A story of suffering and hypocrisy
Amara Lakhous 21 March 2011

The Geneva Convention on Refugees is now 60 years old. It has been ratified by many countries, including Italy in 1954. It is, however, often violated with rules and practices such as the rejection refugees, which deprives people of the right to present requests for asylum. It is no state secret that there are hidden waiting rooms in the airports of European capitals, where those requesting asylum are placed in quarantine while they wait to be sent back, often to countries they have fled, and thus endangering their lives.

Violations unfortunately do not only concern this international convention, but also the E.U.’s various constitutions. Article 10 of the Italian Constitution, for example, states that “A foreigner prevented in his own country from exercising the democratic freedoms guaranteed by the Italian Constitution, has the right to asylum in the territories of the republic in compliance with conditions established by law. The deportation of foreigners accused of political crimes is forbidden.”

There is therefore, in theory, a basic juridical principle that allows all foreigners to present a request for political asylum in Italy. In practice instead, there are open violations. Italy has signed a treaty with Libya (a country that has not signed the Geneva Convention) establishing that foreigners will be rejected at sea and on Italian territory. This policy prevents the identification of those who have a right to some form of protection. One must bear in mind that in 2008, of the 75% of illegal immigrants who arrived in Italy by sea (many Somalis and Eritreans ) and presented a request for asylum, almost half were granted the right to some form of protection, such as humanitarian asylum.

Faced with this serious violation of human rights, we systematically observe media strategies adopted by politicians and journalists addressed at denying the presence of refugees requesting asylum. The idea of “economic refugees” has now become fashionable. During a visit to Lampedusa with her MEP colleague Mario Borghezio, the future French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, who since January has replaced her father Jean Marie as the leader of the Front National, said, “I have seen the beginning of what will become a wave. If Europe is unable to build a dam to stop this flow, a demographic bomb from North African countries will blow up in its face. Most of these people are what I call economic refugees, people fleeing very difficult living conditions. If Italy were to host all the economic refugees that turn up at its borders, the country would have to host half the world’s population.”

Le Pen also said, “Most of those who arrive in Lampedusa are Tunisians. Ben Ali’s regime has fallen and only his relatives should be considered political refugees.” According to Le Pen, asylum should only be guaranteed to dictators and their families! This makes a joke of all treaties on refugees and asylum seekers. I believe the law should be applied even when we consider it unfair. This was that great lesson taught by Socrates, who refused to escape from prison and save his life so as not to break the law on the basis of which he has been sentenced to death. International constitutions and conventions must be respected without subterfuge. Every foreigner arriving in Italy must be permitted to present a request for asylum. This is a constitutional right. The commission appointed to examine the requests will then establish whether a person has the right or not to refugee status and protection. For as long as such a law exists one has no choice but to apply it, if not applied the law should be changed or repealed.


Translated by Francesca Simmons