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, find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

08 March 2018
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Strategic Destitution and the Politics of Migration

The news from Italy this week is of the destruction of an informal settlement, housing 1500 people and in place since 2010. There are many troubling elements of the story, and not least the nexus between migration and labour exploitation (those of us eating Italian salad for lunch might take a moment to reflect). Another element that resonates beyond Italy is the use of destitution to serve political and economic purposes.

Barely a week passes without a warning on the destitution faced by migrants within Europe, including those seeking asylum. This week Italian NGOs concerned about the fate of those evicted from the San Ferdinando settlement; last week NGOs in the UK reporting on research into destitution of rejected asylum seekers there.

In some cases, destitution results from particular asylum and migration policies but can be classified as a “regrettable” side effect, in the same way that all policies have some negative consequences. The tensions between certain types of migration policy – best termed “migration control” – and social and economic rights are well documented (see the work of Sarah Spencer for example).

Whether destitution is a price worth paying or whether these policies are effective or justifiable is debatable, however, they are still milder than policies which deliberately use destitution in order to achieve particular objectives, here termed “strategic destitution”. This implies the use of destitution as a tool, or as a means to achieve pre-determined objectives of asylum and migration policy, rather than being either an unpredictable result or an unintended side effect of such policies.

There are two contemporary examples of strategic destitution in action. The first rests on the pull factor theory. Harsh conditions are needed so that people are not attracted to particular countries, or to Europe as a whole, or so they don’t engage in “secondary movement”. Despite the lack of evidence for most commonly asserted pull factors, the theory holds policy-makers in a vice-like grip (see next week’s op-ed for more details). It is reflected in the CEAS reform proposals launched in 2016 and dominates thinking in certain countries, captivating politicians of all stripes. For the UK, the “hostile environment” strategy is associated with current Prime Minister Theresa May’s stint as Home Secretary but it was pioneered by the former Labour government from 2002 onwards (similarly it should be noted that settlements were also being dismantled during the tenure of the previous Italian government, although with less crowing on Twitter).

In a study from last year, ECRE used information from the AIDA database covering 23 countries in Europe to conclude that “the reduction or withdrawal of reception conditions is considered and used as a tool for immigration control”. The analysis showed that reception conditions are withdrawn arbitrarily or as a punitive measure, and assessment of the risk of destitution is often not carried. In a recent article, Ilker Ataç discusses the use of conditionality in provision of housing in Austria, the Netherlands and Sweden, referring to the wider trend of placing conditions on access to socio-economic rights and the link with the concept of deservingness.  Conditions might be reasonable but where they are not, then destitution results because people chose not to submit to the conditions and therefore cannot access their rights. For example, if accommodation is only provided in detention centres, people may chose not to take it up.

In practice, drawing a line between the deserving and undeserving is close to impossible, and to target measures only at the undeserving is impossible: the settlement cleared in Italy, like most informal settlements, squats, camps and sites of destitution, included people with a whole variety of migratory statuses – people with refugee status, “rejected” asylum seekers, unregistered persons, victims of trafficking, persons denied family reunion and so on.

Of course, the situation is complicated because migration intersects with wider questions of the welfare state and the generalised lack of socio-economic rights and consequent poverty that persists in parts of Europe. For example, when a wide section of the population has no access to decent housing it represents a more general societal problem and needs to be addressed as such, with measures that support social inclusion for all. Conditional access and consequent destitution may also apply to all. Where measures are targeted at particular groups of migrants then they are being used to achieve migration control objectives. The use of destitution also extends to intra-EU migration, with governments denying social assistance to certain categories of people exercising their freedom of movement, followed by linked deportation of the destitute. In these cases, there may be legal means of redress, however little is available to Third Country Nationals who fall outside the scope of EU anti-discrimination law. Recent developments in Europe demonstrate the emergence of a second form of strategic destitution, however. Italian NGOs have criticised the settlement clearance and related actions contained in the new migration laws as likely to generate social tension: but what if that’s the point?

