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.

19 February 2016
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Catherine Woollard appointed ECRE Secretary General

The ECRE Board is delighted to announce that, after a search process that attracted many strong candidates, Catherine Woollard has been appointed as the alliance’s new Secretary General, starting from 16 February 2016. She takes over from Michael Diedring, who served as Secretary General until 1 February.

Catherine Woollard has worked in the NGO sector since 2003, focusing on human rights, conflict prevention, security, and governance reform. From 2008 to 2015, she was the Executive Director of EPLO, the European Peacebuilding Liaison Office, a Brussels-based network that campaigns for the EU to be more effective at preventing conflict and building peace.

Previously, Ms Woollard held the position of Director of Policy and Communications at Conciliation Resources and managed programmes in South East Europe, Central Asia and Turkey at Minority Rights Group International and Transparency International. She has also worked for the UK civil service; as a lecturer in political science, teaching at universities in Italy, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine and the Netherlands; as a consultant advising governments, international organisations and NGOs; and as a translator. Recent geographic experience includes assignments in DRC, Myanmar, Côte d’Ivoire and the Philippines.  She is currently a member of the Democratic Progress Institute's Council of Experts and of the OSCE’s Roster of Experts on Mediation and Dialogue.

“I am very pleased that Catherine Woollard has taken up the leadership of ECRE, said Morten Kjærum, ECRE Board Chair. “Her long commitment to safeguarding human rights, vast experience in promoting conflict resolution and her profound understanding of refugee protection will be an invaluable contribution to ECRE as a network. With the ongoing challenges Europe is facing, the need for our alliance has never been greater and we are fortunate to get Catherine to lead ECRE to new levels,” he said.
“I have long admired ECRE's work, which is ever more important given current threats to the rights of refugees within Europe. I'm therefore delighted to take up the position of Secretary General and, in cooperation with ECRE's members and supporters, I hope to contribute to advancing the rights of refugees, asylum-seekers and displaced persons,” said Catherine Woollard.
On behalf of ECRE Board, Morten Kjærum thanked Michael Diedring for his contribution to ECRE and Kris Pollet, ECRE’s Senior Policy and Legal Officer, for ensuring a smooth transition period as Acting Secretary General.


EU Summit: Relocation reaffirmed but Turkey put on hold

EU heads of state and government agreed to ‘rapidly stem the flows’ of refugees and migrants, protect the EU’s external borders, reduce illegal [sic] migration and safeguard the integrity of the Schengen area, during their Council summit in Brussels on 18-19 February.

Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, told a nightshift press conference that Member States had reaffirmed their commitment to the relocation system. The European Council concludes that ‘all elements agreed last December should be implemented rapidly, including the decisions on relocation and measures to ensure returns and readmissions.’

In addition, the Council ‘welcomes NATO's decision to assist in the conduct of reconnaissance, monitoring and surveillance of illegal crossings in the Aegean Sea and calls on all members of NATO to support this measure actively. The EU, in particular FRONTEX, should closely cooperate with NATO.’

Conclusions on Turkey remain quite vague, but Donald Tusk, President of the EU Council announced that there will be an extraordinary meeting with Turkey early March. EU home affairs ministers are also due to meet before the EU leaders meet again mid-March. Meanwhile, they call on Turkey to prevent people from irregularly crossing into Greece.

“The full and speedy implementation of the EU-Turkey Action Plan remains a priority, in order to stem migration flows and to tackle traffickers and smugglers networks. Steps have been taken by Turkey to implement the Action Plan, notably as regards access by Syrian refugees to Turkey's labour market and data sharing with the EU. However, the flows of migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey remain much too high. We need to see a substantial and sustainable reduction of the number of illegal entries from Turkey into the EU. This calls for further, decisive efforts also on the Turkish side to ensure effective implementation of the Action Plan,” they conclude.

In an interview with the EU Reporter, ECRE Secretary General Catherine Woollard urged all parts of Europe to fully assume their responsibilities for ensuring protection of refugees. She said closing borders was not a solution, nor deporting people back to Turkey, where fundamental rights of refugees and migrants are not protected and access to labour market and education is limited for refugees.

“The concrete measures we would like to see, firstly, we need to see a stop to the building of fences. This doesn’t act as a disincentive, given that people are fleeing from an ultra-violent conflict that shows no signs of abating. Secondly, the only real solution here is a large-scale resettlement, and that would allow people to come directly to Europe rather to having to use the deadly sea routes, as is currently the case. Last year, around 4,000 people died in Europe’s seas and this will continue,” she said in the interview.

Some members of the European Parliament showed disappointments with the summit. ‘It doesn't make sense to organise a summit if you do not intend to solve anything’ said Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the ALDE group. Green member Ska Keller said the summit has given EU Member States a ‘carte blanche’ to close borders.

