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.

20 September 2019
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Libya: Humanitarian Solutions Won’t Solve Political Problems

By Leonie Jegen and Franzisca Zanker

Leonie Jegen is a researcher at the Arnold Bergstraesser Institute where she currently works on the project “The Political Economy of Migration Governance in West Africa” for which she conducted field research in Niger and Senegal earlier this year. This project is part of the Mercator Dialogue on Asylum and Migration (MEDAM).

Franzisca Zanker is a senior researcher at the Arnold Bergstraesser-Institute at the University of Freiburg, where she heads the research cluster “Patterns of (Forced) Migration”. She is a political scientist working on conflict and migration research.

A new evacuation plan to fly out migrants to Rwanda from Libya, recently announced, offers a way out for some individuals but for the majority the well-documented abuse and torture in Libya is still the reality. Talk of the new evacuation scheme reportedly started following the deadly airstrikes of the Tajoura Detention Centre in July this year, which led to the death of more than forty refugees and other migrants.

Mirroring the “Emergency Transit Mechanism” (ETM) already known from Niger, this EU and AU funded initiative, though details are still unclear, will fly out 500 evacuees across the continent to Rwanda, from where face different potential scenarios, either to stay, return home or eventually be resettled. Or at least that’s the plan.

As of 27th August, a total of 2,913 refugees have been evacuated to Niger, one of the world’s poorest countries, in an agreement that stems from the African-EU summit in November 2017. However, the scheme remains riddled with problems.

Although the exact terms of the Niger ETM remain opaque, the majority of Nigerien officials and international aid workers we talked to recently, agreed that the condition of agreement was that all evacuees should be resettled. However, many refugees resettled have to undergo lengthy screening procedures in Niger. By August, only 59 %, or 1,723 individuals have been resettled to countries in the EU and the US. What will happen to those that do not meet strict resettlement requirements remains unclear. Tensions over slow resettlement pace rose to a level that made the Nigerien government temporarily halt the scheme for a few months in 2018.

Earlier this year, UNHCR opened  a camp called a ‘transit centre’ in Hamdallaye, 40 km outside of the capital Niamey, where evacuees were previously hosted in houses. This move reduces the ability for income generation and refugees have protested the dire conditions in the new transit centres, including food and water-shortages and a lack of medical care. Without access to resettlement these people are left in a limbo rather than with a sustainable solution.

Simultaneously, a second camp, called a “humanitarian centre”, has been opened outside the city of Agadez. This followed the so-called “self-evacuation” of Sudanese refugees, primarily from Libya, but also from Sudan and Chad. Political and societal hostility towards the newcomers, cumulated in the deportation of 135 Sudanese asylum seekers  back to Libya in May 2018, a breach of the non-refoulement principle.

Our respondents highlighted that only after pressure from international actors the Nigerien Government allowed for the opening of the humanitarian centre, where self-evacuated refugees undergo the refugee status determination procedure. With the absence of political will for resettlement of self-evacuees on the one hand, and the objective to prevent resettlement driven displacement to Niger from Libya on the other, a de facto two-class access to resettlement is created, with those self-evacuating facing a lower likelihood of resettlement opportunities.

According to UNHCR, the new deal with Rwanda will help with the “pervasively inhumane detention policy facing those disembarked in Libya.” However, it will only do so for a handful and the differential access to resettlement options of “self-evacuees” and formal ETM evacuees remains an obvious challenge.

Of course we cannot expect evacuation schemes alone to provide a structured and coherent solution to the situation in Libya. Europe will have to do more than supporting ad hoc emergency initiatives and take direct responsibility.  A first move would be to exchange the current cooperation with the Libyan coast guard with a willingness to create safe and legal pathways also to Europe. The displacement crisis cannot be contained to the African continent but it can be better handled if Europe starts leading by example.

Op-ed: ECRE publishes op-eds by commentators with relevant experience and expertise in the field who want to contribute to the debate on refugee rights in Europe. The views expressed are those of the author and does not necessarily reflect ECRE positions.

The ECRE Weekly Bulletin is currently featuring a number of interviews and op-eds presenting critical perspectives on the EU cooperation on migration with different African countries.


The Birth Defect of EU Migration Diplomacy

By Christian Jakob (@chrjkb) is editor for the German daily taz, die tageszeitung in Berlin. With Simone Schlindwein, he co-authored Dictators as Gatekeepers for Europe: Outsourcing EU border controld to Africa, which was filmed by arte, ZDF and Deutsche Welle. Before, he initiated the website Migration Control which will be relaunched in October.

Prevention of migration to Europe, especially from Africa, was a priority of the previous Commission and, as it looks, likely to remain as such for the new Commission.