The presence of people in situations of deprivation and destitution in public places – parks, train stations – can generate fear and hostility. It may also contribute to dehumanising trends and confirm the views of those for whom migration can only be a problem. Measures to limit integration support, to reduce social rights, to limit access to asylum procedures (which may be the gateway to reach material support), and attacks on NGOs supporting people in destitution, have recently been used by governments that include anti-migration parties. Beyond Italy and the UK, notable examples include Belgium (before recent changes), Denmark, Austria and Hungary.  In Germany, similar measures are under debate.

Rather than receiving criticism for mismanagement and neglect of the basic duties of the state, these parties bank on benefiting from the hostility and fear provoked by the humanitarian crises their policies generate, at least in the short-term (and which politicians use any other timeframe?). Destitution creates social tension and that consolidates their support. A win-win.

To prevent this strategic use of destitution, other parties must stop absorbing their narrative and policies and stop entering coalitions with them. Continued investment in social inclusion for all and the enabling conditions – legal framework, funding, political context – that facilitate inclusion are also essential.

Catherine Woollard, Secretary General for the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE)



UNHCR’s Uncourageous Vision

By James C. Hathaway, James E. and Sarah A. Degan Professor of Law at the University of Michigan and Distinguished Visiting Professor of International Refugee Law at the University of Amsterdam.

Persisting with the status quo ad hoc, State-by-State approach to implementing refugee protection obligations is not an option. Too often, refugees are forced to risk their lives in order to save their lives, with increasingly sophisticated barriers to access forcing them to undertake risky voyages and to rely on smugglers and even traffickers to reach safety.

The safety on offer is in any event too often illusory.

While long-term detention in camps is less common than in the past, it is still the reality for roughly a third of the world’s refugees, with most others left to struggle in urban slums with no real access to the rights that the Refugee Convention in principle requires. Worse still, more than 13 million refugees – two-thirds of the total number of refugees – have been waiting an average of two decades for a durable solution, with none in sight. Of these, fewer than one per cent are resettled in any given year. In the result, just 10 – mostly very poor – countries now host more than 60 per cent of the world’s refugees, with the entire developed world taking in only 15 per cent of those in need of asylum.

And yet those same rich countries spend about €20 billion each year to fund their refugee reception efforts, more than four times the amount the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has available to meet the needs of the 85 per cent of refugees in poor countries. The result is a protection regime that is risky, chaotic, and debilitating, with resources grossly misallocated relative to needs, and which does not provide durable solutions for most refugees.

If ever there were a case for a dramatic and fundamental reform, it is surely the current mess of a global refugee system.

Yet, the answer offered by UNHCR under the grandly titled “Global Compact on Refugees” is decidedly ‘thin’. Rather than proposing, for example, a binding optional protocol to remedy the operational deficiencies of the Refugee Convention, the refugee agency has instead drafted a highly partial Compact, applying to undefined ‘large’ movements of refugees. If a situation is so defined, the only thing promised by the Compact is that its principles will serve as guideposts for a never-ending series of discussions. We will reinvent the proverbial wheel each and every time there is a ‘large’ movement of refugees, since every situation will require a new agreement, which will only ‘normally’ be based on the listed, incredibly vague principles.

In truth, the clearest output of the Compact is that there will be lots and lots of meetings to chat about how best to respond to ‘large’ refugee movements: we will have a periodic Global Refugee Forum; high-level officials’ meetings between forums; meetings of national steering groups; support platforms; solidarity conferences; and regional consultative mechanisms. And these will be supported by ‘a multi-stakeholder and partnership approach’ comprising consultations with refugees and host communities, humanitarian and development actors, the UN system, local actors, networks of cities and municipalities, parliaments, faith-based actors, public–private partners, sports and cultural organizers, and even a global academic network.

