Italy has committed human rights abuses that may amount to torture in some isolated cases as it tries to process the tens of thousands of migrants and refugees arriving by boat, Amnesty International says.
Italy’s Interior Ministry had no immediate comment on the Amnesty report, which included allegations of beatings, electric shocks and sexual humiliation in a small handful of cases involving migrants who resisted having their fingerprints taken.
The country has become the main arrival point in Europe for people fleeing persecution and poverty in Africa, most of them crossing the Mediterranean from lawless Libya in search of a better life.
Unnerved by migrants surging through Italy into northern Europe, the European Union called in September 2015 for Italy and fellow frontier state Greece to set up “hotspots” to identify and fingerprint the migrants.
European law says migrants must stay in the country where they first enter the bloc, and that is determined by where they give their fingerprints.
“EU leaders have driven the Italian authorities to the limits, and beyond, of what is legal,” Amnesty researcher Matteo de Bellis said in a statement.
Until last year, most migrants refused to be identified and headed straight for the richer north of the continent.
Allegations of beatings, arbitrary detention
Amnesty said it had interviewed more than 170 refugees and migrants in Italy since July 2015.
Most had not refused to give their fingerprints and reported no problems, but 24 people alleged having been subjected to ill-treatment by police.
Several others said unnecessary or excessive force had been used to make them give their fingerprints, Amnesty added.
Amnesty quoted a man named only as Adam, a 27-year-old from Darfur, Sudan, saying police beat and subjected him to electric shocks with a stun baton before making him take off his clothes and abusing him.
The report said such treatment amounted to torture within the United Nations Convention Against Torture.
It also said some people were detained arbitrarily.
The report also condemned the assessment process for arrivals in the hotspots, which is aimed at selecting asylum seekers from those considered irregular migrants.
“People, often exhausted and traumatised from their journeys and without access to adequate information or advice on asylum procedures, have to answer questions with potentially profound implications for their futures,” it said.
Over the past three years more than 470,000 migrants, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa, have reached Italy by boat.
Thousands have also died making the dangerous crossing, including at least 3,750 this year alone.