Unaccompanied minors in the hotspot
by Elisa Maimone, Consiglio Italiano per i Rifugiati - CIR (Italian Council for Refugees)*
Italian law prescribes that unaccompanied children cannot be placed in detention centres or in reception centres for adults. However, in practice unaccompanied minors (UAMs) are placed together with adults in hotspot facilities in Italy, in “closed” centres in open violation of Constitutional law. Paradoxically, they are obliged to remain in a detention-like situation longer than adults due to the lack of available places in dedicated reception centres for them. These centres are few in number and usually overcrowded, and there are few places available due to the sharp increase in the number of unaccompanied minors arriving over the last few years. According to data from the Ministry of Labour and Social Policies, in 2015, 11,921 unaccompanied minors were accommodated in Italy, whereas in 2014 10,536 were accommodation. The number was 6,319 in 2013. While adults generally remain in the hotspot facilities from between two to six days, minors have had to stay for several weeks (mainly in Pozzallo and Lampedusa). For instance, 260 unaccompanied minors reached the Sicilian coast in a disembarkation on 25 May in Palermo. They were sent to the hotspot facilities for identification and registration. As of 11 June, ten of them were still in the hotspot premises at Trapani waiting for available places within the dedicated centres. On that date, in Lampedusa there are 66 unaccompanied minors still waiting to be transferred to dedicated reception centres.
Moreover, unaccompanied minors are not always separated from adults depending on the hotspot facilities where they are placed. As has been denounced by many organizations, unaccompanied minors in Pozzallo have remained in the hotspot facilities without being separated from adults and in shameful reception conditions. The reception conditions in Lampedusa have also been criticised very strongly and conditions at the moment are even worse following a fire on 17 May after which 170 places were lost (the part of the building dedicated to men).
By law, the responsibility for taking charge of unaccompanied minors lies with the municipality where the minor is present. CIR was informed during a field mission conducted in Trapani that before the implementation of the hotspot approach unaccompanied minors were taken immediately from the port by the competent staff of the municipality and transferred immediately to the dedicated centre. With the establishment of the hotspot facilities the situation of UAMs has worsened. The Municipality seems now slower at finding accommodation for unaccompanied minors, perhaps due to the possibility to temporarily accommodate them in the hotspot facilities. In this respect it should be emphasized that there is a need to set up a centralized system for the reception of UAMs in order to facilitate their quick transfer to dedicated centres where their specific needs can be adequately met.
Considering the increasing number of unaccompanied children arriving in Italy and that in Europe according to Europol data 10,000 UAMs have disappeared out of which more than 6,000 were from Italy, more attention should be given to this vulnerable group at EU and Italian level. UAMs are more exposed to risks of being smuggled or being exposed to work and/or sexual exploitation.
*CIR conducted a field visit to Trapani in the framework of the project ‘Strengthening NGO involvement and capacities around EU hotspots developments’ 2016-2017, implemented by the Dutch Council for Refugees, the Greek Council for Refugees, the Italian Council for Refugees, ECRE and Proasyl.
Information Note on Family Reunification for Beneficiaries of International Protection in Europe
On 20 June, ECRE published an Information Note on Family Reunification for Beneficiaries of International Protection in Europe, providing an in-depth overview of some of the most pertinent legal aspects of family reunification within Europe. In particular, it addresses the applicable legal framework for family reunification in international and EU law, and highlights relevant national and European jurisprudence.
The Information Note highlights that various EU Member are increasingly imposing stricter rules and regulations on beneficiaries of international protection when they apply for family reunification. It also emphasises that family reunification should be used as a safe and legal channel to the EU, which shows solidarity to Member States of first entry into the EU.
According to the Information Note, beneficiaries of international protection face several obstacles to effectively access family reunification:
The Information Note concludes that beneficiaries of international protection are still in a very precarious situation when they are granted international protection and that ensuring effective access to family reunification will greatly assist with the integration into society. States should therefore protect the right to family reunification of beneficiaries of international protection by giving due importance to their fundamental rights.
- Beneficiaries of subsidiary protection can be subjected to more restrictive conditions such as waiting periods and income requirements. This not only ignores their particular circumstances but also creates an arbitrary distinction between refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection. Instead, States should grant similar rights concerning the family reunification of refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection.
