Refuge Or Abuse? Police In Italy Accused Of 'Torturing' Migrants

A human rights organization accuses Italian police of using violent tactics with migrants to meet with EU’s pressure to get tough with refugees.

Human rights organization Amnesty International is accusing Italy's police of using violent tactics to fingerprint migrants. Amnesty believes this brutal treatment is given to the refugees to keep up with the European Union’s pressure on them to get tough with refugees and migrants.

According to EU law, migrants must be fingerprinted in the first country they reach, but many migrants resist being fingerprinted because they're scared they will be stuck in Italy forever.

Roughly 470,000 migrants, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa, reached Italy by boat over the past three years. Thousands have died trying to make a dangerous journey to get out, including at least 3,750 in 2016.

"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," reported Amnesty.

Since 2015, EU leaders have forced Italy to take care of all incoming migrants from Libya, without welcoming any migrants themselves. Members of the European Union had promised to relocate 40,000 migrants, but just 12,000 have been formally relocated.

Amnesty International's report is based on interviews with more than 170 migrants. It received 24 testimonies of ill-treatment, of which 16 involved beatings. The report criticized Italy's police use of the hot spot approach, which requires Italy to fingerprint incoming migrants to prevent them from claiming asylum anywhere else.

A 16-year-old said police had inflicted pain on his genitals, while a 27-year-old, identified only as Adam, told Amnesty that officers had beaten and electric-shocked him before making him. "I was on a chair made of aluminum, with an opening on the seat. They held my shoulders and legs, took my testicles with the pliers and pulled twice," he said.

A 25-year-old woman from Eritrea said she had been slapped repeatedly in the face by a policeman until she agreed to be fingerprinted.

A man from Sudan said that he had been arrested by Italian police.

"The judge asked me to tell the lawyer what I wanted, and I told the Egyptian translator that I didn’t want to go back to Sudan, as I am from Darfur. The judge said that I should go back to my country. It was very quick; I think they just wanted to deport us,” he said.

Matteo de Bellis, Amnesty's Researcher on Italy, said that migrants had been subjected to "appalling abuse."

"I have gathered consistent testimonies of people who told me how they were beaten, slapped, but even electrocuted by means of stun batons, people who have been threatened, people who have been arbitrarily detained just to force them to give their fingerprints," de Bellis said.

There was no immediate response to the allegations by the Italian Interior Ministry. 

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