With Greece: ECRE and AIRE Centre report on refugee protection in Greece
ECRE and the AIRE Centre released this week a report on procedural challenges and recommendations for effective and sustainable support to the Greek asylum system. The report, which follows a field visit to the country between 28 May and 6 June, emphasises the need for international organisations to be mindful of the long present efforts of Greek lawyers and NGOs in the field, and recommends that new initiatives should be targeted and sustainable.
Persisting challenges impede access to asylum in Greece due to complexity and layers of procedure. The organisations fear that if the procedure is not streamlined, the registration simplified and the capacity of the Asylum Service expanded, effective access to asylum will continue to be obstructed. The lack of legal routes for people to move beyond Greece, a point previously raised by ECRE, is also highlighted as an area where stronger legal support and advocacy is needed in other European countries.
The report also highlights challenges in the identification of vulnerable groups such as victims of torture and victims of trafficking.
For further information:
ECRE raises strong concerns about the Eurodac recast regulation proposal
ECRE published comments this week on the European Commission’s proposal to recast the Eurodac Regulation, which governs the establishment and operation of a database containing fingerprints of asylum seekers and irregular migrants. The comments raise a number of issues regarding the proposal, especially on the tension between several of the provisions and fundamental rights.
ECRE opposes the substantial expansion of the Eurodac database’s mandate foreseen in the Commission proposal, with the aim of assisting the control of irregular migration, secondary movements and the identification of irregular migrants for return purposes. In this regard, ECRE seriously questions the premise that the collection and storage of fingerprints and facial images of irregular migrants is a necessary tool to control irregular immigration and identify migrants.
In addition, this proposal comes as part of an increasing trend of digitalisation on the EU’s home affairs agenda, which in turn raises serious issues of data protection and compliance with human rights law. Such concerns are analysed in the document, with ECRE finding that the current proposal amounts to unnecessary and disproportionate interference with Articles 7 and 8 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, namely private and family life and the protection of personal data.
The Comments also highlight that the Commission proposal imposes a duty on Member States to create an obligation for asylum seekers and migrants to provide fingerprints and facial images, a development which has important implications for human rights. Children would be strongly impacted, as the minimum age for collecting fingerprints and images for Eurodac would be lowered from 14 to 6 years. ECRE recommends that the Regulation limit fingerprinting and facial images of children to cases where this is in the best interests of the child.
Furthermore, the proposal provides a legal basis for “effective, proportionate and dissuasive” sanctions when a person refuses to give fingerprints or a facial image for Eurodac purposes. ECRE argues that the Regulation should strictly specify and circumscribe the powers of EU Member States to sanction non-compliance, by laying down exhaustive sanctions that may be applied in such situations. These should be compatible with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Coercion should never be permissible for the aim of collecting fingerprints and facial images.
For further information:
ECRE publishes comments on Proposal for a European Union Agency for Asylum
Earlier this week ECRE published its comments on the Commission proposal for a Regulation on the European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA), the proposed successor to the European Asylum Support Office. ECRE’s comments concentrate mainly on the new Agency’s competences in the field of information collection and analysis on the situation of asylum, monitoring the implementation of the EU asylum acquis and country of origin information (COI). The document also analysis the Agency’s proposed role in situations where Member States face disproportionate pressure on their asylum systems, the EU’s cooperation with third countries, and the role of the Consultative Forum.
ECRE recognises that expanding the competences of the Agency in an attempt to have a more harmonised CEAS is a necessary and logical evolution in the EU harmonisation process. Nevertheless, ECRE calls on the EU institutions to ensure that the activities of the EUAA also increase the quality of decision-making and establish a high level of protection across the EU.
ECRE also recommends the establishment of an Independent Expert Panel on country of origin information (COI) advising the Agency on matters of methodology and peer reviewing the Agency’s COI products. The panel would consist of academic country-specific experts, representatives of the judiciary, expert NGOs and UNHCR.
The proposal foresees the active involvement of the Agency and experts deployed by the Agency in the examination of asylum applications. It furthermore proposes the possibility of inviting third country officials to observe its operations. Given the risk of disclosing information on individual applications for international protection to alleged actors of persecution, ECRE opposes any such collaboration.
ECRE welcomes the enhanced competences of the new Agency to monitor and assess the operation and functioning of the Common European Asylum System in practice at the national level. However, it regrets that the Commission proposal seems to suggest that such monitoring and assessment mechanism would be based predominantly on information provided by Member States without integrating relevant information from NGOs and UNHCR.
The document also recommends that there are stronger data protection safeguards given the additional competences of the Agency to process personal data of asylum seekers and refugees. Finally, ECRE calls for greater safeguards in the proposed Regulation to ensure that the new competence of the Agency to issue a common analysis on country of origin and guidance on for certain countries is in line with UNHCR eligibility guidelines.
European Commission new package of reforms of the Common European Asylum System
On 13 July 2016 the European Commission presented its second package to reform the Common European Asylum System (CEAS), containing proposals for a new Recast Reception Directive, a new Qualification Regulation and a new Asylum Procedures Regulation. The Commission also tabled a proposal for an EU Resettlement Framework with the aim to “provide a common approach to safe and legal arrival in the Union for third-country nationals in need of international protection.”
The Commission is proposing to replace the current Qualification Directive and Asylum Procedures Directive with Regulations, which are of general application, leaving little discretion to Member States with regard to their implementation. Of concern in the proposed Asylum Procedures Regulation is the obligation for Member States to apply the “safe third country”, “first country of asylum” and “safe country of origin” concepts – presumptions against which ECRE has spoken out in the past. The proposed Qualification Regulation now includes a compulsory review of the beneficiaries’ protection status on a regular basis and intends to sanction refugees who move to other EU Member States. For instance, the Commission is proposing that the time period after which beneficiaries of international protection are eligible for long-term residence status restarts if the person is found to be irregularly staying in a Member State other than the one that granted international protection.
Member States would also have an obligation to assess the concept of internal protection alternative, something that is optional at present, meaning that an individual could be denied protection if it is deemed that there is a safe place within the applicant’s country of origin where they can reasonably relocate. ECRE wrote a report highlighting the many difficulties associated with the application of this concept.
Issues of concern in the proposed Reception Conditions Directive are the additional grounds for detention, and the proposal to exclude asylum seekers who are not in the responsible Member State from reception conditions.
Positive proposals in the Asylum Procedures Regulation include strengthened rules on the appointment of a guardian for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children within 5 days of their application and free legal assistance at both first and second instances for the examination of asylum claims. However, it the proposal foresees the possibility of excluding cases that are not likely to succeed from free legal assistance. The proposal to recast the Reception Conditions Directive also has some positive proposals such as rules for quicker and more effective access of asylum seekers to the labour market.
Some political groups in the European Parliament and NGOs have already voiced their concerns over some of the proposals and argued that they focus solely on restrictive measures. “These plans focus primarily on the most restrictive roles, from accelerating asylum procedures to safe countries of origin and third countries, or the fight against so-called secondary migration. Although the strengthening of protection for unaccompanied minors is to be welcomed, it does not make up for the lowering of standards in all other areas,” stated S&D MEP Birgit Sippel.
The resettlement proposal denies the possibility for resettlement for refugees that attempted to reach the EU irregularly in the past 5 years, thereby severely restricting the access to asylum. The GUE/NGL political group in the European Parliament stated that the proposal has distorted the concept of resettlement, arguing that it draws on the EU-Turkey deal. "Under the Commission's proposal, refugees who are joining family members who are already in Europe, would also be counted as 'resettled refugees', effectively eliminating family reunification as a separate legal migration route into the EU and lowering the overall number of refugees being resettled in Europe," stated European Parliament Rapporteur on Resettlement proposal and GUE/NGL MEP, Malin Björk.
The second package follows 2 months after the first package of reforms, which proposed the Dublin IV Regulation, a Regulation for the European Union Asylum Agency and a new Eurodac Regulation.
For further information:
Only 3,000 people relocated from Greece and Italy in ten months
The European Commission’s Fifth Report on Relocation and Resettlement published on 13 July finds that the relocation system has many deficiencies, including a lack of relocations generally, lengthy response times and hardly any relocations of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. In line with the previous four reports, the Commission urges Member States to fully comply with their obligations.
Ten months after the adoption of the Council Decisions, 3,056 persons in need of international protection have been relocated. This is far from the objective of 160,000 relocations within two years. Several Member States have only pledged 1-2% of their respective allocations, with Hungary having submitted none. Even though Hungary and Slovakia have challenged the second Council Decision before the Court of Justice of the European Union, they are still bound by the obligations rising from it, until further notice.
Even more worrying is the fact that over the course of these months, only 29 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children have been relocated. Even though the Council Decisions specify that preference should be given to vulnerable applicants, notably children, the Commission stresses that only a few Member States are willing to accept relocation transfers of unaccompanied children, and the places offered continue to be insufficient to relocate all who are eligible.
Other recurring problems highlighted in the report are the extensive security checks which slow down the system, unjustified refusals of relocation requests by EU Member States, lengthy response times and a lack of response to EASO’s call for experts. The Commission has reiterated that countries should increase their number of pledges, with a focus on unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and that countries are not allowed to refuse applications unless motivated under the exclusion grounds of the Qualification Directive.
For further information:
Negative perceptions of refugees in Europe create climate of fear and violence
A survey carried out by the U.S. based “fact-tank” Pew Research Centre analysed perception of refugees, minorities and cultural diversity by citizens across 10 EU countries. The results paint a worrisome picture, with the majority of respondents in almost every country surveyed showing a negative perception of refugees, linking them in different proportions to terrorism, loss of jobs for citizens and higher crime rates.
Among the countries surveyed, Greece, Hungary, Italy and Poland are the ones who expressed the strongest concerns and negatives attitudes towards refugees and minority groups. The perceptions of refugees are strongly influenced by an already existing negative attitude towards Muslims in general, who many believe are not willing to integrate, according to the results of the survey.
According to the survey negative concerns about refugees and other minorities – as well as a lack of understanding of the value of diversity - are generally expressed more consistently by those who identify themselves on the ideological right, but also by older generations and by less-educated individuals.
The results of the survey come amidst a climate of increased racist-based attacks against refugees and migrants: in the UK, the days and weeks after the referendum have been marred by countless verbal and physical attacks against refugees, asylum seekers and EU nationals alike.
In Italy, a Nigerian asylum seeker was beaten to death last week after trying to defend his wife from racist abuse. Emmanuel Chidi Namdi escaped Boko Haram after his 2-year old daughter and his in-laws were killed in a bomb explosion and survived the Mediterranean crossing with his wife. He was struck down by an ultrá – Italian hooligan - on the streets of Fermo, where he was being hosted in a shelter for asylum seekers.
The European Network against Racism (ENAR) condemned the murder stating that the inability of the EU and national governments to face up to the rise of racism and xenophobia in the EU is causing these incidents. “[This is] not an isolated incident. [Emmanuel] adds to the countless victims of daily racist violence and hate in Europe. His murder has been incited and nurtured by the widespread representation of migrants and Black people as a threat and fear-mongering in public and political discourse.”
For further information:
EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS
European Court of Human Rights condemns France for the administrative detention of children
On 12 July 2016, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against France in the cases of A.B. and Others v France, R.M. and M.M. v France, A.M. and Others v France, R.K. v France. The cases concerned the issue of administrative detention of children who are accompanying their parents in the context of a deportation procedure. The Court considered that, given the children’s age and the duration and conditions of their administrative detention, the French authorities had subjected these children to inhuman and degrading treatment, violating article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
In four of the cases, the Court found that the families' placement in administrative detention was not a measure of last resort and that the domestic authorities failed to explore all other viable alternatives. As a result, the Court found a violation of the right to liberty and security (Article 5, paragraph 1 of the ECHR) and of the right to a speedy review of the lawfulness of detention (Article 5, paragraph 4).
In two of the cases, the Court also found that there had been a disproportionate interference with the right to respect for family life (Article 8 of the ECHR).
For more detailed information on the cases, see this week’s ELENA Weekly Legal Update.
For further information:
VACANCIES / OPEN CALLS