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.

17 May 2019
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52 People Jump Fence into Melilla while 40 Arrested

On 12 May 52 people jumped the border fence between Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Melilla. Another 40 attempted but were arrested by Moroccan authorities.

In the early morning around 100 people of sub-Saharan origin attempted to climb the fence into Melilla, according to local government sources. The group who managed to cross arrived at the Centre for Temporary Stay of Immigrants (CETI) in Melilla, where they received new clothes and other basic goods and according to Spanish media shared their relief with other migrants. One person was taken to the hospital due to injuries from the razor wire.

A rapid deployment from the Spanish Police Guardia Civil and Moroccan security forces prevented the remaining 40 people from reaching EU soil. According to a Moroccan military official the navy also stopped three boats with 117 people from crossing to Europe. It remains unclear where they have been taken.

The Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta are the only land borders the EU shares with Africa. Since Spain recorded the highest number of arrivals of migrants and refugees in the EU in 2018 authorities have stepped up efforts to seal off Spanish borders through bilateral agreements with Morocco. An internal EU report links the cooperation to a significant decrease in arrivals in the past months. However, several NGOs have raised concern over human rights violations by Moroccan authorities and an escalating death rate of people trying to cross the western Mediterranean. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has repeatedly condemned Spanish push-backs at the border of the enclaves.

The group of people crossing the border fence to Melilla was the largest since 21 October 2019 when 209 people managed to cross.

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Tragedy and Chaos Continues on the Mediterrenean

While succesful rescue operations have been carried out by the Italian navy and Maltese, and Greek Coast Guards as well as civilian search and rescue vessels, tradegy and chaos continues across the Mediterrenean. At least 70 people have died or gone missing this week and the crack-down on civilian search and rescue organisations intensifies.

A Maltese patrol boat rescued a group of 85 migrants over the weekend off the coast of Malta, the Greek coast guard have rescued 63 people in the eastern Aegean on Tuesday, the civilian search and rescue vessel Sea-Watch 3 rescued 65 people on Wednesday off the Coast of Libya, and 66 people were rescued by the Italian navy and the civilian search and rescue vessel Mare Joni off the coast of Libya on Thursday. However, another tragedy adds to the ever rising death toll on the Mediterreanean as 65 lives were lost after a boat carrring migrants sank off the coast of Tunesia. According to UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) Special Envoy for the Mediterranean Vincent Cochetel: “a tragic and terrible reminder of the risks still faced by those who attempt to cross the Mediterranean”. Another five people are missing after a fishing boat sank Monday morning off the Heri-Chekka coast near Tripoli.

Meanwhile the crack-down on civilian search and rescue actors intensifies. Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini is blocking access to Italian ports for Sea-Watch 3 and the disembarkment of the 65 people rescued. Salvini stated: “Our ports are, and remain, closed to migrant rescue boats”. Allegedly Salvini is further planning the issuing of a decree that will result in fines of up to 5,500 Euros per rescued migrant for civilian search and rescue vessels disembarking in Italy. In Malta the captain of the MV Lifeline vessel, impounded by authorities in June 2018 after disembarking 234 migrants rescued off the coast of Libya, was fined 10.000 Euros at the court in the capital of Valetta. While a preliminary investigations judge (GIP) on Wednesday suspended investigations against the captain and the mission chief of a search and rescue vessel operated by the Spanish NGO ProActiva Open Arms for charges of criminal association for illegal immigration, investigations on allegations of aiding illegal immigration and abuse remain ongoing.

Based on statistics from IOM, national authorities and media sources, Missing Migrants estimates that 494 people have died or gone missing on the Mediterrenean so far in 2019.

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100 Asylum Seekers Acquitted in Greece after Protest

100 asylum seekers, who were facing charges for participating in an illegal demonstration, were acquitted on Thursday 9 May by the Court of Mytilene in Lesvos, Greece.

The protest had been organised in April 2018 after an Afghan national residing in the Moria reception and identification centre died due to insufficient provision of health services. Around 200 asylum seekers, mainly from Afghanistan, had gathered in the Sappho square of Lesvos to condemn the inhumane reception and living conditions on the island. The protest escalated as a group of far-right activists threw stones and flares at them, resulting in several injuries and the arrest of two Greek nationals and around 110 asylum seekers, including children. The detained asylum seekers were charged with illegal occupation of the square and the use of force and resistance against the police.

Their acquittal “warrants no celebrations” according to Vassilis Kerasiotis, the Director of HIAS Greece which represented 33 defendants during the trial. “The mere fact that 110 participants of a peaceful protest were tried in a court of justice, after suffering a racist attack and disproportionate use of violence by the police, is deeply concerning”, he said. Local actors also raised concern over the impunity for the extremists involved in the attack, as 26 persons have been identified but none of them have faced trial yet.

