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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 82 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.

     
12 September 2014
  
 
ECRE
  • Launch of the Second AIDA Annual Report: Mind the Gap: An NGO Perspective on Challenges to Accessing Protection in the Common European Asylum System
  • Unaccompanied children’s effective access to quality legal assistance impaired in the EU

REPORTS AND EVENTS
  • AIDA Report on Cyprus: asylum seekers face prolonged periods in detention and isolation in remote reception centre
  • Border monitoring in Hungary: Routine expulsion of unaccompanied children to Serbia continues
  • Revision of EU Visa Code offers opportunity to promote use of humanitarian visas for refugees, study says 
  • European Network on Statelessness event in the European Parliament
  
ECRE

Launch of the Second AIDA Annual Report: Mind the Gap: An NGO Perspective on Challenges to Accessing Protection in the Common European Asylum System

On 9 September, ECRE launched the Second Asylum Information Database (AIDA) Annual Report: Mind the Gap: An NGO Perspective on Challenges to Accessing Protection in the Common European Asylum System.

The research illustrates the persistent gaps between the theory of a Common European Asylum System (CEAS), where people fleeing similar situations are treated alike, and the harsh realities facing asylum seekers in 15 EU Member States of the European Union: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Germany, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden and the United Kingdom. The research shows that asylum seekers’ access to accommodation and support to meet their basic needs, the grounds and conditions of detention and access to quality free legal assistance to properly protect their rights remain problematic in a number of EU Member States.

At the opening of the launch, ECRE Secretary General, Michael Diedring, underlined the consequences of the lack of safe access for refugees to the EU: “It is absurd that refugees are forced to pay thousands of euro in order to make a life-threatening trip to Europe because visa restrictions, carrier sanctions and border controls prevent them travelling legally, while many of them, such as Syrians and Eritreans, would be granted asylum and allowed to rebuild their lives in Europe if they survived the journey and made it to European soil.”

Christopher Hein, Director of the Italian Council for Refugees (CIR), Iliana Savova, Director of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee and Corina Drousiotou, Senior Legal Advisor with Future Worlds Centre also took part in the AIDA Report launch and illustrated the challenges faced by refugees respectively in Italy, Bulgaria and Cyprus.

Christopher Hein explained the functioning of the Italian operation Mare Nostrum and how it has contributed to reducing the number of deaths at sea, by rescuing more than 100,000 people this year. He also added that most refugees, who have little opportunities to find accommodation or employment in Italy, move on to other European countries.

In relation to Bulgaria, Iliana Savova stated that many refugees are also forced to leave the country and head to Western Europe due to the lack of any integration program. Since December 2013, people fleeing war and persecution and granted international protection in Bulgaria have not received any initial integration support and have no access to accommodation, language or vocational training.

Regarding Cyprus, Corina Drousiotou explained that asylum seekers who are currently receiving social welfare support to access private accommodation and meet their basic needs will be now obliged to move to the remote Reception centre of Kofinou that is being expanded or otherwise lose their social welfare support and risk facing destitution.

In other European countries, asylum seekers are also confronted with major obstacles to having their claim for protection fairly assessed. For instance, in France, in 2013, vulnerable asylum seekers had to wait an average of 12 months before being accommodated in a reception centre.
Some EU States continue to criminalise asylum seekers by detaining them, including children. For example, in Hungary, asylum seekers are frequently detained. In April 2014, 26% of all asylum seekers and almost half (42%) of single men were detained. What’s more, despite being forbidden by Hungarian law, there are indications that unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are detained for long periods together with adults, due to the lack of proper state-funded age assessment mechanisms. While in some countries, such as Belgium and the Netherlands, asylum-seeking families with children are no longer detained at the border, they are still frequently detained in countries such as Malta, Bulgaria and Greece.

Moreover, most of the EU Member States covered by the Asylum Information Database lack functioning mechanisms to effectively and promptly identify asylum seekers who are particularly vulnerable, such as torture survivors or children, whose applications might end up being processed in procedures with reduced safeguards. 


 
For further information
 


Unaccompanied children’s effective access to quality legal assistance impaired in the EU

Unaccompanied children face a number of obstacles in accessing legal assistance, such as a lack of information, or a lack of support. The comparative report of the project Right to Justice: Quality Legal Assistance for Unaccompanied Children demonstrates that even though legal assistance is provided for by law in a number of migration and asylum procedures, it is rarely available in cases where the age of the person is disputed or during an age assessment. The availability of free legal assistance for children in all migration and asylum related procedure is crucial to guaranteeing their
right to justice and access to effective remedies.

The research, examined the legislation and practice in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom and included interviews with unaccompanied children. The crucial role of guardians informing and supporting children in accessing legal assistance was evident from the research, but if guardians are not appointed quickly or if they have heavy workloads this can negatively impact children’s access to legal assistance.

Despite a number of positive initiatives and individual good practices, the report shows that even when assistance is provided, quality is affected in a number of countries by systemic factors, such as limited funding or the absence of interpretation.

As part of the project, Guiding Principles on Quality Legal Assistance for Unaccompanied Children were also developed, together with indicators to monitor the implementation of the principles.

Translation in Bulgarian, French, German, Italian and Spanish of the research’s main findings and Guiding Principles will soon be available on the project page.
The Right to Justice: Quality Legal Assistance for Unaccompanied Children is a project coordinated by ECRE in partnership with Asylkoordination Austria, British Refugee Council, Danish Refugee Council, Legal Clinic for Refugees and Immigrants in Bulgaria, Italian Council for Refugees, and Immigration Law Practitioners Association. UNHCR participated as an associate partner.
 
   


REPORTS AND EVENTS 

AIDA Report on Cyprus: asylum seekers face prolonged periods in detention and isolation in remote reception centre

The first AIDA Report on Cyprus, compiled by ECRE member organisation Future Worlds Centre, shows that asylum seekers who are currently receiving social welfare support will be obliged to move to the remote reception centre of Kofinou or otherwise lose their social welfare support and risk facing destitution. The centre has expanded its premises and it is expected that in the next months it will accommodate approximately 450 asylum seekers. Asylum seekers who have integrated into the Cypriot community after having spent many years waiting for their asylum application to be examined by the Cypriot authorities, are now expected once again to abandon the lives they have re-built, and move into the Kofinou Reception Centre. Social welfare support will only be maintained for asylum seekers who are not accommodated in this centre if/when it has reached its full capacity.

In addition, the report notes that an increasing number of asylum seekers is detained for prolonged periods of time while their asylum application is being examined by the relevant authorities. Although the majority of asylum seekers are not placed in detention, those who are, are detained in prison-like cells under a high security system. Detainees are permitted to spend only a few hours of the day in public spaces, and are handcuffed by security guards when transferred inside or outside the centre.

The report highlights also that a new law, approved in April 2014, takes away family reunification rights and protection against expulsion from persons granted subsidiary protection (i.e. persons fleeing from armed conflicts or generalized violence). With the sole exception of one person who was granted refugee status, all Syrians recognized in need of international protection in 2013 in Cyprus were granted subsidiary protection.

In addition, the amendments restrict the rights of refugees to enjoy family life. Firstly, only refugees who had their family relationships formed prior to their entry to Cyprus can enjoy this right. Secondly, refugees must submit their application for family reunification within three months after being granted refugee status. These limitations do not take into consideration the specific circumstances of refugees, and pose a serious obstacle to family reunification.

Finally, the new law has removed Humanitarian Status from the Refugee Law which was granted to asylum seekers who did not fulfil the requirements of the refugee or subsidiary protection status yet whose return was not feasible for humanitarian reasons. This status was granted to vulnerable individuals and their family members, such as to people suffering from serious health conditions who if returned to their home country would not have access to healthcare. People with a Humanitarian Status will now have to re-apply for a different status that does not allow these persons to work or access social welfare assistance or free medical care.

 
 
 


Border monitoring in Hungary: Routine expulsion of unaccompanied children to Serbia continues

In a new report, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC), UNHCR and the Hungarian National Police Headquarters summarized the experiences gathered in 2013 in the course of the border monitoring programme at the Hungarian-Serbian border.

According to the report, in 2013, the Hungarian police continued to routinely expel unaccompanied children, who are not asylum seekers, to Serbia. HHC border monitoring observed cases in which the police ignored information provided by the intercepted children, about the whereabouts of close family members. The children were deported to Serbia despite having provided information about their relatives’ location elsewhere, inside the Schengen zone. In the report, the HHC and UNHCR encourage thorough and individualized assessment of the best interests of the child in accordance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The HHC further urges the Hungarian authorities to provide training to unaccompanied children’s guardians to safeguard their rights as laid out in the convention.

Instead of seeking asylum in Hungary, many of those intercepted at the borders in 2013 decided to return to Serbia, where protection and asylum procedures are still inadequate, according to the HHC and UNHCR, and many go without an in-merit examination of their asylum applications. If fingerprinted in Hungary, generally, asylum applicants would not have the merits of their cases considered elsewhere in Europe and would face deportation back to Hungary on grounds of the Dublin Regulation, regardless of their need for protection.

The HHC and UNHCR urged the Hungarian authorities to reconsider their stance on Serbia as a safe third country, due to substantial deficiencies of Serbian international protection procedures. A third country is considered to be ‘safe’ on the assumption that individuals could have sought international protection there.

According to data provided by the police, 3,671 people (86% of all the 4,268 expelled foreigners in 2013) were deported to Serbia. 19,035 persons were intercepted at the Hungarian-Serbian borders, of which 17,117 applied for asylum in Hungary. 
 
 



Revision of EU Visa Code offers opportunity to promote use of humanitarian visas for refugees, study says

A new study commissioned by the European Parliament identifies inconsistencies and shortcomings in the existing Visa Code that undermines one of the aims of the instrument, i.e. ensuring that Member States meet their humanitarian and fundamental rights obligations by issuing visas to the most vulnerable protection seekers. According to the report, the reform process launched by the Commission proposal to review the Visa Code offers an opportunity to remedy these flaws to ensure that the most vulnerable are able to access the EU territory in a safe and legal way.

The study underlines that although Member States have implemented a variety of humanitarian visa schemes, they are reluctant to support EU initiatives to develop common guidelines and procedures for the issuing of humanitarian visas as a way to provide safe and legal access to the territory. 
Although there is no reliable and up-to-date overview of existing practice, according to the study, 16 EU Member States (Belgium, Germany, France, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Poland, UK, Finland, Malta, Portugal, Austria, Denmark, Spain and the Netherlands) currently have or have previously had schemes for issuing humanitarian visas, be they national uniform Schengen and/or with limited territorial validity, i.e. valid in one or more but not all Schengen States.
As the Visa Code is currently under review, the study recommends that the European Parliament call for more consistent provisions on humanitarian visas as well as an independent formal procedure for the lodging and processing of applications for humanitarian Schengen visas.

As EU law does not provide for ways to facilitate the arrival of asylum seekers and as potential asylum seekers often do not qualify for an ordinary visa, they may have to cross the border in an irregular manner. Humanitarian visas are designed to provide safe and legal access to the territory to bona fide protection seekers and constitute a legal alternative to irregular migration channels. In order to apply for a humanitarian visa, the third-country national must approach the diplomatic representation of the potential host State. The diplomatic representation may process the humanitarian visa application in-country to identify protection needs. Once a humanitarian visa has been issued and the migrant has entered the territory of the destination State, he/she may lodge an application for international protection and the asylum procedure is then conducted within the territory of that State.

The study was drawn up by the Policy Department C: Citizens' Rights and Constitutional Affairs at the request of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs.

 
For further information
 
 
 
 

European Network on Statelessness event in the European Parliament

On 14 October 2014, the European Network on Statelessness (ENS), in conjunction with MEP Jean Lambert, will hold an event as part of ENS’ campaign to protect stateless persons in Europe. The campaign is calling on all European states to accede to the 1954 Statelessness Convention by the end 2014, and for those states without a functioning statelessness determination procedure to make a clear commitment during 2014 to take the necessary steps to introduce such a procedure by the end of 2016.

Statelessness affects over 600,000 people across Europe and can leave people unable to access their rights, destitute or detained. The ENS has published this week a Discussion Paper, Strategic Litigation: An Obligation for Statelessness Determination under the European Convention on Human Rights?, analysing whether the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) obliges States to have a statelessness determination procedure and explores the use of the ECHR as a tool in litigating for both the avoidance of statelessness and the protection of stateless persons. In addition, UNHCR has launched this week the Handbook on Protection of Stateless Person, setting out guidance on interpretation and implementation of the provisions of the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons.

To join the call on European States to protect stateless people and to ensure their human rights are protected, sign the campaign petition.

To register for the event, please RSVP to Rachel Sheppard at jean.lambert@europarl.europa.eu by the 30th September.