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The ECRE Weekly Bulletin provides information about the latest European developments in the areas of asylum and refugee protection.ECRE is a pan-European alliance of 103 NGOs protecting and advancing the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and displaced persons.If you would like to know more about ECRE’s advocacy work, policy positions, press releases and projects, please visit our website at www.ecre.org, find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

     
7 October 2021
  
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EUROPEAN DEVELOPMENTS

NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS
  

EUROPEAN DEVELOPMENTS

EU Eastern Borders: Poland Ignores Commission Pressure for Frontex Deployment, Eastern States Move to “Legalise” Pushbacks, Belarus Suspends Return Agreement

Poland refuses European Commission push for a Frontex deployment at its border with Belarus as pressure on the government grows. Lithuania has proposed the legalisation of pushbacks at the EU level in “extreme” situations. Belarus suspends return agreements with the EU and people on the move are caught in the middle.

Poland is facing critique by the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) and NGOs over pushbacks as well as demands from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) for the provision of support at the border where at least six people have lost their lives. The influential Catholic church appealed on 4 October for humanitarian assistance and the launch of humanitarian corridors for refugees from Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. “Medical and humanitarian aid for migrants should be a priority for both the state and non-governmental organisations,” stated an appeal by Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, noting also “The inalienable dignity of every human being, regardless of their status, origin or religion, and the law of brotherly love, urge us to help them”.

EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson also raised “the issue and importance of transparency” at the border with Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kamiński in order to make sure that “when we protect our borders, we also protect our values and the EU acquis”. The Commissioner also pushed for direct EU involvement at the border saying: “I think it could be a good idea to invite Frontex to be part at the Polish-Belarusian border to also visibly show that this is an European protection of the border and also because we have expertise in Frontex”. However, the meetings with Kamiński didn’t result in deployment of the agency. Meanwhile, Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri was “impressed” with Polish security measures and thanked Poland for its cooperation with his agency when visiting the border on 4 October.

Rather than accepting involvement of the Warsaw based EU agency, the Polish government rely on the deployment of 4,000 border guards and 25,000 soldiers and the building of an “impenetrable wall“ to defend “Nato and EU borders with full determination” against what it has dubbed a “hybrid aggression” by Belarus. Polish authorities registered 601 attempts to cross the border on 1 October and claims to have prevented 8,000 out of 9,400 attempts since August. In response to queries about pushbacks a spokesperson for the Polish border guards stated that, because they know they will be deported if their applications are rejected: “foreigners do not want to submit applications in Poland” and instead “want to submit them in Germany”. According to Polish authorities only 44% of people detained at closed centres in Poland have applied for international protection. German police report increased arrivals at the border with Poland and have detained hundreds of people from Iraq, Yemen and Syria, many of whom are believed to have crossed from Belarus.

Lithuania has proposed a change of EU law to legalise pushbacks, the practice of expelling people without allowing them to apply for asylum. “In such situations when there’s an extreme situation, and illegal migrants are being used as an instrument to put pressure on countries, countries have the right to make such decisions [like] the ones we have made in our national law, i.e. to prevent illegal entrance,” Lithuanian Interior Minister Agnė Bilotaitė said. According to European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas, Lithuania is not alone in its ambition and several member states share such ideas. In response to recent documentation of pushbacks along EU borders, ECRE Director Catherine Woollard called such measures: “both illegal and morally repugnant” and urged the European Commission to “get tougher” on non-compliance with EU law, noting: “We see a situation of tolerance of these actions, or one that can be described as impunity when it comes to what are clear violations taking place”. At national level the undermining of the right to seek asylum has already occurred. The Polish government is in the process of changing legislation to deny asylum seekers their right to apply for protection at the border. A draft law approved by the lower house of parliament was met with strong critique by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Amendments to the Law on the Legal Status of Aliens were adopted in Lithuania in July and August 2021 that according to ECRE “may result in limited access to the asylum procedure, automatic detention of asylum applicants, restrictions on the right to appeal, and restrictions on other rights of people seeking asylum”. On 1 October, 93 people were prevented from entering Lithuania within 24 hours, and on 4 October again within 24 hours another 49 people were prevented from entering. Both figures were confirmed by the State Border Guard Service (SBGS) also stating that more than 3,000 people have been prevented from crossing the border from Belarus since early August.

