Report. ‘Anyway, I’m not changing my mind, and I’m not changing the law,’ the Interior Minister responded. Confirming international laws already on the books, the European Court of Justice said Italy could not deport a refugee convicted of a crime if they would persecuted at home.

EU court rules part of Salvini decree illegal

From Luxembourg comes a loud and clear rebuff against Matteo Salvini’s first security decree. The European Court of Justice has confirmed the prohibition against deporting a refugee whose international protection has been revoked—following a final court conviction—if it is possible that they would be persecuted in their country of origin.

This ruling confirms what international conventions already state, and at the same time goes directly against the provisions of the Italian security decree approved seven months ago, which, in its Article 7, extended the list of offenses for which the revocation or denial of an asylum request was possible.

“That’s why it’s important to change this Europe,” was the dismissive reaction of the Interior Minister. “Anyway, I’m not changing my mind, and I’m not changing the law: asylum seekers who rape, steal and deal drugs will all have to go back home.”

The ruling by the judges in Luxembourg comes in the context of three cases on the rolls of the courts in Belgium and the Czech Republic, following the appeals filed by three non-EU citizens—an Ivorian, Congolese and a Chechen—who have all had their refugee status withdrawn due to serious criminal convictions. The court did not challenge the rulings which refuse to recognize or choose to revoke international protection for those who were found guilty of very serious crimes, but reiterated that under no circumstances can a person be repatriated if they are likely to be persecuted in their country of origin.

Furthermore, in a novel move, the court stated explicitly that the refusal or revocation of refugee status for a person who is at risk of persecution is possible only in cases of very serious crimes, as envisaged by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. Of particular interest to Italy are the specific cases for which expulsion is not allowed, which are listed under Article 19 of the charter.

The Luxembourg ruling explicitly undermines the Lega Nord minister’s anti-migrant “decree-manifesto,” which extended the possibility to withdraw or refuse international protection also to those who have been convicted in a final judgment for all violent crimes, threatening a public official, aggravated theft, burglary or robbery, personal injury to a public official in the course of demonstrations and taking part in female genital mutilation. As serious as these criminal offenses are, they do not justify the repatriation of those who risk torture or death in the country of origin.

“This is an important ruling, because it explicitly recalls some principles that are already applicable in Italy,” said Salvatore Fachile, a lawyer and representative of the Association for Legal Studies on Immigration (ASGI). “But mainly because it emphasizes the illegality of the Salvini decree, in the part which provides for the denial and withdrawing of international protection for foreign citizens who have committed crimes that do not qualify as very serious.”

According to the prefect Mario Morcone, former chief of staff of the Interior Ministry and currently the director of the Italian Refugee Council, the ruling by the European Court of Justice is “well-founded and sacrosanct,” because it “definitively establishes a principle that some were trying to undermine, to the point of claiming that Libya was a safe country.”

Riccardo Magi and Francesco Mingiardi of +Europa were also happy with the decision by the judges in Luxembourg: “Another brick is knocked down from the wall of the government’s and Salvini’s propaganda, who would like to manage immigration by means of rejections and expulsions, to the point of fining those who are saving lives,” commented the two members of the Radicali Italiani, adding that the government’s policy is one “that violates the international conventions, is also short-sighted and a failure, as evidenced by the number of repatriations, and must reckon a fundamental principle that was reaffirmed by the Court today: under no circumstances can a person be repatriated or rejected if such measures were to result in a risk to their life, freedom or dignity.”

Along the same lines, Mediterranea Saving Humans had the following comment: “Saving lives is not a crime, but repatriating them without protecting their dignity and their safety is.”

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