Italy’s refugee family reception infrastructure considered untrustworthy
Tarakhel v. Switzerland, GC judgment of 4 November 2014
The Court considered it appropriate to examine the complaint concerning the applicants’ reception conditions in Italy solely from the standpoint of Article 3.
Concerning the overall situation of the reception arrangements for asylum seekers in Italy, the Court
had previously observed that the Recommendations of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (“UNHCR”) and the report of the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, both published in 2012, referred to a number of failings. Without entering into the debate as to the exact number of asylum seekers without accommodation in Italy, the Court noted the glaring discrepancy between the number of asylum applications made in 2013 (over 14,000) and the number of places available in the facilities belonging to the SPRAR network [Sistema di protezione per richiedenti asilo e rifugiati] (9,630 places).
With regard to living conditions in the available facilities, the Court noted that in its Recommendations for 2013 UNHCR had described a number of problems. However, UNHCR had not
reported situations of widespread violence or insalubrious conditions, and had stressed the efforts
undertaken by the Italian authorities to improve reception conditions for asylum seekers. The
Human Rights Commissioner, in his 2012 report, had noted the existence of some problems with
regard to legal aid, care and psychological assistance in the emergency reception centres, the time
taken to identify vulnerable persons and the preservation of family unity during transfers.
The Court reiterated that, as a “particularly underprivileged and vulnerable” population group,
asylum seekers required “special protection” under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human
Rights. This requirement of “special protection” of asylum seekers was particularly important when
the persons concerned were children, even when they were accompanied by their parents
In view of the current situation of the reception system in Italy, the possibility that a significant
number of asylum seekers removed to that country might be left without accommodation or might
be accommodated in overcrowded facilities, in insalubrious and violent conditions, was not
unfounded. The Swiss authorities were obliged to obtain assurances from their Italian counterparts
that on their arrival in Italy the applicants would be received in facilities and in conditions adapted to the age of the children, and that the family would be kept together.
The Court noted that, according to the Italian Government, families with children were regarded as a
particularly vulnerable category and were normally taken charge of within the SPRAR network.
However, the Italian Government had not provided any further details on the specific conditions in
which the authorities would take charge of the applicants.
Without detailed and reliable information about the specific reception facility to which the
applicants would be sent, the physical conditions of their accommodation, and the question of
whether the family would be kept together, the Court considered that the Swiss authorities did not
have sufficient assurances that, if returned to Italy, the applicants would be taken charge of in a
manner adapted to the age of the children.
Were the Swiss authorities to send the applicants back to Italy without having first obtained
individual guarantees from the Italian authorities that they would be taken charge of in a manner
adapted to the age of the children and that the family would be kept together, there would
accordingly be a violation of Article 3 of the Convention.
Court’s press release: http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/webservices/content/pdf/003-4923136-6025044
Strasbourg Court confirms inadequacy of Greek asylum system and condemns collective expulsions from Italy
The European Court of Human Rights delivered today its Chamber judgment in the case of
Sharifi and Others v. Italy and Greece (application no. 16643/09).
The case concerned 32 Afghan nationals, two Sudanese nationals and one Eritrean national, who alleged, in particular that they had entered Italy illegally from Greece and been returned to that country immediately, with the fear of subsequent deportation to their respective countries of origin, where they faced the risk of death, torture or inhuman or degrading treatment.
The Court held, by a majority, concerning four of the applicants, Reza Karimi, Yasir Zaidi, Mozamil
Azimi and Najeeb Heideri (also known as Nagib Haidari), who had maintained regular contact with their lawyer in the proceedings before this Court, that there had been:
a violation by Greece of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) combined with Article 3
(prohibition of inhuman or regarding treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights on
account of the lack of access to the asylum procedure for the above-named applicants and the risk
of deportation to Afghanistan, where they were likely to be subjected to ill-treatment;
a violation by Italy of Article 4 of Protocol No. 4 (prohibition of collective expulsion of aliens);
a violation by Italy of Article 3, as the Italian authorities, by returning these applicants to Greece,
had exposed them to the risks arising from the shortcomings in that country’s asylum procedure;
a violation by Italy of Article 13 combined with Article 3 of the Convention and Article 4 of Protocol
No. 4 on account of the lack of access to the asylum procedure or to any other remedy in the port of Ancona.
The Court held, in particular, that it shared the concerns of several observers with regard to the
automatic return, implemented by the Italian border authorities in the ports of the Adriatic Sea, of
persons who, in the majority of cases, were handed over to ferry captains with a view to being removed to Greece, thus depriving them of any procedural and substantive rights.
In addition, it reiterated that the Dublin system – which serves to determine which European Union
Member State is responsible for examining an asylum application lodged in one of the Member States by a third-country national – must be applied in a manner compatible with the Convention: no form of collective and indiscriminate returns could be justified by reference to that system, and it was for the State carrying out the return to ensure that the destination country offered sufficient guarantees in the application of its asylum policy to prevent the person concerned being removed to his country of origin without an assessment of the risks faced.
Link to press release: