PARIS (AP) — The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday upheld the case of three Tunisians expelled from Italy in 2011 in the wake of the Arab Spring uprising, ruling that the migrants had been subjected to degrading and inhuman treatment during time spent in a detention center, suffered a collective expulsion and could not challenge their forced return home.
The Strasbourg-based court ordered Italy to pay 10,000 euros ($11,215) in damages to each of them, plus 9,344.50 euros in costs.
The court said it took into account the overcrowding on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa as Tunisians and others fled their countries — with around 55,300 landings — after the Tunisian revolution that triggered the downfall of dictators in a period referred to as the Arab Spring. Still, it said, there could be no skirting the prohibition against inhuman treatment.
The court also said the men were not interviewed before expulsion and had no recourse to challenge the expulsions, among a series of breaches of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The secretary general of the Council of Europe, Thorbjorn Jagland, said that while the events in this case occurred in September 2011, the ruling has resonance today, as migrants arrive en masse in Europe.
"Today's judgment ... is a timely reminder to all 47 Council of Europe countries that asylum seekers and migrants must be treated as individual human beings with the same basic rights as everyone else," Jagland said in a statement.
Among other things, the court upheld the Tunisians' claim of appalling conditions of hygiene in the reception center where they were placed, with limited water, no doors separating toilets and showers from other rooms and not enough beds — conditions that "diminished their dignity."
However, the court found no such problems on two ships moored in Palermo where the men were transferred.