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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.

     
6 March 2015
  
  
EUROPEAN DEVELOPMENTS  
 
European Commission launches work on new migration agenda           

On 4 March, the European Commission announced plans for a new ‘European Agenda on Migration’. The College of Commissioners identified four main priority areas: “fighting irregular migration and human trafficking more robustly”; “securing Europe’s external borders”; “a strong common asylum system” and “a new European policy on legal migration”.

The Commission expressed its intention to fight smuggling in close cooperation with third countries through existing readmission agreements and cooperation frameworks, such as the RabatKhartoum and Budapest processes. ECRE noted that it failed “to make the link that refugees will continue to have to use smugglers because they have no other alternatives to reach safety in Europe.”

Moreover, the Commission said it will assess whether the budget of the EU's Border Agency Frontex should be increased.

Amnesty International has criticised the Commission for omitting the need to establish an EU search and rescue mission to prevent further deaths at sea, following the closure of Italy’s Operation Mare Nostrum. In January and February alone, 370 people died or went missing in their attempt to reach Europe.
Regarding asylum, the European Commission committed to tackle the divergences in asylum policies across European countries, and make progress in the increased use of resettlement. 

ECRE’s Asylum Information Database (AIDA), which maps asylum procedures, reception conditions and detention in 16 European countries, illustrates the persistent gaps between the theory of a Common European Asylum System where people fleeing similar situations are treated alike, and the harsh realities facing asylum seekers. The research shows that asylum seekers’ access to accommodation; support to meet their basic needs; the grounds and conditions of detention; and access to quality free legal assistance to properly protect their rights remain problematic in a number of EU Member States.

The Jesuit Refugee Service has also remarked that the Commission has regrettably made no mention of finding alternatives to the Dublin system, which determines which European country is responsible for examining an asylum application.

The Commission also envisaged a review of the EU Blue Card Directive regulating migration to the EU of highly skilled workers.
 

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NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS
 
UK MPs: migrants & asylum seekers should be detained as a last resort and for a maximum of 28 days

An inquiry by an all-party parliamentary group into the use of immigration detention in the UK has found that the detention system is “expensive, ineffective and unjust”. The inquiry highlights that too many people are detained and for disproportionate lengths of time. The inquiry calls for a wholesale shift in approach which includes a 28 day time-limit for detention, the use of migration detention as an “absolute last resort”, a robust system to review the decision to detain early on, and the introduction of a much wider range of alternatives to detention.

The report raises serious concerns relating to the use of the Detained Fast Track System and underlines that detention of asylum seekers undermines high-quality decision making.

The report notes that between 2011 and 2014, the UK Government paid nearly £15 million (€20.7 million) in compensation following claims for unlawful detention. In addition, £164.4 million (€226.9 million) were spent in running immigration centres in the UK in 2013 and 2014.

The report pays specific attention to the frequency with which detention is applied to detainees with mental illnesses, victims of torture and trafficking and further highlights the disconcerting reports of sexual intimidation that women faced in detention centres by male guards as well as the bullying, harassment and abuse that LGBTI detainees are confronted with. The inquiry recommends that victims of trafficking, torture, as well as women who are victims of rape and sexual violence should never be detained and that individuals with a mental health condition should only be detained under very exceptional circumstances. Screening procedures must be improved to accommodate this recommendation.  

During 2014, 30,365 people entered migration detention in the UK.
 

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NGOs raise alarms over new plans against migrants and refugees in Hungary

Hungary’s government is planning to introduce measures to reduce the number of asylum seekers in the country, which experts fear, will go against EU law.

According to the ECRE member organisation the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC), the plans publicly announced by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and other government officials include passing legislation that would enable authorities to immediately detain and return all migrants entering irregularly in Hungary, including asylum seekers; accelerate asylum procedures so that decisions can be taken within a few days; oblige irregular migrants and asylum seekers to work while in Hungary in order to “earn their keep”.

“These plans would not only violate EU law and other international obligations, but following on a series of attacks on the rule of law since 2010, they would further undermine the country’s commitment to European democratic values. The government repeatedly confirmed that they are aware that the planned amendments would breach EU law, yet they are prepared to go against “Brussels’s will”, HHC said.

On 10 February, Antal Rogán, head of the parliamentary group of the governing Fidesz Party, said: “We are preparing for a decision that applies very strict treatment against immigrants and which, in a certain sense, clashes with the practice accepted by Brussels. We believe that the solution for this problem is the immediate detention of illegal migrants; we would like to apply this and we will ask the people whether they agree. Then, while they are in Hungary, they should be under control and we should enact legislation that allows us to deport them back to their homeland fast and without delay."

According to the Hungarian Helsinki Committee if the amendments go ahead it will be more difficult for EU Member States to return asylum seekers to Hungary under the Dublin Regulation. “If the plans announced by the government to detain all asylum seekers and deport them after a few-day-long procedure are indeed to be implemented, Hungary will deliberately violate the most basic norms of EU asylum law and will exclude itself from Common European Asylum System”, said Gábor Gyulai, refugee programme coordinator at the Hungarian Helsinki Committee. 

42,777 people applied for asylum in Hungary in 2014 (compared to 18,900 in 2013 and 2,157 in 2013). 28,535 asylum claims were registered in January and February 2015 alone. However, the vast majority of asylum seekers move on to other EU Member States. According to the Office of Immigration and Nationality (OIN), approximately 80% of asylum seekers disappear and leave Hungary within less than 10 days after the submission of their asylum claim.

Most asylum seekers entering Hungary were nationals from Kosovo, with 21, 453 asylum claims in 2014 and 22,975 in January and February 2015. However, nobody from Kosovo has received refugee status or subsidiary protection in Hungary during this period. According to the HHC, apparently, due to coordinated international border policing efforts on the Kosovo-Serbian and Serbian-Hungarian border, as well as the stepped-up campaigning within Kosovo, the number of Kosovars seeking asylum in Hungary has dropped significantly in the last week of February.

The HHC has argued that the vast majority of non-Kosovar asylum seekers arriving in Hungary in 2014 and early 2015 come from conflict zones and oppressive regimes and unlike the number of Kosovars, the volume of these groups does not seem to decreaseAfghan citizens are the second largest group of asylum seekers (8,796 applications in 2014 and 2,631 in January and February 2015), followed by Syrians (6,857 applications in 2015 and 1,226 in January and February 2015). Iraqi, Palestinian, Sudanese, Eritrean, Somali and Iranian asylum seekers also arrive in significant numbers.

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on 11 January, on the day of the demonstration following the terrorist attacks in Paris:  “Economic migration is a bad thing in Europe, it should not be looked at as if there were any benefits in it, because it only brings pain and threat to the people of Europe; therefore immigration must be stopped, this is the Hungarian position. […] We do not want to see among us a significant minority that has a different cultural background and characteristics from ours, we would like to preserve Hungary as Hungary.”

It is still not known publicly when the amendments will be presented and how the government plans to extend its detention capacity to implement the envisioned increase in detention of migrants and asylum seekers.
 

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UNITED NATIONS

Shipping community urges EU governments to take action to prevent more deaths in the Mediterranean

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has called on EU Member States to engage more on search and rescue in the Mediterranean and to provide legal and safe channels for migrants and refugees to reach Europe.

Ahead of an inter-agency high-level meeting hosted by the International Maritime Organisation (IOM) this week, Peter Hinchliffe, Secretary General of the ICS said: “The response to the crisis by the Italian Navy and Coast Guard continues to be incredibly impressive. But the situation is now so serious that all EU Member States need to become more engaged. The shipping industry's concern is that, following the end of Mare Nostrum, other governments are increasingly relying on merchant ships to undertake more and more large-scale rescues” said.

“The EU, in particular, needs to provide refugees and migrants with alternative means of finding safety without risking their lives by crossing the Mediterranean in boats that are unseaworthy and operated by unscrupulous criminals. It is imperative to avoid the impression that a potentially fatal sea crossing in a tiny overcrowded boat is the only realistic pathway to Europe,” Hinchliffe added.

According to ICS, in 2014, 800 commercial ships rescued approximately 40,000 migrants in danger at sea

During the conference in London, UNHCR recommended exploring the possibility of compensating shipping companies for losses incurred from rescuing people in danger at sea. Volker Türk, Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, argued that a “robust State-led international search-and-rescue operation with a clear humanitarian and life-saving mandate” should be established in the Mediterranean and in other areas where similar operations are required. UNHCR stressed the need to step up resettlement and other mechanisms to provide appropriate avenues for those who are in need of protection. 

The Secretary General of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), Koji Sekimizu, noted that “merchant ships generally have small crews and are not configured to carry, feed and care for large number of people” and underlined the risks for the safety of migrants and the crew of merchant ships when they engage in large scale rescue operations.

This week, seven rescue operations were carried out by the Italian coast guard and navy along with three commercial ships. A total of 941 migrants and refugees were rescued, including Syrians, Palestinians, and Sub-Saharan Africans. The migrants were travelling on five plastic dinghies and two boats Ten people died, raising the death toll to at least 380 people for 2015.
 

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REPORTS AND NGO ACTIONS
 
NOAS: Detention of family with children violates Norwegian and international law
Norway’s current legislation and practice of detaining families with children violates the Norwegian Constitution, the European Convention on Human Rights, the UN Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. That is the conclusion of a new report on detention of asylum-seeking children, launched by the Norwegian Organisation for Asylum Seekers (NOAS).
 
The report argues that the lack of specific provisions on the detention of children in Norway’s Immigration Act contradicts the principle of legal clarity and the obligation to treat children as individuals. It also finds that Norway discriminates against children detained for migration purposes. For instance, while other children cannot be detained for more than two weeks in Norway, this safeguard is not always applied to migrant children. The report recommends that families with children should only be detained as a last resort, for a maximum of 72 hours and only in returns proceedings. It further argues for increased support from child welfare experts while children are being detained and before they are forcibly returned.
 
The report finds that assisted return is the best alternative to immigration detention in Norway as 87% of detained asylum seekers were forcibly returned to their country of origin in 2013 and 2014, and the number of forced returns of asylum seekers is now also larger than the number who chose assisted return.

330 children were detained in Norway in 2014. 


 
 

Asylum can be granted to military deserters who provide logistical support in conflicts says CJEU - ECRE Weekly Bulletin 27 February 2015

In last week’s Bulletin, the word ‘defectors’ was erroneously used to mean ‘deserters’. The article ‘Asylum can be granted to military deserters who provide logistical support in conflicts says CJEU’ is now corrected and available on ECRE’s website