On the other side of the border, the Belarussian parliament voted on 4 October to suspend an agreement with the EU from 2020 to take back migrants. The measure was announced by Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko in June in an attempt to stop EU sanctions imposed on his regime. Parliament speaker Vladimir Andreichenko noted that the agreement stipulates that each party may partially or totally suspend the agreement temporarily, if it officially notifies the other party. Solidar Foundation stated that: “Migrants are the only victims as Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and the EU are battling for border control and political gains”. The organisation highlighted that thousands of migrants, predominantly Kurds from Iraq, are now stuck in detention centres under poor conditions, facing deportation or are being pushed back to Belarus.

For further information:

 
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Med: Eight Years on from Deadly Tragedy Lives Continue to Be Lost, EU Complicit in Libyan Abuse, Fact-Finding Mission Finds Possible Crimes Against Humanity in Libya

As the tragic loss of 368 lives off Lampedusa eight years ago is commemorated, death and distress continues on the Mediterranean, where at least 17,800 people have died since 2013. A newly released documentary reveals the complicity of the EU and member states in widespread abuse of migrants and refugees in Libya. According to a Fact-Finding Mission commissioned by the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) violations in the country, where recent waves of arrests have incarcerated thousands of refugees and undocumented people, may amount to crimes against humanity.

On 3 October a memorial ceremony marked the death of 368 people in 2013 off Lampedusa in one of the deadliest shipwrecks on record. Survivors of the shipwreck joined local citizens in honoring the victims. According to UN sources, 17,800 people have been confirmed dead or gone missing in the eight years since the tragedy. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) sets the total number of people dead or missing at the central Mediterranean route in 2021 at 1,118 (as of 2 October). On 1 October the so-called Libyan coast guard recovered the bodies of two people and reported that another 40 people were missing off Libya. On 2 October the NGO hotline Alarm Phone reported 70 people missing after departing Libya en route to Europe. A further 49 people in distress on 3 October, adrift in the Maltese SAR zone, are believed to have been rescued but according to the NGO hotline this remains to be confirmed. During the night of 2-3 October more than 600 people in 18 small boats landed on the Italian island of Lampedusa, followed by 710 people in 19 boats in the early hours of 4 October. Reception capacity on the island is currently overstretched due to increase in arrivals. Alarm Phone assumes that 70 people rescued by the Italian supply ship Asso29 were also disembarked in Lampedusa. Over 24 hours on 6 October the bodies of 17 people, who had been onboard a boat that capsized on the way to Europe, washed up on the coast between the cities of Zawiya and Sorman in Libya.

Interceptions and returns by the so-called Libyan coast guard have continued with incidents reported by UNHCR Libya of 89 people including three children returned on 2 October, and two groups of 500 and 56 people respectively returned on 3 October. According to IOM Libya 25,823 people, including more than 900 children have been intercepted and returned to Libya in 2021 as of October.

Filmmaker Sara Creta has recently released a documentary on the widespread human rights violations and abuse in Libyan detention centres. Creta stated prior to the release: “the European Union and the member states are complicit [in] providing assistance to the Libyan coast guard, to Libyan authorities, to intercept people in international water and bring them back to Libya, when it’s known that they will be returned back to this inhumane and degrading treatment in the detention centers”. EU and member states are providing significant migration-related funding to Libya, with 455 euro paid out under the North of Africa window of the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa alone. A fact finding report commissioned by the OHCHR on Libya was released on 4 October. The film’s debut coincided with the release of the UN Fact-Finding Mission in Libya’s report on abuses against migrants in the country. An spokesperson of the Mission stated: “Migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees are subjected to a litany of abuses at sea, in detention centres and at the hands of traffickers,” and further noted: “Our investigations indicate that violations against migrants are committed on a widespread scale by State and non-State actors, with a high level of organization and with the encouragement of the State – all of which is suggestive of crimes against humanity”. Welcoming the report, the World Organisation Against Torture OMCT and the Libyan Anti-torture Network urged: “the international community to suspend cooperation with Libya pending their full compliance with international human rights and international humanitarian law”.

