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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.

     
15 May 2015
  
EUROPEAN DEVELOPMENTS
 
REPORTS AND NGO ACTIONS 
  
 
EUROPEAN DEVELOPMENTS

European Migration Agenda: positive move on search and rescue and resettlement

On 13 May, the European Commission presented the new European Migration Agenda. With a shift welcomed by several NGOs, the Commission acknowledged that the “immediate imperative is the duty to protect those in need.” Among other measures, the Commission presented plans to step up search and rescue in the Mediterranean, set up a mechanism to distribute persons in clear of international protection amongst member states and an EU-wide resettlement scheme.

In order to take swift action to face the current situation in the Mediterranean, the Commission intends to triple the budget of the Frontex joint-operations Triton and Poseidon so as to restore the level of intervention previously guaranteed under the Italian Mare Nostrum Operation.

In addition, to address the overstretched reception capacity of coastal member states, the Commission aims to set up a distribution scheme “for persons in clear need of international protection to ensure a fair and balanced participation of all Member States to this common effort.” Such a scheme will be based on member states’ GDP, size of population, unemployment rate, numbers of asylum seekers and of resettled refugees already present in all member states.

With regard to resettlement, the Commission plans to establish an EU resettlement scheme to offer 20,000 places across member states, taking into account their GDP, size of population, unemployment rate, numbers of asylum seekers and of resettled refugees already present in EU member states. According to the Commission’s plan, 50 million euro would be allocated to this resettlement scheme.

UNHCR and IOM have welcomed the new approach taken by the Commission. Volker Türk, UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner for Protection commented: “The EU's proposals represent a great breakthrough in terms of managing refugee flows and migration.”

NGOs welcomed in particular the decision to step up search and rescue in the Mediterranean, although, as Amnesty International has pointed out, “the Agenda fails to explicitly make clear how far the operational area of Triton will be extended to ensure that it will cover those areas in the high seas where most refugees’ and migrants’ boats get into difficulties”.

ECRE considers the Commission’s communication to be a welcome step as it refers to a number of measures that constitute a move in the right direction, such as boosting resources to save lives, increasing the number for resettlement places and measures that enhance solidarity. An EU scheme for distributing persons in need of international protection could assist to support member states receiving high numbers of asylum seekers in emergency situations. However, the Commission’s communication lacks details as regards the way in which it would operate in practice. ECRE considers that any such system should take into account family ties or other connection criteria, as well as integration prospects of persons concerned in light of the continuing differences that exist in the Asylum Systems across the EU.

"Solidarity among EU Member States in the approach is the only way that a problem of this nature can be tackled, and UNHCR is enormously pleased to see that this principle has been recognized in the proposals put forward today," said Volker Türk. "UNHCR stands ready to provide all further help we can to Member States in making these objectives a reality."

Some member states such as the UK, have already opposed the resettlement plan outlined by the Commission, while others countries have shown their willingness to take in more refugees and asylum seekers. “Ireland has agreed to accept an additional 300 migrants under a new EU plan to tackle the Mediterranean refugee crisis”, reported RTE.
 
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REPORTS AND NGO ACTIONS

Greece’s commitment on change in detention policy, treatment of Syrian applicants & other issues
 
The new AIDA report on Greece, among other issues, discusses the commitments made by the new Greek government, in February 2015, towards reducing the use of immigration detention, following four deaths of detainees, two of which were suicides, in the Amygdaleza Pre-Removal Detention Centre and in police stations’ detention facilities in Athens and Thessaloniki in mid-February 2015.

According to the new government, a previous Ministerial Decision, allowing for indefinite detention of migrants beyond 18 months, would be revoked and persons detained beyond that 18-month period would be immediately released. The Amygdaleza Pre-Removal Detention Centre was also set to close down within 100 days. Moreover, actions would be taken to put in place open reception centers, to implement alternatives to detention and the immediate release of persons belonging to vulnerable groups, as well as asylum seekers. In practice, according to the report written by the Greek Council for Refugees, the first encouraging steps have been taken, as persons who have been detained for more than 18 months, and for long periods, are progressively released. However, the report notes that persons belonging to vulnerable groups, including asylum seekers, have been observed as being in detention as of April 2015.

