Call on the EU: Restore Rights and Values at Europe’s Borders
As European civil society and professional organisations working on asylum, migration, humanitarian assistance and human rights, we are shocked by the continuing humanitarian crisis at the borders between the EU and Belarus which causes immense suffering and has led to the deaths of at least ten people.
While we fully condemn the actions of Belarus, we urge a response from the EU, the EU’s Member States, and all relevant European and international organisations that is in line with EU and international legal obligations and with standards of common decency.
While the people in the middle of the crisis are being used as parties in the conflict between the EU and Belarus which has a security dimension, the people themselves are not a security threat, and should neither be referred to nor be treated by either side as though they were a weapon. Indeed, all accounts suggest that there are many highly vulnerable groups among those caught up in these events, including pregnant women, families with young children and people who are elderly or injured. Among them are people who have fled war and persecution from Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan and Iraq, and who, in the absence of safe and legal pathways, had no alternative way to reach safety. We also note that despite the serious tensions that exist between the states involved, the situation, like many others at the EU’s borders, is manageable, and should be approached with a sense of perspective. Globally, many countries in very fragile situations face complex displacement challenges, with geo-political and security dimensions and involving far larger numbers of people. What is needed is a clear-headed response that includes a firm defence of the right to asylum, and of EU and international law.
We thus propose the following responses covering the various elements of the crisis:
Ensure access to asylum at the borders
Under EU and international law, everyone seeking asylum at the borders, irrespective of the manner of their arrival, has the right to make an asylum application. Access to asylum in Poland, Lithuania and Latvia should immediately be restored both in law and in practice. This means that all measures aimed at preventing people from accessing EU territory and from lodging an application for asylum, must cease. This includes preventing people from reaching the EU’s territory, including through the use of force and instructions to border guards to conduct push-backs, prohibiting their asylum applications from being lodged through limiting effective access to the procedure via geographical restrictions on where claims can be lodged, and attempting to derogate from asylum law and protection against refoulement.
Guarantee humanitarian access
In the short-term, it is essential that the states involved grant humanitarian access to the people affected so that humanitarian organisations can reach them and provide assistance. The fact that EU Member States prevent the delivery of life-saving assistance to people, some of whom are extremely vulnerable, is deplorable and reckless. It furthermore risks having negative implications for humanitarian access in displacement contexts outside the EU and undermines the EU’s role as a credible humanitarian actor.
Should the stand-off continue, the decision to immediately evacuate people from the border region into EU Member States, also by making use of the offers already received from civil society, cities and faith groups to welcome people is one option that could prevent further loss of life. In parallel, EU Member States should discuss and agree on ad-hoc relocation arrangements. Transporting people to third countries for asylum processing as has been proposed is unlawful under international and EU law, and politically unfeasible.
Withdraw non-compliant domestic legislation
The situation at the external border has led to changes to domestic asylum legislation. As legal analysis of the adopted legislation in Lithuania, Poland and Latvia demonstrates, some legislative changes are incompatible with the EU asylum acquis, the EU Treaties, the Charter for Fundamental Rights, and international law. In Lithuania, the changes aim to restrict access to asylum; remove protections for people in vulnerable situations; allow for automatic detention; restrict access to an effective legal remedy; and reduce access to reception conditions.
In the case of Poland, the new legislation is in direct violation of the principle of non-refoulement by allowing the removal of people from Poland even after they have applied for international protection and without an individual examination of whether the removal will lead to a violation of their human rights. In Latvia, the changes preclude the possibility of seeking asylum for persons crossing the border, meaning the right to seek asylum and protection against refoulement is not respected. While some of the amendments are – in theory – temporary and their application geographically restricted, they nevertheless risk institutionalising unlawful practice. Seeking asylum is a fundamental right and non-refoulement is a non-derogable principle that must be observed even in times of emergency.
The European Commission needs to follow through on its request to Member States to remove aspects of the legislation which violate EU law. Compliance with EU law should be a basic condition for all EU support. If Member States refuse to respect EU and international law, infringement and disciplinary measures must be considered.
Counteract repression of civil society, media and legal practitioners
The situation at the EU’s borders has provoked attempts by Member States to intimidate and repress independent civil society, media and legal practitioners seeking to respond in line with their professional functions. Activities aimed at providing humanitarian assistance and legal aid to people at the border must not be criminalised. Banning access to the border zones for civil society and journalists not only leaves people without support but also has repercussions for the work of independent civil society and media beyond Europe. It is essential that the situation in the border area is monitored by independent actors to ensure that EU and international law is respected. Acts of violence need to be condemned and investigated.
