ECtHR: Italy’s Use of Summary Procedures to Return Tunisian Migrants Constituted Unlawful Collective Expulsion

The ECtHR, Second Section, issued a judgment on 1 September in Khlaifia et autres c. Italie (Requête no 16483/12) (official judgment in French) finding that the summary procedures used by Italy in 2011 to quickly return thousands of Tunisians who were reaching Italy by sea during the height of the Arab Spring violated the prohibition of collective expulsion of aliens contained in Art. 4 of Protocol 4 of the ECHR. (Judges SAJÓ and VUĊINIĊ did not find that collective expulsion had occurred and filed a dissenting opinion.) The Court also found violations of Art. 3, Art. 5, §§ 1, 2, 5, and Art. 13 (inhuman or degrading treatment, failure to promptly explain basis for detention, inability to challenge detention, lack of an effective remedy).

This is the fifth time that the ECtHR has found a violation of the collective expulsion prohibition. (See Čonka v. Belgium, no. 51564/99, § 62-63, ECHR 2002‑I; Georgia v. Russia (I) [GC], no. 13255/07, § 175, ECHR 2014;  Hirsi Jamaa and Others v. Italy [GC], no. 27765/09, § 185, ECHR 2012; Sharifi and Others v. Italy and Greece, no. 16643/09, 21 October 2014.)

The Court acknowledged that unlike the applicants in Hirsi Jamaa, the Tunisian applicants in Khlaifia had been subjected to individualized identification and processing by Italian authorities, but under the circumstances the Court did not consider an identification procedure standing alone to be sufficient:

“156. [T]he Court is of the opinion that the mere implementation of an identification procedure is not sufficient to exclude the existence of collective expulsion. … [T]he expulsion orders did not contain any reference to the personal circumstances of the affected persons; the Government did not produce any document that could prove that individual interviews regarding the specific situation of each applicant would have occurred before the adoption of these [expulsion] orders; many people of the same origin experienced, at the time of the incriminating facts, the same fate as the applicants; [Italy’s] bilateral agreements with Tunisia … have not been made public and provided for the repatriation of irregular Tunisian migrants through simplified procedures, based on the simple identification of the person concerned by Tunisian consular authorities.”

The procedures at issue occurred during the 2011 Arab Spring when North Africa and the EU experienced significant movements of migrants and refugees. The Court took note of these exceptional circumstances but made clear that such circumstances do not excuse a state from complying with its obligations under the ECHR.  (See paras 127-128.)

The Court’s judgment should serve as a caution to the European Commission, EASO, Frontex, and EU member states as they consider new streamlined procedures to process the refugees and migrants reaching Europe; procedures must provide for meaningful individualized processing and individuals must be afforded a meaningful opportunity to challenge an expulsion order, among other requirements. The dissenting opinion of Judges SAJÓ AND VUĊINIĊ (in English), concluding that there had not been a collective expulsion, is well reasoned and reviews the history of the collective expulsion prohibition.

This is an excerpt from the Court’s judgment. The official version is only available in French, the English translation is mine:

“2. Appréciation de la Cour
2. Findings of the Court

153. La Cour observe qu’en l’espèce les requérants ont fait l’objet de décrets de refoulement individuels. Ces derniers étaient cependant rédigés dans des termes identiques, les seules différences étant les données personnelles des destinataires.

153. The Court observes that in this case the applicants were the subject of individual expulsion orders. They were, however, drafted in identical terms, the only differences being the personal information of the recipients.

154. La Cour a déjà précisé que le fait que plusieurs étrangers fassent l’objet de décisions semblables ne permet pas en soi de conclure à l’existence d’une expulsion collective lorsque chaque intéressé a pu individuellement exposer devant les autorités compétentes les arguments qui s’opposaient à son expulsion. La Cour a également jugé qu’il n’y a pas violation de l’article 4 du Protocole no 4 si l’absence de décision individuelle d’éloignement est la conséquence du comportement fautif des personnes intéressées (Hirsi Jamaa et autres, précité, § 184).