Since 1 October, between 4,000-5,000 undocumented people including 215 children and over 540 women, at least 30 of whom were pregnant, were rounded in a violent wave of arrests in Western Libya. 4,000 arrests were made within just 48 hours. According to Dax Roque, Libya Director for ECRE member Norwegian Refugee Council: “This is one of the largest migrant arrests we’ve seen in Libya in recent years”. The UN humanitarian coordinator for Libya, Georgette Gagnon said: “Unarmed migrants were harassed in their homes, beaten and shot”. According to the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) “one migrant was killed and at least 15 others injured, six seriously” when Libyan security opened fire during the crackdown. Libyan authorities describe the campaign as a security measure against undocumented migration and drug trafficking. However, the interior ministry that lead the crackdown has not confirmed any traffickers or smugglers having been arrested: according to Dax Roque, “Among those arrested are refugees who have already been registered”. A government official speaking under anonymity stated that the government would “deport as many as possible” to their countries of origin. The crackdown “caused a sense of fear and alert among asylum seekers” and led to chaos outside the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) Community Day Centre (CDC) in Tripoli. UNHCR was forced to suspend its operations in providing food, financial and hygiene assistance for the most urgent individual cases at the centre.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) calls for immediate release of the thousands of people detained in dire conditions in overcrowded facilities. According to the organization, Libya’s largest Detention Center, Al Mabani, is currently holding more than 4,000 people, four times its official capacity. Numbers in Shara Zawaya Detention Center, designated for women and children only, has increased from just 71 people at the beginning of September to more than 520 today. Among these are more than 175 children, including 47 babies. According to Amnesty International, detainees: “have to sleep with a rotation system, where some people would stand and others would sleep”. Further, the organisation has received videos and testimonies of guards beating detainees with sticks and water pipes, food shortages, and sexual harassment.

For further information:

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Atlantic Route and Spain: Deadly Shipwrecks off the Canaries, People Missing in the Western Med as Critics Allege Spanish-Moroccan “Complicity” on Non-Rescue, Prevention of Entry in Melilla

At least 67 lives have been lost on journeys from North Africa to the Canaries over the last days of September and first days of October. On the Balearic route, more people are missing, while critics point to new evidence of Spanish attempts to transfer responsibility for distress cases to Morocco. A further 700 people have been blocked from entering Melilla by Moroccan forces.

The loss of life on the Atlantic route continued in October, with a shipwreck that resulted in the deaths of 57 people including 12 children. The tragic deaths of these people, who had been at sea for seven days, brought last week’s death toll to 63 lives lost. On 4 October 50 people landed autonomously on El Hierro, an island to which 1,000 people have arrived so far in 2021. On 6 October, 55 people were rescued in the Atlantic and brought to Fuerteventura, another 69 people heading towards Fuerteventura were rescued the next day, and 37 people were rescued close to Gran Canaria. After a boat of 59 people was intercepted off the north African coast by Mauritanian navy forces, more than 30 people jumped into the water, resulting in two drownings and dozens of people missing. A boat that left Gambia on 26 September returned to Nouadibou (Mauritania) ten days later with 80 survivors and two corpses onboard after an unsuccessful attempt to reach the Spanish islands.

27,000 people have successfully arrived in Spain via sea so far this year across all migratory routes, a figure that is up 50% on last year. The increase has been linked to regional conflicts, land border closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic and stricter controls aimed at stemming irregular migration from North African countries. Roughly half of all journeys to Spain were across the Western Mediterranean and Alboran Sea, usually from Algeria. On 4 October, 14 people were rescued on this route when they were found in distress. Spanish officials initially told media that 11 men had drowned in this incident, but this was later corrected with a clarification that just three were missing and presumed dead. The group had left from Algeria in an attempt to reach the Balearic island of Mallorca. The division of search and rescue in this area has been a contentious issue, with critics alleging that Spain has sought to transfer responsibility for distress cases to Morocco. New maps show that Spanish government rescuers changed their approach in 2019 and now rarely enter the zone of shared responsibility and avoid Moroccan waters, allegedly to ensure people can be returned to Morocco instead of being brought to Europe. This is the subject of a recent documentary titled “Paralelo 35º50” that claims the two states have constructed an “imaginary wall” at sea to evade compliance with international obligations. The film features unpublished audio that according to filmmakers exposes “bad practices” and Spanish-Moroccan “complicity” on non-rescue.

On the night of 30 September – 1 October, about 700 people tried to enter Spanish territory via Melilla. The Spanish delegation in the North African enclave said the attempt was prevented “thanks to coordination between the Spanish and Moroccan security force”. According to Morocco World News, Morocco has prevented over 14,000 “unauthorised migration attempts” since 2017. The North African country has also intercepted over 80,500 people seeking to reach Europe via sea and has dismantled 5,000 human trafficking networks, activities that have been supported by the EU.

For further information:

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NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS

Cyprus: Families separated by pushbacks to Lebanon – Cyprus Calls for Greater Solidarity

Unlawful pushback practices from Cyprus to Lebanon have generated cases of family separation which the Cypriot Government refuses to address. These returns have raised concern as Syrian refugees in Lebanon face dire conditions and potential chain-refoulement to Syria. Speaking ahead of the EU Home Affairs Council in Luxembourg, Cyprus says it will present its own proposals and continue to press for “fair allocation” of arrivals to Europe.

As Syrians face rapidly deteriorating living conditions in Lebanon, many are seeking to flee to Europe. Those arriving in Cyprus are facing pushbacks. NGOs and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) say such pushbacks are generating family separation and breaching international law. When a boat was intercepted at sea on 22 August, a heavily-pregnant 25-year old Syrian woman was taken to Cyprus while her husband and two children – aged one and three – were returned to Lebanon. After giving birth to her son the next day, she urged the Cypriot authorities to “show compassion” and allow her to be reunited with her family. In response, the government has said that only those with refugee status can benefit from family reunification. Yet, of the 7,700 Syrians arriving in Cyprus seeking asylum since 2018, less than two per cent have been granted refugee protection. On 21 September, Interior Minister Nicos Nouris rejected calls for family reunification, saying that “it would it would mean that should the 24,000 asylum seekers currently in the Republic request that we bring the rest of their families here, then we’d have to bring them over.”

Turnbacks at sea follow an agreement signed with Lebanon in March 2020 under which Cyprus can send back anyone attempting to reach the island by boat. Though this agreement is yet to receive the assent of the Lebanese parliament, it has been fiercely criticised for “legalising pushbacks” as it precludes any individualised assessment of peoples’ protection needs. UNHCR has called for an end to the practice, saying it puts lives in danger. During a trip to Cyprus on 28 September, European Commissioner Ylva Johansson said that she had “question marks” about the agreement, noting that EU law stipulates that people can seek asylum at the bloc’s sea borders.

EU and international law also forbids the return of anyone to any place they risk persecution or torture: the return of people to Lebanon however may result in “onwards refoulement”, as people risk deportation to Syria from the country. The boat intercepted and returned to Lebanon on the night of 22 August carried 69 refugees, three of whom were later deported to Syria and detained. Lebanon has also expelled Syrian refugees in other instances. A recent Amnesty International report confirmed that people returned to Syria risk torture, ill-treatment, detention, enforced disappearances and killings.

Refugee flight from Lebanon has been driven partly by the country’s devasting economic crisis and the tensions it generates. On 29 September, UNHCR, the World Food Programme (WFP) and UNICEF raised the alarm, saying almost the entire Syrian population in Lebanon cannot afford to basic necessities for survival. Nine out of ten of Lebanon’s one million Syrian refugees live in extreme poverty, and 60 per cent live in dangerous, substandard or overcrowded shelters. “I can live neither in Lebanon nor in Syria,” said the 25-year old woman who gave birth to her child in Cyprus.