Place human rights standards and transparency at the heart of cooperation with third countries
Currently, the EU is proactively seeking agreements with third countries either to stop people from arriving at the EU’s border or to take back their nationals. It must be ensured that any agreement with third countries, such as Iraq, Turkey or Lebanon is in line with international human rights standards, starting with the right to leave one’s country and non-refoulement obligations. To enable democratic accountability over EU agreements with third countries, the content of any arrangements should be made publicly available, and the European Parliament should have a meaningful role in monitoring agreements. Independent monitoring and support to those returning should also be guaranteed.
The EU and its Member States must respond to the crisis at the border in accordance with their international and EU legal obligations. The current political and legal framework, if applied, provides all the elements for handling this situation in a rights based, calm and well managed manner. We are alarmed to hear of proposals being drafted that may allow for unjustifiable derogations from EU and international law.
The list of more than 100 signatory organisations is available on our website, as signatories continued to be added.
EU Eastern Borders: Commission Describes “De-Escalation” and Mulls Emergency Asylum Law, NGOs Point to Pushbacks and Abuse, Polish Ombudsman Seeks Acquittal of Journalists
The EU’s Home Affairs commissioner considers that a de-escalation of the situation at the border with Belarus is underway. The European Commission is working on a proposal for provisional emergency asylum and return measures to help member states “manage irregular arrivals in a swift and orderly way”. National human rights institutions (NHRIs) and NGOs however highlight non-respect for the right to seek asylum and ongoing pushbacks. Poland’s Ombudsman has called for the acquittal of AFP and ARTE journalists reprimanded for entering the state of emergency zone.
Thousands of Iraqis, Syrians, Yemenis and Afghans seeking protection in Europe have arrived at the borders of Lithuania, Latvia and Poland after being ushered through Belarus by state forces since mid-August. According to the EU, over 40,000 attempts to enter the EU via the Belarus border have been prevented in 2021. Speaking to Euronews on 23 November, Home Affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson said the situation was now “de-escalating”. For the EU, the key to resolving the crisis lies in sanctioning Belarus, pressuring third countries to prevent journeys to Belarus, and ensuring swift returns. The Commission has published a draft law blacklisting airlines or travel operators that fly people to EU-bordering countries as part of “attempts to destabilise” the bloc. The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, met with the foreign ministers of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan as well as Turkmenistan’s deputy foreign minister, to request their support in “preventing th[e] instrumentalization of human beings”. These countries will receive almost half of the one billion euro EU support package for Afghanistan, as they neighbour the Taliban-controlled country. Borrell announced on 22 November that Uzbekistan had agreed to prevent passengers from Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Syria and Yemen from travelling to Belarus. European Commission Vice President “embarked last week on a tour of Baghdad, Beirut, Dubai and Ankara” to persuade Iraq, Lebanon, UAE and Turkey to do the same.
Another aspect of the Commission response is a forthcoming proposal on provisional emergency measures on asylum and return as a result of the eastern border ‘crisis’. This will support member states to: “set up the right processes, to manage irregular arrivals in a swift and orderly way, in line with fundamental rights”. Some commentators found this announcement “ominous”, given accusations of Commission complicity in the erosion of asylum at the bloc’s eastern frontier. Where asylum claims are examined, the fairness of the procedure has been challenged. In Lithuania, only 10 asylum requests have been granted out of the 2,639 applications made (excluding those from Belarusians) since August. In early October, Frontex reported that up to 20 serious incident reports had been made regarding the treatment of asylum seekers by Lithuanian guards. According to Johansson, a balance can be found between ‘border security’ and fundamental rights protections. “We should not legalise pushbacks, but it’s also important to say member states are obliged to prevent unauthorised entries. Sometimes the debate is a bit black or white. We have to do both. We do not have free entry to the EU … We have to protect our external border but we have to do it in a way that is compliant with European values.”
