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Amnesty accuses Italian police of beating and torturing refugees and migrants

Amnesty International has accused Italian police of beating and using electric shocks to coerce migrants into being fingerprinted.


In a new report, the human rights organisation says the European Union’s pressure on Italy to “get tough” on refugees and migrants has led to unlawful expulsions and ill-treatment which in some cases may amount to torture.

The report documents beatings, electric shocks and sexual humiliation among the numerous allegations of abuse.

The EU-sponsored ‘hotspot approach’ for processing refugees and migrants at the point of arrival is not only undermining their right to claim asylum but has fuelled appalling abuse, the report shows.

The hotspot approach is meant to identify and fingerprint new arrivals to front-line EU countries such as Italy, swiftly assess their protection needs and either process their asylum applications or return them to their country of origin.

“In their determination to reduce the onward movement of refugees and migrants to other member states, EU leaders have driven the Italian authorities to the limits – and beyond – of what is legal,” said Matteo de Bellis, Amnesty International’s Researcher on Italy. “The result is that traumatized people, arriving in Italy after harrowing journeys, are being subjected to flawed assessments and in some instances appalling abuse at the hands of the police, as well as unlawful expulsions.”

The report shows that under pressure from EU governments and institutions, Italy has introduced coercive practices to obtain fingerprints.

Amnesty International said it had received consistent accounts that arbitrary detention, intimidation and excessive physical force have been used to coerce newly arrived men, women and even children into fingerprinting.

Of the 24 testimonies of ill-treatment collected by Amnesty International, 16 involve beatings.

The report quotes a 25-year-old woman from Eritrea who said she was slapped repeatedly in the face by a policeman until she agreed to be fingerprinted.

Many refugees and migrants also claimed having being given electric shocks with stun batons. A 16-year-old boy from Darfur described his ill-treatment to Amnesty International: “They gave me electricity with a stick, many times on the left leg, then on right leg, chest and belly. I was too weak, I couldn’t resist and at that point they took both my hands and put them on the machine.”

Another 16-year-old boy and a 27-year-old man claimed police sexually humiliated them and inflicted pain to their genitals. The man told Amnesty International how police officers in Catania beat and electric shocked him before making him strip and using a pair of three-pronged pliers on him: “I was on a chair made of aluminium, with an opening on the seat. They held [my] shoulders and legs, took my testicles with the pliers, and pulled twice. I can’t say how painful it was.”

The report also questions the method and approach used to screen people who have just arrived in Italy in order to decide whether they should be asylum-seekers or irregular migrants to be deported.

“The hotspot approach, designed in Brussels and executed in Italy, has increased, not decreased, the pressure on front-line states. It is resulting in appalling violations of the rights of desperately vulnerable people for which the Italian authorities bear a direct responsibility and Europe’s leaders a political one,” said de Bellis.

“European nations may be able to remove people from their territory but they cannot remove their obligations under international law. Italian authorities must end violations and ensure that people are not sent back to countries where they are at risk of persecution or torture.”

These allegations of torture and mistreatment of refugees and migrants by Italian police are serious and require an independent investigation.

Italy, being a country that claims to be democratic and respectful of human rights cannot allow such cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of refugees and migrants.