Speaking on 5 October, the interior minister said Cyprus will put forward its own proposals at the upcoming EU Home Affairs Council in Luxembourg, as well as continuing to push for agreement on the EU Pact on Migration and Asylum. The three proposals concern greater monitoring of the “green line”, common EU agreement on “safe countries”, and efforts to maximise returns to non-EU countries. The minister emphasised that the southern EU states needed an agreement that drew on the principles of solidarity and fair allocation as they “bear the brunt” of arrivals. Cyprus hosts the EU’s highest proportion of asylum seekers per capita, though few receive protection.

For further information:

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Greece: PM “Unapologetic” over Policy of Violent Illegal Tactics, Greek Authorities Announce Training of Libyan Coast Guard, NGOs Challenge Decision to Define Turkey as Safe Third Country

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis remains “unapologetic” over systematic pushbacks by Greek authorities that, according to Amnesty International, have become the de facto policy for border management. Greece announces it will begin to train the so-called Libyan coast guard as UN confirms systematic violations and abuse of migrants and asylum seekers in Libya. Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) and ECRE member the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) have filed an appeal before the High Administrative Court against the Joint Ministerial Decision designating Turkey as a safe third country for nationals of the main countries of origin of asylum seekers.

The number of people in the hotspots on the Aegean islands and overall population of facilities managed by the Ministry of Immigration and Asylum across Greece has dropped 81 per cent and almost 50 per cent respectively between August 2020 and August 2021. Onwards movement and relocation accounts for some of this decrease. However, the main factor is a drop in arrivals, a change that Greek Migration and Asylum Minister Notis Mitarachi he declared that the country was no longer experiencing a migration crisis” in August. In a statement on 1 October, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said arrivals have dropped 90 per cent compared to 2019. Glykeria Arapi, Director of the Greek section of Amnesty International, describes the drop in arrivals as the result of a “violent, illegal pushbacks that have become a de facto political choice for managing migration at the border”. On 6 October Lighthouse Reports and Der Spiegel released video material and testimonies confirming widespread and systematic violent pushbacks along EU borders. According to French news agency AFP, the investigation exposes: “special Greek coastguard units detailed to intercept asylum seekers’ boats in the Aegean Sea and set them adrift aboard orange life rafts, some paid for with EU cash”. One video showing masked men identified as members of an elite unit of the Hellenic Coast Guard engaging in a pushback operation in high sea. According to the Aegean Boat Report, 19,127 people have been pushed back by Greek agents in the Aegean Sea since March 2020. 9,465 pushbacks have been recorded in 2021 so far, including 94 cases involving 2,274 people in September. Mitsotakis however, remains “unapologetic” about what he defines as “defending” Greek borders. Speaking at an Athens Democracy Forum conference on 30 September the Prime Minister stated: “We said no. We defended our land border. We are defending our sea border, but we’re doing it with full respect to human rights, putting the protection of people at sea always as a first priority”.

The Evros region, with 500 kilometres of rivers marking the natural border separating Greece from Turkey on the mainland, has become a militarised zone. The EU and Greece have invested millions in barbed wire fences along the river banks, state of the art military equipment (like sound canons and drones), camera surveillance and the deployment 850 soldiers. Media and NGOs are denied access to the area by authorities who cite national security concerns: this means it constitutes a black spot in terms of human rights violations. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), “the border needs to be better monitored”. NGOs estimate that at least 4,000 people have been pushed back at this border since the beginning of the year. According to Pavlos Pavlidis, a forensic doctor in the region capital of Alexandropoulis, at least 38 people have died this year by drowning or hypothermia. On 29 September the lifeless body of a teacher who fled to Greece after being persecuted in Turkey was found at the Evros land border region.

Following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on financial and political cooperation between Libya and Greece, the Greek government has announced it will begin training the so-called Libyan coast guard. The coast guard is notorious for its links to human smuggling and is responsible for the interception and return to Libya of more than 25,000 people in 2021. The announcement comes just as the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) have released a report evidencing crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Libya since 2016. According to OHCHR: “Migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees are subjected to a litany of abuses at sea, in detention centres and at the hands of traffickers”. The agency further notes: “Our investigations indicate that violations against migrants are committed on a widespread scale by State and non-State actors, with a high level of organization and with the encouragement of the State – all of which is suggestive of crimes against humanity”.

