Seventeen Nigerian migrants who survived a deadly sea crossing last year have filed a lawsuit against Italy for violating their rights by supporting Libya’s efforts to return them to North Africa, their lawyers said on Tuesday.
The plaintiffs, two of whom have returned to Nigeria, petitioned the European Court of Human Rights last week, Violeta Moreno-Lax, a legal advisor for the Global Legal Action Network, told reporters. She was among four lawyers and several humanitarian groups involved in the case.
The migrants, who were not identified, said Italy violated multiple articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, including that people not be subjected to torture, held in slavery, or have their lives put in danger.
The two Nigerians said they were starved of even basic food and healthcare, before returning to Nigeria with the International Organization for Migration.
All the plaintiffs were rescued at sea, but at least 20 migrants drowned when a part of their rubber boat deflated.
This is the first lawsuit to be filed against Italy for its decision to back the Libyan Coast Guard.
The country lost a case in the same court in 2012 for directly handing over migrants intercepted at sea to Libyan authorities.
The legal process can take up to three years but should the migrants win they can be awarded damages, and Italy would be forced to abandon its policy of equipping, training and coordinating the Libyan Coast Guard, Moreno-Lax said.
“Using the Libyan Coast Guard as a proxy to turn back migrant boats is just a new way of camouflaging (Italy’s) strategy of fighting irregular migration in the Mediterranean by trapping them in what the Italian Foreign Ministry itself has qualified as ‘the hell’ of Libya,” Moreno-Lax said.
A spokesman for Italy’s Interior Ministry, which has spearheaded the policy, had no immediate comment.
Libyan naval spokesman Ayoub Qassem said the coast guard does its job within the terms agreed with Italy.
“Regarding the abuse and violations against the migrants, these are all considered as individual acts … We can’t say Libyan state institutions commit these acts,” Qassem said.