French NGOs press release on Cap Anamur asylum-seekers

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"Ten French associations - Act Up-Paris, Cimade, Collectif de soutien des exilés, Fasti, Gisti, LCR, Ligue des droits de l'homme, MRAP, Syndicat de la magistrature, Union syndicale G10 - have signed the following press release on the fate of Cap Anamur, this german boat the passengers of which - Sudanese asylum seekers - are trying, within the utmost difficulties, to seek protection in Europe. For us, this issue is a symptom of the degradation of EU asylum policy.

Press release, Paris, 16 July 2004

On July 11th, 2004, Cap Anamur, a ship belonging to a German aid agency, authorized "for humanitarian reasons" to dock in Porto Empedocle harbour (Sicily) : twenty days after having rescued the 37 passengers (36 Sudanese from Darfour and 1 Ethiopian) from a dinghy sinking in international waters between Libya and Lampedusa island. Italian authorities had been banning the ship from territorial waters since 1 July.

The refugees have been transfered for identification to Agrigento CPT (one of the foreigners detention camps) and may be deported; the captain, the first mate and the head of the aid agency are arrested on July 12th for "favouring illegal immigration" (art 12 Bossi-Fini law). The ship has been confiscated. The police claims that the refugees are from Ghana and not from Sudan, an allegation immediately denied by several priests who were on board, and nevertheless immediately broadcasted by Italian TV and several European media outlets, which had not shown any interest whatsoever until then.

Roberto Castelli, Italian Home Affairs minister, declared, in a nationalist paranoïa quite in conjunction with mainstream opinions, that it is easy to feign urgency in order to test the capacity of resistance of european countries.

By its actions Italy has scorned its international obligations (violation of Geneva Convention, non-turning back principle, which says that anyone who turns up at a border has the right to present an asylum request). It has also misinterpreted Dublin II: in order to determine the state responsible for examining the asylum request, the request must first be presented in a EU member state. Moreover, the Italian Parliament has not yet adopted an asylum law; Italy has delegated to police the treatment of the admission to asylum procedure of refugees who have no other issue than clandestine immigration.

Italy then played an obscene game with Germany and Malta (where Cap Anamur had stopped), each country handing the responsibility to the others, while lives were in danger and Geneva Convention, Nice Carta and Italian Constitution were negated. These 3 EU member states, with the conniving silence of the european institutions, hardly mentioned "humanitarian urgency", while insisting on the fact that it was impossible to meet for fear of creating a "dangerous precedent which would lead to numerous abuses". Another proof that, in this asylum policy turned into police management, men and women do not exist.

UNHCR, the UN and the Vatican were nonetheless moved (very late), and the docking in Sicily was eventually authorized; this allowed Germany to exit the game, claiming that the responsibility was fully on Italy for the welcome and the processing of asylum requests.

The Italian government now uses the European notion, which calls organised criminals those who save lives at sea, and which sees a potential terrorist in every refugee.

In Italy NGOs, associations, activists, the civil society, present since day 1, have called for solidarity informed, mobilized, asked for the creation of special commissions, and are preparing a Cour européenne des droits de l'homme (CEDH).

European associations and activists must support and relay this mobilization, as well as the refugees rights, by denouncing a european policy which denies law and, aiming only to forcibly dissuade refugees, turns the European borders into cemeteries.

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