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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.

     
20 November 2015
  
 
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ECRE
EUROPEAN DEVELOPMENTS
NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS
REPORTS & NGOs ACTIONS
  

ECRE

In the wake of Paris attacks ECRE calls on Europe to recommit to its fundamental values

ECRE expresses its shock and sorrow over the death of so many innocent people in the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut. The brutal acts in Paris were a direct assault on Europe’s way of life and its fundamental values of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and human dignity.
 
In the aftermath, ECRE is deeply concerned by the words used to demonise refugees. Such irresponsible language risks fuelling a new wave of xenophobia and racism against refugees and migrants, as well as Muslims who live in Europe. Confusing refugees with terrorists is morally and legally wrong, as the 1951 Refugee Convention excludes people who have committed serious crimes from its scope. Moreover, many of the refugees coming to Europe are themselves fleeing the same extremism, terrorism and violence that occurred in Paris and Beirut.
 
Scapegoating refugees, closing the borders and discrediting the institution of asylum will not defeat terrorism. Instead, European States need to stand strong and defend fundamental values in solidarity and uphold their legal obligations under the Refugee Convention and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which recognizes the right to asylum in Article 18. Instead of stigmatising refugees, we should embrace them as fellow human beings, and maintain our commitment to offering sanctuary to those seeking protection from persecution and conflict.
 
What terrorists hope to instil through these attacks is hatred and intolerance in Europe. Now more than ever, we need to remain true to our fundamental values, by welcoming refugees into our communities and offering them a life in Europe with dignity.
 
 

EUROPEAN DEVELOPMENTS

European Parliament study shows that Mediterranean Sea is the world’s most dangerous migratory route

The Directorate General for External Policies of the European Parliament has published the study ‘Migrants in the Mediterranean: Protecting Human Rights’, which highlights that, up to 16 October, 613,179 persons arrived in Europe via the Mediterranean this year and 3,117 of those died while attempting to cross. These figures make the Mediterranean Sea the world’s most dangerous migratory region. The majority of those arriving are refugees, fleeing war, conflict and persecution, the report stresses.

The study provides a detailed overview of the legal framework protecting the rights of migrants and refugees trying to reach Europe by boat, and identifies how these rights may be violated at various stages of their journey. During pre-departure, migrants may face exploitation and abuse by officials and bandits; and detention by authorities of transit countries, with a risk of ill-treatment, violence and torture from both. There have been reports of push-back operations in Italy, Greece and Spain; including by Frontex. These actions violate the fundamental principle of non-refoulement.

In the absence of safe and legal channels to seek asylum in the EU, the actual crossing of the Mediterranean entails serious risks to the right to life. Once in Europe, they face human rights violations on their route to their final destination, particularly on the Western Balkans route where they are liable to trafficking, smuggling, violence and abuse by police. Refugees and migrants are forced to live in extremely poor reception conditions, with vulnerable groups like women and children not being identified.

With regards to EU policies on migration, the study finds that the respective governments’ primary aims are the protection and securitisation of their borders, rather than the development of effective strategies to protect the human rights of migrants and to save lives in the Mediterranean. It makes a number of recommendations to improve protection of migrants, including; addressing the root causes of migration, creating more legal entry channels to the EU and moving from border control to rescue operations.

For further information:
 

Policies targeting human smuggling might result in higher risks for migrants and route changes

In November 2015, the European Commission published a study on smuggling of migrants, carried out by ECRE, in a consortium with Optimity Advisors and the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD). The study gives an overview of patterns and trends of the phenomenon. It also analyses and assesses existing policies of selected EU Member States and third countries.

The study concludes that policies and operational measures only targeting human smugglers, such as law enforcement activities on border management and migration control, could perversely result in higher risks for migrants and increased costs to them.  For instance, when migrants run out of money at any point along the route, they can easily become victims of human trafficking, including abuses, extortions and kidnappings. Nevertheless, stricter enforcement policies might only result in diverting the routes, as migrants are relatively unresponsive to the price paid for the crossing or the risks they might face along the journey.

Furthermore, regarding national legislation, the study also shows that most of the EU Member States do not clarify whether a person who assists migrants in crossing the border irregularly for humanitarian reasons should be sanctioned or not, according to the EU Directive. Conversely, as stressed by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency and several NGOs, the penalty for providing humanitarian assistance results in the criminalisation of migrants and refugees for irregular entry and for organisations assisting them. Civil society has raised concerns about the criminalisation of migrants and the criminalisation of humanitarian assistance to migrants in relation to the Facilitators Package legislation, which is now under review. There are actually stronger humanitarian elements in the United Nations Protocol against Smuggling which could be used, namely by criminalising acts committed only for financial gain and inserting specific clauses to avoid the criminalisation of individuals or organisations acting for humanitarian purpose.

