On 14 January the Court of Rome confirmed its landmark ruling from December and ordered Italian authorities to issue humanitarian visas to two Afghans within ten days. After an 11-hour inspection by Italian port authorities, the Ocean Viking rescue vessel was blocked in Sicily. NGOs have submitted a complaint to the International Criminal Court (ICC) over Malta and Italy’s complicity in war crimes against migrants in Libya.

In December 2021, Rome’s court made a landmark ruling, later upheld on 14 January, that recognised the right to humanitarian visas to Italy for two Afghans pursuant to article 25 of the EU Visa Code. The two were former journalists involved in various cultural activities in Afghanistan under the former government for whom the court found risks of serious jeopardy to their human rights in the country. The urgent case was filed by ECRE member ASGI only after a formal request made to the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs that highlighted the risks to their safety was ignored. Further, despite the clarity of the ruling in December, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs continued to put up “a strenuous and unacceptable resistance, first telling the applicants to use humanitarian corridors (which still have to be activated, and therefore [require] waiting months if not years); and then telling them to show, with relevant documentation, how they would be hosted and integrated in Italy, with adequate financial coverage,” ASGI stated, also noting: “they pretend to ignore not only that an Italian citizen has already offered her willingness to host the two young Afghans, but also that every asylum seeker, when he or she becomes one, has the right to state-funded migrant reception if without their own resources, and the state is obligated to enact it”. Then, “the young Afghans immediately asked the Rome court once more to find out exactly how the December order would be implemented [and] on January 14, 2022, the court found that the ministry had engaged in behavior that evaded the judicial order and ordered the issuance of humanitarian visas within 10 days”.

Italy’s crackdown on civilian search and rescue operators continues. One year after the rescue ship was released from five-months of administrative detention, the Ocean Viking (operated by SOS MEDITERRANEE in partnership with the Red Cross) was again blocked by Italian port authorities. Following more than 11 hours of inspection on 10 January in the port of Trapani, Sicily, SOS MEDITERRANEE regret the “extreme scrutiny” of its vessel, stating that: “This inspection was the sixth port State control the Ocean Viking underwent since starting operations in the central Mediterranean in August 2019. This leads to new delays in the resumption of our operations while 2021 has been the deadliest year in the central Mediterranean since 2017”. The Ocean Viking rescued 2,832 men, women and children in 33 rescue operations in 2021. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) 1,553 people died or went missing on the Central Mediterranean in 2021 and 11 so far this year. The latest developments on the Mediterranean illustrates the need for civilian search and rescue. After a four hour rescue operation on 19 January, the Mare Jonio vessel operated by Mediterranea Saving Humans saved the lives of 100 women, men and children fleeing Libya. On 19 and 20 January, the Geo Barents vessel operated by Médecins Sans Frontières rescued 87 and 109 people respectively when their boats got in distress after departing Libya.

The NGOs Adala for All, StraLi and UpRights have submitted a case to the ICC alleging complicity by Malta and Italy in severe war crimes committed against migrants in Libya between 2017 and 2021. According to the Times of Malta, the NGOs are alleging that six detention centres “under the nominal control of the Department for Combatting Illegal Migration (DCIM), of the Government of National Accord (now the Government of National Unity), are in fact operated by armed groups taking an active part in the hostilities”. Further, they claim members of those armed groups “systematically subject migrants (men, women and children) to various forms of mistreatment and abuse including murder, torture, rape, forced labour and forced conscription”. The NGOs reportedly base the complicity of Italian and Maltese authorities on evidence revealing that officials “operated conjointly with the Libyan Coast Guard coordinating its rescue operations to ensure that migrants at sea would be intercepted and returned to Libya”. According to the NGOs: “The information available indicates a causal connection between such contribution and the crimes migrants suffered in the detention centres”.

The submission came a week after more than 600 people on the move were attacked and detained by Libyan authorities. The crackdown happened during a protest outside the now closed Community Day Centre formerly run by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), where for months thousands of migrants have been urging safe passage out of Libya where they fear for their lives.

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Photo: ECRE

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.