On October 7, RSA and GCR filed an appeal before the High Administrative Court against the recent Joint Ministerial Decision that designates Turkey as a safe third country for citizens of Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Pakistan and Bangladesh. According to GCR Legal Expert, Vasilis Papastergiou: “The organisations: “challenge the lack of any reasoning and the paradox that the international sources (reports of international organizations and NGOs) included in the relevant opinion of the Asylum Service should lead to the contrary conclusion, as many of them refer to the problems of access to the asylum procedure, the non-equivalence of the conditional refugee status to refugee protection provided by the Geneva Convention and the violation of the principle of non-refoulement in Turkey”.

For further information:

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UK: Calls to Let Asylum Seekers Work as High Court Says Work Ban Has “Adverse Impact” on Children, Offshoring Plans Run Aground, UK Urges France to Halt Channel Crossings

Ongoing calls for asylum seekers to be granted the right to work have received support from leading government and opposition politicians as a court ruling confirms the work ban negatively affects families. Claims that asylum seeker processing will be offshored to Albania have been swiftly dismissed as “fake news”. The UK continues to urge the French authorities to “do more” to halt Channel crossings while NGO denounce the violent tactics already in play.

UK government ministers have been urged to take a “more humane” approach by allowing more than 70,000 people awaiting an asylum decision to work. According to Enver Solomon, CEO of ECRE member the Refugee Council, the current work ban means: “Thousands of skilled and talented people live on limited financial support in limbo awaiting a decision on their asylum claim for months or years on end, desperate to be able to work to contribute to our communities.”

NGOs campaigning against current policy have recently seen support from politicians including Justice Secretary Dominic Raab, opposition leader Keir Starmer, and various Tory MPs. The Justice Secretary spoke positively about such a move, saying it would assist with integration and help plug gaps in the workforce. Home Office sources however insist that the right to work would “create a pull factor for illegal immigration like never before”. Conservative MP David Simmonds disputed this, saying: “I’m not sure there is [an incentive]. We know one of the big issues is that asylum seekers may well be working in the grey economy anyway, and it’s right that we should make the most of the opportunity for people to become taxpaying citizens.” The Government first announced it would review the policy in 2018. Yet, despite confirming in 2019 and 2020 that a review was “ongoing”, on 28 September a Home Office representative said there were “no plans” to change the policy.

A High Court ruling has found the UK’s “permission to work” policy for asylum seekers to be unlawful on the grounds that it fails to adequately consider the best interests of children. The judgmentfound that banning a parents from working – except in an extremely restricted range of “skills shortage” roles and only after one year of awaiting a decision – may have “extremely harmful consequences” on children and families. In a separate judgment, the Court found that asylum seekers housed in hotels during the pandemic should have been given money for phone calls to their family. This decision may require millions in backdated payments to an estimated 10,000 asylum seekers. The rulings were significant given nine times more people are awaiting an asylum decision than a decade ago, despite a drop in the number of applicants. 80 per cent of applicants wait more than six months, and the average waiting time is at least a year.

Following complaints about the housing of asylum seekers in “squalid” military barracks, the Home Office has once again come under fire for placing hundreds of people in a cramped hostel despite the Coronavirus risk. Having been placed in 24-bed dorms that made social distancing impossible, asylum seekers fell prey to a Coronavirus outbreak in the facilities at the end of September. Authorities would not confirm the numbers of people affected or their condition.

Albania has refuted UK media claims that the Home Office has been in confidential talks with Albanian officials to set up a processing centre for people who enter the UK via sea. As a Bill currently before Parliament seeks to facilitate offshore immigration processing centres based on the “Australian model”, newspapers have been rife with speculation about how this could take place in practice. The Albanian foreign minister Olta Xhacka however was quick to deny rumours, saying “Albania will proudly host 4,000 Afghan refugees based on its goodwill, but will never be a hub of anti-immigration policies of bigger and richer countries.”