The de-escalation of the situation at the border is the result not only of the work of humanitarian actors in providing aid and EU efforts to block arrivals, but also Belarusian efforts to relocate and return people. By November 18, Belarusian border guards said all the people in the Brouzgui makeshift camp had been transferred on a voluntary basis to temporary accommodation. Belarus has also facilitated return flights, which on 22 and 23 November returned 122 and 118 people respectively. On the EU side of the border, Frontex is assisting Poland and Lithuania with returns. The agency has organised 13 flights from Poland this year to return 62 Iraqis. Frontex plans to return a total of 1,700 people to Iraq. The human cost of the border emergency has nonetheless been heavy, with thirteen people, including a one year-old child, losing their lives as a result of the EU-Belarus showdown.
A new report published by Human Rights Watch details ongoing serious abuses against people on the move at the EU’s eastern frontier. Innumerable testimonials depict inhuman and degrading treatment by Belarusian guards. These include people beaten up, forced to cut through the fence, prevented from leaving, and punished for not attempting to cross the barbed wire. Yet, as rights abuses take place on both sides of the border, the NGO highlights that responsibility does not fall solely on Belarus. Poland has generated acute suffering by refusing to assess asylum applications and violently pushing people back. Lithuania has conducted an alarming number of pushbacks at the EU border, with the border guard service claiming to have prevented 7,000 people from crossing the border since August. Pushbacks – though ‘legalised’ under recent legislation by Poland, Lithuania and Latvia – contravene international law and EU fundamental rights norms. The independent national human rights watchdogs (NHRIs) of the three states have each raised the alert about the desecration of the right to seek asylum. Poland’s NHRI has spoken out against legislative changes allowing authorities to refuse to examine asylum claims, Latvia’s NHRI has emphasised the need for individual assessment at borders, and Lithuania’s NHRI has decried legal amendments that undermine human rights. Each have provided urgent recommendations that have gone unheeded by the EU states.
Poland continues to implement a ban on all journalists and humanitarians seeking to access the border zone. After three journalists from AFP and ARTE were reprimanded by a Polish court for entering the state of emergency zone, the Ombudsman has found the ban to be in contravention of the Polish constitution. Arguing that the ban exceeds the permissible limits on individual freedoms, the Ombudsman has asked for the acquittal of the journalists. Activists are also criminalised. At the start of the month, two people found to be driving two Iraqi citizens were arrested and charged with aiding illegal border crossings. When asked about Poland’s decision to shut out media, Ylva Johansson said: “I think that this is not the right thing. We need transparency. We need access for media, we need access for NGOs. And of course, also we need compliance with our fundamental rights”. In a recent statement, ECRE member the International Rescue Committee has called for “unfettered humanitarian access and a firm defence of the right to asylum at border areas”.
For further information:
Channel: Tragedy Sparks Fury Over Lack of Safe Routes, Activists Take Home Secretary to Court, Asylum Seekers Make Up Only 6% of UK Population
After more than 30 lives were lost in the worst ever shipwreck in the Channel, NGOs on both sides have expressed their anger at government failings. UK activist group Channel Rescue is planning to take the Home Office to court over plans to intercept and return boats at sea. While Channel crossings have increased three-fold on 2020 numbers, the UK receives relatively few boat arrivals and asylum claims when compared to its European counterparts.
At least 31 people have died after a boat capsized in the Channel on 24 November in what the French interior minister has deemed the biggest tragedy on the route to date. UK, French and EU officials responded by blaming smugglers and “criminal gangs” for exploiting desperate people. Critics described this as “cheap rhetoric”, saying politicians were wrong to blame the tragedy entirely on smugglers without acknowledging the lack of safe pathways to asylum as a driving factor. The head of the French humanitarian organisation l’Auberge des Migrants, Maya Konforti, said: “the existence of smugglers is in response to a need; a need because there’s no legal way to go and seek asylum in Britain”. According to Minnie Rahman, director of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI):“Instead of accepting that there is a real need to ensure that people can get to the UK [to seek asylum, the [UK] government …pursues ever-more draconian proposals like illegal pushbacks at sea and even higher fences”. The French minister, Gerald Darmanin announced on 24 November that five presumed smugglers had been arrested following the tragedy. Just days prior, the minister announced 11 million euro of new spending on drones, more than 100 vehicles, thermal cameras and other technology to securitise the coastline of northern France. “This securitised policy simply increasing the fees charged by smugglers, enriching smugglers, and making the crossing more dangerous”, said a spokesperson from France Fraternité. More than 45 people have died so far in 2021 whilst trying to reach the UK.