Moreover, as stressed in the report, as of December 2014, Syrians holding original identity documents can have their applications examined under a fast-track procedure in Greece; whereby the Asylum Service registers and takes a decision on claims, on the same day. However, this rapid procedure is only available to Syrians who have not previously applied for asylum in Greece. The Asylum Service also announced a weekly schedule, defining the availability of interpreters for different languages for registration of asylum claims on specific days, in an effort to reduce registration queues in its Athens Regional Asylum Office. In the same spirit, the Asylum Service has started a system of booking registration appointments through Skype. Notwithstanding these efforts, access to asylum is still far from being guaranteed.
 
An amendment of the so-called “Old Procedure”, applied to asylum claims submitted before 7 June 2013, has put an end to the possibility of the relevant decision authorities to directly grant residence permits on humanitarian grounds, including a disposition similar to the one applied in the New Procedure on the mere possibility for them to refer the case to the Ministry of Interior. Moreover, the responsible authority for deciding on applications for renewal of residence permits on humanitarian grounds is now the General Secretary of Public Order, an appeal against the decision of whom is no longer provided.
 
Finally, a decision by the Director of the Asylum Service has extended the duration of validity of asylum seeker cards for nationals of Albania, Georgia, Bangladesh, Egypt and Pakistan from 45 days to three months (whereas for all other nationalities the duration of validity of their cards remains four months).
 

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Refugees and asylum seekers detained and trapped in Libya face torture, violence and abuse

Refugees, migrants and asylum seekers in Libya are subjected to ransoms, torture, ill-treatment, sexual violence and other human rights abuses, as described, and denounced by Amnesty International, in a report issued this week.

Amnesty condemns systematic detention of migrants and refugees, including those attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea. At immigration detention centres, migrants, both women and men, face torture and ill-treatment; and are forced to live in inadequate conditions for unlimited periods, due to shortages of basic needs, such as water and food.

The report gives voice to vulnerable people, including women raped, sexually abused and harassed along smuggling migration routes in Libya, as well as in immigration detention centres. Refugees and religious minorities in Libya, especially Christian migrants, are often victim of abuses, such as unlawful killings, abductions and torture.

According to testimonies, many sub-Saharan people, including women, unaccompanied and separated children, have been abducted for ransoms and held in captivity, some of them for months. During this period, they have been beaten and tortured, with limited or no access to basic needs such as food, water and sanitary facilities.

At the same time, migrants cannot find international protection in Libyan neighbouring countries. Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria have closed their borders and imposed strict requirements to obtain visas and entry permits. Thus, refugees and migrants have no option but to risk their lives in the Mediterranean Sea where, in 2015 alone, over 1,700 people died trying to cross.

Regarding EU initiatives, Amnesty is concerned that European plans to “systematically identify, capture and destroy vessels”, ostensibly to fight human smuggling, would only act to contribute to migrants and refugees being trapped in Libya, thus exposing expose them to the risk of further serious human rights abuses.

Refugees and migrants are manifestly victims of widespread human rights abuses and violations of humanitarian law; maltreatments that continue to affect people living in Libya, a country of protracted armed conflict and lawlessness.

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Frontex: an increased number of asylum seekers crossed EU borders in 2014

The annual report issued by the EU Border Agency Frontex highlights that in 2014 more than 280,000 migrants crossed the EU external borders irregularly; most of them being asylum seekers. That is twice as many as the previous peak following the Arab Spring in 2011, when 140,000 irregular migrants were detected.

In 2014, more than a quarter of people crossing irregularly were Syrians (79,169), the majority seeking international protection. They were followed by an increased number of Eritreans, who rose from 11,300 people in 2013 to 34,500 last year. The number of Afghans increased from about 9,500 in 2013 to more than 22,000 in 2014.

According to the report, in 2014, most irregular migrants arrived in Europe through the central Mediterranean route; amounting to 170,000 people; being 60% of all the irregular entries. They departed from Libya, where asylum seekers and migrants face arbitrary deten­tion in very poor conditions, as well as violence and exploitation. The report also notes that many of them were detected during search and rescue operations; saved while they were risking their life in distress at sea.

In addition, in late 2014, Frontex reported a sharp increase of migrants from Kosovo who irregularly crossed the border between Serbia and Hungary. From a monthly average of less than 1,000 people per month, before September 2014, 9,000 people arrived in the EU through the Western Balkan route, in December 2014.

Frontex also underlines that in 2014, 252,000 migrants had to return to their country of origin, which, compared to 2013, represents an increase of 12%. That is mainly due to a growing number of return decisions is­sued by Spain, rising from 7,410 in 2013 to 40,386 in 2014.


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