Supreme Court rules handing migrants back to Libyan coastguards is a crime

Asso 28

 ROME – The Court of Cassation ruled that Tripoli is not a safe port, meaning that handing migrants back to the Libyan coastguards is a crime.

 The Italian Supreme Court upheld the conviction of the captain of Asso 28 who rescued 101 people in the middle of the Mediterranean before handing them back to Libyan coastguards, on the basis he broke the Navigation Code and the Penal Code.

 Act 1155 of the Navigation Code states the captain of a ship who “outside the national territory arbitrarily disembarks a crew member of a passenger, or abandons them […]  is punished with imprisonment from six months to three years and with a fine from 103.00 euros to 309.00 euros.”  

 Article 591 of the Penal Code is related to the “abandonment of minors or incapable people” and states whoever abandons a minor under the age of 14 or a person incapable to take care of themselves must be “punished with imprisonment from six months to five years.”

 Judges said that the defendant violated the “procedures provided for by the Solas Convention and the directives of the International Maritime Organization” by carrying out “a collective refoulement in a port considered unsafe such as Libya.” The judges added that the defendant also failed to check whether the migrants want to seek asylum and if the minors were accompanied or not.

 NGOs and opposition politicians welcomed this ruling. Nicola Fratoianni, secretary of Sinistra Italiana said that this meant there are “no more alibis or shortcuts for the Italian authorities.” Filberto Zaratti, a member of the Chamber’s Constitutional Affairs Committee added “we have always said Libya is not a safe harbour, turning migrants back means handing them over to criminals without any scruples.”

 Luca Casarini, a spokesperson for Mediterranea Saving Humans said this ruling meant they would take class action “against the government and the Minister of the Interior and the Italy-Libya memorandum.”

 Last year, the Minister of the Interior, Matteo Piantedosi, passed a decree which mandated an increase in expulsions of migrants, often sending them back to Libya.