The Compact, in other words, is all about process – a bureaucrat’s dream perhaps, but nothing that comes even close to dependably addressing the operational deficits of the refugee regime.

Why were we presented with such a tepid response when the need for decisive action is so clear? Why a ‘thin’ approach to protection reform when something robust is so obviously what both refugees and the poorer States that receive most of them need and deserve?

UNHCR defends its minimalist effort on the grounds that the current political environment is simply not receptive to big picture reform. It makes more sense, the agency suggests, to consolidate traditional standards in tandem with a voluntarist framework that will at least get States talking about burden and responsibility sharing. To strive for more would be to risk complete failure.

I think this assessment is mistaken.

Even if it is unwise simply to assume a strong commitment to global human rights or to multilateralism in general, one should advocate exactly the opposite of what the agency has proposed. If you believe that the commitment to global human rights is in retreat, then the answer is not a ‘thin’ version of protection under which we simply pay lip service to burden and responsibility sharing by setting up an endless loop of conversations. The answer is instead clearly and firmly to show how a dependable, managed model of sharing could meet the needs of all. And if you believe that the commitment to multilateralism is in decline, then the answer is not to ‘go thin’, but rather to show how a multilateral reform can be made to deliver at the local level – providing real benefits for real people in real communities that receive refugees.

In short, the best defence is a good offence.  The last thing we should be doing is proposing – as UNHCR has done – an endless procession of voluntarist pledging conferences that may, or may not, deliver.

In an article to be published in the next issue of the International Journal of Refugee Law, I explain my concerns in more detail and outline my vision for a clear and workable alternative model of protection reform.

I think we need to call out this global ‘compact’ for what it really is – a ‘cop-out’. We should be clear that we do not need a Compact ‘on’ refugees, in which refugees are simply the object, not the subject, of the agreement. It is high time for a reform that puts refugees – all refugees, wherever located – first, and which recognizes that keeping a multilateral commitment to refugee rights alive requires not caution, but rather courage.

For further information:

Op-ed: ECRE publishes op-eds by commentators with relevant experience and expertise in the field who want to contribute to the debate on refugee rights in Europe. The views expressed are those of the author and does not necessarily reflect ECRE positions.



EU-Turkey Deal: Reception Conditions Trigger Voluntary Returns

The number of asylum seekers returned from Greece, voluntarily and involuntarily, and levels of EU support to refugees in Turkey cast shadow on EU Agenda on Migration.

In its response to a parliamentary question, the German government stated that 5000 people, who had sought asylum in Greece, left Greece via voluntary return programmes in the context of the EU-Turkey deal. According to the European Commission, 322 people have been returned to Turkey and the EU has accepted 7000 Syrian refugees in return; Turkey hosts 3.9 million registered refugees, 143 000 of which live in refugee camps. The EU is supporting 1.5 million Syrian refugees who live outside of camps, mostly in big cities, through the so-called “Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN)” with 20€ per month, the response note. The EU provided six rescue ships for the Turkish coastguards migration management programme implemented by IOM 2016-18 with an overall funding of €20 million, the German governments notes.

The question by 22 MPs was filed in the context of Turkey maintaining the territorial reservations to the Geneva Convention, which means that Syrian refugees currently only obtain temporary refugee status. The MPs also refer to human rights organisations warning of poor reception conditions and summary returns from Turkey, reports on catastrophic conditions in Greek Island hotspots and the European Court of Auditors criticising lack of transparency and inefficiency of the support for refugees provided for Turkey.

MP Ulla Jelpke comments, the German government makes the EU-Turkey deal seem a success as long as those seeking protection are prevented from entering the EU. In truth, she points out, the situation of refugees in Turkey is rather dire. The EU subsidies of €20 per months for those not living in camps were insufficient and more than two million registered refugees did not receive any support from the EU. It is no surprise that many of them, including children, have to take jobs for starvation wages, Jelpke notes.

