ROME (AP) – Authorities have denied the asylum bids of 37 Africans who landed in Italy after a three-week odyssey aboard a humanitarian agency’s boat, but many of them might be allowed to stay for humanitarian reasons, state television reported Saturday.

Earlier, 14 asylum-seekers were flown from Sicily to Rome, where they were taken to a detention center to await expulsion.

RAI state TV said that while fourteen had been ordered to leave Italy, the rest, still in Sicily, might win permission to stay on humanitarian grounds – even though they didn’t qualify for political asylum.

The Interior Ministry, which oversees the government’s crackdown on illegal immigration, said it could not immediately confirm reports about the asylum commission’s decisions.

Refugee aid groups said they would try to keep the fourteen immigrants in Italy.

“We will try all kinds of legal remedies,” said Christopher Hein, head of the Italian Refugee Council.

A German aid group, Cap Anamur, said it had rescued the 37 Africans from a small craft in the Mediterranean on June 20. After a three-week standoff with the Italian government, the boat docked in Sicily, where it was immediately seized by Italian authorities.

An opposition senator, Antonello Falomi, told the Italian news agency ANSA that he had been informed that many of the Africans being held near Rome are Sudanese, as originally claimed by some aid agencies. The Interior Ministry said it had no information about that.

In the early weeks of the drama, the Africans were said to have fled Sudan’s war. But Italian authorities had said there were no Sudanese among them – only immigrants from Nigeria, Niger and Ghana.

Meanwhile, three crew members from the ship of Cap Anamur, a German relief agency, had their first full day of freedom after their release from a Sicilian jail.

They are being investigated for allegedly aiding illegal immigration and attempted resistance, said Antonella Bona, one of their lawyers. The three were jailed on Monday after the ship docked.

One of the three, Cap Anamur head Elias Bierdel, flew to Germany on Saturday. Cap Anamur spokesman Bernd Goeken told The Associated Press Bierdel was well but declined to comment on the case.

A decision by Italy’s constitutional court earlier this week, striking down parts of the immigration law, was raising questions about what procedures could be applied to the Africans.

The court objected to provisions under which illegal immigrants can be arrested if they fail to leave Italy within five days after being ordered expelled. It also said the law erred in not allowing immigrants to have defense assistance at hearings that could lead to expulsion.

The court’s ruling goes into effect with its publication in the government gazette by next week.

Laura Boldrini, spokeswoman for the United Nations’ refugee agency, expressed concern over Italy’s handling of asylum cases.

The agency “restates the principle that asylum seekers who have had a negative ruling can appeal” before being expelled, Boldrini said. She said Italy’s system allows for appeals only after immigrants have returned to the homeland, where they might be in danger because of their beliefs.

Each year, thousands of clandestine immigrants set sail for Italian shores, many on rickety boats, in hopes of slipping ashore undetected.

AP-ES-07-17-04 1448EDT


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