Dr Mariagiulia Giuffre

A Senior Law Lecturer at Edge Hill University is fighting for the rights of two young refugees who she believes exemplify the consequences of Europe failing to live up to its responsibilities.

As Europe continues to debate over how best to deal with migrants and refugees, Dr Mariagiulia Giuffré is representing two refugees, JAA and AMI, who were trying to escape war-torn Libya.

JAA and AMI made the crossing from Libya to Italy on a dangerously overcrowded boat in October 2019 with the hopes of starting a new life in a safe country. Instead, they were picked up within the Maltese Search and Rescue (SAR) zone and pulled-back to Libya by the Libyan Coast Guard with the cooperation of Italian and Maltese authorities.

In Libya, the two boys suffered unlawful detention and beatings at the hands of kidnappers resulting in injuries so severe one lost an arm and the other was left permanently blind. Dr Giuffre argues that had Italy and Malta followed their legal obligation to rescue and assess the claims of asylum seekers fleeing Libya these injuries and experiences never would have happened.

Working with The Association for Juridical Studies on Migration (ASGI) and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), they have filed a complaint against Italy, Malta and Libya with the UN Human Rights Committee.  Dr Giuffrè has significantly contributed to this complaint also thanks to her research, funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), on Europe-Africa Cooperation: Refugee Rights and the New Frontiers of Externalization of Migration Controls.

Dr Giuffré said: “These pull-backs of migrants and refugees are increasingly performed within a framework of subtle international cooperation, which sees the so-called Libyan Coastguard invited and left to do what Italian and Maltese authorities should not do by themselves.

“We trust the Committee will contribute to make justice for all those migrants who strive to reach Europe and end up being victims of unspeakable abuses and violence.”

She believes this case is vital to highlighting the plight of refugees, including pregnant women and children, fleeing danger, war and persecution. 

Explaining the existing arrangements, Dr Giuffre said: “European States are legally bound to ensure that refugees can flee to safer countries and have their individual case assessed. Sadly, it seems the law is not always being followed.

“In this case, Italy and Malta failed to take urgent measures to ensure the necessary assistance and disembark the survivors in a ‘place of safety’ – which Libya undoubtedly is not.”

In Libya, migrants are notoriously arbitrarily detained, exploited, abused, tortured, traded, ransomed, or deported illegally.

If the case is successful, ASGI and CIHRS have asked the UN Human Rights Committee to allow JAA and AMI to safely enter and submit an asylum claim either in Italy or Malta and be given full apologies by European authorities as well as full and adequate reparation for the harm they suffered.

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