By Imogen Foulkes
BBC News, Geneva
The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has rebuked Italy for allegedly turning away a group of Kurdish asylum seekers from Turkey.
The group of 13 males, at least two of whom are said to be under 16, arrived in Italy aboard a German freighter.
The UNHCR says Italy is obliged, under international law, to hear all claims for asylum.
Earlier this month, officials criticised Italy for its treatment of asylum seekers from north Africa.
The 13 men and boys were hidden in a container on board the German ship, which docked in Italy two weeks ago.
They claimed to be Kurdish asylum seekers from Turkey, but the UNHCR says the Italian authorities refused to hear their asylum claims and put them back on the ship.
It is now in port in Malta, where the authorities have refused to allow the group ashore.
The ship's next stop is Turkey, but its owner says the vessel will not continue its voyage until the asylum claims have been heard.
The UNHCR says that under European Union law, it is Italy's responsibility to hear the claims, and the agency says turning away asylum seekers like this is a clear violation of the international convention on refugees.
A UN representative in Malta describes conditions on board the ship as extremely tense.
At least one of the asylum seekers has reportedly attempted suicide, since being refused entry by the Maltese authorities.
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