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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.

     
17 February 2017
  
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NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS

REPORTS & NGO ACTION
  

NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS

Hungarian government wants to harden its immigration policy with plan to detain all asylum-seekers

The Hungarian government submitted a new bill to the parliament on February 14 to be voted on during the spring session. If passed, it will increase the use of collective push-backs and introduce automatic detention of asylum seekers.

The bill foresees the prolongation of the “state of emergency due to mass migration” for another six months. One of the most worrying changes is the new rule according to which a third country national irregularly residing in Hungary will be automatically deported, without a right to challenge the removal order or to access the asylum procedure. This amounts de facto to collective expulsion and is an extension of the July 2016 amendment which legalised push-backs in the border zone.

Further, under the bill the asylum procedure will take place in designated transit zones, which asylum seekers are prohibited to leave. All asylum seekers staying at open reception facilities at the time the bill enters into force will be transferred to these zones. This is an extension of the use systematic detention, an established practice as demonstrated by the latest AIDA report on Hungary.

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC) stated that the proposals are an extreme and flagrant violation of European asylum law and international human right standards and if passed they should be challenged by the European Commission and other EU institutions; they plan legal proceedings against Hungary if the rules are adopted. Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Europe, Gari van Gulik stated: “This is further evidence that the EU needs to stand firm on Hungary’s flagrant disregard for European and International law.”

For further information:    


Italy curtails appeal rights and expands rebranded detention centres

On 10 February, the Italian Council of Ministers adopted a Decree Law that foresees the acceleration of asylum procedures and returns, following heavily criticised plans set out in the second half of 2016. The Decree Law is only provisionally binding until it is voted on in the Parliament.
 
The new law creates specialised immigration chambers to hear asylum appeals. These chambers are established in 14 courts (Bari, Bologna, Brescia, Cagliari, Catania, Catanzaro, Florence, Lecce, Milan, Palermo, Rome, Naples, Torino and Venice), and are competent to decide on asylum appeal cases under a single judge. The reform also limits the possibility to be heard in such appeals: asylum appeal procedures are to be accelerated, as a decision by the specialised chamber must be taken within four months instead of six, and the decision can no longer be appealed to the Court of Appeal.
 
In regard to return, Identification and Expulsion Centres (Centri di identificazione ed espulsione, CIE) are renamed Return Detention Centres (Centri di permanenza per il rimpatrio, CPR). While currently only four CIE are operational in Italy, the new closed detention centres will be rolled out across the Italian territory. The location of the new CPR is to be decided in consultation with the Presidents of the Regions concerned, on the basis of “easily accessible” sites and structures. By “easily accessible” the government is said to envisage small-scale CPR, hosting up to 80 to 100, which will be located close to airports or highways so as to facilitate returns.
 
“We are very skeptical about the possibility that the text of the law will be approved by the Parliament. It will be clearly an unconstitutional law, among others because it abolishes one of the three levels of proceedings,” told Dario Bellucio, lawyer and member of ASGI (Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration) ECRE.
 
For further information:
 

French border guards violate right to asylum at French - Italian border

Violations of the right to asylum by French border guards at the French-Italian border are ongoing stated Amnesty International and ASGI (Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration), member of ECRE.

According to Amnesty, in 2016, 35,000 migrants were apprehended in the department of Alpes-Maritime, which borders Italy, a 40 % increase compared to the previous year. A large majority (9 out of 10) were returned to Italy, meaning that at least 30,000 people were denied entry to France. This makes up 70 % of the total of refused entries of migrants and refugees by France.

The media reports that French police conduct regular searches for potential asylum seekers and migrants on coaches and trains, especially at the border crossing point Ventimiglia. People are then sent back indiscriminately. ASGI lawyer Anna Brambilla warned that this practice essentially amounts to collective expulsions, as it precludes individual assessment of a person’s situation. Collective expulsions constitute a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. Further, persons pushed back cannot challenge the decision, depriving them of their right of appeal.

