In a ruling dated 9 May 2023, the Court of Rome upheld the application of a Pakistani citizen who had been unable to apply for political asylum due to an unlawful informal readmission carried out by Italian police authorities at the border between Italy and Slovenia. The individual had also been subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment during the chain readmission process to Bosnia and Herzegovina. As a result, the court ruled that the applicant is entitled to compensation for the damage incurred.
This ruling reaffirms the same principles as a previous ruling on 18 January 2021. After entering Italy on 17 October 2020 and expressing the intention to seek international protection, the Pakistani citizen had been first readmitted to Slovenia, then to Croatia, and finally rejected in Bosnia and Herzegovina, according to the mechanism of informal readmissions enforced at that time.
With this decision, the Court reaffirmed the illegitimacy of the readmission procedure carried out at the Italian eastern border, which is based on the agreement signed between Italy and Slovenia in 1996. Notably, the agreement was never ratified by the Italian Parliament. Despite the suspension of the procedure following the January 2021 decision, the Italian government decided to reinstate it from November 2022, albeit formally not in respect of those seeking international protection.
This procedure, the Court observed, “must, firstly, be qualified as unlawful and therefore illegitimate for being contrary to domestic law, even of constitutional rank, and international law, with the value of a superordinate source under Article 117 of the Constitution. Moreover, this conduct was carried out even though the responsible authorities knew, or at least could have (and should have) known, the consequences of the readmission itself, in the light of the numerous reports cited already existing at the time”.
This practice has to be considered unlawful since it is in clear breach of international, European and domestic rules governing access to the asylum procedure. Also, the affected individuals were not provided with any written decision and no examination of their individual situations was carried out, thus clearly infringing on their right of defense and their right to an effective remedy.
Moreover, the procedure is carried out using a de facto detention without any order of the judicial authority, and, last, but not least, in clear breach of the obligation of non-refoulement.
The decision also recognized that the immediate chain of readmissions undergone by the applicant from Italy to Slovenia and from Slovenia to Croatia had been proved at trial thanks to the cooperation of PIC (Pravni Centre za varstvo človekovih pravic in okolja – Legal Centre for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment). The consistency of the documented evidence produced in the context of this trial marks an important step forward in the reconstruction of the modalities of execution of the readmissions. It also confirms what had already been brought to the attention of the Tribunal of Rome in the proceedings decided on 18 January 2021 concerning another case of readmission that was, however, weaker from the evidentiary point of view.
Thanks also to the testimonies of Elisa Oddone and Diego Saccora, the court’s intervention established that there was a substantial amount of evidence to show the damage caused to the applicant. The degrading conditions in which the applicant found himself rejected in Bosnia, putting his safety at risk, further substantiated the harm caused.
The Court therefore concluded by recognising that “the described unlawful conduct of the Administration has caused unfair damage to the applicant, exposing him to serious and multiple violations of his fundamental rights”.
The decision, obtained by lawyers Caterina Bove and Anna Brambilla of ASGI, is the result of a collaborative effort among several stakeholders working to prevent violence against people on the Balkan route, including the RiVolti ai Balcani network (Gianfranco Schiavone and Agostino Zanotti), journalist Elisa Oddone, the NGO Lungo la Rotta Balcanica, PIC Association (Ursa Regvar), ASGI’s Medea Project, ICS Refugee Office, the NGO Linea D’Ombra, Zagreb Peace Center, Anela Dedic, and all activists working to protect human rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina and along the routes of people in transit.