may find effective protection in Libya.

Nevertheless, UNHCR is endeavoring to provide humanitarian assistance and basic protection to the persons sent back to Libya by Italy. From our initial interviews in detention facilities with some of these persons in recent days, it appears that there are indeed a number who wish to seek international protection and may indeed qualify for such protection. This includes persons from Somalia and Eritrea, for example.

In view of the fact that states maintain responsibility for the consequences of their actions affecting persons under their jurisdiction, we are asking the Italian government to readmit those persons who were sent back by Italy and are identified by UNHCR as seeking international protection. Their refugee claims could then be determined in accordance with Italian law.

UNHCR believes it is imperative to find ways of ensuring that migration control measures do not impede access to international protection for persons in need of it.