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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.

     
11 December 2015
  
The ECRE Weekly Bulletin will take a holiday break and will be back on 8 January. 

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ECRE
ASYLUM INFORMATION DATABASE
EUROPEAN DEVELOPMENTS
NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS
BEYOND EUROPE
REPORTS & NGOs ACTIONS
ANNOUNCEMENTS
  

ECRE

Sharing our rights with refugees: ICMC Europe and ECRE launch end of the year campaign

With 2015 coming to an end as an unprecedented year in terms of numbers of people fleeing and complexity of displacement worldwide, ECRE and ICMC Europe will launch on 15 December a social media campaign with the aim of highlighting the importance of sharing our rights with refugees. The campaign is developed under the SHARE-project, with all 90 ECRE member organisations welcome to take actively part.
 
Every day, refugees are discriminated, mistreated, and denied their human rights. This campaigns aims at reminding everyone that refugees have the same human rights that all other European citizens do. We call upon citizens to share their rights with refugees. During this festive season, let us all be reminded that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
 
From 15 December, look for #RefugeesHaveRights on social media to share our rights with refugees.
 
“Refugees have the right to have rights” – Hannah Arendt
 
 

ASYLUM INFORMATION DATABASE

AIDA Belgium update: asylum seekers access to international protection and reception remains a struggle

The latest AIDA update on Belgium highlights several shortcomings that asylum seekers face relating to accessing procedures and suitable reception; while the number of people seeking asylum in the country has significantly augmented since late summer 2015.

Despite increased registration capacities, the Aliens Office decided to register a maximum of 250 asylum seekers a day. Consequently, many asylum seekers have been waiting for more than 10 days to register their asylum claims, thereby exceeding the European limit in exceptional circumstances.
According to the Belgian government, before registering, asylum seekers are not considered entitled to reception rights. As a result, hundreds have slept in shelters provided by the civil society, such as an open makeshift camp in September and, later, in pre-reception facilities, although limited to 1,000 places.

In parallel, since August 2015, the government created 10,000 additional accommodation places. However, the report notes that due to the larger demand, asylum seekers can receive adequate social, psychological and legal assistance, especially those most vulnerable, being people with specific reception needs. More restrictive rules prevent many asylum seekers from being assisted by qualified and experienced lawyers.

These shortcomings and challenges have been documented by the State Secretary in letters individually addressed to asylum seekers, notably those from Iraq and Afghanistan, with the clear intention of deterring them from applying for asylum and encouraging them to leave the country.
Finally, the report also notes that asylum seekers continued to be sent back to EU countries of transit, under the Dublin regulation, including to Italy and Hungary, despite serious concerns raised, among others, by ECRE.

For further information:
 

AIDA update Cyprus: new age assessment procedure raises concerns for unaccompanied minors

The new updated AIDA report on Cyprus details reforms in the asylum system taking effect as of July 2015. A worrying development regarding the asylum procedure is the introduction of an age assessment procedure for unaccompanied minors, based entirely on intrusive medical tests that risk a significant margin of error. Most of the individuals tested have been found to be 18 or 19, which consequently led to them being forcibly evicted from the shelters. Many of them have disappeared afterwards.

The recognition rate for asylum seekers has significantly increased during 2015, reaching 73% at first instance. The number of persons granted refugee status, instead of subsidiary protection, has also substantially increased, reaching almost 11% from 4% in 2014. On another note, the newly adopted policy on detention of asylum seekers - according to which the only asylum seekers detained are those who submit an application after they have been arrested and detained - is still in place. Based on monitoring throughout the year, the numbers of asylum seekers in detention at any time averages 20 persons, and timeframes for their release are not always respected. Finally, Cyprus has yet to transpose the recast Asylum Procedures Directive and the recast Reception Conditions Directive.

