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, find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

22 May 2015

EU plans to launch military operation in a bid to tackle smuggling cause widespread concerns

Member State Ministers meeting at the Defence and Foreign Affairs Council have this week approved a military operation in the Mediterranean in order to “break the business model of smugglers and traffickers of people in the Mediterranean”. This decision follows the adoption of the broader European Migration Agenda by the European Commission last week which will be put to the Council for approval at the end of June. The first phase of the military operation will be focused on gathering intelligence on smugglers’ networks and the following phase will include searching, seizing, disrupting and destroying the vessels of smugglers.

This move has been met with broad criticism from NGOs, including ECRE, some MEPs as well as the Italian Coastguard due to the even greater risk to which the operation may expose refugees and migrants.

ECRE has raised concerns that this operation can lead to refugees and migrants taking even more dangerous routes to reach Europe. “The solution to putting the smugglers out of business is to increase safe legal channels for migration,” Michael Diedring, ECRE Secretary General stressed.

Human Rights Watch has also pointed to the potential dangers of such an operation. “Smugglers and traffickers often show a complete disregard for human life and dignity, and they should be held to account, but military action could expose migrants and asylum seekers to serious risks,” said Judith Sunderland from Human Rights Watch.

Members of the Italian Coastguard, leading search and rescue operations, have also called for more focus on saving lives of people in distress at sea and the use of European navies in search and rescue operations, instead of military activities.  Leopoldo Manna, who heads the emergency response at the Guardian Costiera has urged “European navies to give him more control over their boats in order to streamline Mediterranean search-and-rescue activities”.

During a plenary session in Strasbourg this week, some MEPs also raised concerns about the plans to launch the so-called EUNAVFOR Med naval operation. "Military action in order to sink refugee vessels would entail collateral damage - the death of people, refugees, ships' captains and others,” MEP Gabriele Zimmer stated. “All we are doing is pushing these people back across the Mediterranean, behind the Libyan border, where refugees are arrested, mistreated and deprived of human dignity. We push them out of sight and out of mind.”

MEPs have also voiced concerns over some of the items in the recently publish European Migration Agenda, particularly with regards to the quota system for the distribution of asylum seekers within Europe and the low number of resettlement places (20,000) proposed by the Commission. Speaking about the relocation scheme, MEP Cecilia Wikström stressed that asylum seekers cannot be distributed based solely on quantitative data, but that factors such as family ties and language should be taken into account. 

 “Factors such as ties to a member state – such as a family member residing there, existing language abilities and the strength of the existing ethnic community – should be taken into consideration to promote effective long-term community integration,” ECRE’s Michael Diedring has also argued.

The quota scheme for distribution of asylum seekers among Member States has been already dismissed by a number of EU countries such as the UK, France, Spain and Hungary
For further information:

Sweden continues to receive high numbers of applications and takes swift, positive decisions on Syrians and Eritreans
The latest AIDA report on Sweden provides information on a fast-track procedure for applications made by Syrian and Eritrean nationals, and, in some cases, Somali nationals. In 2014, the Swedish Migration Agency (previously known as the Swedish Migration Board) processed 58% of Sweden’s entire asylum caseload and rapidly granted international protection under this rapid procedure. Sweden has remained one of the main destinations for asylum seekers in the EU, receiving a total 81,301 applications, over 30,000 of which were made by Syrians.
At the same time, applications from persons originating from Western Balkan countries, as well as Mongolia, are treated as manifestly unfounded claims and processed under the accelerated procedure. Under this procedure, Sweden examines applications within three months, with a view to allowing for the speedy expulsion of rejected asylum seekers and to making more accommodation places available to new arrivals.
However, due to the fast-tracking of nationalities having well-founded or manifestly unfounded claims in Sweden, applications from other nationalities are often put on temporary hold by the Migration Agency and face considerable delays, the report notes.
Finally, the Migration Agency has taken a position on the Tarakhel v Switzerland ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, which found, in November 2014, that a Member State seeking to transfer an asylum seeker to another EU country under the Dublin Regulation must obtain guarantees from the receiving country that the asylum seeker will have adequate reception conditions upon transfer. The Appeal Court has recently referred a case to the Court of Justice of the European Union on the issue of determining at what stage in the procedure the sending Member State must obtain such guarantees from the receiving country for a Dublin transfer.
A different reference by the Appeal Court seeks to clarify whether the new provision of the Dublin Regulation on procedural guarantees allows an asylum seeker to challenge the criteria determining the Member State responsible for the application, when that Member State has agreed to receive him or her.
For further information:

