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.

22 April 2016
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AIDA Report Spain: improving reception conditions but people are barred access to the procedure at the border

The Asylum Information Database (AIDA) has launched a new country report on Spain written by ACCEM. The report details the workings of the Spanish asylum procedure, pending a legislative reform of the Asylum Law aimed at implementing the recast EU Directives on Asylum Procedures and Reception Conditions, which should have been transposed into national law by  July 2015.

The report emphasises the challenges in accessing the territory and the asylum procedure. Following an amendment to the Aliens Law in March 2015, allowing authorities to “reject at borders” third-country nationals that are found crossing the border illegally, Spain has been criticised for ignoring human rights law and international law obligations towards asylum seekers and refugees. This critique has also formed the subject of N.D. and N.T. v. Spain, a case pending before the European Court of Human Rights.

Persons entering the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla are kept in temporary stay centres (CETI), before being transferred to the mainland. Conditions in those centres were, however, substandard due to overcrowding last year. The CETI of Melilla, whose maximum capacity is 480 places, hosted 1,156 people last October.

Beyond Ceuta and Melilla, Spain has generally suffered from a shortage of accommodation in recent months. To address gaps in the reception system up until now, the government adopted a Decree in September to expand the reception capacity by authorising 3 more organisations to provide housing to asylum seekers. The same measure provided for the possibility to host asylum seekers in hotels for a maximum period of 30 days while waiting for an accommodation place to be made available.

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European Commission satisfied with implementation of EU-Turkey deal, despite serious human rights concerns

Earlier this week, the European Commission published its first report on the progress on the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal. The report indicated that “the sharp decrease in the number of irregular migrants and asylum seekers crossing from Turkey into Greece not only proves its effectiveness but also that the business model of smugglers can be broken”. This statement was seen as particularly shocking as it came out in the same week as reports emerged of the death of 500 people after a boat capsized at an unknown location between Libya and Italy. Many organisations, including ECRE, stated that the deal will only result in opening new and more dangerous routes, with the side effect that organised criminal networks flourish, and forces people back to Turkey where they face uncertain and unsafe conditions.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has documented a number of irregularities and human rights violations in the first deportations that took place under the deal. Through interviews with family and friends of those deported from the Greek island of Chios to Turkey, HRW reported that people were not informed about their deportation, nor the place they were being deported to. They were not allowed to bring their belongings (clothes, medicines, food, cellphone).

At the moment, UNHCR and NGOs are being denied access to the site where the returned people are being held by the Turkish authorities. ECRE’s Turkish member, Multeci-Der, tried meeting with the people returned in order to offer free legal aid and inform people about their right to seek asylum, however, their request to access to removal centre was denied. Preventing lawyers from meeting with the detainees without any legal basis, violates national and European law, the organisation argues.

After hearings with President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, and Turkey’s Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) raised serious human rights concerns  about the deal and called for a halt on the return of people to Turkey. “The deal at best strains and at worst exceeds the limits of what is permissible under European and international law,” said rapporteur Tineke Strik. “Even on paper, it raises many serious questions of compatibility with basic norms on refugees’ and migrants’ rights. It has so far given every indication of being even more problematic in practice.”

On the Greek side, there are an increasing number of reports about the deplorable conditions in the hotspots, where even children are being detained. The Norwegian Refugee Council confirmed that mothers are not being given appropriate amounts of food to feed their babies, only receiving a quarter of the recommended daily intake of baby formula.


UK detention update: “end” of routine detention of pregnant women in Immigration Bill

The UK government has announced that it will end ‘the routine detention of pregnant women’ in immigration centres. It has agreed to propose an amendment to the Immigration Bill, which is currently being considered by Parliament, to introduce a time limit of 72 hours on the detention of pregnant women. This time limit is extendable to up to a week with Ministerial approval. 

The amendment follows a vote by the House of Lords and campaigns calling for an outright ban in view of the trauma caused by detention, which could endanger the health of pregnant women and their unborn children. Guidelines already in place indicate that pregnant women should only be detained in exceptional circumstances, given their particular vulnerability. However, recent investigations indicated that this was not the case in practice.  

ECRE Member, the British Refugee Council considers that this move does not go far enough. Advocacy Manager Anna Musgrave stated that “It’s disappointing that the Government has chosen to defy the Lords, defy public opinion and defy common sense by choosing to continue imprisoning pregnant women.”

In related news, a freedom of information request has revealed that the UK government paid £18 million over the last four years in compensation to those who were unlawfully held in detention centres.

The pressure continues to build on the government to reform its policies of immigration detention, during the passage of the Immigration Bill, including to put a time limit on the length of such detention.

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Closure of Balkans route leaves thousands stranded in Greece without access to shelter or information

In a report released on Monday 18 April, Amnesty International documented the conditions faced by at least 46,000 people trapped in Greece after the closure of the Balkan route. Through interviews with refugees and migrants carried out in several camps on the islands and mainland Greece, Amnesty highlights the lack of information provided, the failure of the relocation mechanism and the insufficient and inadequate reception conditions.

“The grim reality is that by closing the Balkans route, and failing to implement the agreed relocation scheme effectively, EU Member States are complicit in the trapping of asylum seekers in a country,  Greece, that they would not be allowed, under EU law, to return them to,” stated the organisation. According to the latest figures provided by the European Commission, a total of 860 asylum seekers have been relocated to EU Member States from Greece out of the 66,400 pledged places.

The report provides a series of recommendations to the Greek authorities. These include ensuring access to adequate reception conditions, increasing the capacity of the Asylum Service, ensuring the provision of adequate information and the end to the detention of children. The organisation further calls on EU Member States to improve relocation efforts, ease family reunification procedures and provide asylum seekers with travel visas for onward legal travel.

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Deaths at sea: EU is guilty of killing by omission, report argues

A new report released by Forensic Oceanography – a team that specialises in the use of forensic techniques and cartography to reconstruct cases of deaths at sea - accuses EU policy makers and agencies of knowingly reducing Search and Rescue (SAR) efforts in the Mediterranean and of thus being responsible for the deaths in the first months of 2015. The report is part of the “Precarious Trajectories” research project funded by the European and Social Research Council and in collaboration with WatchTheMed.

The report – Death by Rescue - released in the week marking the one year anniversary since the tragic shipwrecks of April 2015, focuses on how those shipwrecks occurred during and partly because of the rescue operations. In the reconstruction of the events, the researchers discovered how the merchant vessels involved in SAR fully complied with their legal obligations and acted to the best of their abilities for the rescue operation. However, the fact that it was private vessels and not State-led SAR operations meant that those carrying out SAR were not properly equipped to deal with them.

By shifting the responsibility for SAR to merchant vessels, EU agencies and policy makers knowingly created the conditions that led to the death of 1,200 people in April 2015, the report argues. After the end of the Italian-led Mare Nostrum SAR operation, the EU border agency Frontex had foreseen the risks involved with Triton, a smaller operation with less assets and less capacity to reach into international waters, where most boats fall in distress. However, despite all the criticism raised by human rights activists and NGOs and its own internal assessment, the agency decided to go ahead.

Limited SAR was used as a deterrence factor by EU policy-makers, though the deadly consequences had been predicted by many stakeholders. By knowingly cutting back SAR in the Mediterranean, the EU and Frontex have a strong responsibility for the deaths – the report argues – and are guilty of killing by omission.

“The European Union’s actions will one day be judged as a crime against humanity” stated GUE/NGL MEP Barbara Spinelli in her foreword to the report. “At the same time the European Union’s policies generate illegality while remaining completely ineffective: it is not the traffickers who will have to pay the price, but the refugees and the whole of Europe.”

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UK is falling short of its moral responsibility to provide safe routes for people seeking refuge

A number of NGOs in the UK, including ECRE members, the British Refugee Council, the Scottish Refugee Council and Refugee Action, have published a joint briefing criticising the UK and European governments’ policies towards those seeking international protection. 

While commending the UK government for its aid to countries surrounding Syria for hosting large numbers of refugees, they consider that this does not absolve the UK of its moral responsibility to offer a safe haven to those in need of international protection. It calls for a coordinated response that is humane and rights-based, conducted in the spirit of solidarity with a commitment to shared responsibility, enables a dignified future for displaced persons and one that is focused on preventing and resolving the crises that drive displacement.

Such a response should include the expansion of safe and legal routes to the UK through resettlement, making family reunification easier, developing a humanitarian visa scheme, suspending Dublin transfers to other European countries and using the existing legal mechanism within the Dublin Regulation to transfer people to the UK based on family unity. 

The report considers that it is an EU-wide responsibility to ensure humane reception conditions in countries such as Greece. It calls on the UK to support search and rescue operations that prioritise saving lives at sea and to raise breaches of EU asylum laws with the Commission, in particular in the hotspots. In addition, it calls on the UK, together with other European governments to improve the humanitarian response in Europe for people on the move, prevent border closures and assist in identifying and protecting vulnerable people.

Furthermore, the UK should advocate and support the implementation of access to a fair, effective and humane asylum system wherever protection is sought, in accordance with EU and international refugee and human rights law; and improve conditions in host countries by development assistance focused on poverty eradication.  

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Applications open for Summer School on Forced Migration and Asylum

Lai-Momo and Africa e Mediterraneo are inviting interested participants to send their applications for the Summer School on Forced Migration and Asylum. The Summer School aims at a deep analysis of a number of issues associated with the current forced migration phenomenon. The programme, available here, is a mix of theoretical and practical knowledge. The Summer School is intended for graduates with at least a second class degree, researchers, journalists, experts and social workers who work in the field of migration and communication.

The main topics will be the geopolitics of forced migration, European policies of externalisation of borders, Search and Rescue operations in the Mediterranean, the Balkan migration route, skilled migration, therapeutic assistance to refugees and asylum seekers, journalistic ethics applied to communication on forced migration. Participants will furthermore have the opportunity to visit reception centres to understand how reception and integration work.

The Summer School will be held in Bologna, Italy, from 11 to 16 July. All panels will be in English. Registrations is open until 20 June.