For further information:
 

France AIDA update: a complete reform of the asylum system

The French asylum system underwent a substantial reform in July 2015, as documented by the updated AIDA report. The reform introduced a “single desk” (guichet unique) where the Prefecture and the French Office on Immigration and Integration (OFII) are both present. The aim of the single desk, operating since November 2015, is to register the asylum claim and, on the same day and in the same location, to conduct a vulnerability assessment to offer tailored material reception conditions.

The assessment of vulnerabilities and their consideration throughout the asylum procedure is a completely new element that has been brought in by the asylum reform. Moreover, asylum seekers can now be accompanied by a third person (lawyer or representative of an NGO) to the asylum interview, a provision applicable also for asylum claims introduced at the border or in detention. If the claims are not processed within 9 months, asylum seekers will also have the right to access the labour market.

The practical impact of the reforms on the asylum system will still have to be evaluated during the next year, stated Forum réfugiés-cosi, author of the report.

For further information:
 

AIDA update: Croatia substantially reforms asylum system and plans special facilities for vulnerable groups

The updated AIDA report on Croatia documents the reform of the asylum system brought about by the Law on International and Temporary Protection, which entered into force in July 2015. The law has introduced numerous changes, including a reduction of the grounds for applying the accelerated procedure in line with the recast Asylum Procedures Directive and defining grounds for the detention of asylum seekers in line with the recast Reception Conditions Directive. The notion of “risk of absconding”, related to detention for the purposes of transferring an asylum seeker under the Dublin Regulation, is also defined with regard to several criteria.

Following the intensification of the refugee crisis in September 2015, Croatia has arranged the accommodation of asylum seekers only in Kutina, one of the two reception centres in the country. At the same time, plans to establish a special facility for vulnerable groups i.e. children, within Croatia’s existing detention centre, initially foreseen for the end of the year, was completed in September, reports the Croatian Law Centre.

For further information:
 

EUROPEAN DEVELOPMENTS

European Commission infringement procedures against Hungary and others for failure to comply with European asylum law

On 10 December 2015, the European Commission sent a formal notice to Hungary which is the first step of infringement proceedings, in relation to recent reforms to its asylum laws. It previously raised concerns that they are incompatible with EU law on asylum and borders and the Charter of Fundamental Rights. It was not satisfied by Hungary’s response and found that procedures for asylum appeals did not allow new facts and circumstances to be raised by asylum seekers with negative decisions, and that applicants were forced to leave the territory before an appeal can be effectively considered. In addition, there is no mandatory requirement to give applicants a personal hearing and decisions can be made by court secretaries rather than judges. In addition, fast-track criminal proceedings for irregular entry do not ensure that suspects are provided with a written translation of essential documents, contrary to EU law provisions.
 
Amnesty International notes that this is an important step towards ensuring that Hungary restores the rights of asylum seekers to fair and effective asylum determination proceedings. It has criticised the new asylum laws in a recent report and has launched a petition requesting the Prime Minister of Hungary to repeal them. An ECRE fact-finding mission to Hungary also concluded that the Hungarian asylum system contravenes international refugee law and EU asylum law and urged the authorities to take the necessary steps to resolve this.
 
 The European Commission also escalated proceedings already open against Greece, Croatia, Italy and Malta. Greece, Croatia and Italy have failed to correctly implement the Eurodac regulation relating to the fingerprinting of asylum seekers, which is important in the context of the Dublin system and EU relocation schemes. In addition, Greece and Malta failed to inform the Commission of steps they have taken to implement EU laws within the two month deadline given. These relate to common EU procedures for granting and withdrawing international protection in the recast Asylum Procedures Directive and minimum reception conditions for asylum seekers, which include access to housing, food, healthcare and employment (recast Reception Conditions Directive).
 
For further information:
 
 

Eurostat: 414,000 first time asylum seekers in the third quarter of 2015

During the third quarter of 2015 (July through September), 413,800 people applied for protection in the EU for the first time, an increase of 150% from the same quarter of 2014. The number almost doubled compared with the second quarter of this year, Eurostat announced this week.

Citizens of 149 countries sought asylum for the first time in the EU in the third quarter of 2015. Syrians, Afghanis and Iraqis were the top three citizenships of asylum seekers, lodging around 138,000, 56,700 and 44,400 applications respectively. 98,000 more Syrians applied for asylum compared to the third quarter of 2014.

Main destination countries remain Germany and Hungary, both with slightly over 108,000 applicants, followed by Sweden (42,500), Italy (28,400) and Austria (27,600). These five Member States together account for more than 75% of all first time applicants in the EU-28. Hungary saw its number of asylum seekers jumping notably by 13 times compared to the same quarter of 2014.

EU Member States made 135,200 first instance decisions during this period. Among them, almost half resulted in protection status. Syrians have received by far the highest number of protection statuses in the EU, including protection based on national legislations (32,400 positive first instance decisions, or 98% rate of recognition), followed by Eritreans (5,900, or 87%), Iraqis (5,100, or 88%) and Afghanis (2,700, or 70%).

For further information:
 

NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS

Western Balkans: discrimination and violation of the right to asylum caused tensions, violence and a death

Since 18 November, only Iraqis, Syrians and Afghans are being allowed to cross the Greek-Macedonian border, now separated by a 59-Km border fence and heavily patrolled by border police, the army and Frontex reported.

Thousands of asylum seekers and migrants have been stranded at the border for weeks, with limited assistance and under harsh weather conditions. Up until 7 December, about 2,100 asylum seekers have been waiting at the border for days. This situation caused the death of a 20-year old man, who was electrocuted after touching railway cables, a second victim after a man was seriously injured from electrocution on 28 November. Several asylum seekers were injured during violence escalations, which erupted at the border this past week.

On 28 November the police responded with stun grenades and plastic bullets against asylum seekers who threw stones in reaction of the desperate situation. Eighteen police officers were injured, while 20 asylum seekers were hit in the head and reported breathing problems. On 2 December the police threw teargas and fired rubber bullets against about 1,000 asylum seekers who tried to cross the border through a point that lacked surveillance. Tensions also rose between asylum seekers who were prevented from crossing, and those who were able to pass. During the night of 2 December some ripped down tents and stole clothes and food from NGO containers, forcing humanitarian organisations to leave the site for security reasons.

The closure of the Greek-Macedonian border happened after Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia closed their borders to all nationalities except the three a few weeks before.

The Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) has been returning  around 100 asylum seekers per day, as the authorities claimed that they could not be certain of the authenticity of their documents. In Serbia, all refugees other than Syrians, Afghanis, Iraqis and Palestinians have been denied the possibility to register the 'intention to seek asylum'. Since mid-November, hundreds of refugees were sent back from Presevo to Miratovac, at the Serbian-Macedonian border. Similarly, in Sid, at the Serbia-Croatia border, all asylum seekers were screened by nationality and only Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis could board trains to Croatia.

Screening and allowing access on the basis of nationality are in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Despite multiple and reiterated concerns raised by several international organisations and NGOs, including UNHCR, Amnesty International, and HRW Western Balkans countries, including EU Member States continue to implement these discriminatory practices.

On 9 December, all asylum seekers who have been blocked at the Greek-Macedonian border for weeks were transported  from Idomeni to Athens by Greek authorities. According to the Ministry of Interior all those who will not introduce an asylum claim within 30 days will be deported to their country of origin. Meanwhile, they have been temporarily accommodated in two stadiums with limited reception capacities, while the camp in Idomeni was dismantled

For further information:
 

BEYOND EUROPE

Security situation in Afghanistan calls into question deportation policies of EU Member States

According to the latest quarterly statistics released by EUROSTAT, Afghan nationals make up the second largest group seeking asylum in Europe, with 56,700 first time applications, which includes a large number of unaccompanied and separated children. Although there is a high EU-wide rate of Afghans being granted international protection of 70%, a number of EU countries have become increasingly restrictive in their policies towards Afghan asylum seekers, evidenced by a growing determination to deport them, despite ongoing security concerns and violence in the country.

For example, Germany has reversed its policy of allowing failed Afghan asylum seekers to remain, in favour of stepping up deportations, and has launched campaigns to discourage arrivals, viewing Afghans as ‘economic migrants’.  Along with other EU countries, such as Sweden, it is negotiating for a readmission agreement to make deportation easier. This is contrary to the views of the Afghan Minister of Refugees and Repatriations who says that EU countries should avoid deporting Afghan asylum seekers, due to the increased risk posed by terrorist groups. Many EU countries consider that certain provinces of Afghanistan are safe for civilians and, therefore no longer grant protection solely based on the security situation, arguing that if civilians are at risk of harm in their area of origin they should move to a safer area.

A report published this week by German ECRE member PRO ASYL, titled ‘No safe country of origin, no flight alternatives – the current security situation in Afghanistan’ plainly highlights the danger of the above-mentioned assumption. It provides details of the ongoing problems in Afghanistan, where the Taliban insurgency continues. It finds that there are an average of nine civilians killed each day and a high risk of kidnap and assassination. In this context, the German Foreign Office has recently deployed more troops to Afghanistan, even though it had planned to withdraw by the end of next year. Experts from the armed forces have predicted a deterioration in 2016, anticipating that the Taliban could take control of several key regions and overpower Afghan security forces, as it recently did in its offensive in Kunduz.

PRO ASYL demands fair treatment of asylum applications and for the German government to refrain from further deportations to Afghanistan. It stated that “the security situation in Afghanistan has changed permanently. Even in alleged 'safe' regions, fighting can break out. The current security situation shows that deportations to Afghanistan would amount to deporting people into life-threatening conditions".

For further information:
 

REPORTS & NGOs ACTIONS

Private sponsorships broaden safe and legal ways for refugees to find protection in Europe

Private sponsorship programmes could provide alternative ways through which refugees can reach Europe in a safe and legal way, demonstrates a study of the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), published in December 2015. Private sponsorships broaden family reunification opportunities beyond nuclear family members, including refugees’ relatives. Drawing from examples of other countries, like Canada, privately sponsored refugees are well supported to learn the language, find housing and employment, thanks to close contact with host community.

Under private sponsorship programmes, citizens, NGOs, community groups and academic institutions can directly commit to resettle refugees from third countries and provide them with financial and social support for a predefined period of time. However their efforts must be guided and supported by governments and NGOs, explains the study; and they should not substitute, but complement the state’s resettlement commitments.

At present, private sponsorship programmes are at an embryonic stage in Europe, while Canada has a long experience with generally positive outcomes. Citizen-led solidarity initiatives in late summer 2015 demonstrate that Europeans are ready to engage and welcome refugees in Europe. Therefore, the study recommends that Member States, NGOs and European agencies further develop and use private sponsorships, this way also encouraging additional resettlement commitments.

For further information:
 

ANNOUNCEMENTS

Save the Children recruiting for a Senior Advocacy Advisor - Children on the Move

Save the Children is looking for a Senior Advocacy Advisor to be part of the EU Advocacy team based in Brussels, on a fixed term contract of 12 months.

The Senior Advocacy Advisor will play a crucial role in Save the Children’s advocacy efforts with regards to refugee and migrant children; ensuring that the EU implements and renews its commitment to protect, respect and promote the rights of refugee and migrant children in countries of origin, in transit and on arrival in the EU. More information about the requirements of the vacancy and the application process is available here. The deadline to apply is 16 December 2015.
 
 

ULB offers 5 post-doctoral fellowships for refugees holding a Ph.D.

ULB, Université Libre de Bruxelles, is offering 5 post-doctoral Khaled al-As'ad fellowships for refugees holding a PH.D. The fellowships last one year and concern scientific research. More details about the application process and requirements are available here (in English and French). Please disseminate this open call widely. 
 
 

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