Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 12/2009

Control of Illegal Immigration and Italian-EU Relations

Bruno Nascimbene

August 2009

Istituto Affari Internazionali


Controlling maritime borders and flows of illegal immigrants in the Mediterranean is an issue where sharp tensions have been evident for some months now at the national, EU and international levels. Tensions evidenced by the reactions and outcry provoked by operations involving Italian naval units which have intercepted boats carrying migrants and sent them back to their ports of departure, most notably in Libya. The migrants concerned were deemed to be illegal regardless of their possible asylum-seeker status. Such interventions have raised, and continue to raise, concerns over the fate of the persons involved, especially as regards the protection of their fundamental human rights. This practice also gives rise to concerns over compliance with international asylum obligations and in relation to the circumstance that the migrants on board the intercepted boats may include refugees seeking international protection (asylumseekers) and the boats are being turned back without ascertaining their individual status. Or, more specifically, whether they are persons applying or intending to apply for asylum, and thus “qualifying” under the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the status of refugee; the European Community directives on “reception” (Directive 2003/9), “qualification and status” (2004/83) and “procedures” (2005/85); and domestic implementing provisions (Legislative Decree 140/2005, Legislative Decree 251/2007 and Legislative Decree 85/2005 ).