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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.

     
23 September 2016
  
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OP-ED
  

OP-ED

Danish suspension of resettlement - worst possible decision at the worst possible time - Op-ed by Danish Refugee Council

The New York declaration signed by the Danish government on September 19 included the following statement:

We urge States who have not yet established resettlement programmes to consider doing so at the earliest opportunity; those who have already done so are encouraged to consider increases in the size of their programmes. It is our aim to provide resettlement places and other legal pathways for admission on a scale which would enable the annual resettlement needs identified by UNHCR to be met.

However, the reality of the Danish policies on resettlement does not reflect any such commitment. In fact, the Danish government has announced a suspension of resettlement under the UNHCR resettlement programme. The initiative came in the context of a broader list of actions to reduce the number of asylum seekers arriving in Denmark. At a time of a global displacement crisis with more than 65 million in forced displacement this vital effort is now suspended for a period of at least 3-4 years.

 “It is the worst possible decision at the worst possible time. At a moment where we are facing a historic crisis – a crisis that will increase over the coming years through conflict and poverty further fueled by climate change the Danish government has chosen to continue  the narrow ‘race to the bottom’ rather than contributing to global solutions. It sends exactly the wrong message at a time where we desperately need political leadership and solidarity,” says general secretary for the Danish Refugee Council, Andreas Kamm.    

The Danish quota for resettlement places has remained stable since about 1979 at around 500 places per year. The programme includes both dossier cases for urgent and emergency priorities and selection missions for all kinds of submissions. The 500 quota also includes a special category of 20 to 30 places for persons with special medical needs.
 
 

ECRE

Innovating to include: wrapping up lessons from the Social Innovation for Refugee Inclusion Seminar

On 12 and 13 September, over 250 participants and speakers from all over Europe and beyond gathered in Brussels to discuss strategies of refugee inclusion and propose innovative and collaborative solutions at the Seminar on Social Innovation for Refugee Inclusion.

“Social change is what matters. The so-called refugee crisis has obviously increased the level of fear and xenophobia in our societies, but it has also pushed forward a strong desire for change. This requires innovators. We are here to discover what is now happening on the ground in the field of refugee inclusion, and to discuss what kind of processes are required to transform our societies into inclusive places”, stated Anne Bathily, ECRE’s Senior Policy Officer and the organiser of the Seminar.

Through plenary sessions and workshops, participants had the chance to hear and discuss what innovations are required for a truly welcoming culture, the role of technology in refugee integration and the role of the private sector in facilitating access to the labour market. The workshops focused on refugee participation, citizens’ initiatives, housing, higher education and the Boldness Project, a special session led by Eric Young, founder of the Social Projects Studio.

“Everything depends on inclusion. The future of refugees, but also the future of Europe. The ‘refugee crisis’ is indeed an integration crisis, not a border security crisis” stated Eric Young in his opening remarks. Setting the tone for the conference, he invited participants and speakers to be bold in their visions. “Every positive story provides inspiration and guidance for others, and this is the way that innovation spreads. This is the way that the world changes. Innovation will inspire those who can’t see it yet.”

Speakers at the Seminar included among others YouTube star Firas Alshater, Mayor of Grande-Synthe Damien Careme, Director of the Greek Forum of Refugees Yonous Mohammadi, Techfugees’ COO Josephine Goube and Corinne Prince-St-Amand from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. Dawit Friew recounted to participants his experience fleeing Ethiopia in an emotional and powerful speech where he invited the audience to drop the idea of labelling people, and to start instead to respect and treat everybody with dignity.

The pitching session counted with the presentation of 17 new or existing initiatives aimed at facilitating refugees’ integration into host societies. Highlights included Kiron Open Higher Education, a blended-learning organisation providing access to higher education to refugees and asylum seekers; Bureaucrazy, an upcoming app developed by refugees in Berlin to help newcomers deal with the cumbersome paperwork on arrival; Ideas Box from Bibliotheques sans Frontieres and Solomon, a Greek magazine in Athens prepared, managed and edited by locals, migrants and refugees together. The municipalities of Botkyrka in Sweden, Zarqa and Sahab in Jordan and Montreal in Canada also presented their work with refugees.

Kilian Kleinschmidt, founder of the Innovation and Planning Agency and former ‘mayor of Za’atari camp’ stated that “freedom of movement should be our ultimate objective. We should be a global mobile community, but we need to make sure that no one is forced to move.”

Ahmad Al-Rashid, a Syrian refugee now living in the UK invited participants to make technology more humane and less discriminatory, reminding participants how technology can be used in the wrong way – such as killing drones and smart weapons. “I hope” he stated “that one day we will be able to have a conference like this one back home, in Aleppo.”

The Seminar was organised by ECRE, funded by the U.S. Mission to the European Union, and in cooperation with the Council of Europe, the Mission of Canada to the European Union and the European Economic and Social Committee. Material from the Seminar, including pictures and presentations, is or will be available at this link.