An activist group formed to monitor and prevent human rights abuses at sea are seeking to raise 30,000 GBP to take the head of the UK Home Office, Priti Patel, to court. The legal challenge was provoked when the group, named Channel Rescue, witnessed UK border force staff training to use jet skis to employ ‘pushback’ tactics at sea. The case challenges the approach, both on grounds that the policy should have been publicised, and that it is in breach of international and domestic maritime law. According to the organisation: “The Home Office’s plans are in stark contrast to these legal obligations. Seeking to turn around boats carrying migrants will inevitably risk the lives of children, women and men who want nothing more than sanctuary”.
An increasing number of people fleeing conflict, violence or poverty are risking the dangerous Channel journey, with more than 25,600 crossings recorded so far in 2021. Yet, the UK continues to see far fewer boat arrivals and asylum claims than many of its European counterparts. Mediterranean countries recorded 105,135 sea arrivals to date in 2021, according to figures from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). In the first half of 2021, the UK received 14,670 first-time asylum applications, while France received 42,250 and Germany received 50,905. Per capita, UK ranked 14th in 2020 for the number of applications when compared to the 27 EU countries. Further, the numbers of people seeking asylum in the UK are less than half what they were in 2002, when they peaked at 84,132. In 2019, asylum seekers made up only around 6% of immigrants to the UK.
For further information:
Atlantic Route and Spain: 29 Deaths in 10 Days, Boat-Driver Convicted, Morocco Returns People at Sea, Palestinians Seek Asylum at Barcelona Airport
Between 13-23 November, at least 29 people died on the Canary route. Spanish prosecutors have sentenced a man to 32 years imprisonment for driving a boat on which 16 lives were lost in October 2020. Moroccan forces continue to intercept people attempting to leave for Europe. A group of Palestinians who disembarked a flight during a layover are claiming asylum in Spain.
Many recent rescues of small boats off Spain’s Canary archipelago have been tainted by tragedy. On 24 November, the bodies of 14 people were found onboard a boat lost for 20 days at sea. The 20 survivors were located more than 500km from the Canary Islands. They were transferred ashore, to Western Sahara, where they were handed over to Moroccan gendarmes. On 21 November, a man’s body – found in an advanced stage of decomposition on a drifting boat – marked the 15th victim in 8 days. At least 303 survivors were rescued the next day in eight rescue operations. Over the weekend, another 286 were rescued from 6 vessels. A boat that was adrift for more than a week with 62 people onboard was rescued on 13 November, but not before nine lives were lost. The tragedies have coincided with a busy time on the Atlantic Route, with 400 people disembarking after rescues on the 22-23 November and a further 374 disembarked over the following 24 hours. Some 16,827 people arrived in the Canaries between January and October, according to Spain’s interior ministry.
A tragedy at sea in October 2020 has been the subject of a recent court case in Spain. The case involve a boat carrying 26 people on which 16 perished as it drifted for two weeks in waters south of Gran Canaria. The Moroccan citizen who owned and piloted the boat was sentenced to 32 years in prison. The charges included 16 reckless homicides and “abetting irregular immigration”. While, details of this case have not been revealed the general prosecutions for human smuggling have been in the spotlight across the EU. Critics argue they have become a tool to penal those forced to make dangerous journeys in order to seek asylum. In July 2018, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for the adoption of guidelines to prevent the criminalisation of humanitarian assistance whilst implementing EU anti-smuggling rules. Few states in the bloc explicitly exempt humanitarians from prosecution under national anti-smuggling laws.
Moroccan forces have been active in rescuing and intercepting people taking to the sea. 331 people were picked up on 12-14 November, and another 140 African and Asian people onboard makeshift boats were intercepted at sea on 22 November. While according to the Moroccan state broadcaster these people were in distress, commentators have in the past alleged Moroccan complicity in preventing asylum seekers from arriving in Spain. The news agency stated that the people were handed over the police for “the usual administrative procedures”. Spain has also sought cooperation with Mauritania, Senegal and Mali to detect and intercept boats.
Spanish authorities say 39 Palestinian refugees have sought asylum at Barcelona airport. The people, who landed on a stopover on a flight to Cairo, refused to board their outbound flight and instead demanded to apply for asylum on Spanish soil. After staying in police facilities in the airport for five days, 29 of the people were permitted to enter Spain. The Spanish representative for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said the people were carrying refugee documents issued by the UN Agency for Palestine Refugees, UNRWA. Some had previously sought asylum in Egypt and Ethiopia.