- Family reunification can be limited to ‘core’ family members. This practice does not take into account the special circumstances of forced displacement or the wide cultural differences of the concept of a family. States should adopt an individualised approach and examine the close personal ties between family members. The report highlights numerous incidents where this has occurred.
- Unrealistic or over rigid document requirements. Beneficiaries of international protection are not always able to obtain the necessary documentation because of the current situation in their country of origin. For this reason, States should adopt procedures that account for the difficulties faced by beneficiaries of international protection.
- Delays in the administration of the application and unrealistic time limits to submit an application. The note examines the guarantees that can be used to challenge a lengthy delay in a family reunification decision. In addition, it highlights the need to carry out an individualised assessment, noting that in some incidents a short time period to submit a family unity application may be impractical or impossible to meet.
AIDA Legal Briefing on duration and review of international protection status in Europe
ECRE published a legal briefing on 17 June, which analyses the duration of residence permits granted to beneficiaries of international protection in European countries, as well as practical issues relating to the issuance and renewal of the permits.
The limited duration of residence permits under the Qualification Directive not only contrasts with refugee protection traditions in other parts of the world such as Canada and the United States, but also with practice in the majority of Member States. The briefing finds that three-quarters of EU countries have more favourable provisions than the Directive. The distinction in the duration of residence rights available to refugees and subsidiary protection beneficiaries under the Directive differs from the uniform rules on the duration of residence permits applied to the two statuses in seven out of twenty-eight EU Member States.
Review and cessation of international protection is also discussed in the briefing. The European Commission’s recent emphasis on the possible reform of the Qualification Directive with a view to introducing systematic reviews of status comes as another illustration of a ‘ticking clock’ approach to international protection. Here too, practice in most Member States differs as they refrain from revisiting statuses for protection reasons related both to integration and long-term settlement of beneficiaries. The necessity of mechanisms for systematic review therefore seems questionable.
Greece amends its asylum law after multiple Appeals Board decisions overturn the presumption of Turkey as a ‘safe third country’
Last week the Greek Parliament approved an amendment to its asylum law to modify the composition of Appeals Committees and removed the possibility for asylum seekers to request a personal hearing before the Committees.
The main change brought about by the new law concerns the composition of the Appeals Committees which are tasked with examining appeals of negative asylum decisions of the Asylum Service. The Appeals Committees will now be made up of two judges of the Administrative Courts, appointed by the General Commissioner of the Administrative Courts, and one UNHCR representative. A representative from a list compiled by the National Commission of Human Rights may take part in the Committees if UNHCR is not in a position to appoint a member.
Up until now the three-person Committee was composed by one government representative, one UNHCR representative and one human rights expert from a list compiled by the National Commission on Human Rights.
In addition, the new law clarifies that EASO officials may conduct admissibility interviews in the context of the ‘fast-track’ procedure applied at the border. Under the previous law, EASO was only competent to support the Greek Asylum Service conducting the interviews.
At the same time, the amendment has removed the possibility for the appellant to request a personal hearing before the Appeals Committees at least two days before the appeal. This legislative amendment comes shortly after the entry into force of the asylum law voted in April and several Appeals Committees’ decisions rebutting the “safe third country” presumption regarding Turkey. According to a new European Commission report, as many as 70 rulings of the Appeals Committees have rebutted this presumption and overturned the related first instance decisions of the Asylum Service, while 2 have upheld the first instance inadmissibility decisions.
Serious concerns were raised in the Parliament plenary debate ahead of the adoption of the amendment around its constitutionality. Main criticisms noted the uncertain role of the new Appeals Committees, which will entail the involvement of judicial officials in an administrative decision-making body. The National Commission of Human Rights also questioned the constitutionality of the new composition of the Appeals Committees and the compliance of the new law with the right to an effective remedy.
For further information:
*An amended version of this article originally appeared in the Asylum Information Database (AIDA).
2015 saw the highest number of forcibly displaced people since UNHCR records began
The UNHCR Global Trends report, released this week, has revealed that 65,3 million individuals were forcibly displaced by the end of 2015. A significant increase when compared with the number of displaced in 2014 - 59,5 million people. The report details that 21,3 million refugees were registered worldwide in 2015 (compared to 19,5 million in 2014) and that 51% of them were children. 40,8 million people were internally displaced (compared to 38,2 million people in 2014), and 3,2 million people were waiting for a decision on their application for asylum (against 1,8 million in 2014). UNHCR estimated that on average 24 people worldwide were displaced from their homes every minute of every day during 2015.
Similarly to 2014, most refugees come from Syria (4,9 million), followed by Afghanistan (2,7 million) and Somalia (1,1 million). As to the receiving countries, the report notes that in 2015, developing regions or countries hosted 86% of refugees. In relation to the national population, Lebanon continues to have the largest proportion with 183 refugees per 1,000 inhabitants; while for the second consecutive year Turkey hosted the largest number of refugees worldwide, with 2,5 million people.
“We are facing the biggest refugee and displacement crisis of our time. Above all, this is not just a crisis of numbers; it is also a crisis of solidarity”, said UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon on World Refugee Day.
REPORTS & NGOs ACTIONS
Human Rights Watch urges EU not to send Syrians to Turkey due to lack of safeguards
This week Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the EU not to return Syrian refugees to Turkey, under the EU-Turkey Deal, as the country is not able to provide sufficient protection and security for all the refugees it hosts. HRW found that in both Izmir and Istanbul Syrians faced long delays of several months in registering for temporary protection and receiving identification cards (kimliks), meaning that many are unable to access effective protection, jobs and services, such as education and health care.
Worryingly, HRW reports that since earlier this year Syrians are required to have a rental contract or bring their landlord in order to secure a registration appointment. Many who cannot meet the requirement choose to pay a broker that negotiates an earlier registration. Such a prerequisite is not foreseen in the temporary protection regulation.
Syrians are also facing serious obstacles to apply for work permits, the report documents. Under a new regulation issued in January, Syrians with temporary protection status can only apply for a work permit if they have been registered in the province where they want to work for at least six months. Their employer must also provide a contract, sponsor the application, and make sure that Syrians are not over 10% of its workforce. HRW reports on the lack of information among Syrians about the work permits and also that many have experienced abuse and exploitation.
HRW calls on EASO and Greece to consider all applications of Syrians on their merits and not consider the claims inadmissible based on the grounds that Turkey is a safe third country or a first country of asylum for Syrians.
This week, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that at least eight Syrians, included three children, were killed by Turkish border guards at the Syrian-Turkish borders. The LIBE Committee in the European Parliament has urged the EU to verify the veracity of such reports and called on the European Commission to assess whether the EU-Turkey deal can continue to apply in these circumstances.
CEPS publication provides an overview of asylum statistics for 2015
On 17 June, the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), published an article on the distribution of asylum seekers across the European Union, based on Eurostat statistics. It outlines the total amount of applications, the main countries of origin and destination, but also the recognition rate and the number of relocated asylum seekers within the EU.
Germany received 441,800 of applications in 2015, out of a total of 1.2 million, making them the biggest receiving State. Hungary and Sweden received over 150,000 asylum applications respectively. CEPS also highlighted the differences in countries of origin between the EU Member States, stressing that asylum seekers in 2015 originated from 147 different countries. In the EU as a whole, the top four countries of asylum applicants were Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran.
CEPS also points to the fact that Syrians had a recognition rate of 98%, followed by Eritreans at 93% and Iraqis at 80%. In general, of all asylum applications made in the fourth quarter of 2015, over 50% of applicants were granted international protection, proving that many fulfil the refugee definition or are persons entitled to subsidiary protection.
The article also heighted that by mid-May of this year, only 1,500 relocations were successfully completed. This illustrates just how difficult it will be to relocate 160,000 people from Italy and Greece to other Member States.
- 25 June, London, Statewatching Europe: Civil liberties, the State and the European Union, Statewatch
- 27-28 June, London, Migration and Law Network 2016 Conference: 'Europe’s crisis: What future for immigration and asylum law and policy?', Queen Mary University of London
- 29 June – 1 July, ‘The Future of Refugee Law’, 1st Annual Conference, Refugee Law Initiative, University of London
- 30 June, Online Webinar “Breaking Ground: City Solutions for Refugee Housing”, Cities of Migration
- 4 – 15 July 2016, Brussels, Summer School on EU Immigration and Asylum Law, Odysseus Network
- 11-16 July 2016, Bologna, Summer School on Forced Migration and Asylum: a Multidisciplinary Approach, Africa e Mediterraneo
VACANCIES / OPEN CALLS