For further information:
 

NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS

Devastating fire in Moria hotspot on Lesvos raises questions about safety and security

On Monday 19 September a fire demolished a big part of the Moria hotspot on the Greek island of Lesvos. Different sources report that the camp suffered 30% to 60% damage. Many refugees were forced to flee the premises with little but the clothes on their backs and 95 unaccompanied children had to be transferred temporarily to the Pikpa reception site nearby. 30 people were injured and had to be taken to the hospital. The island of Lesvos is severely overcrowded and hosts over 5,300 people, but only has the capacity for 3,500.

Tensions and clashes between ethnic groups have been running high for some time in Moria, while a protest rally organised by residents in the town of Mytilini on Monday seems to have been infiltrated by far right groups. UNHCR emphasised that the security situation in Moria and other reception sites has reached a critical level and once more called upon the security and law enforcement authorities to increase security to protect refugees and migrants, but also aid workers and civil servants working in the reception centres. The dire living conditions, in addition to the enduring feeling of uncertainty, fuel frustration and despair among refugees and migrants, which often leads to tension in the centres.

“The European Union and Greece cannot carry on stockpiling refugees indefinitely on the Greek islands,” stated Amnesty International’s Giorgos Kosmopoulos. “Instead EU leaders must share responsibility fairly and they must urgently start moving refugees to the mainland and onwards across Europe.”

“It was a matter of time, before something like this would happen in Moria,” said ECRE's Aspasia Papadopoulou. “Overcrowding, differential treatment between nationalities and complete uncertainty about the future obviously lead to tensions and frustration. People need to be transferred to the mainland as a matter of urgency, starting with the 95 children waiting for shelter.”

For further information:  
 

Back to top
 

Pushbacked asylum seekers complain against FYROM to the European Court of Human Rights

 
Asylum seekers have submitted a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights regarding their unlawful pushback from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to Greece. The claim submitted by the group of eight Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan asylum seekers concerns events that took place on March 2016.  
 
The asylum seekers crossed the FYROM border on 14 March 2016 and claim they were violently forced back to Greece through ‘holes’ in the border fence. They were given no possibility to ask for asylum or to take legal action against their deportation.
 
The European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and Pro Asyl are providing legal support to the asylum seekers. “The closure of the Greek-Macedonian border made legal entry into Europe via the Balkan route de facto impossible,” said ECCHR General Secretary Wolfgang Kaleck. “FYROM’s use of push-backs against refugees in transit violates human rights”
 
“In a Europe characterized by walls and fences, the ECtHR in Strasburg offers hope that victims of systematic unlawful collective expulsion from FYROM to Greece may find a measure of justice,” stressed Pro Asyl’s Karl Kopp.
 
For further information:  
 

Greece: Legal aid scheme for appeals enters into force
 

The Ministerial Decision introducing free legal assistance in asylum appeals procedures in Greece was published on 9 September 2016.

Free legal assistance is made available to applicants who appeal before the Appeals Committees against a negative decision on their asylum claim. The appeal procedure before these Committees, last modified in June 2016, does not involve a personal hearing in principle.

Asylum seekers may request free legal assistance at least 10 days before the examination of their appeal under the regular procedure and may request the examination to be postponed where a legal representative has not been appointed at least 5 days beforehand. For cases falling under the exceptional border procedure relating to the admissibility procedure conducted on the islands subject to strict time limits, a request for free legal assistance must be made together with the submission of the appeal. The asylum seeker may only request the postponement of the examination of the appeal where, through no fault of their own, they have not had the possibility to consult their legal representative.

Free legal assistance is to be provided by accredited lawyers, on the basis a Registry of lawyers managed by the Asylum Service. According to the Ministerial Decision, the remuneration fee for legal aid is set at €80 per appeal. The level of the fee is the same for all appeal procedures, regardless of whether the Appeal Committee holds a personal hearing with the asylum seeker or not. In contrast, legal aid frameworks in countries such as France foresee higher rates for appeals with a hearing (€365) than for those without a hearing (€95) before the National Court of Asylum.

As detailed by a joint report by ECRE and The AIRE Centre in July 2016, effective access to legal assistance remains a key challenge for asylum seekers in Greece. Ahead of the publication of the legal aid scheme, the report recommended “targeted support to qualified Greek nongovernmental organisations and practitioners providing legal assistance and representation, and also likely to be involved in the forthcoming state-funded and run legal aid scheme for appeals.”

For further information:
 

UK: Inspection examines restrictive family reunification procedure

report of the Independent Chief Inspector on Borders and Immigration found the policy of the UK Home Office to be too restrictive in the treatment of family reunification applications.

In 2015, the UK received 8,403 family reunification applications, compared to 5,498 in 2014. The Inspector sampled 181 applications considered at the visa sections of the Home Office in Amman, Istanbul and Pretoria. Although the UK allows for considering family reunification applications outside the Immigration Rules where “exceptional circumstances” or “compassionate factors” arise, this was not seen in any of the cases sampled by the Inspector.