For further information:
- ECRE, Atlantic Route and Spain: More Death as Crisis, Conflict, and Failed EU Policies Drive Canary Island Crossings, Rescues and Fatalities on Western Med, NGOs Welcome Regularisation of Unaccompanied Children, October 2021
- ECRE, Atlantic Route and Spain: At Least 1,400 People Rescued over Seven Days, Spanish Authorities Arrest Smugglers, Ferry Returns to Algeria Risk Refoulement, October 2021
Med: Rescuers Save Lives Despite Threats from So-Called Libyan Coast Guard – Commissioner Confirms EU-Libya Cooperation Amid Calls for ICC to Investigate Crimes Against Humanity
Civilian search and rescue operators are saving hundreds of lives at sea, in the face of intimidation tactics from the so-called Libyan coast guard. The European Commissioner confirms EU commitments to border management cooperation with Libya, as the International Criminal Court (ICC) receives a new communication on Libyan crimes against humanity taking place with EU complicity.
186 survivors onboard the Geo Barents rescue vessel, operated by Médecins sans frontières (MSF Sea) disembarked in Messina, Sicily, on 20 November. Ten people who were found dead on the boat after the rescue operation on 16 November can now, according to the organisation, “have a dignified burial”. The Sea-Watch 4, operated by German NGO Sea-Watch, is requesting a safe port for more than 400 people, including pregnant women and children, rescued on the central Mediterranean in several operations between 18 and 22 November. On 26 November the organisation stated that Sea-Watch 4 was authorised to take shelter in front of the port of Augusta, Sicily with bad weather putting the survivors onboard at risk of hypothermia – four people have lost consciousness and are being assisted by the medical team. The organisation’s Seabird plane also spotted a boat of 40 people adrift in Maltese waters on 22 November and urged authorities to coordinate a rescue. The same day, the NGO hotline Alarm Phone lost contact with 90 people including four pregnant women and 17 children in distress in the Maltese SAR zone. Authorities refuse to reveal information about their fate. Meanwhile, the intimidation of civilian search and rescue operators by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard continues. Sea-Watch recently released audio documenting threats made to the crew of the Sea-Watch 4 in international waters by a Libyan patrol boat. During a rescue operation on 20 November the crew on Sea-Watch 4 managed to bring aboard six survivors who jumped in the ocean after being intercepted by a Libyan patrol boat and swam to safety. During the incident, the Libyan patrol boat “dangerously approached the Sea Watch 4”. On 17 November a shipwreck off Libya claimed at least 75 lives, while 15 people were saved by local fishermen. According to the international Organization for Migration (IOM) 1,236 men, women and children have died or gone missing on the central Mediterranean in 2021 as of 20 November.
On 22 November, European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson described her meeting with vice president of the Presidential Council of Libya, Moussa al-Koni, as “open” and “constructive”. The commissioner confirmed EU commitments to support Libya in “managing” its borders, also noting that: “Migration should be managed jointly along the routes, including that of the Sahel”. The statements came just one day before a communication was filed to the International Criminal Court (ICC) on grave crimes committed against migrants and refugees in Libya which may amount to crimes against humanity. The communication was filed by the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Lawyers for Justice in Libya (LFJL), in collaboration with survivors. The submission “names 19 alleged Libyan perpetrators including well-known militia chiefs”, and the organisations urges the ICC “to hold those responsible to account and put an end to these widespread and systematic crimes”. The accompanying report states that, in Libya: “migrants and refugees [have] experienced some of the worst atrocities at the hands of state and non-state actors alike. This report argues, firstly, that these atrocities may amount to crimes against humanity and, as such, should be investigated and prosecuted by the [ICC]. Secondly, it questions the role of the [EU] and its member states in facilitating these crimes […] the EU and its member states have implemented a series of radical measures to contain migrants and refugees in Libya, despite being fully aware of the crimes committed against them in the country. In cases where migrants and refugees do manage to escape to the Mediterranean Sea, policies have been put in place to ensure that migrants and refugees are returned to Libya”. 30,104 people have been intercepted and returned to Libya by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard supported by the EU in 2021 so far. Most are then detained in an indefinite and arbitrary manner in detention centres. In October, thousands were subjected to violence in a violent crack-down by Libyan authorities. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) this week announced the agency had facilitated the release of 58 asylum seekers from Ain Zara and Trik-Al-Sikka detention centres, most of whom were arrested in the October crackdown.
