Nefeli Lappa 15 • 02 • 2023

Investigation reveals illegal refoulements in makeshift prisons on ferries

Nefeli Lappa
Investigation reveals illegal refoulements in makeshift prisons on ferries
15 • 02 • 2023

According to an investigation carried out by Solomon, ferries carrying tourists from Italy to Greece are also illegally transporting migrants and refugees in “prisons” on the ferry, returning them to Greece in violation of international law and the rules of reception.

The month-long cross-border investigation carried out by Solomon’s team, coordinated by Lighthouse Reports in collaboration with German network ARD Monitor, Swiss network SRF, Al Jazeera and the Italian newspaper, Domani, found secret prison cells on board the ferries traveling the Italy-Greece route. Refugees and migrants, including minors, who have been arrested by the Italian authorities are held in these cells, in inhuman and degrading conditions, and illegally returned to Greece.

These migrants, in a bid to leave Greece, have been boarded illegally onto trucks and travel, hidden, for more than 30 hours to Italy. Upon arrival in Italy, if they are found by the Italian authorities, they are subjected to illegal treatment by authorities in both Italy and Greece, and summarily returned to Greece in inhumane conditions.

According to the testimonies recorded by Solomon’s press team, those arrested by the Italian authorities report long detention in police stations and the removal of personal belongings (mobile phones, money, clothes, etc.). Then, without the slightest respect for legal procedure, they are returned to the ships to be sent back to Greece in secret ‘prisons’. Indeed, the ferry staff are reportedly responsible for these ‘prisoners’, in the absence of police or coastguard officers on board.

Illegal refoulements are based on a bilateral “readmission” agreement between Rome and Athens, in force since 1999, which stipulates that Italy can return to Greece any migrants who have entered Italy from Greece.

However, according to the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, in “Sharifi and others v. Italy and Greece“, the European Court found that the individuals had been subjected to violence by the police and crew of the ships on which they were repatriated, and had not been given the opportunity to claim asylum in Italy. It ruled that when implementing bilateral agreements concerning the return of asylum seekers to another EU country, Member States cannot ignore or circumvent their obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The Italian and Greek authorities, as well as the owners of the ships, deny that any refoulements are taking place, and state that they are following the legal procedures without violating the rights of migrants and refugees.

What is the problem with the rule of law?

At the European level, the Dublin Regulation is in force, which aims to determine which Member State is responsible for examining an application for international protection when the asylum seeker has transited through several EU countries.

In a state governed by the rule of law, the authorities must respect the principle of non-refoulement, as stipulated by Article 33 of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, also known as the Geneva Convention.

In the context of international law, Greece must ensure effective international protection procedures that protect applicants from persecution in their countries of origin.

In Greece there are a large number of allegations of illegal refoulement, while well-founded investigations show evidence of informal returns to the country in violation of human rights.


Nefeli Lappa
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