Taking stock of the past four years of the European Agenda on Migration this week, the commission called the EU-Turkey deal a “game changer”: “Arrivals to Greece quickly drop by 97% and have remained low ever since. Irregular migrants will be returned to Turkey and more than €6 billion will be mobilised to support 3.5 million Syrian in Turkey.” They also note, “key problems in Greece remain unresolved as regards returns, asylum processing and adequate accommodation”.

For further information:


Operation ‘Sophia’: EU Officials Aware Naval Military Mission Made Crossing the Med More Dangerous

According to leaked internal reports of the European External Action Service (EEAS), obtained by POLITICO, EU officials were aware that some of the policies applied in the context of Operation ‘Sophia’ exacerbated the dangers of crossing the Mediterranean.

While having saved more than 49,000 people in distress since its launch due to its search and rescue obligations under international maritime law, the documents reveal that the EU has known since 2016 that the practice of destroying the wooden boats used by smugglers to avoid them being reused put the people trying to cross the Mediterranean at greater risk. Instead, smaller and cheaper rubber boats less safe and less likely to reach European shores are used, overfilled by the smugglers to maximize profits, leaving the people stranding in international waters dependant on rescue.

Furthermore, the reports reveals that officials have also been well aware of the direct or indirect involvement of members of the Libyan coast guard in the smuggling business. Yet, training of and support to the coast guard was added to the mandate of Operation ‘Sophia’ in 2017. In addition, severe human rights violations by the Libyan coast guard and in the country’s migrant detention centres are well documented, raising serious concerns in light of the fact that due to the cooperation more people are now returned to Libya than arriving to Europe.

‘Sophia’ was launched in June 2015, initially for the period of one year, with the core mandate to contribute to the disruption of ‘the business model of human smuggling and trafficking networks' by identifying, capturing and disposing of vessels used or suspected of being used by migrant smugglers or traffickers. During its course, the mission has subsequently been extended three times, most recently until 31 March 2019. While several EU states have contributed assets and personnel, the mission is under Italian command and headquartered in Rome. Most of the people rescued have been disembarked to Italy, which prompted Italian’s Prime Minister Matteo Salvini to close the ports to NGO vessel engaged in civil search and rescue last summer.

With its deadline for renewal up by the end of this month, the future of the mission remains unclear, in particular after Germany’s withdrawal in January and Italy’s announcement that it will only continue with the operation if a solution for the resettlement of the people disembarked will be agreed on.

For further information:



Scotland: Report Reveals Destitution of Rejected Asylum Seekers

The report ‘FROM PILLAR TO POST - Destitution among people refused asylum in Scotland’ reveals an urgent need for a national action plan to tackle asylum and migrant destitution in Scotland. Currently  they face significant barriers to having their most basic human rights, as well as to accessing essential services and support mechanisms.

The report adds to a growing body of research pointing at refugee destitution as a by-product of the “hostile environment” UK immigration and asylum policy. UK Home Office figures suggest there could be as many as 1000 people in Scotland who have been refused asylum and are at risk of destitution. Refused asylum seekers in the UK lose their entitlement to Home Office accommodation and financial support 21 days after their asylum claim is rejected. Some people will still be eligible for some level of support from the Home Office but others are left with nothing.

As a result, people experience extreme poverty, poor mental and physical health, exploitation and social isolation. Rejected asylum seekers interviewed for the report struggled to feed themselves and stay warm, with some walking miles every day despite poor health to reach doctors and lawyers appointments as they could not afford public transport.

Several women interviewed found themselves in exploitative relationships as a result of having nowhere safe to sleep at night. Other rejected asylum seekers ended up street homeless, reliant on charity accommodation schemes and night shelters or overstaying in their asylum accommodation. In August 2018, Secro the asylum accommodation provider in Scotland announced that they would initiate a programme of changing locks to force people out of their asylum accommodation after their asylum claim was refused. This was halted after protests and legal challenges and in January 2019, Secro lost the asylum accommodation contract for Scotland.

However, even those who are eligible for Home Office asylum support find it very difficult to survive. Asylum seekers in the UK are not allowed to work, including people who are awaiting a decision on their case, and are therefore reliant on the £37.75 provided by the Home Office weekly. Saadatu Adam, a research assistant for the report who is also a former asylum seeker said;

“As an asylum seeker I was not allowed to work and at one point, my kids and I were on the verge of being homeless because I could not pay the bills. We had to depend on friends and foodbanks to survive. Public transport is so expensive and without access to any cash it can be impossible to get around. My son couldn’t get a space at a school near where we stayed and his school is over an hour’s walk away”

Graham O’Neill, Policy Officer at Scottish Refugee Council highlighted that we all have basic human rights to “safety and the basics of a dignified life, including housing, food, clothing, medical care, social services, and financial support” but the report makes clear that for refused asylum seekers in Scotland are not having their basic needs met.  The report, therefore, calls for urgent action to make sure people’s basic needs for food and shelter are met and recommends a number of additional practical steps that would make a huge difference to people’s lives and would ensure they are provided with a certain level of dignity.  These include, allowing people to continue with their education and providing concessionary travel to allow people to attend important appointments.

For further information:


Hungary: Constitutional Court fails to give sufficient protection to people and organisations working to protect the rights of asylum seekers

On March 5 the Constitutional Court of Hungary ruled on a complaint from Amnesty International Hungary, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and the Open Society Foundations on the constitutionality of the so called ‘Stop Soros’ package. According to the Hungarian Helsinki Committee the ruling falls short of providing sufficient protection to individuals and organisations offering assistance to asylum seekers and disregards fundamental principles of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe’s opinion as well as EU and domestic legal norms.

In June 2018 the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe recommended the Hungarian amendments to the Criminal Code dubbed ‘Stop Soros’ should be repealed as: “the Hungarian provision goes far beyond what is allowed under Article 11 (freedom of assembly) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), as it unfairly criminalises organisational activities not directly related to the materialisation of illegal migration.” And in July the European Commission launched an infringement procedures for non-compliance of its asylum and return legislation with EU law.

According to the Hungarian Helsinki Committee: “Although the CC (Constitutional Court) concluded that it would be unacceptable if those who selflessly assist asylum seekers were penalised, it is still not sufficiently clear what is allowed and what is forbidden by the law. This lack of foreseeability does not prevent the authorities from taking arbitrary action against people and organisations that provide assistance to asylum seekers.”

The ruling comes amid increasing tension between Hungary and the EU with the conservative European People's Party (EPP) bloc laying out an ultimatum for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's Fidesz party that will be suspended from the group unless three demands are met: An immediate and permanent end to his government’s campaign against Brussels, an apology to EPP members, and allowing the Central European University (CEU) to remain in the Hungarian capital of Budapest.

A recent culmination of the Hungarian government campaign against the European Union came with posters featuring President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and Hungarian-American investor and philanthropist George Soros - well-known and often targeted by the far-right for his defense of human rights and liberal views on migration - with a text stating: "You too have a right to know what Brussels is preparing!"

While the Hungarian government has been consistently clashing with the EU on migration, rule of law and freedom of speech, the Hungarian population is overwhelmingly in favor of the EU membership – a record 85 per cent according to a recent poll.

For further information:


Serbia: Report on the Right to Asylum in 2018

The Belgrade Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) has published the seventh annual report on the right to asylum in the Republic of Serbia, containing an overview and analysis of the protection of refugees in the country in 2018.

The report is based on information the BCHR team collected while providing advice to asylum-seekers and has been published with the support of the UN Refugee Agency. It summarizes relevant figures and offers analyses of access to asylum for children, the application of the ‘Safe Third Country’ concept and material reception conditions in Serbia.

Sonja Tošković, Director of the BCHR, points out, the most important development in 2018 was the adoption of new laws on Asylum and Temporary Protection, on Foreigners and on Border Control. The endorsement of the Asylum and Temporary Protection law has given persons under subsidiary protection the same rights as those with refugee status, the report says.

The BCHR, which made proposals for the drafting of the new legislation, finds that the new laws have achieved an improvement of the asylum system. However, they note that most of the actions taken by the government in the field of refugee protection are focused on humanitarian aid and accommodation, whereas structural solutions and clear migration policies have not been implemented. The NGO has also recently published the Human Rights in Serbia 2018 report.

From January to November 2018, 7.651 persons lodged an asylum application in the Republic of Serbia. The highest number of people seeking asylum or transiting the country in 2018 originated from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. The number of people from Iran increased due to changes in the visa regime between both countries.

For further information:


AIDA 2018 Update: Slovenia*

The updated AIDA Country Report on Slovenia provides the latest developments in the country concerning the asylum procedure, reception conditions, detention and content of international protection.

Asylum procedure

In 2018 no legislative changes were made, however the increase of asylum seekers in Slovenia affected the asylum system in all areas. During the large increase of arrivals asylum seekers in average waited up to 7 days to lodge their applications. While waiting to lodge their application, they were de facto detained on the premises of the Asylum Home or its branch.

The number of persons being processed in the accelerated procedure in which their applications were rejected as manifestly unfounded also rose. Most of the applicants processed in the accelerated procedure were from Algeria and Morocco.

Reception conditions

The increase of asylum seekers affected the pre-reception conditions: the lack of capacities in case of a large number of arrivals resulted in lower hygienic standards and health risks which were one of the main problems in the first half of 2018.

Detention of asylum seekers

Due to the large increase of the number of arrivals the number of persons detained also rose. As mantioned above de facto detention of persons waiting to lodge their application was also one of the main challenges in 2018.

*This information was first published by AIDA managed by ECRE


AIDA 2018 Update: Ireland*

The updated AIDA Country Report on Ireland tracks the latest developments and challenges faced by the Irish asylum system in the procedure and reception, months after the first-ever transposition of the recast Reception Conditions Directive into domestic law.

Asylum procedure

The International Protection Office continues to deal with cases lodged prior to the International Protection Act 2015 commencement, in addition to steadily increasing new arrivals. According to most recent official data, due to the transitional case backlog, persons who made an application after January 2017 and whose cases fall outside of the prioritisation criteria will likely be waiting at least 18-20 months before they receive a date for their substantive interview. However, in the experience of the Irish Refugee Council’s casework, applicants who successfully request prioritisation have been granted an interview within two to six months.

Reception conditions

Ireland transposed the recast Reception Conditions Directive into Irish law through the enactment of the European Communities (Reception Conditions) Regulations 2018. While the Regulations provide a new statutory basis for Direct Provision, in many respects, the transposition of the Reception Conditions Directive has not changed the existing structure of reception in Ireland. That being said, the Regulations do provide for a number of legislative guarantees that did not previously exist in the Irish reception context, such vulnerability assessments; appeals related to reception conditions; provisions for withdrawal and restriction of reception conditions; and provisions on detention conditions. The extent to which these provisions are being effectively implemented as of early 2019 appears to be limited in the experience of Irish Refugee Council casework.

In 2018, the Direct Provision estate reached capacity and no accommodation was available for newly arriving asylum seekers. Over the course of a single weekend in September 2018, a minimum of 20 newly arrived asylum seekers were not provided with any material receptions and were informed that no accommodation was available, rendering them homeless on arrival in Ireland. After intensive representations and media attention on the issue, alternative accommodation was provided by the Reception and Integration Agency on an emergency basis. This involved the contracting of accommodation in hotels and holiday homes to house asylum seekers on a temporary basis pending contracting for more permanent accommodation centres. These centres are known as “satellite centres”.

*This information was first published by AIDA managed by ECRE



Interview: The crises is national politics – the solution is local engagement

An Interview with Liza Pflaum, a representative of the civil society organisation SEEBRÜCKE, which demands ‘safe harbours’ all over Europe.


What is SEEBRÜCKE and how did it come about? What are your key objectives?

SEEBRÜCKE, which means literally “sea bridge”, was founded in Berlin in the summer of 2018, when several boats, which had rescued refugees in the Mediterranean where forbidden to enter any safe harbour. It started as a messenger group that brought together activists from the political and cultural scene of Berlin. We decided that there has to be an answer from the civil society, when states break international laws by actively preventing civil see rescue NGO’s from saving lives. Within two days we then set up the website (www.SEEBRÜ to reach out to people all over Germany and Europe and announced the first SEEBRÜCKE demonstration in Berlin. Our overarching aim is to fight for safe passages, so that people can actually arrive here - in Germany - safely without risking a really dangerous journey, for example over the Mediterranean Sea.

We stand in solidarity with all people coming to Europe, everyone should have the right to move freely. We are fighting for free movement for everyone and safe passages for everyone. There are good reasons why people decide to leave their country. We stand against the separation between the ‘bad migrant’ and the ‘good refugee’. Migration is not a new phenomenon. It has always been part of society and we might need to organise our society differently to make sure it stays like that. In my opinion, a world organized in national states, collides with migration. Rather than sticking to this concept and isolating Europa more and more, we should think about new concepts and politics to organize our societies.

How are you pursuing these aims? What are your main strategies?

We are active on two levels: First of all, we organize protests to strengthen the voice of the progressive and open civil society and to show the solidarity which is excised in civil society. In the last months we showed, that there are a lot of people who stand in solidarity with refugees and against the politics of isolation implemented at EU and national level. We already have over 90 local SEEBRÜCKE groups, in Germany but also in Vienna, Brussels and other European cities. Our biggest European-wide event was a ‘European action day’ in September with over 20 cities all over Europe – for example in Portugal, Poland, Spain, France - participating in protests. Also, we are involved in European wide protest before the European elections in May.

On the other hand, we address our demands directly to cities and municipalities and engage them in migration politics and ask them to take a stance against the anti-migration agenda personified by interior minister Horst Seehofer.

Throughout last year and in the beginning of this year we have witnessed several so-called “Disembarkation crisis” – search and rescue vessels stuck at open sea for days or weeks. What can the role of civil society be in offering concrete and sustainable solutions in these situations?

I think, civil society can have a central role pushing for solutions, which have not been thinkable so far. To respond to these situations, push for new perspectives and innovative policies. For example, involving cities and municipalities more actively in immigration politics because they are handling the practical and concrete tasks – they are the ones receiving people and assisting them in rebuilding their life’s.

Over the past seven months, our local groups have organised over 1000 ‘Actions’ and tried to put pressure mainly at the local level - cities and municipalities - to demand “safe harbours”. That means, we not only urge port cities in the Mediterranean region to take in those rescued. We urge German cities to open up for refugees and thus become “safe harbours”.

We saw that the closure of the ports in Malta and Italy is directly related to the fact that countries like Germany are not willing to take in more refugees and thereby are effectively contributing to the deaths on the Med.

How many cities have declared themselves ‘safe harbours’ and what does it imply? How do you think the willingness of civil society to accept those rescued at sea can inform government’s policy towards disembarkation, which tends to be more restrictive?

Until today, there are 45 cities in Germany that have declared themselves ‘safe harbours’ ( This means, they publicly declare their solidarity with refugees and are willing to accept more refugees than they have to according to the federal distribution key – the ‘Königsteiner Schlüssel’. That’s primarily a symbolic action. But now we actively try to find legal ways in which refugees rescued at sea can come directly to cities.

This is new territory for everyone; we are trying to come together with all ‘safe harbour’ cities this summer for a congress to try to tackle fundamental challenges such as how cities can take in more refugees if they do do not have the right to arrive directly? However, Berlin, for example, is also a federal state of Germany – a Bundesland. As such, it could initiate a refugee reception scheme on state level, which might make it possible for Berlin to directly accept refugees. Now the question is whether the ministry for the interior has to approve it or not. This is a legal grey zone and legal researchers are currently exploring this option, as well as the question how municipalities can be more involved in migration politics generally.

Why do you think is there such a blatant disconnect between policies pursued at the national/European level, which are designed to deter people from seeking protection in Europe, and the declared willingness to receive more people in civil society and at municipal level?

I’m always asking myself this question. We’ve already seen in 2015, how German civil society showed huge solidarity with the refugees arriving. In the recent years, populist right-wing voices became much louder and the politicians at national level sadly listened to that segment instead of the broader population. I think we experience in SEEBRÜCKE that many people who helped in 2015 today share their lives with people who arrived in 2015. They realize that, if the same people tried to cross the Mediterranean now they would be likely to die. So at the local level people have built relationships from living together and at the national level politicians are really disconnected from the people they are targeting with their policies.

We experience much more solidarity at the municipal level, also because there is a much tighter connection to the people living in the cities and communes.  It is a really interesting perspective to think about how historically the idea of ‘citizenship’ came to live, from the cities themselves. Today, in movements like SEEBRÜCKE, people are organizing themselves from the bottom-up in stark contrast to the national level, which is trying to organise society from top-down.

A draft bill of German interior minister Horst Seefhofer, currently discussed in the ministries, plans to punish organisations that publish information on deportation dates with up to three years of imprisonment. It also criminalises counselling services that provide information on how to prevent deportations. How would such a bill affect SEEBRÜCKE and its activists?

It will affect us a lot. But even more it will affect refugees. In addition to the complete deprivation of fundamental rights of refugees, it attacks movements like SEEBRÜCKE, or others organised in the anti-racist scene which stand in solidarity with refugees. We can see the same tendency already in the criminalisation of search and rescue actors and the case of ten Iuventa crew members who have been charged in Italy and could face up to 20 years in prison. Preventing deportations is not the main focus of SEEBRÜCKE but many of our local groups are also involved in anti-deportation protests. We are organising a big demonstration on the 30. of March in Berlin, to stand against this bill that criminalises solidarity. We will do everything to prevent Seehofer from going through with this because it would be one of the worst things that could happen to us and the people arriving to our country as asylum seekers.



ECRE European Parliament Campaign: Your Vote Our Future! It is time to oppose the far-right populists and fight for a Europe respecting human dignity and fundamental rights – the European Parliament elections provide this opportunity. Every vote counts!

Choose Respect: Together We Can Tackle Anti-Migrant Hate Speech. Hate speech against migrants and refugees is all too common, both online and in the real world. But it isn’t always easy to know how to react effectively – and it’s even harder to respond in a way which changes attitudes. In the run-up to elections, politics is a frequent topic of debate. But if the discussion turns nasty – either around the dinner table or on your social media feed – here are some tips to help you make a constructive contribution to a more positive discourse.

End Immigration Detention of Children (Belgium): You don't lock up a child. Period. Detention of children violates fundamental rights and can cause irreparable damage to children’s well-being and development. It is unacceptable that in Belgium, in 2018, children are exposed to the trauma's that are caused by detention; alternatives do exist. Sign this petition to ask the Belgian government to stop detaining children, and to enshrine in law a prohibition on child immigration detention. If we speak up together, we can tackle anti-migrant hate speech!





Weekly Bulletin March 1 Edition:
Given the extraordinary number of articles and topics in the last edition of Weekly there were a few missing hyperlinks and articles relating to rulings by the European Court of Human Rights featured under the headline: European Court of Justice.

We apologize!

 ECRE Communication team

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European Council on Refugees and Exiles · Avenue des Arts 7/8 · Brussels 1210 · Belgium