154. The Court has already held that the fact that multiple foreigners are subject to similar decisions does not in itself lead to the conclusion that there was collective expulsion when each person was individually able to present arguments against expulsion to competent authorities. The Court has also held that there is no violation of Article 4 of Protocol No. 4 if the absence of individual expulsion decisions is due to the wrongful conduct of the affected persons (Hirsi Jamaa and Others, cited above, § 184).

155. La Cour relève de surcroît qu’à la différence de l’affaire Hirsi Jamaa et autres (précité, § 185), en l’espèce, à l’instar des autres migrants débarqués sur l’île de Lampedusa en septembre 2011, les requérants ont fait l’objet d’une procédure d’identification. Le Gouvernement le souligne à juste titre (paragraphe 152 ci-dessus). Les requérants reconnaissent par ailleurs qu’immédiatement après leur débarquement à Lampedusa, les autorités de frontière italiennes ont enregistré leur identité et relevé leurs empreintes (paragraphe 149 ci dessus).

155. The Court further notes that, unlike the case of Hirsi Jamaa and Others (cited above, § 185), in this case, like the other migrants who landed on Lampedusa in September 2011, the applicants were the subject of an identification procedure. The Government rightly points this out (paragraph 152 above). The applicants also recognize that immediately after landing in Lampedusa, the Italian border authorities registered their identity and took their fingerprints (paragraph 149 above).

156. La Cour est cependant d’avis que la simple mise en place d’une procédure d’identification ne suffit pas à exclure l’existence d’une expulsion collective. Elle estime de surcroît que plusieurs éléments amènent à estimer qu’en l’espèce l’expulsion critiquée avait bien un caractère collectif. En particulier, les décrets de refoulement ne contiennent aucune référence à la situation personnelle des intéressés ; le Gouvernement n’a produit aucun document susceptible de prouver que des entretiens individuels portant sur la situation spécifique de chaque requérant auraient eu lieu avant l’adoption de ces décrets ; un grand nombre de personnes de même origine a connu, à l’époque des faits incriminés, le même sort des requérants ; les accords bilatéraux avec la Tunisie (paragraphes 28-30 ci dessus) n’ont pas été rendus publics et prévoyaient le rapatriement des migrants irréguliers tunisiens par le biais de procédures simplifiées, sur la base de la simple identification de la personne concernée de la part des autorités consulaires tunisiennes.

156. However, the Court is of the opinion that the mere implementation of an identification procedure is not sufficient to exclude the existence of collective expulsion. It considers moreover that several factors lead to the consideration in this case that the expulsion at issue was indeed of a collective nature. In particular, the expulsion orders did not contain any reference to the personal circumstances of the affected persons; the Government did not produce any document that could prove that individual interviews regarding the specific situation of each applicant would have occurred before the adoption of these orders; many people of the same origin experienced, at the time of the incriminating facts, the same fate as the applicants; the bilateral agreements with Tunisia (see paragraphs 28-30 above) have not been made public and provided for the repatriation of irregular Tunisian migrants through simplified procedures, based on the simple identification of the person concerned by Tunisian consular authorities.

157. Cela suffit à la Cour pour exclure l’existence de garanties suffisantes d’une prise en compte réelle et différenciée de la situation individuelle de chacune des personnes concernées (voir, mutatis mutandis, Čonka, précité, §§ 61-63).

157. This is sufficient for the Court to rule out the existence of sufficient guarantees of a genuine and differentiated consideration of the individual circumstances of the persons involved (see, mutatis mutandis, Čonka, cited above, §§ 61-63).

158. Au vu de ce qui précède, la Cour conclut que l’éloignement des requérants a revêtu un caractère collectif contraire à l’article 4 du Protocole no 4. Partant, il y a eu violation de cette disposition.

158. In view of the foregoing, the Court concludes that the expulsion of the applicants took on a collective character contrary to Article 4 of Protocol No. 4. Accordingly, there has been a violation of this provision.
[***]”

 

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Filed under European Union, Frontex, Italy, Judicial, Tunisia

One response to “ECtHR: Italy’s Use of Summary Procedures to Return Tunisian Migrants Constituted Unlawful Collective Expulsion

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