The U.N. refugee agency said Friday it was "very worried" about the Italian government's decision to expel 30 African asylum seekers who were among 37 rescued by a German ship, the Cap Anamur, in late June. The UNHCR says there were serious flaws in the way the Italian authorities handled the asylum claims.
The U.N. agency expressed its strong concern over Italy's "apparent disregard for accepted international and European standards" in dealing with asylum claims.
Later Friday, however, Italy rejected the criticism.
UNHCR spokesman Rupert Colville says the internationally-recognized process for screening asylum claims was tainted from the start in the Italian case. "The commission that was supposed to decide the case effectively appeared to be prejudiced before it even began, in that ministry of interior officials said no one was a refugee before the commission was even interviewing them, let alone making a decision on them," he said. "There were also signs that there was extreme pressure on the commission."
The German ship rescued 37 Africans from a sinking rubber dinghy in the southern Mediterranean in late June. Germany and Malta turned down their request for political asylum. They then floated for three weeks off the coast of Sicily before the Italian government, under international pressure, allowed the ship to dock.
The Africans had claimed to be refugees from Darfur in western Sudan. However, most of them were since identified as coming from Ghana and Nigeria. Italian officials flew 25 people out of Rome to Ghana early Thursday morning. Earlier, five others were deported to Nigeria.
Mr. Colville says the Italian process was apparently dealt with hastily and basic fundamentals -- such as allowing the asylum seekers to have legal counsel -- were ignored.