AIDA Update: Croatia introduces onward asylum appeal before the High Administrative Court

An updated AIDA report on Croatia refers to a December 2014 amendment to the country’s Law on Administrative Disputes, which introduces the possibility of a second appeal in the asylum procedure. Asylum seekers may now appeal against a decision of the Administrative Court before the High Administrative Court. This onward appeal has suspensive effect, thus allowing applicants to remain on Croatian territory until the High Administrative Court delivers its decision. However, this is likely to be amended by the upcoming Law on International and Temporary Protection, expected in the second half of 2015, which will transpose the Asylum Procedures Directive and the Reception Conditions Directive into Croatian legislation.
At the same time, the report notes, lawyers providing free legal assistance for appeals before the Administrative Courts have recently encountered problems regarding their remuneration.
However, according to the report, written by the Croatian Law Centre, there has been no case, or available information to date, on how the appeal before the High Administrative Court is handled in practice, or on what forms of accommodation and other benefits are available to asylum seekers during that appeal.
Croatia witnessed a significant drop in asylum applications, from 1,089 in 2013 to only 453 in 2014, out of which  54 were made by Syrian nationals, 18 by Afghan, 10 by Somali and 4 by Eritrean nationals. Nevertheless, its recognition rate has stayed at approximately 11%. 

Global Detention Project publishes background paper on the detention of asylum seekers in the Mediterranean region

The Global Detention Project has published a briefing paper on the detention of asylum seekers in the Mediterranean region, highlighting the difficulties and challenging environments that many people face upon arrival in countries in North Africa and southern European states. The paper charts the widespread use of detention as a migration policy across eight countries that border the Mediterranean Sea, which has led to the deprivation of liberty of large numbers of asylum seekers and vulnerable groups, as well as exposure to conditions which the paper describes as ranging from suffering ‘serious shortcomings’, to being ‘horrific and inhumane’. 

Regarding the shortcomings in detention conditions found in Europe’s main asylum receiving countries (Greece, Italy, and Malta), the paper highlighted that other EU states have been forced to halt returns to these countries under the Dublin III Regulation following decisions in the European Court of Human Rights, and in national administrative courts that have found that the treatment of asylum seekers in those countries may not be in line with the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Global Detention Project’s paper underscores that in the North African states included in this report, European Union-driven policies have impacted the migratory phenomenon in the region, and in cases such as Libya, funding by European states has contributed to ‘damaging detention systems’, with multi-million-Euro 'migration management' projects that attempted to externalise European border control having led to mass expulsions and an increase in detention.

Few people found protection in the EU in 2014, analysis of Eurostat report shows 

In 2014, 185,000 asylum seekers received international protection in the EU, according to the latest Eurostat report. Syrians were the largest group, with 68,400 people granted protection status (37% of the total number registered in 2014). Most of them were recognised in Germany and Sweden (together registering up to 60% of Syrian refugees in the EU).

In addition, through resettlement programmes, in 2014 almost 6,500 refugees came safely into Europe from non-EU countries and received a durable residence permit. Most of them were welcomed by Sweden (2,045 refugees), Finland (1,090) and the Netherlands (790); however, almost half of Member States does not offer any place for resettled refugees.

By the end of May, the European Commission will propose an ‘EU-wide resettlement scheme’ to offer protection to 20,000 refugees on a voluntary basis, especially from North Africa, the Middle East, and the Horn of Africa. However, up to May 2015, the Syrian neighbouring region alone, registered 3,977,211 Syrian refugees.

François Crépeau, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, highlights that this proposal is “woefully inadequate in its scale” and “utterly insufficient”, given that more than 200,000 asylum seekers arrived in Europe by boat in 2014. He also stressed that “20,000 persons represent 0.004% of its population”.

According to Eurostat, after Syrian nationals, people recognised in need for international protection in 2014, came from Eritrea (14,600) and Afghanistan (14,100). Most refugees were granted protection status in Germany (47,600 people) and Sweden (33,000); followed by France and Italy, which recognised 20,600 refugees each.


Jesuit Refugee Service publish testimonies of women seeking asylum in Malta

In a booklet titled ‘No Giving Up’, released by the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Malta on 15 May, the experiences of six asylum seeking women in Malta are recounted as part of a project that saw JRS Malta hold group sessions with Somali women in detention. The resulting booklet gives an insight into why these women left their country, the journeys they made to reach Malta and, once there, their efforts to access legal protection.

“In my country my rights were violated. I could not go to school. I could not choose who to marry. My life was not mine but dictated by someone else. In the desert it was the same, and here too I find myself in the same situation, in detention, without any control over my life, at the dictates and mercy of someone else”, said one of the women participating in the group sessions.

Through this project, JRS aimed to evaluate the services provided in Malta, and to improve them, by taking into account the experiences and perspectives of the women directly involved in their projects and services. 

MPI: development potential of refugees in protracted displacement needs policy change

A policy brief published by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) proposes a new narrative for refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in situations of protracted displacement. In MPI’s view, new solutions should recognize the development potential of refugees. Through their human capital, transnational connections and international assistance, refugees can contribute to growth in both host and origin communities.

MPI highlights that states consider refugees as temporary residents, so that they are currently excluded by national development programmes. This jeopardises the positive impact displaced people may have on economic growth, prevents refugees from development assistance and reduces the chances of a sustainable return.

According to MPI, a structural change is needed which requires that states stop being reluctant in granting refugees the right to work, as required by international law. Conversely, humanitarian actors should create better livelihood opportunities for refugees, including projects on social protection and access to capital, such as support to income-generating enterprises. In addition, self-reliance of refugees, and the development of host communities, can result from broader development projects, especially in the agricultural or infrastructural sectors.

Humanitarian and development actors particularly, together with diaspora groups and private investors, should better cooperate in order to ensure self-reliance of refugees and internally displaced people dependent on emergency relief, numbering, in 2014, more than 51 million.

For further information:  
29 June-10 July: Odysseus Summer School on “European Law and Policy on Immigration and Asylum”

The Academic network for legal studies on immigration and asylum in Europe, the Odysseus Network, has announced that registration for the 15th edition of the Summer School "European Union Law and Policy on Immigration and Asylum" is open. The Summer School will take place at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) in Brussels from 29 June to 10 July 2015. 

The Summer School aims to provide participants with a thorough knowledge of European Union policy on immigration and a comprehensive overview of EU asylum law. Classes will be taught by leading specialists in the field, including academics from across Europe and high-ranking officials from European Institutions.

This year, the Summer School will include a new doctoral seminar in EU Immigration and Asylum Law. This seminar aims to provide a group of 15 PhD researchers with the opportunity to present their thesis topics and receive feedback from a panel of experts from the Odysseus Academic Network.

The Summer School also offers the opportunity to meet practitioners and academics working on asylum and migration across Europe and in Brussels-based EU Institutions (European Parliament, Commission and Council), International Organisations (IOM, ICMPD), NGOs (ECRE, JRS-Europe, Picum, etc.) and think-tanks (MPG, CEPS, MPI).