This makes it increasingly difficult for refugees to find protection. And it is becoming increasingly dangerous for migrant workers to reach places where they can seek income. But that is not the only consequence. The more Europe tries to control migration, the more difficult it becomes for many Africans to move freely within their own continent, even within their own country.

The EU investment is substantial. From the beginning of the millennium until 2015, the figure was around two billion euros. By 2020, at least another 15 billion euros will have been added. The EU will pay for the costs incurred by controlling migration itself: supplying detained refugees, jeeps or ships for the border police, deportations, reception camps. But it gives even more, in a sense as a premium: an extra portion of development aid for the coalition of the willing in matters of border protection.

Some African states, such as Tunisia, therefore make it a punishable offence to leave for Europe without papers. Some save themselves such a law and imprison migrants just like that - for example Libya. Some set up border posts where there haven't been any so far – Sudan, for example. Some introduce biometric passports that many of their citizens cannot afford - such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, which charges 185 dollars for one of the new so-called e-passports produced by a Belgian-Arab consortium. Some take back deportees from Europe, even if they are not their own citizens - for example Morocco. Some states block migration routes with soldiers - Egypt, for example. Some allow Frontex and European Police-Officers to come and help with this - Niger, for example. And some close the borders: not only for transit migrants, but also for their own citizens if they want to enter Europe irregularly - Algeria, for example.

More and more often, the money paid in return for controlling migration is booked as Official Development Assistance (ODA). It is a misappropriation of funds that are there to alleviate poverty and hardship. It also contradicts the sense of development aid because labour migration is a blessing for poor countries. It brings money into the coffers of small traders and farmers. This mixture of development aid and migration control will increase. "Combating the root causes" is the new paradigm of development policy.

Günter Nooke, Chancellor Angela Merkel's Africa Commissioner, had an idea on what Africa's future could look like. In October 2018 he proposed that African states should give up parts of their territory against payment so that the EU could settle refugees there: "Perhaps one or the other African head of government is prepared to give up a piece of territorial sovereignty in exchange for a lease and allow free development there for 50 years. Migrants could be settled there in special economic zones, supported by the World Bank or the EU or individual states."   Such statements are hardly beneficial neither in the formal relationship between Europe and Africa nor in broader segments of the public on the African continent.

But the cordon sanitaire that the EU is trying to weave against undesirable migration is full of holes. The blueprint agreement with Turkey is crumbling. The number of arrivals in the Aegean islands is currently higher than at any other time since the EU-Turkey deal came into force. Boats from Libya keep leaving, arrivals in Morocco increases.

The massive political pressure that had been built up for the African states to recognise for example the EU „Laissez Passers“ – passport replacement papers that the deportation country can simply issue itself – or otherwise contribute to increasing the deportations of those obliged to leave has had only a limited effect. And last February, the African Union made it clear that it will not accept transit EU asylum camps on African soil.

Neither the transit regions nor the regions of origin will let themselves be used in the long term as reception camps or assistant EU border guards. The consequence of this is that the EU cannot solve its migration problem outside its own territory on the long run. The old Commission had consistently refused to accept this insight. The new Commission would now have the opportunity not to repeat this mistake.

Op-ed: ECRE publishes op-eds by commentators with relevant experience and expertise in the field who want to contribute to the debate on refugee rights in Europe. The views expressed are those of the author and does not necessarily reflect ECRE positions.

The ECRE Weekly Bulletin is currently featuring a number of interviews and op-eds presenting critical perspectives on the EU cooperation on migration with different African countries. 



EU Praise of Libyan Coast Guard out of Touch with Reality

The death of a Sudanese man upon interception and a recent UN report again raises alarm over the operations of the EU-funded Libyan Coast Guard praised for “effectively operating” in an internal EU document released by StateWatch.

A Sudanese man died a few hours after being shot at Abusitta Disembarkation point in Tripoli when resisting his return to a detention center. The man was part of a group of 103 migrants intercepted on their way to Europe and returned to Tripoli by the Libyan coast guard. Armed men began shooting in the air when several migrants tried to run away from their guards. The scene was witnessed by IOM staff who were on the scene to provide aid to migrants. They immediately assisted the wounded man who however died two hours after his admission to a nearby hospital.

“The death is a stark reminder of the grim conditions faced by migrants picked up by the Coast Guard after paying smugglers to take them to Europe, only to find themselves put into detention centers, whose conditions have been condemned by IOM and the UN”, IOM writes.

Relatedly, in his report on the UN Support Mission in Libya, General Secretary Antonio Guterres voices serious concerns regarding the transfer of migrants rescued or intercepted at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard to unofficial detention centres in Khums. Hundreds of rescued migrants who were reported to have been sent to detention centres were later listed as missing and may have been trafficked or sold to smugglers, while others disappeared on their way to nearby Suq al-Khamis, the report states.