Jean-François Dubost who coordinated the Amnesty International monitoring mission to the Department Alpes-Maritime at the beginning of 2017 stated: “The vast majority of people checked at the border are deprived of any possibility to exercise their rights, in particular that of seeking asylum."
For further information:  
 

Protection as a pull factor? The contested end of the Dubs amendment 

The UK government announced that it would end resettlement of child refugees under the ‘Dubs amendment,’ amid widespread criticism. The amendment resettled in the UK unaccompanied refugee children who had arrived elsewhere in Europe.
 
On 8 February, Robert Goodwill UK Minister of State for Immigration announced that only 350 unaccompanied refugee children, including 200 who have already arrived, will be relocated under the section 67 of the Immigration Act, known as the Dubs amendment. Home Secretary Amber Rudd defended the decision by stating that the scheme works as a pull factor encouraging traffickers to bring children to Europe. 
 
The Dubs amendment was introduced in May 2016. While the original campaign called for 3,000 children to be relocated, in the end no target was specified.  In November 2016, the scope of the scheme was limited for the first time, with the introduction of new guidelines introducing eligibility criteria for refugee children in Calais.
 
Ending the Dubs amendment has earned wide-spread criticism. Steve Symonds, Refugee and Migrant Programme Director at Amnesty International UK stated that “By shutting off this lifeline to vulnerable young people living in precarious, unsafe and freezing conditions (…) she [Home Secretary Amber Rudd] has in fact forced thousands of vulnerable girls and boys straight into the hands of traffickers.” 
 
Actions have been taken to reverse the government decision: a parliamentary debate on the issue will take place on 23 February, a legal challenge against the decision by the charities Help Refugees and Citizens UK will be heard at the beginning of May, and a petition urging the government to reconsider has been started.
 
For further information:
   
 

REPORTS & NGO ACTIONS

Civil Society Networks demand clarity and cessation of use of the European Travel Document

On 7 February European and African civil society networks released a statement calling on the EU Member States to immediately suspend the use of the European Union Travel Document and to provide transparent information on its use in the past. The Regulation on the establishment of a European travel document for the return of illegally staying third-country nationals was adopted in October 2016 and silently implemented without human rights safeguards and without published information on rules for issuance.
 
The travel document was designed in an attempt to promote acceptance by third countries of a uniform European travel document, thereby reducing bureaucratic burdens and lengthy return procedures. After the launch of the idea of creating such a document at the Valletta Summit in November 2015, the plan was immediately opposed by several African countries but nevertheless put into effect by the EU. The travel document has already caused a rift between the EU and Mali when two people were sent back to Mali on the document, triggering a reaction from civil society. Consequently, the Malian government decided to refuse access to their territory for people with a European travel document.
 
The European and African civil society networks ask the EU and its Member States to provide information on the use of the European travel document including information on the criteria for its use, the human rights impact, the possibility for appeal, and the role of consulates.
 
 

New AIDA report: France

The updated Country Report on France provides an overview of developments in legislation, policy and practice in relation to the asylum procedure, reception conditions, detention of asylum seekers and integration of beneficiaries of international protection.
 
The report sheds light on the implementation of the procedural changes brought about by the 2015 asylum reform. During 2016, NGOs have started accompanying asylum seekers in their interview with the Office of Protection of Refugees (OFPRA). At the same time, the first hearings at the National Court of Asylum (CNDA) with a single judge were settled on 27 February 2016. Initial fears that this type of hearing would result in an increase of the rejection rate, have not materialised. The asylum reform also aimed at improving access to the asylum claim registration, which has however become even more problematic over the past year. Many platforms in charge of the registration have been overwhelmed and Prefectures have not been able to process asylum claims within the deadlines foreseen by the law.

Coupled with slow registration, accommodation is equally concerning. Despite 8,703 new places of accommodation in 2016,the national reception scheme remains insufficient. These limitations have been exacerbated by the crisis in Calais and in Paris. The dismantlement in Calais led to the creation of 241 centres of accommodation and orientation (CAO). Asylum seekers living in camps in Paris have also been channelled to these centres. Two humanitarian centres have also been created by Paris municipality in Paris and in Ivry-sur-Seine to empty out camps settled in the downtowns. For this year, the opening of more accommodation places is foreseen.
 
In 2016, France also completed the immigration law reform, introducing among others an array of amendments to detention. The immigration law has modified the rules on judicial review of detention. It is now possible a detention order to be reviewed by the court after 48 hours of detention, potentially extending it for 28 days. Further, asylum seekers facing Dublin returns and subjected to a house arrest order can be placed in detention if they do not present themselves for their appointment at the Prefecture.
 
“The French asylum system regularly makes the headlines, whether it concerns its leading role in the European relocation scheme or the critical conditions in Calais and Paris. Behind these, however, lies an elaborate protection system, with many more features and challenges for those seeking protection. The updated AIDA report gives the full picture of the legal and practical reality of asylum in France,” says Minos Mouzourakis, AIDA Coordinator at ECRE.
 
 

New AIDA report: Switzerland

The updated Country Report on Switzerland tracks recent developments in practice and case law governing asylum procedures, reception conditions, detention of asylum seekers and integration of beneficiaries of protection.

The planned reform of the Asylum Act which mainly aims at accelerating the procedure was accepted by the Swiss people in a referendum on 5 June 2016. The reform will introduce a country-wide accelerated procedure, modelled along the “Testphase” procedure piloted in Zurich, entailing shorter time limits to complete the examination of asylum claims but also free legal assistance and representation throughout the process.

During 2016, Swiss courts have also laid down important principles concerning the application of the Dublin Regulation, which remains a core instrument for the country. Switzerland issued a total 15,203 outgoing Dublin requests in 2016, mainly addressed to Italy, followed by Germany and Croatia. The number of transfers carried out during the same period is 3,750.

In May 2016, the Federal Court established some ground rules for detention in Dublin cases, namely confirming that there needs to be an individual assessment of the risk of absconding and that such a risk cannot be inferred by the sole fact that the person had previously asked for asylum in another country.

The report also documents developments in the area of integration of refugees and beneficiaries of temporary admission in Switzerland. On 12 October 2016, the Federal Council adopted a report with suggestions on how to reform the status of temporary admission. The outcome remains open, no changes are in force yet. In December 2016, the Swiss parliament confirmed some changes to the Federal Act on Foreign Nationals, which is re-named in Federal Act on Foreign Nationals and Integration. An important change is the abolition of the special charge of 10% of the salary which had to be paid by asylum seekers and temporarily admitted persons who work, and the facilitation of access to the labour market for temporarily admitted persons: instead of a having to apply for a work permit, the employer only has to inform the authorities of the employment. The changes are not yet in force.

 

Mass forced return of Afghan refugees by Pakistan in violation of non-refoulement principle

Human Rights Watch has released its report “Pakistan Coercion, UN Complicity” on the forced return of nearly 600,000 Afghan refugees from Pakistan since mid-2016 through abuse and threats. The refugees are now facing armed conflict, violence, destitution, and displacement in Afghanistan – making the Pakistani campaign a violation of the international prohibition of refoulement.

Afghan refugees told Human Rights Watch that a toxic combination of insecure legal status, the threat of deportation during winter, and police abuses – including crippling extortion, arbitrary detention, and nocturnal police raids – had left them with no choice but to leave Pakistan. “After decades of hosting Afghan refugees, Pakistan in mid-2016 unleashed the world’s largest recent anti-refugee crackdowns to coerce their mass return,” says senior refugee researcher at Human Rights Watch Gerry Simpson in the report.

The report states that Pakistan’s forced return of Afghans has come at a particularly dangerous time, with the conflict in Afghanistan killing and injuring more civilians than at any point since 2009, displacing at least 1.5 million people, and with a third of the population destitute.

The report is based on 115 interviews with refugee returnees in Afghanistan, Afghan refugees and undocumented Afghans in Pakistan, and further corroborated by UN reports, and presents the reasons thousands of Afghans gave for returning to Afghanistan.
 
 

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