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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.

     
30 September 2016
  
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OP-ED
ECRE
EUROPEAN DEVELOPMENTS
NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS
REPORTS & NGO ACTIONS
  

OP-ED

No one deserve to die at sea: Reflections from an independent sea rescue organisation (SOS MEDITERRANEE)

It is widely acknowledged that the Mediterranean Sea is the world’s most dangerous flight route. Since the beginning of this year 3.501 people have died or are considered missing. For those of us working to save people in distress at sea, last week’s sad news of the tragedy off the coast of Egypt, unfortunately came as no surprise. We have learnt that neither Egypt or the EU’s misguided policy choices on border control can or will stop human determination.
 
SOS MEDITERRANEE was founded in May 2015 and has been operating its rescue ship the AQUARIUS in the Mediterranean for six months. In this time we have been able to save 3.821 people from distress at sea and transferred an additional 2.227 refugees from other ships and tended them aboard the AQUARIUS. That is an average of 636 people a month or 21 people saved per day. At the same time an average of 16 people drown in the Mediterranean per day.
 
Considering that we are only one of several organizations helping those in distress at sea between Libya and Italy, it is easy to imagine how many people take on this treacherous journey across the Mediterranean day by day and how many people remain unaccounted for. What we have learned in these past six months, from personal accounts of those we welcome aboard our ship, is that they have no other option. Many of the rescued left their home countries fleeing persecution and violence, only to find themselves caught amidst the violence in Libya. Many have told us that Europe is their last hope and that they would rather die at sea than stay in Libya.
 
Yet policy responses fail to acknowledge this reality and instead focus their efforts on increased border enforcement and the targeting of human smugglers. Whilst human smuggling and trafficking undoubtedly need to be addressed, they are only by-products of this mass movement; opportunists taking advantage of the movement across the Mediterranean and hardly the underlying factors. We believe that safety at sea is fundamental and our work follows this principle.
 
We recognize that our work is a response to the absence of any meaningful political action in the Mediterranean and hope to be able to continue our work by providing humanitarian assistance, because we believe that no one deserves to die at sea.
 
 
 

ECRE

Vacancy: Senior Communications Coordinator at ECRE

ECRE is recruiting a Senior Communications Coordinator with minimum five years of experience of communications work for an NGO and with good knowledge of refugee protection and the political context of ECRE’s work.

The purpose of the position is to lead ECRE’s communications work, strengthening external and internal communications in order to protect and advance the rights of refugees, asylum seekers, and displaced persons. ECRE’s communications work will support the delivery of all its objectives, covering legal, research and advocacy work.

Interested candidates are invited to send CV and cover later no later than 13 October, more details are available here.
 

EUROPEAN DEVELOPMENTS

MEPs call on EU leaders to increase resettlement of refugees following visit to Lebanon

Poverty, lack of hygiene and overcrowding are only some of the issues faced by refugees in Lebanon, reports a delegation of MEPs who urge EU leaders to step up resettlement efforts.  Seven members of the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee (LIBE), headed by Claude Moraes, visited Beirut last week to observe the conditions on the ground for the 1,5 million Syrian refugees and for the 300,000 to 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

Public services like education and primary health care are under extreme pressure. With 70 percent of Syrian refugees now living below the national poverty line of $4 a day according to UNHCR, extreme poverty is another difficulty faced by refugees in Lebanon.
Claude Moraes stated that the situation cannot be solved by humanitarian aid alone and that Member States need to urgently uphold their humanitarian responsibilities and need to ensure a better, more even distribution of refugees among the EU countries. According to the statement, the LIBE Committee will take on the task to ensure a better functioning resettlement system.

