Following their expulsion from Italy, two Algerian immigrants were bound and gagged on an Alitalia flight deporting them to Tunisia. Outraged not only by the situation but also by the apparent apathy of his fellow travellers, one passenger decided to snap photos of the two men and post the images on the Internet.
The saga began on Sunday after the two men left Tunisia’s capital Tunis on a direct flight to Istanbul. While in the air, their plane was diverted to Rome for technical reasons. Upon landing, the pair was allowed to exit the aircraft, but when it came time to board again, they refused. According to Italian police sources, the decision to gag the two was made as a security measure against potential self-harm as a means to avoid being forced back onto the plane.
Italian filmmaker Francesco Sperandeo, who took the photographs, approached the police officers escorting the two men to ask if there wasn’t a more humane way to treat the pair. He was reportedly told that the gags were a part of standard police procedure. Under former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, human rights groups rallied against a number of deportation cases involving force. However, Laura Boldrini, spokesperson for the UN’s refugee agency, says she is not aware of past incidents of immigrants being gagged during repatriation.
Sperandeo’s photos spread like wildfire after they were posted online on Monday. They were quickly picked up by Italian newspapers and TV channels, sparking outrage. Gianfranco Fini, president of the lower house of parliament, demanded that Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti’s government explain itself, while Democratic Party president Rosy Bindi, slammed the photos as “snapshots of shame”.
The prosecutor of Civitavecchia, a city north of Rome, has launched an official investigation into the incident.
Our Observer was deported from Italy to Senegal in 2006. He described his experience to us.

“While I was being deported, I got the feeling that the police were afraid we would try to commit suicide”

Abdallah X. (not his real name) was living illegally in the Italian city of Naples when he was deported back to Senegal in 2006.
We were on a flight with other undocumented Senegalese immigrants. We were handcuffed in the airport until the plane took off. Some of the others were in some sense relieved to be going home, and they were calm during the flight. Others were furious, because they had taken tremendous risks to get to Europe, and they had found work in Italy. There were some who were trying to escape up until the last minute, and the police kept their hands tied with plastic handcuffs throughout the flight. But I didn’t see anyone gagged.
The police made the trip to Dakar with us. Some were nicer than others, but there were no major problems. They were worried about our safety during the entire flight. They even came to the toilets with us. I think they were afraid that we might try to commit suicide.