UN refugee agency hails Italys decision to allow stranded asylumseekers to land
UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis said yesterday that “the heartening news” meant Italy has fulfilled its obligations under international and European law.The 11 men and two boys disembarked from the Lydia Oldendorff, a commercial freighter, Saturday night in the Sicilian port town of Augusta. They were given medical checks and transferred to an asylum centre in Sicily. Ms. Pagonis said the asylum-seekers were in good health, despite the physical and psychological toll of the last two weeks’ events, and were “obviously extremely relieved to be off the boat.” She thanked the ship’s owner, Matthias Dabelstein, and its captain and crew “for the patient and responsible way in which they handled this difficult and drawn-out episode.” On 9 October the Lydia Oldendorff docked in the Italian port of Gioia Tauro, where the asylum-seekers were discovered, hiding in a container being unloaded from the ship. After being taken to local police, where the group said they were unable to claim asylum, they were returned to the freighter, which then travelled to the Maltese capital of Valletta. They were not allowed ashore and the vessel was escorted into international waters. Since 15 October the Lydia Oldendorff has been moored off the coast of Malta as UNHCR officials held talks with Italian and Maltese authorities to try to resolve the impasse. The ship’s owner agreed to delay its scheduled return journey to Turkey.During the stand-off UNHCR warned that returning an asylum-seeker to their country of origin without hearing their claim violates the fundamental principles of international refugee law and could amount to refoulement, or the forced return of a refugee to a place where they face persecution, torture or death.