During the past year the temporary holding centre for irregular migrants in Lampedusa, Italy’s southernmost island, has been repeatedly denounced for instances of procedural irregularities and alleged human rights violations. The degrading treatment of third-country nationals, the difficulty in gaining access to the asylum determination process and the large scale expulsions to Libya, brought Lampedusa to the attention of European and international institutions. The European Parliament, the European Court of Human Rights and the United Nations’ Human Rights Committee all called on Italy to refrain from collective expulsions of asylum seekers and irregular migrants to Libya and to respect asylum seekers’ right to international protection. Using the material provided by the Italian authorities, European institutions and the NGOs, this study presents an overview of events and policies implemented by the Italian and Libyan Governments, the European Union and the International Organization for Migration and outlines the contentions surrounding these policies. The paper argues that the implementation of the detention and return schemes, commonly discussed in terms of the externalization of asylum, does not actually relocate the asylum procedures outside the EU’s external borders but rather deprives asylum seekers of the possibility of accessing asylum determination procedure. My analysis of migratory patterns in Libya further suggests that these policies, implemented to deter irregular migratory flows into Europe and combat smuggling in migrants, might paradoxically result in ‘illegalizing’ the movement of migrants between Libya and the neighbouring African states and in increasing the involvement of smuggling networks. The study ends by raising the issue of the political responsibility of all actors involved, whether they are Governments, supranational bodies or agencies, and putting forward policy recommendations for an effective EU framework for the protection of asylum seekers.
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