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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.

     
7 October 2016
  
The ECRE Weekly Bulletin will go on a break from next week. Keep an eye on our Facebook and Twitter pages for regular updates. 
 
OP-ED

ECRE

EUROPEAN DEVELOPMENTS

NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS

REPORTS & NGO ACTIONS
  

OP-ED

The majority of Hungarians did not yield to the government’s xenophobic campaign – Op-ed by Hungarian Helsinki Committee

On 2 October, the majority of Hungarian voters refused to cast a valid ballot at the so-called ‘quota referendum’. The referendum that asked ‘Do you want the European Union to be able to mandate the obligatory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens into Hungary even without the approval of the National Assembly?’ drew a little over 44% of eligible voters after an aggressive campaign that cost around 50 million euros.

Of those who actually voted, 98% answered no. However, a record high number, more than 7% of voters either took the ballot papers home or cast an invalid vote. The Hungarian Helsinki Committee, together with dozens of other NGOs and social movements, called for voters to participate and cast invalid ballots in order to show their active resistance to a senseless referendum that was an abuse of one of the most important features of democracy, that is, the direct involvement of the people in the decision-making procedure.

Even if the vote had been valid, its legal consequence would have been unclear. The Hungarian Helsinki Committee argued, as early as May this year that as the question seeks to address an issue over which the Hungarian Parliament has no jurisdiction, no clear obligation would have arisen, even if the vote had been valid. Thus it should come as no surprise that the Hungarian government carefully withheld any concrete information during the campaign that would have indicated the exact changes that a valid ‘no’ vote would have brought about.

The government’s expansive and expensive campaign featured xenophobic elements with asylum seekers and refugees being equated to terrorists, Western European capitals being described as “no-go zones”, and where the central administration allegedly lost control to violent gangs of migrants. By the end of the campaign, much of the population believed that Hungary was in a state of siege rather than being a peaceful EU Member State. Moreover, the campaign created a hysteria that resulted in the physical abuse of activists campaigning for an invalid vote and the humiliation of women wearing headscarves.  All of this led to the Hungarian Helsinki Committee warning that the estimated financial costs (equating to the sum of the average monthly salary of one hundred thousand Hungarians) are likely going to be dwarfed by the long-term effects that the xenophobic hate campaign would have on Hungarian society.

With the result of the referendum being invalid, the Hungarian government is at a crossroads. It could either double down on its rhetoric and continue to pursue the wilful dismantling of the Hungarian asylum system, a strategy the majority of voters clearly refused last Sunday, or it could finally start acting responsibly and accept that to address the challenges posed by international migration, especially forced migration, dialogue and partnership is needed between states. It seems that the Hungarian electorate have opted for the latter, refusing to engage with the government’s scaremongering, xenophobia and empty anti-EU rhetoric.

Despite the invalidity of the referendum, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán boasted about the 3 million no votes and pledged to amend the constitution in order to ensure that no forced quotas would ever be imposed on Hungary by the European Union. However, almost a week after the failed referendum, the Prime Minister has yet to publish the  text of his proposed constitutional amendments. Nonetheless, Minister of Justice László Trócsányi stated that the amendment will be a “spiritual” one, as opposed to a specific, detailed, technical one.

In the end, there are no winners in this situation: the government did not get the legitimacy it sought from the referendum, and the majority of the electorate voted with their feet, refusing to engage with the government’s plans. Most of those seeking asylum are still denied access to the country and face brutality from various groups at Hungary’s borders. Those granted international protection may still be forced into homelessness and destitution. Lastly, it is Hungarian society as a whole that pays the largest price: despite the government bearing sole responsibility for the incitement of hatred and xenophobia, we will all have to live with these consequences and who knows how long into the future they will last.
 
 

ECRE

ECRE Comments on Commission proposal for reform of the Dublin system

ECRE has published Comments on the Commission proposal to recast the Dublin Regulation, tabled by the Commission on 4 May 2016 as part of the first package of reforms of the Common European Asylum Systems (CEAS). This paper follows ECRE’s earlier positions on the Eurodac reform and the creation of an EU Asylum Agency.
 
This long awaited and heavily debated proposal envisages the fourth version of the EU’s mechanism for allocating responsibility for asylum seekers between Member States (“Dublin IV” Regulation). ECRE identifies two characteristics of serious concern in the Dublin IV proposal. On the one hand, far from rethinking the fundamentally flawed principles underpinning the EU’s mechanism for allocating responsibility for asylum applications across the continent, the proposal reinforces many of the mechanism’s flawed premises. With some limited exceptions such as broader family reunification possibilities through the expansion of the definition of family members, asylum seekers face stricter and unfair rules, likely to further undermine their trust in the CEAS.
 
These measures include far-reaching sanctions when people move between Member States, unlawful limitations on applicants’ right to an effective remedy, and a high likelihood of having their claim rejected before ever reaching the Dublin system. The latter stems from the proposal’s aim to require Member States of first entry to assess whether an asylum seeker can be transferred to a “safe third country” or a “first country of asylum”, or be subjected to accelerated examination for “safe country of origin” or security reasons, before triggering the Dublin Regulation.
 
Member States, for their part, would see their distribution inequalities heavily exacerbated under the Dublin IV Regulation, as countries of first entry would be required to conduct admissibility and merit-related assessments before applying the Regulation. Given the deletion of existing clauses ceasing a Member State’s responsibility after a lapse of time, these countries would face perpetual responsibility and have no means of relief from their obligation when a transferring country is not complying with time limits for transferring an applicant.
 
At the same time, the proposal only engages with measures of responsibility-sharing through a corrective allocation mechanism which is triggered at an unduly high threshold and raises a number of practical concerns for Member States and asylum seekers.
 
While providing detailed input on the various provisions of the proposed recast, ECRE urges co-legislators to adopt a holistic, pragmatic review of the Dublin system, and to engage with deeper, bolder reform options going beyond the proposals made by the Commission. Not least in relation to measures of solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility, the proposal regrettably presents an insufficient mechanism and leaves inequality and unfairness as key tenets of the EU’s system for distribution of responsibility. To generate understanding, trust and compliance – from both Member States and applicants – the Dublin system must be protective and fair to all parties involved in the asylum process.
 
For further information:
 

ECRE Comments on Reception Conditions Directive recast proposal

 
ECRE has published its Comments on the European Commission’s proposal to recast the Reception Conditions Directive, laying down standards for the reception of asylum seekers in the European Union.
 
ECRE welcomes the improvements proposed by the Commission with regard to clearer, more protective definition of material reception conditions and standards applicable to all forms of accommodation, both relating to regular and exceptional reception measures taken by Member States. This is particularly important in light of the frequent use of substandard accommodation in transit zones or at border locations, arguably in a state of detention, in countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, France and Hungary, as well as in the “hotspots” established in Greece and Italy.
 
The provisions on contingency planning, access to the labour market and identification of special reception needs are equally positive as a general step, though the Comments provide potential improvements thereto to ensure that asylum seekers are more effectively protected in line with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and may integrate faster and better into their host countries.
 
On the other hand, ECRE raises severe concerns as to the restrictive and punitive measures aimed at addressing secondary movements, which are acknowledged by the Commission as a phenomenon stemming to a large extent from Member States’ own failure to adhere to their reception obligations. The exclusion of applicants from reception conditions for reasons of absconding, as well as a range of preventive and punitive restrictions to the fundamental rights to free movement and liberty create strong tension with primary EU law as enshrined in the Charter, while also contradicting existing jurisprudence of European courts.
 
From a practical perspective, the objectives of compliance with the Dublin system and fostering integration are unlikely to be pursued through a coercive approach; if anything, sanctions are liable to push asylum seekers into more irregularity. To that end, ECRE urges the Council and the European Parliament to pragmatically assess how best to address the problem of people moving from one county to the other, by exploring incentives and ensuring that problems of poor implementation of reception standards are not attributed as moral blame on those seeking protection.
  
For further information:
 

New AIDA briefing on the length of asylum procedures

A new legal briefing published this week by the Asylum Information Database (AIDA) examines the length of asylum procedures across 20 European countries. The briefing analyses the transposition and implementation of time limits set out in the recast Asylum Procedures Directive for completing the regular asylum procedure, special procedures applicable to specific caseloads, as well as appeals against negative decisions. Overall, European practice confirms the non-binding character of procedural deadlines, which do not seem to be followed by asylum authorities in most cases.
 
Whereas the Directive provides for the examination of an asylum application within 6 months, a number of countries such as the Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy, Hungary and Serbia have laid down deadlines shorter than 6 months for processing asylum applications under the regular procedure. These have often proved difficult to comply with in recent practice, however.
 
The possibility under the Directive to postpone the examination of an application in the case of an uncertain situation in the country of origin, which is expected to be temporary, raises tensions with the rights to international protection and good administration. Recent practices of postponement in countries such as Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands have been criticised for unduly delaying outcomes to asylum seekers’ requests for protection. Significantly longer processing periods are also reported currently in France and Germany for certain nationalities.
 
For further information:  
 

Registration open for the Advanced ELENA Course: The Rights of Refugees

The Advanced ELENA Course: The Rights of Refugees will take place on Friday 2 December and Saturday 3 December 2016. The Course will be held in the NH Berlin Mitte Leipziger Strasse hotel in Berlin, Germany.
 
This year the Advanced ELENA Course aspires to provide an engaging forum for legal practitioners and decision makers to discuss, analyse and reflect upon the legal avenues that can be used in order to advance the rights of asylum seekers and refugees. There will also be an examination of how exclusion and cessation clauses are applied. Finally, the course will focus on recent European jurisprudence on asylum law and the new roles of EU border and asylum agencies.
 
Interested participants should register by Monday 7 November 2016 to secure a place. However, given the limited places available, interested persons are recommended to reserve their place as soon as possible.
 
 

EUROPEAN DEVELOPMENTS

EU strong-arms Afghanistan to accept back people in exchange for aid

In the run-up to the Brussels Donor Conference on Afghanistan on 4 and 5 October, leaked documents illustrated how the EU is pressuring Afghanistan to take back Afghan nationals who were refused international protection in Europe and failed to return voluntarily in exchange for aid. Over 85,000 Afghans applied for asylum in the EU in the first half of 2016, and 200,000 Afghans lodged a protection claim in 2015, making them the second-largest group of asylum seekers in Europe.

Even though the EU acknowledges in the leaked documents that the security situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating, a conclusion that EASO also came to in the recently published Country of Origin report on Afghanistan, the EU still envisages to make development aid dependent on migration management. This practice forms part of a greater strategy of tying development aid to migration management based on previous experiences with the EU-Turkey deal.

As a result of this very dubious quid pro quo approach to the provision of aid, a deal between the EU and Afghanistan was signed on Sunday 2 October, in which the EU requires Afghanistan to readmit 80,000 nationals. According to Timor Sharan, a senior analyst for the International Crisis Group in Afghanistan, this is far too many people for the Afghan authorities to adequately manage. “The EU’s short-term, political, domestically inspired response to a humanitarian crisis of this magnitude is counterproductive,” he added. The agreement, named Joint Way Forward, would also open up possibilities for the deportation of women and even unaccompanied children, so far only practiced by Norway.

“Trading the return of people who reached the EU to seek asylum to one of a country that is still clearly unstable, for vitally needed humanitarian and development aid is sordid and immoral,” said Amnesty International’s Afghanistan researcher Said Horia Mosadiq. “This was a bullying manoeuvre to wash their hands of their responsibilities to Afghans at home and in Europe.”

Stressing the hypocrisy of the EU to continue doing deals with third countries, ECRE’s Aspasia Papadopoulou says: “While ECRE has been stressing that Turkey is not a ‘safe third country’ and people should not be sent back, this deal is in a sense even worse than the EU-Turkey deal. With this deal, the EU wants to forcibly send back Afghans to a country in conflict. Evidence is there about the situation in the country, there are no excuses for the EU.”

In an attempt to focus on more long-term solutions, the Brussels Donor Conference on Afghanistan resulted in raising 15.3 billion EUR for the following 4 years, thereby falling slightly short of the 16 billion donated at the 2012 Tokyo Donor Conference. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch sent letters to Federica Mogherini ahead of the Donor Conference to “ensure that human rights are front and centre of any discussions on the future of the country to prevent a worsening of an already grave and fragile human rights situation”.

Amnesty International called on the EU to take into account the rights of the 1.2 million internally displaced Afghans when deciding on future funding and to urge the Afghan government to take concrete steps to ensure that all allegations of threats or attacks against human rights defenders are reported to government authorities. Human Rights Watch centred its calls on four key issues: military use of schools, right to education, media freedom and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.  
 
