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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 82 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.

     
11 September 2015
  
ECRE
REPORTS AND NGO ACTIONS 
  
ECRE

ECRE to JHA Council: All EU Member States must show solidarity and act immediately

Ahead of the Extraordinary Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting of 14 and 15 September 2015, ECRE urges EU Member States and institutions to take decisive action to address what is primarily a refugee crisis, not only a migration phenomenon. ECRE urges Member States to take a comprehensive approach based on solidarity and respect for fundamental rights instead of the current piecemeal approach that risks encouraging a ‘race to the bottom’ in standards of protection.

To date, the lack of an effective and coordinated EU response to the increased arrivals of refugees and migrants at the main points of entry of the EU has generated additional suffering for the refugees and migrants concerned. This contrasts sharply with the overwhelming solidarity shown by EU citizens and NGOs all over Europe to the refugees arriving in EU Member States on a day-to-day basis. In this regard, the decision by the German government to allow thousands of refugees leaving Hungary to apply for asylum in Germany, in addition to its commitments on relocation and resettlement, is a remarkable expression of solidarity.

While the substantial increase of arrivals in the EU poses specific challenges and requires robust solidarity measures to increase the protection space within the EU, there is also a need to dramatically step up the number of resettlement places in the EU and other opportunities for refugees to come to the EU in a safe and legal way.

In a Memorandum addressed to the Ministers, ECRE raises a number of key concerns and recommendations with regard to current debates at EU level, primarily:
  • Responding to the Emergency - Commit to robust solidarity and responsibility-sharing efforts within the EU
Urgent and immediate action is needed to address the situation at the entry points of the EU and to ensure that asylum seekers have effective access to a fair and efficient asylum procedure. ECRE supports UNHCR’s call to increase relocation places to 200,000 for the three countries concerned as it corresponds with ECRE’s earlier call to increase the relocation effort to at least 70,000 places for Greece in particular. However, in light of the increasing trend in arrivals, ECRE urges EU institutions to provide for such relocation effort to be carried out within a year rather than over a two year period.
 
  • Increase significantly the number of resettlement places in the EU and the use of other safe and legal channels for persons in need of international protection
ECRE urges Member States to open up safe channels for refugees to find protection in the EU as the most effective way to disrupt the smugglers’ business model is to take away their reason for existence. In absence of legal channels to reach the EU, refugees and migrants are increasingly forced to put their faith in the hands of smugglers to find safety. This vicious circle needs to be broken. At the same time, saving lives at sea must remain a key priority.
 
  • Strengthening resilience and preparedness of asylum systems based on responsibility
Relocation can be an immediate answer to the emergency situation but it needs to go hand in hand with structural reforms and an increased effort to improve the quality and resilience of the asylum systems in Member States benefiting from it. It is important to ensure that relocation should not work as a disincentive for the States concerned to invest in setting up fair and efficient asylum systems in line with their obligations under international human rights and EU law. A further fundamental reform is needed to address the flaws of the CEAS and achieve a truly common approach based on solidarity and responsibility. In this regard, the march of thousands of refugees and migrants from Hungary through Austria to Germany has once again illustrated how the Dublin system has lost any purpose and should be replaced with a system of fair responsibility-sharing that is in the best interests of both States and asylum seekers.
 
  • Uphold the right to access a fair and efficient asylum procedure
The establishment of an EU common list of safe countries of origin is being proposed by the Commission as one of the tools to address the current increase in asylum applications. The use of the concept of safe country of origin itself raises fundamental questions from an international law perspective, as it may result in discriminatory treatment of refugees based on their country of origin, which is prohibited under Article 3 of the 1951 Refugee Convention. If applied in a hotspot context, as seems to be the intention, the application of a common safe country of origin list would further exacerbate such procedural unfairness.
 
Read the full Memorandum to the JHA Council.
 


Common asylum system at a turning point: Refugees caught in Europe’s solidarity crisis

On the 10 September 2015, ECRE’s Asylum Information Database (AIDA) launched their annual report on the state of asylum in Europe. With the largest global displacement crisis since World War II continuing apace, an unprecedented number of people are fleeing war and persecution to undertake dangerous, life-threatening journeys to try to reach safety. Faced with what is predominantly a refugee crisis unravelling at Europe’s borders and within, from Kos to Szeged and from Traiskirchen to Calais, the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) and Europe’s approach to asylum, have come to a turning point.

The report from AIDA has provided a comprehensive analysis of the state of the Union’s asylum policy, finding it lacking in solidarity and consistency, leading to ECRE’s Secretary-General Michael Diedring renewing his call for relocation, safe and legal channels to access Europe, resettlement, and long-term solutions in order to solve the refugee crisis.

Joined by experts from Forum Réfugiés-Cosi, the Greek Council for Refugees, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, and the Swiss Refugee Council, the launch saw appeals made for real responsibility-sharing across Europe, and critiques of a European system that has turned its back on refugees, or erected fences or other impediments to a humane reception. This system has caused further suffering to asylum seekers as they attempt risky routes, with a record 2,800 people dying or missing in the Mediterranean in 2015 alone.
While welcoming the EU Commission’s proposals to increase the number of people to be relocated from Italy, Greece, and Hungary to 160,000, ECRE’s Kris Pollet said that to be successful, this must be a ‘swift and flexible process which takes into account asylum seekers’ preferences and ties to specific Member States as far as possible’.  Equally, the proposed use of a common ‘safe country of origin’ list was questioned, as refugee status determination processes often reveal that asylum seekers coming from ‘safe countries of origin’ have international protection needs, such as in the case of Turkey, where 23.1% of Turkish asylum seekers were granted protection in the EU in 2014. The report warns that such a list may run the risk of a ‘race to the bottom’ in protection standards by standardising presumptions of safety in the name of convergence.

For further information:
 
 

NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS

Refugees in the Western Balkans are in urgent need of further assistance and protection
 
In the first week of September, a growing number of refugees have been arriving in Macedonia and Serbia. In both countries, since June 2015, it is estimated that between 2,500 and 3,000 refugees arrived every day. Therefore, despite some improvements, such as in the registration system and reception conditions, and the constant work of humanitarian organisations, the overall situation remains critical.

At the main asylum centres in Macedonia, international and local organisations, such as UNHCR and the Macedonian Red Cross, continue to distribute first aid parcels to refugees, including food, water and hygiene items. Legal and medical assistance is also provided. UNICEF has created a child-friendly area at Gevgelija Vinojug refugee centre.

However, as stressed by UNHCR and UNICEF, further assistance is needed, as existing water, sanitation and hygiene facilities remain insufficient, given the growing number of arrivals. Additional measures are to be put in place, especially for people with specific needs. Worryingly, a group of Macedonian doctors refused to provide medical services to refugees at the temporary clinic in Gevgelija.

From 19 June to 1 September 2015 53,571 refugees have registered their intention to seek asylum in Macedonia, including 9,305 children. Women and children represent one third of the total daily arrivals, UNICEF reports; a threefold increase since June 2015. Similarly, other refugees remain in a particular vulnerable situation. Most refugees are Syrians (43,478 people. 81% of the total), followed by Afghans and Iraqis.

In Serbia, at the recently opened asylum centres in Miratovac, Preševo, Belgrade and Kanjiža, various humanitarian organisations continue to offer protection and first aid assistance, including food and water, as well as legal and medical assistance; also thanks to UNHCR financial support.
However, refugees still face many difficulties. In particular, UNHCR raises concerns about the medical and sanitary conditions at the Preševo Centre, as well as at Subotica. In Belgrade, many refugees face medical problems, such as injuries caused by prolonged walking, cold and fatigue. Thousands of refugees, including children, have slept in the open, where the sanitary situation is problematic, even though numerous mobile toilets were located in the park.
Moreover, refugees were witnessed being forced by the police to stand in line and wait for hours to register their intention to seek asylum in Serbia. The Belgrade Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) was told that sometimes the police beat or gave electric shocks to those who get out of line; often they  don’t even allow refugees to go to the toilet, except for women and children.
Furthermore, as reported by BCHR, the new asylum facilities are neither permanent nor adequate for long-term stay. Consequently, refugees get registered and move on towards EU countries, before applying for asylum. This puts them in a vulnerable situation, as pointed out by Igor Mitrović, Serbia County Director of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), because without registering, refugees cannot claim rights and services and have no access to medical assistance.

According to the latest statistics, in 2015 104,915 refugees have thus far expressed the intention to seek asylum in Serbia; of them, 37,195 asylum seekers were registered in August alone, including 25,106 Syrians, 3,981 Afghans and 2,492 Iraqis.

On Friday 4 September, Interior Ministries of Macedonia, Hungary, Austria and Serbia signed a Memorandum of Understanding, under which they agreed to deploy mixed patrols and police teams on the borders between Serbia and Hungary, Serbia and Macedonia and Macedonia and Greece. According to the Macedonian Interior Minister, this document will be the basis of further activities to be discussed at the coming meeting of EU Interior Ministers.

See more detailed information in our news brief from 4 September 2015.
 
 
 
EUROPEAN DEVELOPMENTS

Juncker calls for bold, determined and concerted EU response to the refugee crisis

In his first State of the European Union to the European Parliament, European Commission’s President Jean-Claude Juncker highlighted the necessity of managing the unfolding refugee crisis that Europe is currently witnessing.
 