For further information:
Greece: Excessive Use of Detention, Shortcomings in Asylum Procedures, Food Crisis Develops as Assistance to Refugees and Asylum Seekers Halted
A new report outlines excessive use of administrative detention under dire conditions by Greek authorities. The Greek government has retreated on an announcement that asylum registration would be restricted to island hotspots, as report reveals an average delay of 14 months for applications on the mainland, Crete and Rhodes. NGOs warn of a food crisis as the result of the government’s decision to cease support for asylum applicants once they are granted protection and the halt of cash assistance to asylum seekers.
ECRE member Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) and Oxfam have released a report titled Detention as the Default, outlining: “How Greece, with the support of the EU, is generalizing administrative detention of migrants”. In 2019, Greece expanded the grounds for administrative detention of asylum seekers, limited the examination of alternatives to detention, and extended the duration of detention to up to 3 years. According to the organisations, this constitutes a “clear violation of European and Greek law”. In the first half of 2021, Greek authorities issued 9,575 decisions for administrative detention including 7,247 concerning returns, 1,980 concerning deportations, and 348 concerning asylum law. As of July 2021, 3,000 migrants were in administrative detention (detained without criminal charges). 46% of those detained had been detained for more than six months. The report points out that seven out of ten irregular migrants are “put in administrative detention with the majority remaining detained when applying for asylum”. One in five “are detained for a long period of time in police cells which are designed to only hold people for just a few hours”. Further: “Pregnant women, children and people with vulnerabilities are being placed in detention without the appropriate access to health care and legal aid”. Reportedly, almost 2,400 people of the detainees in Greece are in pre-removal detention, often under miserable conditions that have been heavily criticised, including by the Council of Europe’s anti-torture committee, the CPT. Legal expert at GCR Vasilis Papastergiou deems administrative detention “just another tool to stop people from seeking safety in Europe”. He points out that: “Europe’s hands are also not clean as the EU funds the new ‘closed and controlled’ quasi-detention centres, places where migrants are left to be forgotten”.
In September, Greek authorities began the transfer of asylum seekers a new facility on Samos This is the first of five new EU-funded “closed controlled” facilities to be established on Leros, Lesbos, Kos, Chios as well as Samos. The facility is located in a remote valley, surrounded with barbed wire fencing, and features surveillance cameras, x-ray scanners and magnetic doors. Detainees of the camp began protests on 18 November after Greek authorities announced the confinement of anyone without valid ID cards including new arrivals and people with a second rejection to their asylum application. NGOs have also urged the government to suspend measures that have restricted the movement of approximately half the camp population. In testimonies, people in centre describe “imprisonment”.
On 22 November the Greek authorities issued a circular establishing that asylum applications can only be submitted in the Reception and Identification Centres (RIC) on the Aegean island hotspots of Samos, Chios, Lesvos, Leros and in the Evros region. Following strong opposition in the parliament however, the government retreated and clarified that applicants will not be transferred from the mainland to the islands. Rather, the island centres will exclusively process the cases of people arriving by sea. The Mobile Info Team has released a report revealing delays of 14 months on average for asylum registration on mainland Greece, Crete and Rhodes where the only route to asylum is via Skype. The analysis is based on more than 1,100 case files and in-depth interviews with asylum applicants. Director of Mobile Info Team, Michael Kientzle, states: “Our research evidences that the Skype pre-registration system remains the most pervasive obstacle to asylum in Greece, with the effects of the lottery-like procedure being devastating for many”.
27 NGOs, including ECRE members GCR and Solidarity Now, warn that: “A halt to cash assistance for asylum seekers, and the denial of food support to recognised refugees and rejected asylum seekers is creating a hunger crisis in Greece”. In October 2021 the Greek government stopped providing services to asylum applications once they had been granted protection. According to the organisations: “For nearly two months, up to 60 per cent of current residents of the Greek refugee camps on the mainland have not had access to sufficient food”. After handing over the accommodation component of the Emergency Support to Integration and Accommodation (ESTIA) programme to the Greek government in May, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) handed over the cash assistance component of the scheme to Greek authorities in the beginning of October. Since then, the ESTIA programme has quickly unravelled. According to the 27 organisations as a result: “34,000 asylum seekers have gone for two months without cash assistance that had previously enabled them to buy food, clothing and other essential items”. Refugee Support Aegean quote an Afghan mother living in ESTIA housing: “My children were going to school for almost 2 years in Greece. Since we were transferred to another flat in Athens 6 months ago, they are out of school again. There are no places in schools there, I was told”.
ECRE member the Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration (ASGI) has issued a statement concerning an incident on 6 November when a group of four Italian citizens from the organisation were taken into custody: “by a mixed patrol of Greek policemen, border police and Frontex agents during a technical-legal visit at the Greek-Macedonian border near Idomeni, in Greece”. The group were brought back to the border crossing point and forced to return on foot to Macedonian territory. ASGI denounces the removal “from the territory of the European Union without justification, in an illegitimate manner and with informal procedures”. The organisation has sent letters to the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) as well as EU institutions regarding the incident.
On 21 November, one man died and four were injured – one is in serious condition – after a shipwreck off Crete. Reportedly, the response by the Hellenic Coast Guard was delayed. 70 Syrian survivors were able to disembark after being rescued by a cargo ship and a boat from port authorities. In the night of 19 November, seven people lost their life and eight were injured during a police chase of a suspected human smuggler in Xanthi in north-eastern Greece.
For further information:
RECENT REPORTS AND STATEMENTS
- PRO ASYL, Der Paritätische Gesamtverband, Diaconia, International Rescue Committee, Jesuit Refugee Service, SOS Children's Villages and others, Appell von Kinder- und Menschenrechtsorganisationen: Kinderrechtsverletzungen an den EU-Außengrenzen stoppen – Evakuierung jetzt! [Appeal from child and human rights organisations: stop child rights violations at the EU's external borders - evacuation now!]
- Global Protection Cluster, Iraq Protection Analysis Update, October 2021
- Oxfam, Greek Council for Refugees, Detention as the Default: How Greece, with the support of the EU, is generalizing administrative detention of migrants, November 2021
- Criminalisation of solidarity - #FreeHumanitarians is calling for the charges against three humanitarians facing 25 years in prison for saving lives at sea and providing aid to asylum seekers off Lesbos to be dropped.
- Criminalisation of refugees - Free the #SAMOS2 is urging Greece to drop the charges levelled against two asylum seekers accused of boat-driving.
- Human Rights Compliance - #HardlyRocketScience is ECRE’s campaign to ensure that the European Pact on Asylum and Migration will respect fundamental human rights.
- 30 November 2021, Report launch, SGBV and refugees in the UK: implications for protection, Institute for Research into Superdiversity.
- 30 November 2021, Launch, Mixed Migration Review 2021: Reframing Human Mobility in a Changing World, Mixed Migration Centre.
- 1-2 December 2021, Webinar, Training - LGBTQI + people in the asylum procedure, UNHCR and Council of Europe.
- 7 December 2021, Brussels and online, Final European Conference - TRIPS - Identification of TRafficked International Protection beneficiaries Special needs, Forum réfugiés-Cosi.
- 8 December 2021, The Hague and Online, Securing refugee rights in regions of origin, What rights and in whose interest? Meijers Committee and Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
- 8-9 December 2021, Brussels, Annual General Conference, ECRE.
- 9-10 December, Online, Lost in Migration 2021 Edition, Missing Children Europe.
- 13 December, Geneva, 2021 Internal Displacement Conference, IDMC.
- JRS Europe, Brussels, Regional Project Officer, rolling basis
- Sea-Eye, Onboard, Chief Engineer, Head of Department Logistics, Master, Onboard Logistician, Technical / Nautical Superintendent, Paramedic (temporary – December mission), ASAP
- The Refugee Journalism Project, UK, Paid Fellowship, 29 November 2021
- Hertie Centre for Fundamental Rights, Berlin, Postdoctoral Researcher - Algorithmic Fairness for Asylum Seekers and Refugees, 30 November 2021
- University of Oxford, Oxford, Associate Professorship in the Anthropology of Migration, 30 November 2021
- UNHCR, Geneva, External Relations Associate, 1 December 2021
- Asylum Matters, Wales, Campaigns Manager, 1 December 2021
- Asylum Support Appeals Project, East London, Solicitor, 5 December 2021
- PICUM, Brussels, Advocacy Officer, 16 December 2021
- Dutch Refugee Council, Brussels, Independent Advocacy Project Manager, 16 December 2021
- Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit, Manchester, Community Organiser, 7 January 2022
CALLS FOR PAPERS & OPEN CALLS