When Anas Obeid was deported from Germany and landed at Milan’s Malpensa airport, the wound in his leg was still bleeding.
German police had woken him up at 4 that morning, 22 September, in the refugee accommodation centre where he was staying in the northern Bavarian town of Bamberg. They put him in the back of a van with metal grates in the windows, and drove him two hours to the airport in Munich.
The blood had soaked through his trousers during the ride, as German police discovered during a pre-flight security check. They called the airport doctor who insisted Anas was not fit for travel and should instead be in a hospital.
“Let him get treatment in Italy,” Anas remembers the officer overseeing his deportation saying before they put him on the plane.
Anas, a 27-year-old Syrian refugee, had not committed a crime so much as run afoul of a regulation he did not even know existed before arriving in Europe in December 2015. Under a European Union law known as the Dublin Regulation, he should have applied for asylum in the first country he arrived and was registered in. But Anas had waited to request refuge, and now he was being sent back to Italy, where he had landed after being rescued from an over-packed, wooden fishing boat off the coast of Libya along with 500 other people and taken to the island of Lampedusa.
Already injured from his time in Syria, instead of being taken to a hospital when he disembarked in 2015, Anas was taken for interrogation. The Italian police inspector questioning him wanted to know where he had come from and who he had met and interacted with from the time he left Syria until he reached Italy.
“I gave them everything; all the names I remembered, telephone numbers. Everything. They told me, ‘You’re a terrorist’,” said Anas. “I told them that I wasn’t, and they told me to give them my fingerprint to make sure. This fingerprint ruined my life.”
Since 2014, more than 600,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean Sea from Libya to Italy. Many – like Anas – have fled wars and brutal dictatorships, but even those who make the crossing out of economic desperation often claim asylum once reaching Europe – even if many of their claims will ultimately be rejected.
The EU asylum process is governed by the Dublin Regulation, which requires people to apply for protection in the first country they enter. But many don’t want to remain in Italy or other southern European countries, such as Greece, where most asylum seekers arrive.
Social support systems in these countries are weak compared to northern Europe and there are high levels of unemployment even among citizens. New arrivals also often have connections elsewhere – family and friends who came before them – that encourage them to move on.
But once someone is registered as having arrived in one country, and their fingerprint is taken, they cannot apply for asylum anywhere else – barring a few exceptions. Their fingerprint is entered into a database that is searchable by police throughout the EU.
If they apply for asylum in another country, their fingerprint will come up, their claim doesn’t have to be considered and they can face deportation back to the country where they were first registered. Those who are sent back are referred to as having been “Dublined”.
As political attitudes in Europe have shifted against asylum seekers and refugees, the number of deportation requests under Dublin has skyrocketed – particularly to Italy. People are separated from friends and sometimes family in communities where they have started to build new lives.
Back in Italy, they face a cold reception. Even vulnerable cases – like Anas – are often left without support in a country where they never intended to stay.