UNHCR deeply concerned over returns from Italy
4 October 2004
UNHCR expressed deep concern Monday over the fate of hundreds of new arrivals on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa, many of whom are reportedly being sent back to Libya without proper assessment of their possible protection needs.
UNHCR has asked both Italy and Libya to grant it access to these people, and has a staff member on standby at Lampedusa. But as of Monday afternoon, the refugee agency was still awaiting a response. Meanwhile, returns to Libya were reportedly continuing.
"We recognise the very strong pressures that these continuing arrivals are generating, but all those who request asylum should have access to a fair procedure to assess their possible protection needs under the 1951 Refugee Convention," said Raymond Hall, the Director of UNHCR's Regional Bureau for Europe. "UNHCR should have access to them and we stand ready to assist Italian authorities in ensuring that those who do need protection get it."
Hall said UNHCR was also seeking to monitor the situation of those who had been returned to Libya, but was still awaiting a response from Libyan authorities. Lack of access in both Italy and Libya was preventing the organization from exercising its mandate to ensure that refugees are properly protected, he said.
UNHCR staff in Italy were told by Italian officials that people from Eritrea, Somalia and Ethiopia were being admitted to the asylum process, but other nationalities - believed to be primarily Egyptians - were being sent to Libya. UNHCR is concerned that this method of sorting by nationality could put individual cases in need of international protection at risk and lead to direct or indirect refoulement of refugees.