EU politicians summoned to The Hague over illegal pushback of refugees
EU politicians are accused of conspiring with Libyan coastguards to push refugees back to Libya only to be placed in detention camps.
German NGO European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) filed a formal complaint to The Hague accusing several high-ranking EU and Members of State officials of "atrocious crimes committed against migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers," an ECCHR executive summary of a Communication to the International Criminal Court reads.
The charges specifically involve EU politicians conspiring with Libyan coastguards by intercepting refugees and preventing them from reaching Europe by sea and forcing them to return to Libya only to be placed in detention camps.
According to the summary, the illegal pushbacks took place between 2018 and 2021 but initially began in February 2017 when the Italian government struck a deal with Libya to intercept refugees at sea.
Among the suspects include EU’s former foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, the Italian Interior Minister at the time of the deal, Marco Minniti, as well as some co-conspirators, namely Matteo Salvini, the far-right leader who served as Interior Minister in 2018-2019 and his then chief of staff, and Matteo Piantedosi, who is now Interior Minister.
🧵Our Communication presents evidence to argue that interceptions by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard (scLCG) are #notSAR “rescue operations.” Migrants & refugees intercepted and returned to Libya are deprived of their liberty and at risk of suffering other forms of violence. 1/6 pic.twitter.com/YslvjEWQsC— ECCHR (@ECCHRBerlin) December 1, 2022
Former and current prime ministers of Malta are also included in the complaint, namely Malta’s current Prime Minister, Robert Abela, and his predecessor, Joseph Muscat.
The former executive director of European border agency Frontex Fabrice Leggeri is also listed.
Read more: UK coastguard failed to prevent migrant drowning disaster: Independent
According to The Guardian, Minniti said he had no idea about the complaint, adding that he will "evaluate it, like the other interior ministers from 2017 until today."
"At the time, the agreement was signed by the Italian prime minister, [Paolo] Gentiloni, and his counterpart, [Fayez] al-Sarraj. So, from all the records, it appears that I am not the signatory," he added.
The deal was successful at reducing 81% of migration in Italy's southern shores during the first half of 2018 compared with the first half of 2017.
It was renewed in 2020 and again earlier in November for one year.
The renewal cost Italy a total of €13m.
"The Communication details 12 exemplary incidents of the interception of migrants and refugees at sea and their return to and detention in Libya between 2018 and 2021. The incidents present a particularly clear and detailed picture of the cooperation between European Union agencies (particularly the European Commission, EUNAVFOR MED, and Frontex) and Member States (including Italy and Malta) with Libyan actors, on both the policy and operational levels, with regard to the interception of migrants and refugees at sea for the purpose of their return to and detention in Libya," the ECCHR summary reads.
Christopher Hein, a professor of law and immigration policies at Luiss University in Rome, claimed that the "deal is totally in line with the policy of the EU.”
"It is a bilateral agreement, but it is supported and co-financed by the EU," Hein said, adding that “tens of thousands” of people had been intercepted and brought back to Libya since 2017, with 35,000 intercepted so far this year.
Read more: EU: New migrant plan approved after France-Italy spat
For years, Brussels has been struggling to agree on and implement a new policy for sharing responsibility for migrants and asylum seekers, but the row has brought the issue to the fore.
Italy's new government under the far-right leader, Georgia Meloni, refused to allow earlier this month a Norwegian-flagged NGO ship with 234 migrants on board rescued from the Mediterranean to dock.
The Ocean Viking eventually arrived in France, where authorities reacted angrily to Rome's stance, canceling an earlier agreement to accept 3,500 asylum seekers stranded in Italy.
The row jeopardized the EU's stopgap interim solution, prompting Paris to convene an extraordinary meeting of interior ministers from the 27 member states on Friday. "The Ocean Viking crisis was a bit of improvisation," Schinas admitted, defending the new plan from his commission to better coordinate rescues and migrant and refugee arrivals.
"We have twenty specific actions, we have an important political agreement, everyone is committed to working so as not to reproduce this kind of situation."
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin stated that France has no reason to accept migrants relocated from Italy if Rome "does not accept the law of the sea."
In addition, Darmanin's Italian opposite number Matteo Piantedosi played down the Ocean Viking incident, saying the meeting was "not dealing with individual cases or operational management." He stated that he had shaken hands with the French Minister and that there was a "convergence of positions" that would allow the ministers to resume discussions at their meeting on December 8.
As the 25th of September election nears in #Italy, the far-right is focusing its campaign on immigrants.— Al Mayadeen English (@MayadeenEnglish) September 22, 2022
Will Italy submit to the far-right with its neo-fascist roots? pic.twitter.com/eZuMXx7Gxn