The poor living conditions on the island of Lesvos is a longstanding issue that has been largely documented by numerous civil society organisations and national actors throughout the years. The main issues include overcrowding, reduced healthcare provision, deterioration of the care and protection afforded to vulnerable people, but also the rise in xenophobic and racist incidents on the island. In 2018, the Greek National Commission for Human Rights (GNCHR) has expressed its deep concerns about the situation in the reception centers of the Eastern Aegean islands, especially of Moria in Lesvos. Similarly, UNCHR warned that “the Moria reception and identification centre has become a tinderbox, with any further delays or deterioration in conditions posing a serious threat to the safety of those living and working inside.”

During the last trimester of 2018, transfers from Greek islands to the mainland have been accelerated in order to address the situation on the islands. By the end of 2018, 5,100 applicants were remaining in the reception and identification center of Lesvos, with a nominal capacity of 3,100 places.

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CJEU: Refugees who Committed Crimes Cannot Be Automatically Returned

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has ruled that EU Member States cannot deport refugees who have committed crimes if they will face inhuman or degrading treatment upon return. Instead, Member States must allow them to remain in the country.

The judgment in the cases of M, X and X concern applicants who had been convicted of serious crimes in Belgium and the Czech Republic. The asylum application of one of the applicants was refused and the refugee statuses of the two other applicants were revoked. National courts in Belgium and the Czech Republic submitted preliminary ruling requests to the CJEU due to a lack of clarity on how to rule.

The CJEU recognised that the Geneva Convention permits states to derogate from the principle of non-refoulement in cases in which a refugee has committed a serious crime and presents a threat to the nation, or if the refugee presents a serious threat to society. The Court recognised that EU law transposes this article permitting refoulement in such circumstances. However, the Court found that EU law must conform with the European Charter on Fundamental Rights, which prohibits exposure to torture and inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment. As a result, Member States cannot return refugees to their home countries if there was a possibility that they would face such treatment.

The Court further recognised that being a ‘refugee' and being granted ‘refugee status’ are different. Thus, the refugee status of the three individuals concerned could be revoked or refused and they would not be afforded the full rights that come with refugee status. However, these individuals would still be refugees and afforded certain rights stipulated in the Geneva Convention. Importantly, the Court states that the EU directive does "not require a lawful stay, but merely the refugee's physical presence in the territory of the host Member State." Member States nonetheless can provide another legal basis for these refugees to remain in the country.



Rights at Risk: The Implications of a Closer Asylum-Return Nexus

The strong linkage between asylum and return procedures in the hotspot approach puts fundamental rights at risk, according to a policy brief published by the Danish Refugee Council.

Whereas hotspots in Italy and Greece were set up with a view to ensuring greater effectiveness and efficiency in migration management, experience from practice has demonstrated critical gaps in registration, access to procedures and identification of vulnerabilities, as well as violations of the right to liberty through systematic detention.

The brief places particular emphasis on the implications of the channelling of people into different procedures and the automatic detention of certain groups upon arrival, for example through the nationality-based “low profile” scheme on Greek islands. Persons subject to that scheme are automatically placed in pre-removal detention centres and can only seek asylum whilst in detention.

The Danish Refugee Council recommends access to proper and immediate legal assistance for all persons in such procedures, systematic identification of visible and non-visible vulnerabilities, and compliance with the duty to resort to detention only as a measure of last resort.

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Thousands of People Displaced as Conflict Flares Up in North Western Syria

The latest situation report from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reveals that 180.000 people have been displaced in northwest Syria between 29 April and 9 May.

Escalating fighting between government forces and armed groups have caused massive displacement in northwest Syria. According to OCHA the clashes including airstrikes and shelling are: “impacting on civilian populations, infrastructure and service provision in northern Hama and southern Idleb governorates”. The Agency further states: “unconfirmed reports indicate that more than 120 civilians, including women and children, have been killed, while many others have been injured”.

The new displacement in Syria adds to a record number of internally displaced people at the global level. A report released on 10 May by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) reveals that 41.3 million people were internally displaced by the end of 2018 – the highest number on record.

“The findings of this report are a wake-up call to world leaders. Millions of people forced to flee their homes last year are being failed by ineffective national governance and insufficient international diplomacy. Because they haven't crossed a border, they receive pitiful global attention,” said Secretary General of the NRC Jan Egeland.

The increased displacement is generated mainly from ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Syria as well as local tensions in Ethiopia, Cameroon and Nigeria.



Ready to Rescue – Caught Up in Politics

Interview with Marina Gomez Corral, crew member of the rescue vessel Aita Mari, operated by the Basque NGO Salvamento Marítimo Humanitario, which currently provides humanitarian aid to refugee camps in Lesbos.

How did Salvamento Marítimo Humanitario get started and what is your motivation?

We are a group of people who said that we cannot bare the shame anymore of what is happening right in front of our eyes. Growing up, we have had positive associations with the Mediterranean – holidays, sun, eating nice and living well - but now it turned into a cemetery and we could not simply continue our life’s and pretend that this is not happening. Our position is that the way the EU is managing the situation in the Mediterranean at the moment is shameful and hypocritical. On our boat we all have specific responsibilities: we have a captain, engineers, a journalist, a nurse and a cook. We all come from different parts of Spain but we have the same objective. Also the sailors are activists. No one is on this boat just to work on a boat – we all share the same ethical and political project.