 

NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS

Overcrowded hotspots in Greece: Increased policing and planned transfer of the most vulnerable to the mainland

Following the fire in the Moria hotspot on the Greek island of Lesvos, the rape of an unaccompanied minor at the same site and reports on rising opposition of local politicians and inhabitants towards refugees, the Greek Alternate Minister of Migration announced plans to address the increasingly tense situation on the island.

The Minister, Ioannis Mouzalas, has proposed to focus on detecting and separating refugees and migrants involved in criminal activities in the islands from families, to transfer the most vulnerable to the mainland, and to increase policing on the islands. In addition, the outlined plan refers to an increase in EASO staff, staffing of the Appeals Committees with judges in accordance with a recent legislative reform, and a commitment to return 150 people per day to Turkey. According to the Minister, transferring everyone out of the islands is not an option, as this would go against the EU-Turkey deal.

With the rising numbers of arrivals and staff shortages, there are currently 14,581 asylum seekers waiting in closed centres, which are designed to only accommodate 7,450 persons. The transfer of unaccompanied minors, the elderly and sick to the mainland as part of the government strategy was expected to begin this week to alleviate some of this overcrowding.

Amnesty International has this week started campaigning  to stop what would be the first forced return of a Syrian asylum seeker from a Greek island to Turkey, under the EU-Turkey deal. The asylum seeker’s application was declared inadmissible in Greece, both at first instance and on appeal, on the grounds that Turkey is a “safe third country” for him. Several Appeals Committees’ decisions have previously rebutted the “safe third country” presumption regarding Turkey, however the composition of the Committees has recently changed.

For further information:
 

REPORTS

SOS Children’s Villages calls for quality care for children on the move

In a new position paper on refugee and migrant children, SOS Children’s Villages has outlined recommendations for states to ensure that children’s right to quality care is protected, no matter their migration status.

“Half of all refugees are children. When discussing how our societies should respond to the displacement of people fleeing their homes, we should never forget it is children that we are talking about,” said SOS Children’s Villages’ Head of Global Advocacy, Kélig Puyet to the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. “All children have a right to quality care. Under no circumstance should a child end up alone, on the street, in detention, without access to education or any other inhumane condition, regardless of whether they have crossed an international border.”

SOS Children’s Villages calls for the prevention of unnecessary family separation of refugee and migrant children, the provision of quality family and community-based care to unaccompanied and separated children, the appointment of guardians to unaccompanied children, and the removal of barriers to family reunification.

SOS Children’s Villages urges authorities to put an end to the administrative detention of children and shows in examples of their work that there are alternatives. In Mexico, SOS Children’s Villages is caring for unaccompanied children who have been detained by the Mexican authorities. SOS Children’s Villages underlines that when the children arrived at the SOS programme after having been in detention, they were suffering from anxiety and post-traumatic stress and SOS co-workers had to immediately start focusing on their psychological recovery.

Furthermore, the paper includes information on the organisation’s work with migrant and refugee children in Austria, Finland and the Western Balkan route. SOS Children’s Villages is operational in countries of origin, countries of first refuge and transit and countries where refugees and migrants are finding new homes. The organisations helps families to stay together, provides humanitarian aid, counselling, child friendly spaces for children and families, language courses and educational and vocational opportunities, as well as a range of family-based care for children.
 
 

Migrants and asylum seekers are being routinely detained in Bulgaria, report finds

The Center for Legal Aid - Voice in Bulgaria finds in its latest report that asylum seekers and migrants in Bulgaria are routinely detained without an individual assessment. The report also highlights that unaccompanied children are currently being detained, in grave violation of the Law of the Foreigners in the Republic of Bulgaria.

Statistics in the report show that the number of detained persons has been rising since 2012. In 2015, for instance, 11,902 people were detained, including 2,523 children. Nationalities of people facing detention include Syrians, Afghans, and Iraqis. Most detention orders are given for irregularly crossing the border, lack of identity documents or intention to transit through Bulgaria to another country. Detention conditions are poor, people are not given information about their situation in a language they understand and there is an absence of medical care, the report states.

The report recommends the adoption of clear guidelines for assessing the different legal bases for detention, the regular provision of legal aid and interpretation services at detention and the effective use of alternatives to detention. The Centre for Legal Aid also calls on authorities to create open centres for unaccompanied children who are to be deported and urges them to provide legal aid and  assistance from a social worker  when decisions are being made as to their detention.

The report comes just after the European Commission stated that €108 million in emergency funding will be granted to the country to support its management of migration flows and border control.

For further information:  
 
 

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