For further information:

VISEGRAD group to organise a backup plan to face the European refugee situation

On 15 February the leaders of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Czech Republic, gathered in Prague in the framework of the Visegrad Four, and called for an alternative plan to stop refugees crossing Greece’s borders with Bulgaria and the former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). It was the 25th anniversary of the group, created in the Hungarian city of Visegrad.

“A coherent European strategy is lacking and it is legitimate for the Balkan countries to protect their borders,” said the Slovakian Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak to the German newspaper Der Spiegel. Reportedly, the countries are planning to step in jointly and support FYROM and Bulgaria in border control operations. The European Council meeting that will take place in mid-March has been set as the indicative deadline.

The group openly opposes Germany’s policy towards refugees and refused the European system of Relocation proposed in September 2015. From the Visegrad countries’ point of view, this strategy would only encourage asylum seekers to travel to Europe. Hungary even blamed some European countries as being responsible for the refugee crisis and for the increased terroris threat. One of the solutions proposed is the sealing of all borders and the establishment of official crossing points. Furthermore, as stated in the joint statement issued following the meeting, the Prime Ministers called for the swift adoption of the Council’s position on the “European Border and Coast Guard” and for a rapid implementation of the EU-Turkey joint action plan.

Ahead of the summit, UNHCR called for Visegrad countries to show solidarity towards refugees who are fleeing war and need protection, as they have done in the past. "Several times during their rich history, these very same countries have provided safe refuge for hundreds of thousands of refugees and could do so again,” said UNHCR's Feixas Vihé.

For further information:

EU naval operation against human smugglers facing challenges before moving into Libyan waters

The Commander of the EUNAVFOR MED – Sophia operation hopes to move into Libyan territorial waters ‘as soon as possible’, as stated in his recent six monthly report. He identifies some political and legal challenges that need to be solved, to prevent ‘subsequent loss of credibility for the operation in the media and EU public opinion.’
The 22-page paper, dated 29 January, is restricted but was released by WikiLeaks on 17 February. It is written by the Operation Commander, Rear Admiral Enrico Credendino of the Italian Navy, for the European Union Military Committee and the Political and Security Committee of the EU. It gives refugee flow statistics and outlines the performed and planned operation phases (1, 2A, 2B and 3), the corresponding activities of the joint EU forces operating in the Mediterranean and the future strategies for the operation. One of the main elements within the report is the planned, but still pending transition from Phase 2A (operating in High Seas) to Phase 2B (operating in Libyan territorial waters) due to the volatile government situation in Libya, where the building of a 'Government of National Accord' (GNA) is still under way.
The Commander says that ‘as an operation we have made good progress, providing a deterrence effect in international waters, preventing smugglers from operating in international waters, and, as of 31 December 2015, contributing to the arrest of 46 smugglers and the destruction of 67 boats’ and that ‘from a military perspective, EUNAVFOR MED is ready to proceed to Phase 2B though the political and legal challenges ahead remain a significant challenge.’
The report presses the responsible EU bodies to help speed up the process of forming a 'reliable' government in Libya that in return is expected to 'invite' EU forces to operate within their territorial waters (Phase 2B) and later even give permission to extend the EU military operations onshore (phase 3).
Some legal obstacles would still remain, if the mission moves into Libyan territorial waters. First, an invitation from the GNA, as the sole legitimate Government of Libya, would be required, as well as a UN Security Council Resolution to provide the necessary legal mandate to operate.
Secondly, prosecuting suspected smugglers in Italy would not apply. “We will, therefore, need a new legal basis; either an agreement with the Libyan authorities that they will waive their right to prosecute suspected smugglers in Libya and allow them to be prosecuted by another Member State, or to have a transfer agreement in place for apprehended smugglers to be transferred to the Libyan authorities for prosecution. Both options have specific challenges end rely on the consent of the Libyan authorities,” he states. “I want to underline the fact that this issue must be solved before we can move to phase 2 Bravo. Without the required legal finish we will be compelled to release suspected smugglers apprehended in Libyan territorial waters, with a subsequent loss of credibility for the operation in the media and EU public opinion.”
ECRE remains critical of prioritising military forces to tackle people smugglers. “The most efficient method of shutting down smugglers – a goal we agree with – is to eliminate the need for their services by providing safe and legal channels to Europe,” ECRE’s former Secretary General, Michael Diedring, said when the mission was established. “A military operation will lead to more deaths, either directly, as collateral damage in this unwinnable “war” against smugglers, or indirectly as desperate refugees take even more dangerous journeys when boats are destroyed. The ultimate irony is that these people are fleeing war, persecution and violence; with this military action they are being met with the same,” he stated.
For further information:


Over 200 refugees, including SIA, rejected on the Slovenian border

In the early hours of Wednesday 17 February, 217 asylum seekers were returned from Slovenia, through Croatia and finally to Serbia.  The group, as stated by UNHCR Serbia,  includes a significant number of refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria (SIA), were rejected on the Slovenian border after “failing” the nationality test. “The reasons why they were sent back are not clear, but they are now waiting for the next steps” said a UNHCR Protection Officer.

