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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.

     
20 May 2016
  
The ECRE Weekly Bulletin will go on a break next week. You will receive the next issue on 10 June. Keep an eye on our Facebook and Twitter pages for regular updates. 

ECRE

NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS

REPORTS & NGOs ACTIONS
  

ECRE

Experts discuss development of AIDA

The Asylum Information Database (AIDA) network met in Brussels on 19 May, bringing together members of the ECRE Secretariat and 15 country experts to discuss the strengthening and future development of the database. The coordination meeting covered data collection challenges and ways to work more effectively with national authorities to obtain information in different countries, as well as to address discrepancies in statistical data provided by Eurostat and other actors.

Experts also discussed the expansion of AIDA to cover content of international protection in Europe with key themes including access to employment and education, residence permits, family reunification, social assistance and naturalisation. The issue of residence permits and review of status will be addressed in an AIDA legal briefing to be published in June 2016.

Member organisations represented at the meeting included Asylkoordination ÖsterreichInformationsverbund Asyl und MigrationACCEMForum Réfugiés-CosiGreek Council for RefugeesHungarian Helsinki CommitteeIrish Refugee CouncilASGIAditus FoundationHelsinki Foundation for Human RightsFARRBritish Refugee CouncilSwiss Refugee Council and Refugee Rights Turkey. The meeting was organised with support from Microsoft Brussels.
 
 

NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS

Finland joins many European countries in restricting the space for asylum

New guidelines issued by the Finnish Immigration Service this week are restricting the requirements for the granting of residence permits to asylum seekers in the country. Under the new amendments to the Aliens Act, residence permits on the basis of humanitarian protection will no longer be granted.

Humanitarian protection is normally granted to those applicants who not qualify for asylum or subsidiary protection but who cannot be returned to their home countries due to a bad security situation, poor human rights record or an environmental catastrophe. Until now, a few hundred residence permits on the basis of humanitarian protection were granted every year in Finland, mostly to applicants from Iraq and Somalia.

Furthermore, as part of a regular assessment conducted by the Finnish Immigration Service, the security situation in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia has been re-evaluated. The Finnish Agency found a gradual improvement of the security situation in those countries, which will now make it possible to return asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia on the basis that the existence of an armed conflict does not represent a danger to them only because they are staying the country.

“This evaluation does not seem to be based on actual country of origin information from these three countries but on what is happening in other EU countries, especially Sweden,” stated ECRE member Finnish Refugee Aid Centre. “The Finnish government is trying to portray this as inevitable policy, but this is purely about a race to the bottom. Finland used to be a country that follows UNHCR guidelines, though at this point the Finnish government has not even waited for them. This is a most alarming development.”

All three countries in question present protracted or recently renewed armed conflicts which exert a high civilian toll. Reports from civil society and international organisations document a landscape of violence and threats to the lives of civilians. In addition, Iraqis nationals are eligible to participate in the European relocation mechanism, as a testament to their general high international protection recognition rate across Europe.

“We are concerned about the impact of these amendments and guidelines on the situation of asylum seekers, and we highlight the necessity to process each asylum application on the basis of individual assessment and the principle of non-refoulement”, stated the Finnish Red Cross, an ECRE member.
In 2015, Finland received 32,500 asylum applications compared to 3,600 in 2014, mostly from Iraqis, Afghanis and Somalis.

For further information:
 

Greece to start registration of asylum seekers residing in open reception facilities in the mainland

From the end of May and for two months, the Greek Asylum Service will conduct a pre-registration exercise together with UNHCR and EASO for all those who arrived in Greece before 20 March. This initiative is meant to improve the system for applying for international protection in the country, which is currently overloaded and at a standstill, with thousands of applications which cannot be processed in a decent time, and thousands more of people who are waiting to be registered.

At present, asylum seekers are invited to call the Asylum Service using Skype. Services in certain languages are available only for as little as one hour a week, which makes it almost impossible for people to register. Many have been trying to register for several weeks, without success. Applying for asylum in Greece is the necessary first step for a family reunification request under the Dublin regulation, or for entering into the relocation mechanism if conditions are fulfilled.

Under the new system, teams will be deployed to the open reception facilities to register people directly in the accommodation sites. At the end of the registration, people will be issued with an official asylum seeker card. Leaflets are currently being distributed in the open reception centres to inform people of their options. This mass exercise in pre-registration, which is expected to target 35,000 people in the first phase, is listed by the European Commission as one of the measures to be taken by Greece to accelerate the registration of asylum seekers for relocation purposes.

For further information:
 

REPORTS & NGOs ACTIONS

Italy’s proposed idea of 'hotspots at sea' is unlawful, says ASGI

ECRE member ASGI published a press release yesterday highlighting strong concerns in relation to an idea proposed by the Italian government and Interior Ministry to introduce the practice of 'hotspots at sea'. According to news sources, ahead of todays’ Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting in Brussels, the Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano stated that Italy has been working on the idea for over a month and is ready to implement it if necessary.

'Hotspots at sea', also called 'floating hotspots', would mean that the ships used to rescue refugees and migrants in distress at sea would immediately proceed to their fingerprinting and identification after the rescue, and before reaching Italian mainland.

ASGI stated that, even though details of the proposed practice are still unclear, “the creation of 'floating hotspots' to be used as identification centres for migrants directly on the vessels is a breach of national and international refugee law. Each person needs to be given the opportunity to apply for asylum to the competent authorities on an individual basis, and has the right to be assisted by well-prepared interpreters and legal advisers.”

“If the identification procedure is carried out on board of the vessels, asylum seekers' rights will be at risk of being breached, even with the presence of international organisations like UNHCR,” continued the organisation. ASGI argues that a proper access to the right to asylum can only take place on land. “'Hotspots at sea' are not the answer”.

ASGI calls on the Italian government to abandon this unlawful proposal and invites UNHCR to closely monitor this situation with a view to ensuring effective access to international protection in Italy.
 
 

Human Rights Watch: atmosphere of chaos and insecurity in Greek ‘hotspots’

A report published this week by Human Rights Watch (HRW) highlights the harrowing conditions faced by asylum seekers in the Greek ‘hotspots’. The three ‘hotspots’ visited by the organisation in mid-May – on the islands of Samos, Lesbos and Chios - presented similar conditions and issues: no separated sections for single women, family groups, or women with children; significant shortages of basic shelter with people sleeping on the ground; long lines for poor quality food; lack of information; and lack of police protection during the frequent incidents of violence.

“When Greece detains people in overcrowded conditions unfit for animals and fails to provide them with basic police protection, it creates a climate where violence flourishes,” stated Bill Frelick, Refugee Rights Director at HRW. “The EU and Greece should immediately remedy this shameful situation, quickly end arbitrary detention, and ensure humane treatment of people in their custody.”

The ‘hotspots’, which were created for the reception, identification, and processing of asylum seekers and migrants, have been transformed into closed detention centres since the EU-Turkey deal came into force in March. As ECRE also highlighted in the past, HRW states that there is no legitimate purpose or reason to detain asylum seekers in these facilities and calls on authorities to convert the ‘hotspots’ into open camps with appropriate services and security measures.

HRW also calls on EU leaders to accelerate the fulfilment of their obligations under the temporary relocation scheme. According to the European Commission, only 1,581 people have been relocated from Italy and Greece to other Member States since September 2015.
 
 

Europol-INTERPOL report highlights dangers of criminal migrant smuggling networks

On Tuesday 17 May 2016 Europol and INTERPOL presented a joint Report on Migrant Smuggling Networks identifying the modus operandi, routes and structures of the various criminal groups involved in this increasingly lucrative business. This unprecedented combined effort aimed to provide insight into the criminal networks of migrant smugglers which profit from the despair of refugees and migrants. The report found that 90% of migrants travelled to the EU in 2015 by resorting to criminal groups. As a consequence these individuals are vulnerable to be targeted for labour and sexual exploitation as they need to repay their debt to smugglers.  

The report expects the percentage of migrants to use criminal travel facilitation to further rise, especially within the EU due to the recent closure of the national borders of some EU Member States. As a consequence of external factors such as border controls and weather conditions the report also foresees a further diversification of the routes.  As ECRE and other NGOs have pointed out, 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 resort to smugglers to find safety.

With an estimated price of 3,000-6,000 Euro per person travelling, the report concludes that smuggling networks generated around 5 billion Euros last year from their activities. The report contributes to an ever-increasing discourse that the lack of legal avenues to enter the EU eventually leads to better organised criminal networks and more suffering for migrants and refugees.
 
 

Former EU Economic Advisor stresses positive economic impact of refugees

In a report released by the  TENT Foundation and the Open Political Economy Network (OPEN) on Wednesday 18 May, the Founder of OPEN and former EU Commission Economic Advisor Philippe Legrain has claimed that welcoming refugees is not just a moral and legal obligation, but also an economic opportunity for the EU. With a suitable upfront investment, coupled with progressive integration policies, welcoming refugees can result in substantial economic dividends. His calculations are based on International Monetary Fund estimates of the economic impact of asylum seekers and refugees in the European Union.

The report claims that refugees can contribute to the economy in various ways, either as workers, entrepreneurs, innovators, taxpayers, consumers or investors. The returns on investing in welcoming refugees tend to grow over time, as refugees settle down and progress in their new home country and even greater investments can be gotten from the children of refugees. ECRE previously stressed the importance of labour market access in its annual AIDA report of 2015.
 
 

ICMC publishes final SHARE Network report 2012 - 2015

ICMC has published this week its report “Building a Resettlement Network of European Cities and Regions - Experiences of the SHARE Network 2012-2015”. Over the past 4 years, the SHARE project has built a European resettlement network of regions, cities and their civil society partners, engaging over 1,200 actors, with the objectives of promoting refugee protection and resettlement and a culture of welcome, and improving planning and coordination for refugee reception and integration in Europe.

The report provides an overview of the policy reflections, tools, resources and recommendations produced during 4 years of SHARE Network learning. The SHARE Network lessons suggest that all countries can effectively develop successful resettlement policies and programmes, if properly planned and coordinated among the different stakeholders.

 

Free orientation workshops for volunteers working with refugees across Europe

RedR UK and the Humanitarian Leadership Academy are running a series of orientation workshops specifically designed for volunteers operating in the European refugee response. The workshops will take place across Europe in locations including London, Calais, Belgrade, Lesbos, and also in Macedonia, Croatia and Slovenia. The workshops are particularly suitable for those who do not have previous experience in humanitarian response.
 
The two-day orientation workshop provides volunteers with access to key basic information that will enable them to operate more effectively and keep themselves and those with whom they are working safe, including an introduction to a range of topics: the humanitarian context, core humanitarian principles and standards, protection, child safeguarding, personal well-being and resilience, and safety and security.
 
The workshops will run from May 2016 onwards across Europe.  More information, including instructions on how to secure a place, is available here.
 
 

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