STRASBOURG, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Italy violated human rights rules when it sent a group of Eritrean and Somali migrants intercepted at sea back to Libya in 2009, the European Court of Human Rights said on Thursday.
The Strasbourg-based court ruled in favour of 11 Somalis and 13 Eritreans who had filed a case with the body, accusing Italy of exposing them to ill-treatment not just in Libya but in their home countries as well if Tripoli then deported them.
The 24 were part of a group of some 200 would-be migrants, including pregnant women and children, trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea when Italian customs and coastguard vessels picked them up off the island of Lampedusa.
They were then returned to Libyan authorities under a bilateral accord Rome had with Tripoli at the time, but which was suspended in February 2011 following Libya’s uprising.
The court acknowledged that Italy was struggling to cope with an influx of clandestine migrants by sea, but added “this could not absolve a State of its obligation not to remove any person who would run the risk of being subjected to (prohibited)treatment”.
It said that Italian authorities could not ignore the risk that the migrants would be exposed to inhuman and degrading treatment outlawed by the European Convention on Human Rights.
The court also ruled that Italy had breached rules prohibiting expulsions of whole groups.
It ordered Italy to pay 15,000 euros ($20,000) to each of the plaintiffs and 1,575 euros to the group as a whole to cover the case’s costs. ($1 = 0.7511 euros) (Reporting by Gilbert Reilhac, Writing by Leigh Thomas Editing by Maria Golovnina)