The plan was said to be a response to over 17,000 people arriving in the UK via the Channel so far this year. The government has also sought to lean on France for border control, with the Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying that France “could do more” to stop Channel journeys. French authorities already going to extreme measures to intercept people, including shooting rubber bullets at people on the move. French police confirmed in recent days that “flash-balls” – described as “non-lethal projectiles” made of rubber or foam – were fired at eight Iranian Kurds on 22 September whilst they attempted to launch a dinghy. At least two people were taken to hospital with injuries.

Concurrently, the local police prefecture continue to regularly dismantle makeshift camps around Calais, with Human Rights Observers reporting 14 evictions in 3 days. A new report from Human Rights Watch, titled “Enforced Misery: The Degrading Treatment of Migrant Children and Adults in Northern France”, lays bare the harm caused by repeated mass eviction operations, near-daily police harassment, and restrictions on provision of and access to humanitarian assistance for people on the move.

For further information:

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Switzerland: Phone Searches of Asylum Seekers Come Under Fire, Afghan Humanitarian Visa Requests Ignored, Parliament Approves Frontex Funding Boost

Legislation approved by Swiss lawmakers allowing authorities to search asylum seeker’s phones if it is the only means of verifying their identity faces criticism. Switzerland has in recent weeks received 7,800 requests for humanitarian visas and family reunification by Afghans, but only three were granted. The Swiss Parliament has agreed to increase the country’s contribution to the Frontex budget, from 14 million CHF to 61 million CHF by 2027.

A Swiss law enabling border officials to search asylum seeker’s phones has faced criticism from experts and NGOs who say it is costly, ineffectual and disproportionately violating the right to privacy. On September 15, the Swiss Parliament agreed for immigration officials to access people’s mobile data if it is the only way to verify their identity. Lawmakers cite the fact that most people who request asylum in Switzerland enter without documents proving their identity, and Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter insists that “various safeguards” are in place to avoid abuse and uphold the right to privacy. However, both ECRE member the Swiss Refugee Council and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) have said the measure is disproportionate and constitutes an assault on privacy. They point out that the mobile phones of fleeing people may also be used by traffickers, family members, others on the route, making it difficult to attribute data to the person in question. NGO EuroMed Rights has deemed the law “disproportionate, biased and flawed”. Aside from human rights grounds, experts also find the benefit of searches to be small in comparison to the cost. A study from Germany has shown the measure to be effective in confirming someone had lied about their identity in just one or two per cent of cases. In a quarter of cases, the search failed for technical reasons, while majority of the time the search simply confirmed the person’s story. Mattias Lehnert, a lawyer specialising in migrant rights, argues the true purpose of the law is to “intimidate people seeking asylum”, while other critics suggest the measure is a means of “testing new technologies of control and surveillance on refugees”. While Germany, Denmark and Norway have heavily employed mobile phones’ searches in their asylum procedures, Belgium and Austria have been unable to implement similar laws due to data protection issues.

The State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) has been “inundated” with requests for humanitarian visas and family reunification from Afghans since the fall of Kabul in mid-August. Only three of the recorded 7,800 requests have been answered positively, with the SEM insisting that these applications were the only ones that met requirements. This has raised concerns that authorities have chosen to interpret the scope of humanitarian visa requirements too narrowly to grant visas in a restrictive manner. In the view of National Councillor Fabian Molina: “The fact that Switzerland sets the bureaucratic hurdles and legal requirements so high is not in the spirit of humanitarian tradition”. Sarah Progin-Theuerkauf, Professor at the University of Freiburg, points out that the issuing of humanitarian visas is a political decision, not a legal one, saying: “as a sovereign state, Switzerland could issue as many visas as it wanted”.

The Swiss Parliament has backed a greater commitment to Frontex, the European Border and Coastguard Agency. At the end of September, lawmakers approved an increase in Switzerland’s contribution to Frontex, from 14 million CHF to 61 million CHF by 2027. The funding increase and commitment to deploy more Swiss staff is meant to contribute to the agency’s ambition of building up a standing corps of 10,000 border guards by 2027, “fight against cross-border crime”, and more swiftly return irregularly-staying third country nationals. The move saw opposition from some commentators, including those that called for the matter to be put to a referendum.

For further information:

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