Rights group blasts Italy's migrant stance

STRASBOURG, France, May 11 (UPI) -- The Council of Europe says it hopes Italy abandons its policy of turning back would-be immigrants intercepted in the Mediterranean Sea.

The Council, which serves as Europe's human rights body in Strasbourg, France, Monday urged Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni to abandon the immigrant policy, saying it negates the human right to seek asylum, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.


"Italy's initiative tosses up completely the right to seek asylum" which is not a "good" thing, Council's Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg told ANSA, adding that it "ignores the possibility of the right to escape from repressive and violent situations."

Italy began its controversial new policy last week when coast guard and navy vessels turned back boatloads of immigrants intercepted near the island of Lampedusa and escorted them back to Libya, which serves as a staging ground for would-be immigrants of many nationalities, the news service said.

Maroni, however, says the policy is "a new phase in fighting illegal immigration" and has denied claims it puts lives at risk either at sea or in the immigrants' homelands, where Maroni's critics say many of them face threats of death.


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