In a document authored by the presidency of the Council of the EU on the situation in Libya, the EU acknowledges that conditions have deteriorated severely recently “due to security concerns” in addition to the worsening situation in the overcrowded detention facilities. However, in the section on “involvement and assistance to help support migration management and fight migrant smuggling” of the same document, the EU applauds its cooperation with the Libyan coastguard stating that: “the number of departures along the coast has remained low and the Libyan Navy Coast Guards have continued operating effectively, thus confirming the progress achieved over the past three years”.

According to the NGO Doctors Without Borders (MSF), over 495 vulnerable people attempting to flee Libya have been intercepted & forcibly returned over the past this week.

For further Information:


Mediterranean: Over 400 Rescued while Deaths Continue

After four rescue operations, the Ocean Viking is awaiting a port of safety. Maltese and Italian authorities rescue almost 200 ahead of talks on relocation.

According to a Tunisian National Guard spokesperson a fishing boat with 23 migrants aboard has sunk off the Tunisian coast of El Aouabed. Nine people were rescued and fourteen are missing. The NGO Alarm Phone stated that more deaths are expected to be confirmed.

In the course of this week, Maltese authorities have rescued 101 people in two operations in Malta’s Search and Rescue (SAR) zone. Before rescuing 56 people on Thursday, the Armed Forces Malta (AFM) rescued 45 people on Wednesday, from a wooden boat in distress. The NGO Alarm Phone had alerted Maltese authorities to the boat. On Tuesday, another group of 95 people were brought to the island after having been rescued by the Italian Coastguard. They could disembark after a short stand-off between Italian and Maltese authorities over which state was responsible.

The rescue vessel Ocean Viking rescued another 36 people from a wooden boat in international waters in the Central Mediterranean after being requested to do so by Maltese authorities. The operation was the fourth rescue after the Norwegian-flagged ship picked up 182 people in three separate operation in the course of this week, bringing the number of rescued people to a total of 218.

The ship, jointly operated by the NGOs SOS MEDITERANEE and MSF, requested a safe port from Malta and Italy. Libyan maritime authorities had assigned the port of Al Khums, which the crew stressed did not qualify as a safe port. Last weekend, Italian authorities allowed the Ocean Viking to disembark 82 people on the island of Lampedusa, indicating a shift from the former government’s closed ports policies.

In a meeting in Rome, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte jointly called for an EU-level, automatic system for taking in migrants saved from the Mediterranean. At a meeting next week in Malta, representatives from Italy, France, Germany, Malta and Finland are set to discuss temporary relocation mechanisms. Ahead of the talks, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer announced that Germany is prepared to take in 25% of migrants who arrive in Italy after being rescued at sea. .

Last week, the EU renewed the mandate of EUNAVFOR MED Operation Sophia for another six months, still without deploying ships. Before the naval part of the mission was suspended in March of this year, Sophia rescued ca. 50,000 people at the Mediterranean.

Missing Migrants recorded 953 deaths of people trying to cross the Mediterranean.

For further information:


Slight Increase of Arrivals to Greece Adds to Humanitarian Crisis

A slight increase of arrivals to Greece comes with intense debate and potentially grave consequences. Aid workers are warning of a looming catastrophe in the overcrowded camps. However, actual numbers of arrivals and asylum applications remain low compared to 2015/16.

The arrival of 694 people to Lesvos, Samos and Chios last week adds to the 38,598 migrants and refugees who have arrived to Greece by land and sea between January and mid-September 2019, according to UNHCR. This compares to an annual total of more than 50,000 in 2018 and more than 860,000 at the peak of arrivals in 2015.

Yet, the surge in arrivals over the summer and through September has potentially severe consequences as it could exacerbate the already critical situation for over 25,000 people in the overcrowded camps on the Aegean islands. “The level of human suffering is just indescribable”, states a representative from Médecins Sans Frontières, pointing to a sharp rise in self-harm including among toddlers.

Statistics from the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) reveals that 400,500 asylum applications were launched in EU+. Despite an 11% increase compared to the same period of 2018, the level is “dramatically lower” than in 2015-2016.

For further information:



France: Police Evicts Hundreds from Camp in Grande-Synthe

Around 1000 people were removed from a Sports hall in Grande-Synthe, Northern France, in the largest eviction so far this year.

French police “evacuated” around 170 people living inside and around 800 who had settled around the sports hall, offered by local authorities toto accommodate migrants since December 2018. The eviction proceeded calmly and people were driven to emergency shelters across Northern France. However, many of the former inhabitants, a majority of which are Iraqi Kurds, are expected to return quickly to the settlement awaiting a chance to cross the channel to the UK.