Acknowledging the important steps taken so far, such as the European Agenda on Migration in May providing for the relocation of initially 40,000 people seeking international protection from Italy and Greece, he noted the need for further action in view of the "impressive" numbers of people making their way to Europe. He mentioned "It is time for bold, determined and concerted action by the European Union, by its institutions and by all its Member States."  
He called upon European solidarity in order for Member States to support countries like Italy, Greece and Hungary that are receiving the highest numbers of refugees. Therefore, he proposed a second emergency mechanism to relocate a further 120,000 from the three countries, raising the number to 160,000 refugees redistributed under a compulsory scheme. In addition, he proposed a common EU list of safe countries of origin in order to easily identify people in need of international protection, thus enabling Member States to fast track asylum procedures for nationals of countries that are considered to be safe to live in.
 
He also called for a review of the Dublin system and expressed his opinion in favour of allowing asylum seekers to work while their applications are being processed. He then called on Member States to re-examine their integration and inclusion policies.
 
Juncker also highlighted that a common refugee and asylum policy requires stronger efforts for securing EU’s external borders, by strengthening Frontex as well as opening legal channels for migration, therefore making the illegal services of smugglers less attractive.  
He concluded by pointing out the need of addressing the root causes of the current refugee crisis, namely the war and instability in the neighbouring to Europe countries. To this end, he announced the Commission’s proposal of establishing an emergency Trust Fund, starting with €1.8 billion from our common EU financial means to address the crises in the Sahel and Lake Chad regions, the Horn of Africa, and the North of Africa.
 
“With his State of the Union address, President Juncker’s joins ECRE and other NGOs who have been saying that Europe cannot turn its back on people fleeing from conflict zones like Syria, Iraq, Eritrea or Afghanistan. He also opens the door for additional channels for refugees to reach Europe in a safe and legal manner, which has been long standing demand from our side. It is now in the hands of the Member States to show solidarity and a real union within the EU,” said Michael Diedring, ECRE’s Secretary General.

For further information:
 
 
REPORTS AND NGO ACTIONS 

#WeApologise: CSO Open Letter to People Fleeing War, Persecution and Poverty

As Europeans, #WeApologise on behalf of our national and European leaders for their inexcusable lack of coordinated humanitarian aid to the situation you and thousands of others are in while crossing our borders to escape war, persecution and poverty.

We understand that making this journey was not an easy decision for you and may have involved putting the lives of your loved ones at risk, or worse. We will continue to urge our decision-makers to provide safe and regular channels to the EU, so that your wellbeing does not rest in the hands of people smugglers.

Civil society organisations and thousands of people across the EU are taking a stand despite many governments’ inaction by opening their homes, sharing their food and donating their clothes. We will keep pressuring our politicians to fulfil their humanitarian obligation to ensure the provision of such services rather than leaving it up to individuals or organisations to provide them without support.

The decision you made that led you here to Europe required a lot of courage. We implore our leaders to demonstrate the same courage by coming together to find a pan-European response that respects each individual’s human rights regardless of their status

While several of our leaders seem to have forgotten the EU’s core values of solidarity and human rights, we have not. The EU has the capacity to welcome you with open arms, and the unwillingness to do so is an embarrassment to us. We acknowledge your right to seek refuge in safer regions and to be treated with dignity. We also recognise the contribution that you can make and we will fight to give you this opportunity.

In solidarity,

Social Platform 
(Click here to see signatories)

 
EVENTS

#EuropeSaysWelcome: Day of Action in solidarity with Refugees Saturday 12 September 

The shameful lack of political action by the EU in response to high arrivals of refugees and to provide safe routes for them to travel to Europe has driven citizens to take action to welcome them with compassion and humanity. Civil society, activists and volunteers across Europe have demonstrated solidarity and taken it upon themselves to respond to the humanitarian needs of refugees by stepping in where their governments have failed to act. This includes organising aid convoys to Calais, distributing warm healthy meals in Budapest, donating items to refugees in Lesvos and offering homes to resettled refugees in Iceland. ECRE has produced a non-exhaustive document which maps some of these citizens’ initiatives and will be frequently updated. If you wish to add an event or initiative in your country, please contact rcarvalho@ecre.org.  

A number of solidarity events will take place on Saturday 12 September as part of a European Day of Action which will use the hashtag #EuropeSaysWelcome. This is timed to take place ahead of the emergency summit of Justice and Interior Ministers of the 28 Member States on 14 September to discuss the migration crisis. The Day of Action aims to put pressure on political leaders by showing the extensive public support for positive change. Public demonstrations and marches will take place throughout Europe, which are primarily organised via Social Media. Candlelight vigils will also be held in memory of those who have died attempting to reach safety. Thousands of citizens are taking part to send the clear message that refugees are welcome in Europe. 
For further information:
 

Other events