The study draws attention to the constantly changing routes, as well as the flexibility and resilience of the smuggling networks.  Consequent to these findings, migrants and refugees are exposed to different risks and are required to pay varying prices according to the route they choose; changes in costs that may occur even when taking the same route. Moreover, migrants and refugees usually organise only the first stage of their journey, and need to take spontaneous decisions en-route, that may require yet more changes in their direction of travel.

In conclusion, national and European governments should enhance their cooperation in order to adopt comprehensive measures, targeting smuggling networks and Hubs, as well as addressing the reasons that force migrants to rely on these criminals, such as the absence of legal channels to Europe. International organisations should assist and monitor countries’ approaches with regards to respecting and protecting the rights of smuggled migrants.

For further information:
 

NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS

Refugees in Serbia report physical violence and abuses by the Bulgarian police

According to a survey by the Belgrade Centre of Human Rights, released on 13 November, many refugees entering Serbia from Bulgaria, including unaccompanied minors, reported ill-treatment and abuses by the Bulgarian police.

Of more than a hundred refugees interviewed by the BCHR between 20 and 22 October, all those who had contacts with the Bulgarian police experienced either extortion, physical violence, robberies or attacks by police dogs. Some refugees witnessed shootings and threats of deportation to their country of origin.

Most of the incidents occurred at the Bulgarian border with Turkey, but also at the Serbian-Bulgarian border. Moreover, some refugees have been detained in closed centres in Sofia, Vrazhdebna or Busmantsi, where they have been abused by both the police and personnel.

Nikolina Milic of the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights said “The dramatic and shocking ill-treatment of people fleeing conflict and poverty is totally unacceptable, particularly in an EU member state. We are calling for an independent investigation into the incidents in Bulgaria, and we call on the Bulgarian government to condemn these human rights abuses in the strongest terms possible."  

More than 200 refugees cross the Serbian-Bulgarian border on a daily basis, having walked through the mountains for several days. Most of them are from Afghanistan, but also from Syria and Iraq.

For further information:
 

Italy: a worrying trend is developing in the ‘hotspots’

Civil society organisations in Italy are expressing strong concerns over practices at the ‘hotspots’: return decisions being issued without a proper examination of the individual cases, chaotic and unprecise approaches to the identification of people, unaccompanied minors wrongly identified as adults and a general lack of protection safeguards and guarantees for migrants and refugees.

According to news reports in the country, civil society organisations, including UNHCR, do not have access to refugees and migrants until after the initial police screening, a fact that raises concerns about a lack of information on asylum procedures for new arrivals, a right guaranteed under the EU recast Asylum Procedures Directive.

There are documented cases of unaccompanied minors from Gambia and Senegal identified as adults: because they lack documentation, they have all been assigned the fake date of birth of 1 January 1997, which makes them adults and therefore potentially subject to a return decision. MSF Italy has documented, since 24 September 2015, over 100 cases of people rescued at sea and being handed an expulsion decision shortly thereafter, even when in clear need of medical attention.  

At least 15 people from Mali and Pakistan have been found last week outside the police station (questura) in Palermo: they had their protection claims denied because they had already been subject to an expulsion order. The return decision was handed to them after being asked for their personal data on arrival from their sea passage. According to their statements, they were not informed about the asylum procedure.

The Italian Asylum Round Table (Tavolo Nazionale Asilo), composed by many civil society organisations including ECRE members ASGI and CIR, sent a meeting request to the Interior Ministry to clarify the practices taking place at the hotspots, which – they highlight – have no juridical basis in national law. They are particularly concerned about the lack of information on asylum and the limitation of the international protection procedure to certain nationalities. The request has so far not been replied to.  

For further information:
 

EU progress reports: Macedonia and Serbia fail to ensure access to asylum and refugees’ protection guarantees

On 10 November, the European Commission published the annual progress reports on Macedonia and Serbia. While refugees continue to transit along the Western Balkans route to seek international protection in the EU, asylum seekers have difficulty accessing asylum procedures in Macedonia and Serbia, Consequently, their guarantees of protection are minimal. In Macedonia, asylum law is not fully implemented. Similarly, the European Commission reports that the Serbian asylum and migration framework is generally weak.  Short-term measures undertaken in recent months, have been insufficient to meet the needs of thousands refugees.

In Macedonia, refugees, are not adequately identified, especially the most vulnerable groups and children, which risks undermining their protection needs. In addition, they are not well informed about their rights and obligations or asylum procedures. While asylum applicants continue to increase, very few of them have been granted refugee status; only five in 2015. Moreover, if they decide to appeal, they face long delays and submit repeated appeals, as the Administrative Court processes the request on procedural rather than substantive grounds.

In Serbia, there is no protection-sensitive screening mechanism within the asylum procedures that would allow for the identifying of people in need of international protection, especially refugee children and vulnerable groups. The EU’s report also highlights the current lack of well-trained staff to register asylum applications, as well as insufficient accommodation. Overall, the EU urges Serbia to launch a comprehensive reform of the whole asylum system in order to align it with EU and international standards.
As candidates to the EU membership, Macedonia and Serbia are obligated to harmonise and implement their legislation and policies in line with EU standards, including in the area of asylum and migration.

For further information:
 

REPORTS & NGOs ACTIONS

Integration cannot be postponed: the longer the wait, the more difficult it becomes

At a conference organised by the International Labour Organisation in Brussels this week, representatives from international organisations, civil society, EU institutions and the private business sector came together to discuss the integration of refugees in the labour market. Speakers were unanimous in recognising the absolute importance of employment in the integration process, identified by refugees themselves - together with housing - as a key aspect.

Mr. Buchwald, from the German Public Employment Services, underlined the need to change national laws first to adapt to the changing situation - an aspect in which he noted much openness on the side of the German government – in order to grant refugees access to the labour market, as well as to necessary language courses, at an early stage.

The current lack of legal and safe avenues to protection in Europe was highlighted by various speakers and the finalisation on the Directive on students and researchers was welcomed, as potentially opening more safe and legal pathways. “At this moment, Europe is showing its worst face to refugees,” stated Luca Visentini, General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation. Green MEP Jean Lambert commended the role of civil society in this regard, and urged States to do more in welcoming whilst integrating refugees into European society.

For further information:
 

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch highlight the failure of EU’s response to refugee crisis

In a report released this week, Amnesty International analysed the European Union’s approach to the current refugee crisis: instead of focusing on granting access to the territory and giving protection to those qualifying for it, the EU has spent hundreds of millions of Euros in trying to stop people from coming. Building fences, using technological surveillance techniques and increasing border patrols have not achieved the desired intent though: people keep coming, and they do so in numbers much greater than before.

Increasingly closed borders have nonetheless resulted in people being forced to use other – mostly more dangerous – routes, which often make people even more dependent on costly and unreliable smugglers. Additionally, the report details the practice of push-backs, often accompanied by ill-treatment at the borders between Greece and Turkey, Bulgaria and Turkey, and Morocco and Spain in the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.

The failures of European governments in addressing the crisis were also highlighted by Human Rights Watch. In a report released on Monday, the organisation sets out recommendations to improve the response to the current situation. European leaders need to increase safe and legal channels to Europe, with more resettlement, easier family reunification policies and a serious programme for granting humanitarian visas. Human rights need to be taken into account at all stages, and especially when dealing with third countries for the management of migration.

For further information:
 

Report warns of the effect of administrative detention on stateless persons in Malta

A report from the European Network on Statelessness and ECRE member aditus Foundation, has outlined the pernicious effects that the widespread use of administrative detention has on stateless persons in Malta. With no statelessness procedures to identify and recognise people in this predicament, stateless persons end up in detention, which, in a number of cases, are in breach of Malta’s human rights obligations.

The report includes testimonies from a number of stateless persons in Malta that outline the difficulties faced, such as the conditions of detention and the length of such detention. Furthermore, stateless persons live in Malta without any form of legal or social protection, nor have any procedures available to them in which they can present their claims for protection.

In order to improve the lives of these stateless people, the report makes a number of practical recommendations. These focus on arrangements that could be made by the Maltese authorities, and include calls to ensure effective access to protection for stateless person through the provision of legal stay status and the formal recognition of their rights.

For further information:
 

IRC calls for urgent humanitarian action in Europe

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) have released a briefing paper calling Europe’s response to the refugee crisis within its borders ‘shamefully inadequate’. With winter approaching, IRC says that as a matter of urgency the EU and its Member States must act in five key areas to ensure that a safe reception is provided for refugees. Without these measures, IRC says many more people will die.

These measures focus on areas such as safe, organised reception, with the IRC reporting that the EU policy of ‘hotspots’ has so far caused chaos, increased tension and been introduced with little coordination with NGOs and insufficient staff numbers or equipment. The inadequacy of the hotspots is said to have led to many refugees having to queue for days outdoors without shelter and unable to leave the line to access medical evaluation.

The call for action also notes the need for specialist protection for the most vulnerable groups arriving in Europe and for greater clarity over who is coordinating the humanitarian response. It laments the lack of funding that is needed to adequately aid the humanitarian response that is required in Europe. IRC call for such funds to focus on such a response, rather than using resources to try to keep refugees out of Europe- “Europe’s response should be saving lives, not putting up fences”.

For further information:  
 

‘No man is an island’: Contest for tickets to avant-premiere

ECRE is offering multiple double tickets for the avant-premiere of ‘No Man is an Island’, a documentary by Tim de Keersmaecker about two young refugees trying to integrate on the Italian island of Lampedusa. The pre-opening takes place at Cinéma Galéries in Brussels on Wednesday 25 November and will be followed with a Q&A session with the film director and ECRE.

How to participate? Share with us your experiences or hopes on refugee integration: it can be a picture, a drawing, a short story – there are no limits for your creativity! Post your idea on our Facebook or Twitter page using the hashtag #ECREcontest and you will have a chance to win the tickets. Please note that by posting material you agree to have the rights to distribute it publicly.

Find more information on the documentary here.
 
 

EVENTS

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