ROME (Reuters) - Italy’s opposition accused the government on Tuesday of turning a blind eye to the fate of 245 Eritrean refugees who were turned back at sea by Italian patrols and are now held in Libya in “inhumane conditions”.
Human rights groups have appealed to the Rome government, which last year began deporting migrants intercepted at sea under a new deal with Libya, to offer asylum to the Eritreans, saying many were ill-treated while in detention.
“What’s happening to these Eritrean citizens is shameful,” said Paolo Ferrero of the Communist Refoundation party. “It’s the umpteenth example of how the government is effectively denying the right to asylum.”
The government was summoned to explain itself in parliament on Wednesday at the request of opposition parties.
In a letter made public on Tuesday, Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg said he had received reports that the migrants were subjected to violence by Libyan military police, leaving several of them seriously injured.
Hammarberg asked Italy’s foreign and interior ministers to urgently clarify the situation with Libyan authorities.
The two ministers said in a joint letter to Il Foglio newspaper that Rome was mediating with Tripoli to identify the Eritreans and try to find them employment in Libya so that they would not be forcibly repatriated.
They also said it was necessary to respect Libyan sovereignty and called for an international approach, involving the United Nations and other organisations.
“The fate of these Eritrean citizens cannot be resolved only through our bilateral relationship (with Libya),” the ministers said in their letter made available to Reuters by Il Foglio, which plans to publish it on Wednesday.
The Italian Council for Refugees said in a statement last week the refugees were moved to a detention centre near Sebha, in the middle of the Sahara desert, on June 30 after a 12-hour journey locked in a container. It said those who were injured or in poor condition had not been given any medical treatment.
“The latest news is not reassuring. More of them were beaten today, the number of those sick with diarrhoea is growing and there is no doctor,” the head of the Italian council, Christopher Hein, told Reuters on Tuesday.
He said the migrants were all men who were apparently transferred after taking part in a revolt in another detention centre, where they refused to sign repatriation documents.
Hein said their condition was made more difficult by Libya’s decision last month to order the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR to close its operations in the country.
Some of the refugees have been appealing for help in phone interviews with Italian media, something which Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said was very odd “coming from people who say they are in detention and risk being tortured”.