LONDON - Human rights group Amnesty International has accused Italian police of abusing migrants arriving on its shores from North Africa - including beatings and electric shocks. Amnesty accuses the European Union’s so-called "hot spot" system of pressuring Italy into abusing the migrants.
Under Europe’s "hotspot" system, all migrants are meant to be fingerprinted and processed in frontline countries like Italy – allowing for a quick assessment of their asylum claims.
But, in many cases, migrants refuse because they want to claim asylum in other European countries – which is against EU law.
Twenty-four of 170 migrants interviewed by Amnesty said they had been abused after refusing to give their fingerprints.
“Ill-treatment included beatings, but also the use of electricity, the discharge of electricity by means of stun weapons. And also threats – threats of violence, beatings, or also permanent, prolonged detention,” said Matteo de Bellis, who conducted the research.
Next, Italian authorities attempt to separate genuine refugees escaping war or persecution from so-called "economic" migrants. Amnesty’s De Bellis says they take little account of the trauma many migrants have suffered on the journey.
“They have very often suffered abuses including torture, rape and prolonged detention," he said. "When they arrive in Italy, refugees and migrants are requested to explain what are the reasons. But actually in that moment very often they are still too traumatized."
Failed asylum seekers can be forcibly repatriated.
“Including to countries whose governments are responsible for appalling atrocities," said De Bellis. "This is the case of Sudan for example, with which the Italian government has subscribed a memorandum of understanding in August this year.”
Amnesty says it has evidence that Italy has forcibly returned asylum seekers from the Darfur region of Sudan – where a conflict between government-backed militias and rebels has killed tens of thousands of people.
The EU insists it aims to uphold the highest standards of human rights when processing migrants. The head of the EU border agency Frontex, Fabrice Leggeri, said this week the bloc aims to expedite the return of failed asylum seekers.
“The agency uses these readmission agreements negotiated by the Commission at EU level," he said. "So as soon as we have EU readmission agreement we can, based on that, organize operations.”
October marked a record month for migrant arrivals in Italy – with more than 27,000 people reaching its shores. More than 200 people have drowned in the past week and a-half alone.