Detained below deck

As holidaymakers sip on cold beer and cocktails on the deck of a passenger ferry, a buzz of excitement in the air, a very different situation is playing out below deck. In the bowels of this vessel there are people, including children, chained and locked up in dark places against their will. This is Europe’s lesser known pushback practice, where secret prisons on private ships are used to illegally return asylum seekers back to where they came from. The systematic denial of the right to seek asylum at the EU’s land borders has been well-documented in recent years. Last year, Lighthouse Reports and partners revealed the existence of “black sites” – clandestine places of detention – where refugees and migrants are denied the right to seek asylum and illegally imprisoned prior to being forced back. What has received less attention is the unlawful denial of the opportunity to claim asylum at borders within the EU, and the brutal pushbacks that take place between member states – namely from Italy to Greece – at sea. We’ve found that asylum seekers, including children, are being detained in unofficial jails – in the form of metal boxes and dark rooms – for sometimes more than a day at a time in the bowels of passenger ships headed from Italy to Greece, as part of illegal pushbacks by the Italian authorities. In 2014, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Italy had unlawfully returned asylum seekers to Greece in this way, denying them the opportunity to lodge a claim for protection. Eight years on, despite the Italian authorities having repeatedly claimed this practice has not stopped, we’ve found that it continues in full force. Lighthouse Reports, in collaboration with SRF, ARD Monitor, Al Jazeera, Il Domani and Solomon, has obtained photographs, video footage and testimony revealing that people who risk their lives stowing away on ferries bound for the Italian Adriatic ports of Venice, Ancona, Bari and Brindisi in the hope of claiming asylum are being denied the opportunity to do so. Instead, they are detained at the port before being locked up on the vessels they arrived on and sent back to Greece.

In Detained below deck (