04 September 2015

On Tuesday the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Italy unlawfully detained Tunisian migrants in Lampedusa, in degrading conditions. The case related to three Tunisian men who arrived on Lampedusa by boat in September 2011, at a time where Italy was in a state of emergency due to over 50,000 migrants arriving by boat due to the events of the ‘Arab Spring’. They were detained at the Contrado Imbriacola reception centre in unhygienic conditions, with poor sanitation, overcrowding and no access to the outside world. After a riot which partially destroyed the centre, they joined a demonstration of over 1,800 migrants where they were arrested. They were then detained on ships in Palermo, before being deported under a bilateral repatriation agreement between Italy and Tunisia.

The Court found that the men had been unlawfully deprived of their liberty and had no way to challenge their detention as they were not told the reasons why they were detained. It recognised that there was an ‘exceptional situation’ on the island of Lampedusa in 2011 given the arrival of over 50,000 migrants, which led Italy to declare a state of humanitarian emergency. However, despite this ‘exceptional wave of immigration’, Italy was obliged to treat migrants with respect for their human dignity.’ The Court considered that the appalling conditions in the reception centre amounted to degrading treatment.

In addition, the Italian authorities were guilty of ‘collective expulsion’ as it deported the men without individually assessing their personal circumstances, at a time where many other Tunisians were expelled. Contrary to international law, they were not given the opportunity to complain against this in a way that would prevent their removal.

Further information: