Lampedusa Survivor Wrongfully Imprisoned, Says High Court - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Lampedusa Survivor Wrongfully Imprisoned, Says High Court

Published December 24, 2014

Released from custody —To be evicted all the same —Regrets wasting a year through Iceland's process

Released from custody —To be evicted all the same —Regrets wasting a year through Iceland's process

On Tuesday, the High Court ruled in favor of Ethiopian citizen Firaol Taresa against the Capital Area Police, releasing Taresa from custody until his imminent eviction to Italy. This was reported by RÚV.

Taresa, reportedly a survivor of the 2013 Lampedusa shipwreck, applied for asylum in Iceland last January. His application was dismissed, as were his subsequent appeals, meaning that he awaits eviction back to Italy. As Taresa started a hunger strike in protest, he was placed in custody, to ensure his eviction. Since there was no indication of criminal intent or a prior criminal record, the High Court ruled that milder measures should have been taken.

According to RÚV, Taresa now says that he will not protest the eviction, but does regret wasting a year waiting for a final decision.

The legal process

Taresa, born in 1985, applied for asylum in Iceland in January 2014. In March, the Directorate of Immigration (UTL) decided against granting Taresa asylum, or, alternately, a residence permit on humanitarian grounds. According to the Directorate, Taresa had already been granted asylum in Italy, and should be evicted from Iceland as soon as possible.

Taresa appealed UTL’s decision to the Ministry of the Interior. The Ministry confirmed UTL’s ruling in July. Taresa then requested a suspension of the ruling’s judicial effect, during the legal process. The Ministry decided against that request on December 3. The decision means that Taresa shall be evicted to Italy, without further delay. It was announced to Taresa almost two weeks later, on December 16th, now barely a week ago.

Arrested because self-harm could upset eviction process

At that point, according to court documents, Taresa claimed that he would rather commit suicide than go back to Italy. He sought advice at Landspítalinn hospital’s psychiatric division. Two days later, last Thursday, December 18, Taresa was discharged from the hospital, as fully sane. The hospital’s psychiatrist explained that Taresa had started a hunger strike, and revealed a tendency to self-harm. He had attempted to incinerate his coat, “and could pose dangers to others, in case of an attempted incineration”.

Taresa was arrested the same day, in order to fulfill the Directorate of Immigration’s decision to evict him. The day after, December 19, the Reykjavík District Court confirmed the decision, reasoning that the man might otherwise stand in the way of his eviction.

Four days later, on Tuesday, December 23, the High Court overturned that verdict. Citing the principle of moderation, the court stated that other measures, milder than imprisonment, must be considered sufficient to ensure Taresa’s eviction.

Lampedusa, 2013

The 2013 shipwreck off Lampedusa

The shipwreck off the Italian island Lampedusa, in October 2013, was widely reported. Over 360 people lost their lives in the “immense tragedy”, as it was described by Italy’s Prime Minister, Enrico Letta. Pope Francis called for people to pray for the victims and Italy announced a national day of mourning. The ship carried migrants across the Mediterranean, on what the UN recently described as the world’s “deadliest route”.

According to Taresa, he is one of the 155 people who survived the shipwreck.

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