Following an order by the French Council of State in June, the northern prefecture of France installed sanitary services in the area to support the inhabitants of the settlement. In the beginning of September, an administrative court in Lille ordered the evacuation after complaints fromresidents of the surrounding area.

Martina Villa, a communications executive at Doctors of the World, commented: “These evictions are a show of institutional violence, displacing people and forcing them to leave the only areas where they might have felt some safety, even if it was just tents. We are concerned about people not knowing where they are being taken and not having been able to access people we know have medical issues.”

Groups of people settled in a makeshift camp in a nearby forest reportedly experienced greater levels of physical violence by police, who took their tents, burnt food and cooking material, and confiscated water and milk.

NGOs report that migrants in northern France experience constant police harassment and crackdowns on makeshift camps. While in 2016 the charity HelpRefugees would expect a tent to last about six months, this period has shrunk to no more than a week. “The hostile environment has been exported here,” Maddy Allen, the Help Refugees field manager in France, said that the increased police presence around the ports has resulted in change of irregular routes to the UK from trucks to boats. She also bemoans the loss of communal space: “When the Jungle was stable, communities were able to form. Activities such as cooking together and setting up schools provided some social and mental health benefits.”

For further information:


Italy: Officials of the Italian Coast Guard Persecuted for Shipwreck in 2013

On 16 September 2019, the Tribunal of Rome admitted the criminal trial against two officials of the Italian Coast Guard for the death of 268 people. That was the death toll caused by a shipwreck of a vessel that had set out from Libya the previous night in the Mediterranean Sea on 11 October 2013.

The two defendants, responsible at that time of the Italian Coast Guard operating station, are charged with manslaughter and negligence. They will have to explain the judge why Italy waited more than 5 hours before rendering assistance for a boat in distress, although the Italian Navy was closest to the scene. According to the registrations, the Italian Coast Guard received the emergency call around 12 pm but refused to intervene insisting that Malta was closer. However, at that moment, the vessel LIBRA of the Italian Coast Guard was just 17 miles far – about an hour of navigation - but the operating station ordered the Italian vessel to move away and let a Maltese vessels proceed despite a distance of 118 miles. When the Maltese vessel arrived six hours later, the boat had already capsized.

“No trial is ever going to bring the dead back to life. But for the families, reconstructing those terrible hours in which the boat took in water and their calls went unanswered is a form of justice", said the lawyer of the victims' relatives.

The trial will take place in Rome and the first hearing will be on 3 December 2019. The case was opened thanks to the investigations of the Italian journalist Fabrizio Gatti, who has been following this story for the last six years.  A documentary based on the lives of three Syrian doctors who lost their kids during the shipwreck was released in 2017.

For further information:



Botswana Begins Deportations of Refugees from Namibia

On September 17, 94 Namibian refugees were deported from Botswana. A total of 852 Namibian nationals who fled to Botswana in 1999 have refused to voluntarily repatriate and are set to be forcibly returned.

The more than 800 refugees set to be forcibly returned after an agreement was reached between the governments of Botswana and Namibia. They are the remaining group of an original 2,400 Namibians who fled to Botswana in 1999 following an attempt to secede the Caprivi Strip from Namibia 20 years ago. According to their spokesperson Felix Kakula they have refused to return voluntarily out of fear of persecution: "At the event that we are deported back to Namibia, they should inform the Namibian government that people who are being deported are members of the United Democratic Party, such that they should open their prisons and lock us in, because we are not going to keep quiet when we are there”.

Director of refugee management and welfare Thobo Letlhage, refers to the agreement between the two countries as a tripartite agreement signed also by the UNHCR and states: "Being a refugee is not a permanent status. So, when the conditions are conducive for refugees to return to their native countries, it is advisable for them to do so”.

The Botswana Centre for Human Rights urges authorities to enter into dialogue with the refugees stating: “he Caprivians (former refuges) have been repeatedly requesting mediated constructive dialogue with the Government of Namibia. It is clear that there is a lack of trust between the parties.”

The refugees have been living under modest conditions in the Dukwi Refugee Camp 530 km northwest of Botswana's capital, Gaborone for almost 20 years.



Choose Respect: Together We Can Tackle Anti-Migrant Hate Speech. Hate speech against migrants and refugees is all too common, both online and in the real world. But it isn’t always easy to know how to react effectively – and it’s even harder to respond in a way which changes attitudes. In the run-up to elections, politics is a frequent topic of debate. But if the discussion turns nasty – either around the dinner table or on your social media feed – here are some tips to help you make a constructive contribution to a more positive discourse.




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