They were received at the Slavonski Brod camp, where they stayed for two days before being transferred to Serbia on a train. ECRE’s member, the Danish Refugee Council reported that it seems that the authorities told the refugees that they were being sent back to Slovenia but instead the train left in  the opposite direction. Tensions broke out when the asylum seekers realized they were in Serbia and would ultimately be transferred further south to FYROM. Refugees were accommodated at the Šid Refugee Aid Point, where they also received legal information. A few people decided to stay, while the others left the station, probably with the plan to get back to Croatia by another route.

Info Serbia reports that on Wednesday, the Serbian Minister of Labor, Employment, Veteran and Social Policy Aleksandar Vulin stated “migrants who were sent back from Croatia can either seek asylum in Serbia or be returned to the country from which they entered our territory, and if they don’t accept that, they will be treated as illegal migrants”.

For further information:


Afghanistan is not a safe country: number of civilian casualties reaches record high in 2015

UNAMA, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan in coordination with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released the 2015 Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, documenting an increase in the numbers of civilian casualties compared with the previous year. UNAMA figures show the highest number of casualties on record since the Mission began reporting on the issue in 2009. It documented over 3,500 deaths - of which one quarter were children and over 7,000 injured persons.  

The majority of the casualties were caused by anti-government elements that have increasingly targeted civilians through either deliberate killings or through suicide attacks and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). However, the report also documented a rise in civilian casualties caused by pro-government forces, including during ground engagement and aerial operations.

The findings of this report further call into question the policy instated or called for by some EU Member States - such as Germany - to increase deportations to the country and to consider Afghans as ‘economic migrants’. Afghans constitute the second largest group seeking asylum in the EU, according to the latest Eurostat data.

For further information:


Amnesty International: UK and France must share responsibility for the global refugee crisis

Amnesty International has issued a statement calling on the governments of the UK and France to cooperate to allow refugees and migrants currently living in squalid conditions in camps in northern France, who have family links to the UK, to be swiftly identified and transferred there.

Following a three-day visit by Amnesty International to Calais and Dunkirk earlier this month, it was found that many vulnerable individuals had solid legal claims to be reunited with their families in the UK. However, as there is very limited access to information on the asylum procedures in France, or possibilities for family reunion in the UK, people are unaware of their rights and options. This leads many to resort to paying smugglers, or to risk their lives in dangerous attempts to cross the channel irregularly.

Amnesty International calls on the UK and France to implement measures to protect the principle of family unity and swiftly agree on the criteria to be used to assess claims for extended family reunification. In addition, quality information and legal assistance should be made available and proof of family links should not be subject to unnecessary administrative burdens. Furthermore, family reunification claims submitted by children should be assessed with regard to the primary principle of the best interests of the child. Other vulnerable applicants should also receive special treatment.

It urges both states to take seriously the moral, political and legal imperative to share responsibility for the global refugee crisis.

For further information:

Barriers to an effective legal remedy in Turkey

ECRE Member, Refugee Rights Turkey, has published a paper on the barriers refugees in Turkey face accessing their right to an effective legal remedy, due to the complex arrangements for granting power of attorney.

In Turkish law, a lawyer must obtain a notarised power of attorney in order to be someone’s representative.  Notaries will only grant it if they can establish the applicant’s identity either by an official identification document or by witness statement. However, refugees, asylum seekers and migrants face considerable difficulties with these requirements which make legal safeguards in Turkey’s new Law on Foreigners and International Protection largely ineffective.   

Individuals who are stopped for irregular entry or exit from Turkey are often detained and undergo accelerated asylum procedures. They should be issued with an international protection registration document with their identity details, but in a number of cases this has not happened and applicants have been issued with rejection letters and deportation orders. Without the registration document they are unable to obtain a power of attorney, and are therefore unable to be represented by a lawyer to challenge these decisions before administrative courts.

In addition, certain identity documents issued under the new asylum law are only valid within the province where they are issued, which means it is not possible to get a power of attorney if the person is apprehended in another province. Syrian nationals and stateless persons from Syria are issued with a ‘temporary protection identity document’ or a ‘foreigner identity document’ but these are not always recognised as official documents by notaries and can refuse to grant power of attorney based on these.

Refugee Rights Turkey calls on the authorities to make a number of changes in order to guarantee refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants access to a legal remedy. 

 For further information: