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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.

     
13 June 2014
  

#HELPSYRIASREFUGEES
ECRE
  
#HELPSYRIASREFUGEES

Germany to resettle 10,000 more refugees from Syria – Time for the rest of Europe to play its part

Ministers of Interior of the German Länder (federated states) agreed this week to increase its resettlement commitment by 10,000 – bringing the number of refugees from Syria to be resettled in the country to 20,000. Welcoming this renewed pledge, ECRE has urged other European countries to play their part and substantially increase the number of resettlement places, stressing that other EU Member States have together offered to resettle just 5,000 refugees fleeing this crisis.

“The 20,000 people who will be resettled to Germany will not have to risk their lives at sea or be abused by smugglers in order to reach safety in Europe. This is an important gesture of solidarity towards the refugees and Syria’s neighbouring countries hosting almost 3 million persons fleeing the conflict. Other EU countries must now follow Germany’s example and play their part to give more refugees a way to reach Europe in a safe and legal manner” said Michael Diedring, ECRE Secretary General.

ECRE is also strongly supporting the call from the German Parliament for a European conference to encourage Members States to come together and make greater commitments to accept more refugees, in addition to those coming through the asylum system.
 
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Last chance to sign Europe Act Now petition to Help Syria's Refugees

100 NGOs and over 10,000 people across Europe are calling on Europe to Act Now to #HelpSyriasRefugees by giving refugees a safe way into Europe, reuniting families torn apart by the crisis and protecting the refugees arriving at Europe’s borders. People can encourage their governments to increase its commitment to help Syria’s refugees by signing the campaign petition.
 
 
 
ECRE

ECRE calls for legal access for refugees and alternatives to Dublin Regulation in Home Affairs strategic guidelines 

ECRE has submitted a letter to the European Council in advance of their next meeting on 26-27 June, at which the EU Heads of State and Government will adopt strategic guidelines for further legislative and operational planning in the area of freedom, security and justice. The guidelines will replace the Stockholm Programme, which set out policy in this area for 2010-2014.

The letter proposes five key priorities for strategic guidelines in the field of asylum and migration: legal avenues to the EU for persons in need of international protection; exploring alternatives to the ‘Dublin system’; comprehensive monitoring of Member States’ asylum systems; enhanced solidarity between Member States; EU programmes to support protection capacities in third countries.

ECRE stresses that the strategic guidelines should encourage the use of innovative tools that help to ensure that refugees can find protection in Europe without risking their lives. A multi-faceted approach is needed combining protection sensitive-border controls with a substantial increase of resettlement places in the EU, humanitarian visas and protected entry procedures. The strategic guidelines should set the target of EU countries resettling 20,000 people annually by 2020.

ECRE also calls for the underlying principles of the  Dublin system to be revisited so that the system may be replaced with a responsibility determination procedure which focusses on existing connections between asylum seekers and Member States and asylum seeker’s own preferences and that is linked to a system of fair responsibility-sharing among Member States.

ECRE stresses that Member States’ practices and the quality of their asylum systems must be comprehensively monitored and evaluated with a view to early detection of possible protection gaps and the deployment of appropriate responses and support at national and EU level. ECRE further recommends that the strategic guidelines should re-affirm that solidarity must go hand in hand with responsibility as all Member States have an obligation to provide protection to persons fleeing persecution or serious harm and respect their fundamental rights. solidarity measures such as joint processing of asylum applications within the EU must be properly focused on protecting the rights of asylum seekers and those granted protection.

ECRE strongly opposes any form of joint processing outside the EU that would include the forced transfer of asylum seekers who arrive on EU territory to processing centres outside the EU, and rejects any arrangement that would result in containing persons for prolonged periods in processing centres with sub-standard living conditions and without procedural safeguards. If joint processing is considered, ECRE argues that it should be a tool to facilitate legal access to the EU, must be led by UNHCR and linked to resettlement programmes, and must consider whether the third countries concerned can effectively guarantee adequate reception conditions and procedural safeguards.

Another letter to the European Council, written by Christian NGOs Caritas Europa, the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe, Eurodiaconia, the International Catholic Migration Commission, and Jesuit Refugee Service Europe, calls on the EU to make commitments on the right to family life, labour migration and non-discrimination, and access to international protection.
 
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UNHCR

UNHCR adopts Global Strategy against detention focused on promoting alternatives, improving conditions and eradicating detention of children

UNHCR has published a new initiative, Global Strategy - Beyond Detention 2014-2019, aimed at supporting governments in stopping the detention of asylum seekers and refugees. The main objectives of the Global Strategy are: to eliminate the detention of children, to ensure alternatives to detention are available in law and in practice, and—where, according to UNHCR, detention is necessary and unavoidable—to ensure detention conditions meet international standards. These objectives came about after an analysis of the most concerning state practices, such as the routine use of detention in immigration and asylum procedures, the use of detention as a deterrent to potential arrivals, and the lack of adequate conditions in and monitoring of detention facilities.

Beginning in over 10 countries during the initial roll-out period spanning June 2014 – June 2016, UNHCR offices will implement plans of action at national or regional levels in conjunction with partners such as NGOs, national human rights commissions, academics, and State authorities. These plans may incorporate advocacy interventions; awareness raising and campaigning; promoting information sharing, data collection, and reporting; and securing access to and monitoring of detention sites, among other measures.

It is envisaged that more countries will be included in the Global Strategy following the roll-out period, however all countries “where detention is a protection challenge are to be guided by and to follow the Global Strategy and adapt it to their country context.”

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COUNCIL OF EUROPE

Monitoring of Greece’s compliance with M.S.S. judgment must continue, says Council of Europe Committee of Ministers

The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, in a decision issued on 5 June 2014, remains unconvinced that the Greek asylum system is fully compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). This decision to continue supervision of Greece comes nearly three and a half years since the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judgment in M.S.S. v Belgium & Greece on 21 January 2011.

The ECtHR in M.S.S. found that the removal of an Afghan asylum seeker from Belgium to Greece under the Dublin II Regulation was a violation of his right to an effective remedy under Article 13 ECHR, and the prohibition of ill-treatment under Article 3, on account of detention conditions for asylum seekers, deficiencies in the Greek asylum procedure, and inadequate reception conditions.

In their latest decision on Greece, the Committee noted ‘the serious concerns [of NGOs] regarding the conditions in which asylum seekers and irregular migrants continue to be detained’, and asks the Greek authorities to submit the precise content of their strategy to remedy this.

The ICJ and ECRE joint submission criticises Greek detention conditions, citing reports of overcrowding, substandard hygiene conditions, inadequate heating and hot water, and a lack of ventilation. The submission also expresses concern about practical obstacles to lodging complaints about detention conditions, detention pending removal, detention on medical grounds, and the discriminatory rationale underpinning Operation Xenios Zeus, which allows the mass arrests of migrants in Greece.

The Committee also “strongly encouraged the Greek authorities to pursue their efforts to guarantee, without delay, full and effective access to the asylum procedure throughout the territory”. It noted that  “it is not yet possible to draw thorough conclusions” on the new Greek Asylum Service, First Reception Service and the Appeals Authority, given that these only started operating on 7 June 2013.

In their submission, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and ECRE, also highlight the lack of independence of the new asylum Appeals Committees, difficulties in accessing asylum offices, the inadequate provision of free legal assistance to asylum seekers, and the discretionary suspension of deportation orders pending appeal.

Other submissions to the Committee were sent by ECRE member the Greek Council for Refugees, the Open Society Justice Initiative, and UNHCR.

Reception conditions in Greece will be evaluated by the Committee at their meeting in December 2014, and a new assessment of detention conditions and the asylum procedure will take place at the March 2015 meeting.
The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe is the body responsible for monitoring the execution of ECtHR judgments.

 
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REPORTS, EVENTS AND NGO ACTIONS

Ireland: CJEU judgment provides ‘clear mandate’ for reform of the subsidiary protection procedure, shows updated AIDA report

The updated AIDA Report on Ireland, written by ECRE member organisation Irish Refugee Council, highlights that a decision of the Court of Justice (CJEU) of May 2014 provides a ‘clear mandate for reform of the existing procedure’ for the examination of subsidiary protection applications (i.e. from those fleeing war, torture or inhuman or degrading treatment). The CJEU ruled that a person applying for international protection must be able to submit an application for refugee status and subsidiary protection at the same time and that there should be no unreasonable delay in processing a subsidiary protection application. Currently, new asylum applicants cannot apply for subsidiary protection without having been first refused refugee status, which in some cases has resulted in applicants having to wait several years before being allowed to apply for subsidiary protection.

The report notes that in April 2014 a legal challenge against Direct Provision (the system through which the basic needs of asylum seekers are provided for directly through a largely cash-less system, with no access to social welfare) was brought to Ireland’s High Court on a number of grounds: the lack of legal basis for Direct Provision; that the Direct Provision system is a violation of the rights to family and private life, of the child, and of personal choice and autonomy, freedom of movement and residence under the Irish Constitution, the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Charter Of Fundamental Rights. The applicants (an adult and a child) are also challenging the refusal to consider the adult’s right to work and the exclusion of asylum seekers and persons seeking subsidiary protection from accessing social welfare.

Finally, the report highlights also a significant change in the Refugee Appeals Tribunal’s practice, as its decisions are now publicly available.

This report is part of the Asylum Information Database (AIDA), a project of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), in partnership with Forum Refugiés-Cosi, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and the Irish Refugee Council. AIDA focuses on asylum procedures, reception conditions and detention of asylum seekers in EU Member States.
 
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AIDA Report on Belgium analyses legislative changes introducing an effective remedy for asylum seekers from ‘safe countries’ and subsequent applicants

The updated AIDA report on Belgium, compiled by ECRE member organisation Belgian Refugee Council, highlights the recent changes to the appeal procedures in asylum cases contained in the Aliens Act. The amending law, which entered into force on 1 June, introduces a full review of the merits against inadmissibility decisions concerning applications from countries deemed to be safe and subsequent applications. These applicants will be provided with an appeal that will examine not only the legality of the decision not to further examine an asylum application, but also the merits of the admissibility of the application itself, including new elements.

The new law follows a decision of the Belgian Constitutional Court of 16 January 2014 and several decisions of the ECtHR in which Belgium was condemned for a violation of Article 13 ECHR (Right to an effective remedy) due to its appeals system in asylum cases, which according to the Court did not provide for an ‘effective remedy’.

The report also shows that in 2013, there was a 26% decrease in asylum applications registered, compared to 2012. 21,463 applications were introduced in 2012, while only 15,840 in 2013. At the same time, the rate of positive decisions has risen from 22% to 27%, with a consequent rise in the absolute number of positive decisions: 4,419 in 2012 compared to 4,932 in 2013. Main countries of origin include Afghanistan (1,327 applications), Guinea (1,247), DR Congo (1,225) and Russia (1,166).

This report is part of the Asylum Information Database (AIDA), a project of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), in partnership with Forum Refugiés-Cosi, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and the Irish Refugee Council. AIDA focuses on asylum procedures, reception conditions and detention of asylum seekers in EU Member States.
 
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Good practice guide on housing for resettled refugees published 

The International Catholic Migration Committee (ICMC) and the North West Gateway Resettlement Partnership of the UK have published 'A Place to Live, a Place to Stay: A Good Practice Guide for Housing in Refugee Resettlement' in the framework of the SHARE Network.

The guide is based on the findings of comparative research and consultation with partners and stakeholders of the SHARE network in 8 European countries – Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Sweden and the UK.  The guide includes a comparative overview of housing for refugee resettlement in Europe, case study interviews, recommendations for policy and practice, and a summary of opportunities for funding housing for resettled refugees presented by the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) for 2014-2020.

One example of good practice highlighted in the guide is an initiative of the Belgian NGO Convivial whereby local citizens can deposit savings  which the organisation uses to make loans to refugee tenants for rent deposits and first rental payments. The refugees are obliged to repay the loans to Convivial within 10 months of receipt, and all loans are officially registered with a national bank to enable follow-up of any non-payment. The local citizens can request repayment of the full amount of their savings at any point.

“Of course refugee tenants’ lack of experience of the Belgian housing market, and general cultural differences in relation to housing, can be very challenging. How, for example, do you explain that shoes in the common hallway contravene Belgian fire safety regulations if tenants have been taught that shoes in the apartment are unsanitary? An organisation that has experience in working with refugees, like the NGO Convivial with whom I work, can work in the background to help landlords and tenants overcome any initial hurdles and build an understanding relationship based on trust and effective communication. This is really indispensable,” stated a landlord based in Brussels.

According to ICMC whilst refugee resettlement has grown steadily in Europe, with regular programmes now in 13 EU Member States, the total number of resettlement places offered by European countries is only around 5,500 – a low share of the approximately 80,000 resettlement places that are available worldwide each year. Of the 10.5 million refugees of concern to UNHCR in the world, only around 1% are submitted for resettlement.