Your vessel, the Aita Mari, was originally prepared to carry out rescue missions in the Central Mediterranean. What obstacles did you encounter?

Since 2015, our NGO, Salvamento Marítimo Humanitario, has been working on a sanitary project on Chios providing health assistance to new arrivals and at the refugee camp Vial. One and a half years ago we started to prepare the fishing boat Aita Mari to carry out rescue missions. We wanted to go to the Libyan Search & Rescue (SAR) zone because, because if we were to go to the Italian SAR zone we would mainly find the bodies of people who died during their crossing. We were meant to head to the Central Mediterranean in January of this year but the Spanish authorities denied us permission. They said that we needed an agreement with all the states that surround the SAR zone, which means Italy, Tunisia, Egypt, France,….It is important to note that they didn’t use to ask this for a boat to dispatch before. They also say that our vessel was not safe enough to carry out long journeys with shipwrecked people though we have obtained all the necessary certificates from the Ministry for Development to carry up to 120 people.

How did you react when you realized that Spanish authorities would make it impossible for you to carry out your project?

We started looking into different options but while we were sorting out paper work we did not want to stand still, even though the boat was prepared mainly to function as an ambulance at sea. Starting out from Bilboa we went via Coruña to Lisbon and received permission from Portuguese authorities to go to Lesbos and Chios to bring humanitarian aid from Spain by boat. On our way to the Greek islands we passed through the Strait of Gibraltar, when the maritime coordination centre called us and said that we did not have permission to leave Spanish waters. They said we had to request permission from a Spanish port or they would send the Spanish coast guard and we would not be allowed to do anything, despite having permission from the Portuguese port. Legally it did not make any sense but as we did not have a choice we went to the port of Palma de Mallorca. Finally we received permissions to sail to the Greek islands, probably because it was election time and they preferred for us to be far away from Spain. They also sent us a list with possible consequences we would face if we did carry out rescues. The paper said we would have to pay almost 1 million Euros in fines, the captain would risk going to jail, the boat would be blocked, and the rest of the crew would no longer be able to work on the sea.

How do you and other civil rescue organisations ‘navigate’ between politics, law and ethics in these situations? 

This last situation is a clear example of criminalisation because the Spanish authorities simply assumed that we were going to do something that we were not allowed to. We might not agree with what is considered ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ but we would not do anything illegal.

We are not the only vessel prohibited from going to the SAR zones and there are around ten NGOs at the moment in a similar position. From time to time one of them manages to get permission from the courts, like recently the Sea Watch 3, which has left the port of Marseille this week and already rescued 65 people. The Italian vessel Mare Jonio rescued 30 people last week and its crew members, like many others, now face investigation in Lampedusa. We are all very visible in the media and the whole situation is highly politicised, which means that we are trying to beat the politicians at their game and on their homeground. From our point of view, the law is largely instrumentalised by those in power – if it does not fit their interest they bend it and present it in a different way to achieve their aims.

After the series of setbacks and resistance you’ve experienced from the side of Spanish authorities, where do you find the motivation to keep going?

As long as we have the support of the civil society, we'll keep fighting for migrants’ rights. That is the source of our strength. And the solidarity in Spain and the Basque Country has been growing over the last years: as Spain has become one of the major transit countries in the EU we have seen the development of a growing network of people supporting those who cross it.

European parliamentary elections are taking place next week. Despite the struggle with Spanish authorities and the criminalisation of sea rescue across various EU Member States, have you experienced support from political forces on national or EU level?

At least in Spain we receive support from different political parties from the left and even from the right, from Podemos to the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV). We are confident that the solidarity and struggle for human rights, which already spread from the grassroots to the national level, can also reach the European institutions.

What are your plans for the far and near future?

We have delivered humanitarian donations in Chios and Lesbos. Now the boat is still there and the crew is resting. While the boat will probably stay in Lesbos for at least three months to take care of administrative matters, we are planning to set up the boat as a dental clinic close to the camp Moria. While health care is often provided for children and pregnant women for example, there is hardly any dental health care. We are also thinking about using a machine to produce drinking water for the camp. Though we have various plans under consideration at the moment our primary goal is still to get the permission to go to the SAR zone in the Central Mediterranean.



ECRE European Parliament Campaign: Your Vote Our Future! It is time to oppose the far-right populists and fight for a Europe respecting human dignity and fundamental rights – the European Parliament elections provide this opportunity. Every vote counts!

Social Platform: Your world – your vote! What kind of world do you want to live in? One where the majority line the pockets of the wealthy few? Or one where people’s well-being is top priority and where nobody is left behind? The European Elections give you the power to choose. Your world – your vote!

JRS Europe - The Power of the Vote! Against the rise of populist anti-migrant rhetoric, we, at the Jesuit Refugee Service, believe that the most fundamental resource in Europe today is our vote. Therefore, we wish to appeal to all people to stand up for the future of the EU and especially for the fundamental rights of asylum seekers in Europe. 

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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European Council on Refugees and Exiles · Avenue des Arts 7/8 · Brussels 1210 · Belgium