“Beyond immediate survival, resettlement to a third country is one solution, and it is ongoing”, stressed UNHCR representative in Lebanon Mireille Girard. “Resettlement is a safety net for the most vulnerable, including those who have survived torture or trauma, female heads of households or people with a serious illness that cannot be treated locally. UNHCR is asking the international community to multiply the number of opportunities for refugees outside the region, including through scholarships, work permits, family reunification and other temporary humanitarian admission schemes.”
For more information:
 

Data protection concerns in Common European Asylum System proposals, says EU data watchdog

In an Opinion published last week, the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) has raised data protection concerns regarding the Commission proposals to reform the Dublin Regulation, the Eurodac Regulation and the establishment of an EU Agency for Asylum. The opinion stresses that the proposals need to be further assessed to ensure the respect for the fundamental rights of people entering and leaving the EU.
 
The EDPS finds that the proposed expansion of Eurodac to cover irregular migration and return purposes is unclear, while no data protection and privacy impact assessment has been made prior to the proposal. To that end, the Supervisor requests a detailed impact assessment to ensure that the expansion of the database is necessary and proportionate to meet its stated objectives.
 
“The EDPS understands the need for the EU to better address the challenges of migration, borders and refugees,” stated the Supervisor Giovanni Buttarelli. “However, we recommend considering additional improvements in the revised proposals which will involve a significant collection of data concerning non-EU nationals whose freedoms, rights and legitimate interests may be significantly affected. Border management and law enforcement are distinct objectives and need to be more clearly distinguished.”
 
A detailed impact assessment is also recommended for measures concerning children, as well as the collection of facial images, which the proposal has not demonstrated as necessary and proportionate to be in line with human rights. The Supervisor also criticises the lengthy retention period of five years for data stored in the database for the purpose of returning people.
 
ECRE has raised similar questions relating to data protection in its Comments on the Eurodac proposal, finding the expansion of the database contrary to the fundamental rights to privacy and data protection, while also voicing concerns on the introduction of new biometrics, longer periods of retention of data, and sanctions against individuals who refuse to give fingerprints or facial images.
 
The Opinion of the EDPS also mentions specific data protection concerns relating to the Dublin proposal. The EDPS recommends clarifying that the unique identifier for each asylum seeker in the Dublin database may only be used for the purposes of the Dublin Regulation.
 
 
For more information, see:  
 

NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS

Access to asylum denied in Rome, in violation of national and international law

Since 21 September 2016, the police station (Questura) in Rome is not accepting any new asylum claims. According to a number of organisations including ECRE members CIR - Italian Refugee Council and ASGI, police officers at the entrance of the police station are verbally informing those who arrive with the intention to claim asylum of the impossibility to do so, and advising them to come back from 21 October onwards.

In a joint press release, the organisations expressed strong concerns about this practice, which is justified by the Rome police station as necessary to deal with the existing backlog of asylum applications. There is no official communication from Italian authorities regarding this development, adding to the opacity and arbitrariness of the situation. Worryingly, those who are not registered or hosted in a reception centre, are left with no other option but sleeping rough on the streets or in provisional shelters set up by volunteers.

The organisations called for an immediate meeting with the authorities demanding an explanation and the prompt restoring of access to the asylum procedure, putting an end to a practice that is violating national and international asylum law.

CIR recently reiterated its call for an immediate restoring of access to the asylum procedure at the Questura in Rome. “We also want to underline that many of the people affected by this measure have passed through a ‘hotspot’ set up by the European Union. They have all been fingerprinted and registered, but they have not been provided with accurate information on how to claim asylum. They are twice victims of a non-functioning system,” stated Fiorella Rathaus, CIR’s Director, to the ECRE Weekly Bulletin.
 
 

Civil society outcry in Spain condemns illegal pushbacks at Ceuta border crossing

In a joint press release published on 22 September, 77 NGOs in Spain including ECRE member CEAR voiced their firm rejection of the practice of pushbacks at the southern border in Ceuta and Melilla  and demanded that the Acting Home Affairs Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz provides a full explanation of the facts occurred during 10 September 2016.

On that day, 239 people attempted to jump the border fence into Ceuta - one of the Spanish enclaves on Moroccan territory. 40 people who managed to reach Spanish territory were immediately pushed back into Morocco by Spanish police, while others were seriously hurt during the attempt and had to be transported to the hospital.

UNHCR Spain immediately condemned the events of 10 September and reiterated that access to international protection should not be granted only to those who enter a country regularly. The possibility to claim asylum is a right under international law and it should be granted to anyone, without prejudice to the manner in which a person entered a country, the press release states.

Furthermore, the Spanish Ombudsman publicly stated that national and international law do not allow automatic push backs which dot not guarantee a proper screening of the individual circumstances of each person.

In line with their objections, the joint press release reminds that the amendments to the Aliens Act legislation, aimed at legalising the practice of push-backs of migrants arriving in Ceuta and Melilla, are in clear breach of human rights law.  

For further information:
 

REPORTS & NGO ACTIONS

Detention Action calls for community-based alternatives to detention of asylum seekers and migrants in the UK

Detention Action has published a report outlining opportunities for community-based alternatives to detention of migrants and asylum seekers in the UK. The report stresses that for alternatives to work, civil society, migrant communities and experts-by-experience need to be involved in developing and implementing them.
 
“There is abundant evidence that detention is not necessary for the Government’s immigration governance objectives,” stated Director of Detention Action Jerome Phelps. “With support and engagement, migrants can resolve their cases in the community, without detention. Civil society and communities have a crucial role to play in developing alternatives that can reduce government’s use of detention.”
 
Highlighting that the UK currently has one of the largest detention estates in Europe and is the only country to use detention without time limit, the report proposes alternatives to detention for people in returns procedures, in the asylum process and for ex-offenders with barriers to removal. Alternatives to detention should take into account the International Detention Coalition’s Community Assessment and Placement (CAP) model, the report suggests. The model is based on extensive good practice by countries around the world and not widely implemented in Europe. It involves a holistic approach, using screening and assessment, and outlines the key processes necessary for cost effective, reliable, and humane alternatives to detention.
 
“The first time I heard about alternatives was in a Freed Voices session after I’d been released. I was shocked. I could not believe it,” explains Kasonga, a member of the experts-by-experience group Freed Voices. “'You are telling me there is another way to control immigration that is cheaper, more humane, and more efficient for the government, and they aren’t using it?' I was very angry. And confused. Detention clearly doesn’t work and the way out is sitting in a drawer! Alternatives can be a win-win, for everybody – for the Government, for the taxpayer, for people whose lives are otherwise broken by detention.”
 
For more information
 

Fear, fences and detention: some of the challenges faced by refugees in Hungary
 

Amnesty International and Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muiznieks have this week raised serious concerns about the situation for asylum seekers and refugees in Hungary. Unlawful detention, violation of the right to asylum, labyrinthine asylum procedures and “institutionalized xenophobia” are only some of the issues highlighted by both.  Hungary is urged to bring its migration and asylum policies in line with EU and international law obligations.

“If Hungary persists in its defiant policy that flouts human rights law, it will meet with further international criticism and possible legal sanctions,” Commissioner Muiznieks stressed. “The European Commission has already begun “infringement procedures” against Hungary for breaching European Union law on asylum. The Commission also has the power to bring a case before the European Court of Justice, if a member state fails to conform to European Union law.”

Amnesty International calls on the European Commission to examine Hungary’s anti-refugee and anti-migrant policies and to conclude the infringement proceedings. The organisation also urges the country to repeal the laws that allow for the automatic pushback of people potentially in need of international protection from the territory of Hungary to the border area of Hungary and Serbia.

“Prime Minister Orbán has replaced the rule of law with the rule of fear. His attempts to deliberately prevent refugees and migrants from reaching Hungary have been accompanied by an ever more disturbing pattern of attacks on them and the international safeguards designed to protect them,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe.

This weekend, Hungarian citizens will vote in a referendum on the following question: “Do you want the EU to prescribe the mandatory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens to Hungary without the approval of the National Assembly?”. Ahead of the vote, the government spent over 10 million euros of public money on a xenophobic campaign to divert public opinion.

For further information:
 

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