The Inspector also expressed concern as to the Home Office’s decision in 2014 to cease funding DNA testing for applicants to prove family links, given that Home Office guidance remained silent on the possibility for applicants to obtain DNA evidence at their own cost. Since the withdrawal of free DNA testing, refusal rates have increased substantially: rejections for Somalis went from 17% in 2013 to 80% in 2015, for Eritreans from 15% in 2013 to 46% in 2015, and for Syrians from 9% in 2013 to 35% in 2015. The impact of DNA testing in this regard could be crucial, since nationals of countries such as Somalia or Eritrea face systematic obstacles to accessing documents to prove their identity or relationship with their sponsor. Lack of documentation to substantiate identity or link to a sponsor was the ground for refusal of 18 out of 21 applications by Somalis in Pretoria, seen by the Inspector.

In its updated policy on family reunion of 29 July 2016, the Home Office mentions that “The onus is on the applicant and their sponsor to provide sufficient evidence to prove their relationship and satisfy the caseworker that they are related as claimed. As part of this, they may wish to submit a DNA test at their own expense and from an organisation accredited by the Ministry of Justice – HM Courts and Tribunal Service.”

For further information:
 

UNITED NATIONS

The United Nations Summit for Refugees and Migrants- a failed opportunity for much needed reform? 

This week’s UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants - which had been referred to as an “extraordinary opportunity” by UNHCR Chief Filippo Grandi - has instead been widely criticised by civil society organisations. The outcome of the Summit, the so-called New York Declaration, has been described as a document “thin on content and connections to practice” which fails to  provide much needed reform and reflects the interests of States more than those of refugees.

At the Summit, Mohammed Badran, representative of the organisation Syrian Volunteers Netherlands, warned: “Crisis after crisis, conference after conference, it seems inaction is the only thing that the international community can agree on […] If world leaders today are unable to find a solution to the refugee crisis, and the Syrian crisis, then this Summit is no different from all other conferences.”

Through the New York Declaration, States have made a series of non-legally binding commitments to, among other things, protect the rights of all refugees and migrants regardless of their status; ensure access to education for migrant and refugee children; support countries rescuing, receiving and hosting large numbers of refugees and migrants; and to work towards ending child detention. In addition, the Declaration also provides for the International Organization of Migration (IOM) to become an official UN agency.

Human Rights Watch’s Philippe Bolopion, commented, "I would say if you measure this document by what is at stake here, it certainly falls short of the mark. We're facing an historic crisis and the response is not historic." He added, "Is the outcome document up to the challenge? No, unquestionably it's not. Does that mean the summit is pointless? No, because it's precisely at moments like this that you need to regroup" to find durable solutions.

Among the biggest shortcomings of the document identified by human rights groups are the leeway left for continuation of child detention as well as the exclusion of internally displaced people (IDPs) from the agenda. A civil society alliance, which includes among others Amnesty International, the Norwegian Refugee Council and the International Rescue Committee, stressed that maintaining child detention as a practice of “last resort” opens a legal backdoor that runs counter to the best interest of the child. Alexandra Bilak from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre has called the exclusion of IDPs a “strategic mistake” which is “symptomatic of the ever-growing disparity between the scale of internal displacement worldwide and the lack of global focus on protecting and assisting IDPs.”

The New York Declaration will lay ground for the Global Compacts on Migrants and Refugees that are to be agreed in 2018. The Global Compact on Refugees will be based on a “comprehensive refugee response framework” to be elaborated largely by UNHCR and meant to provide a response to each specific refugee situation worldwide. By 2018, UNHCR expects to have gathered enough feedback to conclude the Global Compact on Refugees.  The Global Compact on Migration will instead be drafted through a different process, based on State negotiations, due to the absence of an international convention dealing with all elements of migration.

For further information:
 

REPORTS & NGO ACTIONS

Massive spending in border controls does not yield results, argues ODI

 
In a report released this week ahead of the UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) analysed the costs of deterrence measures and border controls adopted by EU countries over the past few years. The measures adopted however, are not expected to yield the desired results of reducing the number of people arriving irregularly to Europe, ODI finds.

Even with a lack of clarity and transparency regarding spending related to border controls, the Institute estimates that EU countries spent at least 1.7 € billion for building fences, enhancing identity checks, surveillance, dog checks and deportations. Counting bilateral and multilateral agreements with non-EU countries to reduce migration, the EU has spent over 17 € billion in three years in an attempt to deter refugees and migrants to travel to Europe.

ODI argues for a shift in the migration paradigm: Europe needs to stop focusing on deterring migration and start managing it. The reports provides four recommendations to European governments: increase safe and legal pathways, create a new alliance for data on migration and displacement, enhance transparency on deterrence costs and forge new international coalitions to ensure a better management of migration.

For further information:
 

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