Today, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Italy violated human rights in 2009 by sending boat migrants back to Libya. The unanimous verdict is important and most welcome, albeit not surprising. It clarifies – and confirms the EU Commission’s position – that countries who push back migrants to where they risk persecution, without assessing their situation, are breaching international law.
Shortly after the events of 2009, my predecessor, EU Commissioner Jacques Barrot, demanded that the Italian government at the time clarified how these push-backs had been carried out. The Commission also wanted to know how Italy intended to make sure that such situations would be avoided in the future. As far as we know, no similar returns of boat migrants have been carried out since then.
Last year, more than fifty thousand migrants crossed the Mediterranean in rickety vessels to the EU. According to UNHCR, over 1500 of them died trying. We must come to the assistance of migrant boats in distress, and we must guarantee access to protection to those in need.
Now, the Commission will study the verdict from the court carefully to see whether further action is needed.