Strasbourg court rules Tunisian migrants’ human rights violated in Italy during Arab Spring



European Court of Human Rights
European Court of Human Rights

The European court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has held that the rights of clandestine migrants from Tunisia were violated when they were detained after landing on the Italian coast in the midst of the “Arab Spring” in 2011.

The case concerned the migrants’ detention in a reception centre on the island of Lampedusa and subsequently on ships moored in Palermo harbour, as well as their repatriation to Tunisia.

The court held unanimously that there had been: a violation of article 5 § 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – the right to liberty and security; a violation of article 5 § 2 of the Convention – the right to be informed promptly of the charge against the applicants; a violation of article 5 § 4 – the right to a speedy decision by a court on the lawfulness of detention; but no violation of article 3 – the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment in respect of the conditions of detention on board the ships.

The court held by a majority that there had been: a violation of article 3 – prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment – in respect of the conditions of detention in the Contrada Imbriacola reception centre; a violation of article 4 of protocol no. 4 – the prohibition of collective expulsions of aliens; and a violation of article 13 – the right to an effective remedy – taken in conjunction with articles 3 and 4 of protocol no. 4.

It also held that the applicants’ detention had been unlawful. They had not been notified of the reasons for their detention, for which there was no statutory basis, and had been unable to challenge it.

As for their conditions of detention in the reception centre, the court took account of the exceptional humanitarian crisis facing Italy on the island of Lampedusa in 2011 in the wake of the Arab Spring – 55,298 migrants had landed around the time the applicants had been present there.

It nonetheless concluded that the applicants’ conditions of detention had diminished their human dignity, although that had not been the case on board the ships moored in Palermo harbour.

In addition it held that the applicants had suffered a collective expulsion, as their refoulement decisions did not refer to their personal situation – the court held in particular that an identification procedure was insufficient to disprove collective expulsion.

Furthermore, it noted that at the time a large number of Tunisians had been expelled under such simplified procedures.

Lastly, the ECtHR held that the applicants had not benefited from any effective remedy in order to lodge a complaint, because under article 13, if a remedy was to be deemed effective in the case of a collective expulsion it had to have automatic suspensive effect – which in this case meant that it should have suspended the refoulement to Tunisia – and that had not been the case.

Khlaifia and Others v. Italy. Please note the full judgment is only available in French.

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