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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 90 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.

     
16 December 2016
  
Dear Reader,

Thanks for following the ECRE Weekly Bulletin - with this edition we conclude an intense year. We wish you a good winter break with time to digest the political developments we have witnessed in 2016 and to gather strength and energy for a hopefully more positive 2017!

Warmest season greetings, the ECRE Weekly Bulletin will return in January next year.  


 

EUROPEAN DEVELOPMENTS


NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS

UNITED NATIONS

REPORTS AND NGO ACTION
  

EUROPEAN DEVELOPMENTS

EU signs deal with Mali as part of Partnership Framework

On Sunday 11 December the European Union and the government of Mali signed a Joint Declaration focusing on addressing root causes of migration and strengthening cooperation on the return of irregular migrants who did not receive refugee status in the EU.
 
The declaration was signed by the Dutch minister of Foreign Affairs, Bert Koenders, on behalf of Federica Mogherini after a visit to the Mali’s capital Bamako. The agreement follows the Valletta summit from November 2015, when EU and African leaders agreed to set up a €1.8-billion fund to help address the root causes of migration. Mali is currently chairing the Steering Committee of the Rabat Process, and therefore will play an important role in the preparations of the Valletta Senior Officials Meeting in February 2017.
 
The recognition rate of asylum seekers from Mali in the EU is 29.2% on average. Italy – currently the main country of destination has a recognition rate of 36.2%. However, the return rates remain very modest. The declaration aims at cooperation on legal migration, protection of refugees and migrants, prevention and fight against irregular migration including trafficking and the return, readmission and reintegration of irregular migrants and further focuses on speeding up technical cooperation and strengthening the returns on the basis of existing agreements.
 
The declaration reflects the same approach as the EU-Turkey deal and the June 2016 Partnership Framework Agreement on which the European Commission released its second progress report on 14 December. The Joint Declaration is hailed in the progress report as proof of the fact that the Partnership Framework is producing results on the ground in Mali. The progress report also states that stepping up the work on the transit dimension of Mali is now a priority as well as further strengthening cooperation on effective returns.
 
For further information:
    



Greek requests to move specific groups from islands to mainland detention centres under EU-Turkey deal

The Greek Minister for Migration Policy, Ioannis Mouzalas, wrote a letter to the EU Member States’ interior ministers on 8 December ahead of the Justice and Home Affairs Council, asking to reconsider and approve Greece’s request to transfer specific groups of people from the hotspots on the islands to selected detention centres on the mainland, without exempting them from the application of the EU-Turkey statement. The move to detention centres in the mainland aims particularly at removing persons who pose security concerns or a risk of absconding.
 
Whereas the EU-Turkey statement does not explicitly require persons to remain on the Greek islands for the purpose of readmission to Turkey, such a condition has been read into the terms of the deal. Thereby Greece is currently only allowed to transfer asylum seekers whose claims are considered admissible to the mainland. People with family links to other EU countries or vulnerabilities, who were until now exempted from the implementation of the statement, are to be confined to the islands with a view to readmission following a Joint Action Plan published by the European Commission last week.
 
Greece has at least eight pre-removal detention centres spread across the mainland. In a Commission report of 4 March 2016, the maximum capacity of pre-removal detention centres in Greece was set at 5,359 places, although these were misrepresented as reception places. This number does not include the hotspots on Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos, or the Reception and Identification Centre in Evros. Refugees and migrants entering the hotspots on the islands are in fact deprived of their liberty, even though the Greek legal framework only refers to restrictions on their freedom of movement upon arrival.
 
The proliferation of detention in Greece raises serious human rights concerns, including in the mainland. A recent monitoring report found many detention facilities such as the Orestiada pre-removal centre to fall short of international standards for the detention of non-nationals. Living conditions in centres including the Corinth pre-removal centre have also been criticised this year for failing to abide by standards.
 
Beyond the persisting lack of adequate detention conditions, persons applying in pre-removal detention centres face long delays before they can have their claims registered, which have reached up to three months in Amygdaleza. Whereas an asylum seeker can only be detained on specific grounds during the examination of their application, in most cases the Asylum Service orders the continuation of detention of asylum seekers under standard recommendations.
 
For further information:
 

NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS

Belgian State Secretary refuses to issue humanitarian visa to family in Aleppo

The refusal of the State Secretary for Asylum and Migration, Theo Francken (Flemish Nationalist Party - NVA), to issue a visa to a Syrian family of 4 in Aleppo has dominated media in Belgium over the past weeks. The refusal was given despite the evident dangers of a deteriorating situation in Aleppo and the fact that a Belgian family is willing to pay the transportation costs and provide support upon arrival in Belgium. The Syrian family had requested a humanitarian visa via the Belgian embassy in Beirut, with a view to enter Belgium legally and apply for asylum, thus avoiding having to resort to smugglers.
 
The family’s request was refused three times by the Aliens Office. The first two refusal decisions were suspended by the Council for Alien Law Litigation (CALL) on the basis that they were not sufficiently reasoned. A third refusal decision by the Aliens Office was again overruled by CALL, this time accompanied by an order to issue a humanitarian visa within 48 hours. Confronted with the refusal of the State Secretary to execute the judgment and issue the visa, the family brought a successful interlocutory proceeding brought before the Court of First Instance, condemning the Belgian government to a penal sum of 1000 euro per family member per day the visa is not issued.   However, the State Secretary further challenged this judgment before the Court of Appeal and currently before the Cassation Court, resulting for the time being in the provisional suspension of the payment of the penal sum, which will further prolong the procedure with several months.
 
At the same time the State Secretary for Asylum challenged the CALL’s judgment before the Council of State on the basis that it is not within the competences of the CALL to impose an obligation on the State to issue a visa, arguing that this would imply a right for any person in the same circumstances as the applicants to be granted a visa.  In the State Secretary’s view, the issuance of such visa remains within the State Secretary’s discretionary power. This proceeding will take several more months.
 
The State Secretary reiterated in press and parliament time and again that he had no intention of paying the penal sum or issuing a visa. This was backed by a highly contested campaign launched by the State Secretary’s political party depicting judges as ‘unworldly’, an accusation further polarizing the debate and dangerously close to interfering with the division of powers.
 
The family has pleaded to the Prime Minister and stated that any kind of visa that would allow them to leave Syria and enter Belgium is acceptable. As a reaction to this the Prime Minister and the State Secretary have stated that they are willing to negotiate on behalf of the family with Lebanese authorities in order to grant them a visa there. Ironically, Lebanon is currently housing over 1 million refugees, whereas Belgium accepted a mere 35.000 refugees in the record-breaking year 2015. The Syrian family refused this and already announced that as a gesture proving that they are looking for safety and not money the penal sum will be donated to the Belgian Network against Poverty. The Syrian family is currently still in Aleppo.
 
Meanwhile the CALL referred preliminary reference questions to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in a similar case.  the CJEU is asked to clarify whether or not a Member State is under an obligation to issue a humanitarian visa on the basis of Article 25 EU Visa Code in case a risk of violation of Article 4 (prohibition of torture and inhuman/degrading treatment) or 8 (right to asylum) EU Charter of Fundamental Rights or another international obligation has been demonstrated and whether the existence of a special link between the applicant and the Member State sollicited is relevant. An answer by the CJEU is expected in 3 to 4 months and could possibly affect the outcome of this case. A summary of this referral can be found on the European Database of Asylum Law (EDAL).
 
                                
For more information, see:
 
Steve Peers, External processing of applications for international protection in the EU, April 2016.
Deredactie, Waarover gaat de visumrel tussen Francken en de Syrische familie, December 2016.
Le Soir, Refus de visas à une famille syrienne: la Cour de justice européenne saisie, December 2016.

 


Germany to accelerate deportations of asylum seekers, whose application has been rejected

In the coming months, the German federal government will significantly increase the deportations of asylum seekers, whose application for international protection have been rejected. To achieve this objective, several new immigration detention centres will be developed with the aim to improve the German deportation system and save expenses, as advised by a recent McKinsey report.
 
The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees had commissioned the consultancy firm McKinsey to conduct a feasibility study in order to develop a better repatriation system, including voluntary repatriation as well as deportation. The McKinsey report, which remains confidential, proposes 14 measures to be implemented for a “stricter repatriation for foreigners obliged to leave.” This includes, inter alia, a return management project between the federal and state governments, the creation of a financial incentive system with higher funding rates, and a systematic digital registration system.
 
The McKinsey report has been criticised for further undermining the right to asylum. This week the first collective deportation to Afghanistan has taken place with more planned in 2017. Meanwhile, the number of Afghans receiving protection status has decreased significantly. 
 
For further information  
 

UNITED NATIONS

UN: migrants face human rights crisis while European Council discusses cooperation with Libyan Coast Guards

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN mission in Libya (UNSMIL) published their report “Detained and Dehumanised” this week highlighting human rights abuses that migrants and refugees face in Libya. The report proposes policy recommendations to the Libyan and EU governments.

The report concludes that many migrants in Libya suffer human rights abuses such as arbitrary detention and inhumane conditions of detention, torture, other ill-treatment as well as unlawful killings and sexual exploitation. Many are arbitrarily held in detention centres run mostly by the government Department for Combatting Illegal Migration (DCIM). In these centres, conditions are inhumane as they are overcrowded, lack access to toilet or washing facilities, food and clean water and detainees are exposed to physical violence, humiliations and extortion from guards. Further, the report finds that groups pledging alliance to ISIL frequently abduct and abuse individuals. Finally, men believed to be from the Libyan Coast Guard are reported to have carried out life-threatening interceptions during search and rescue operations. UN High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein stated, “The list of violations and abuses faced by migrants in Libya is as long as it is horrific.”

UNSML and OCHR urge the Libyan government to address the human rights violation of migrants by ending arbitrary detention of all migrants, to immediately release migrants in the most vulnerable positions, to reduce the number of detention centres and to facilitate the work of UNHCR and IOM in the country. In the medium term they propose to decriminalize irregular migration and ensure the ratification of the 1951 Refugee Convention, 1967 Protocol and the adoption of national asylum law.

They further recommend that destination countries, including the EU Member States, expand safe and regular entry channels, continue search and rescue operations, human rights based training to Libyan institutions engaging with migrants. 

At this week’s European Council the importance of cooperation with Libyan Coast Guards in the framework if EUNAVFOR MED Operation Sophia was reaffirmed. Human Rights Watch Middle East and North Africa Director, Sarah Leah Whitson stressed “The UN has made clear that Libyan authorities should end the torture, forced labor, and sexual violence that has been the lot of detained migrants for years. The partners in Libya’s policies toward migrants, including the EU, should insist on nothing less.”

For further information:
 

REPORTS AND NGO ACTIONS

ECRE introduces policy notes in new format

"The ECRE Policy Note series introduces a new shorter format to provide a succinct overview of our positions, drawing on the rigorous detailed analysis that is heart of ECRE's work. The format is intended to ensure that the broadest possible audience is reached," says Catherine Woollard, ECRE Secretary General.

The first three policy notes are available at the ECRE website and we will present the following editions in the Weekly Bulletin as they are produced.
ECRE’S Policy note assesses legal provisions and practice on mutual recognition and recommends reforms to create a common status valid across the EU.
ECRE’s Policy note provides an overview of the main changes in the proposal to recast the Dublin Regulation and presents its recommendations for the EU policy-makers working on the recast.
ECRE’s Policy note analyzes the proposal for an EU resettlement framework and sets out ECRE’s recommendations for breaking the link with migration control and preserving the humanitarian focus of resettlement.

 

Algeria deports hundreds of West African migrants to Niger

Human Rights Watch reports that Algerian authorities have deported more than 1,400 West African migrants to Niger since 1 December 2016. Although it is not the first time Algeria returns migrants to Niger, the latest series of mass deportations indicates more determined efforts and raise concerns for migrants across the region. The Algerian government has made no official statements about the operation.

According to the Human Rights Watch report released on Friday migrants were rounded up in the capital Algiers and transported 1,900 kilometers south to a camp in Tamanrasset, from which some were bused across the border to Niger. Media reported that officials in central Niger, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Human Rights Watch, stated that  a convoy of 50 trucks with at least 1000 migrants has arrived in Agadez in central. Giuseppe Loprete, the head of IOM's mission in Niger, explains that 271 of the migrants were from Niger, whereas the other migrants were from West African countries, mainly Mali and Guinea Conakry.

Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch Middle East and North Africa director, warns that a mass deportations of migrants, including men and women who may have fled persecution or have worked for years in Algeria is a violation of their rights. As a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, Algeria is not allowed to forcibly return any recognized refugee, asylum seeker or any other foreigner to a place where they would face a threat of being persecuted, tortured, or subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment. Human Rights Watch stresses that the claims of anyone expressing such fears should be examined in full, and fair refugee status determination procedures should be completed before anyone can be deported.
For further  information:
 

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