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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 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 www.ecre.org, find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

     
21 June 2019
  
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EUROPEAN DEVELOPMENTS

NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS

REPORTS & NGO ACTIONS

BEYOND EUROPE

INTERVIEW
  

EUROPEAN DEVELOPMENTS

Mediterranean: Deaths, Rescues and Political Manoeuvres Continue

Tragedy continues to unfold across the Mediterranean with another week of drownings, rescue operations and obstruction of disembarkation.

According to the Turkish coast guard, 12 people died and 31 were rescued after a boat carrying migrants to Greece sank in the Aegean Sea, off the Turkish coast of Bodrum on 17 June. On the same day, Spain's maritime rescue service rescued 292 people attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe from North Africa. They were picked up in a stretch of the Mediterranean known as the Alboran Sea and in the Strait of Gibraltar.

About 20 people were reported missing after a ferry travelling between Nador in northern Morocco and Motril in the south of Spain rescued 27 people in distress on Wednesday, 19 June. Six were evacuated by helicopter to Almería in Spain for medical care.

A group of 75 people were finally allowed to disembark in Tunisia after being trapped onboard a merchant ship for almost three weeks waiting to dock. The group, who was rescued from a dinghy on 31 May, faced precarious medical conditions including trauma, lack of food and water and the spread of diseases on the tugboat.

Aid Groups are concerned that people may be sent back to Libya or deported to their home countries after landing in the port of Zarzis. Médecins Sans Frontières warned that, without a functioning asylum system, Tunisia could not be defined a safe haven for migrants and refugees.  A spokesperson said: “The nearest places of safety for rescues in the central Mediterranean are Italy or Malta”. According to the NGO Alarm Phone “the migrant boat was ignored by Italian and Maltese authorities, though they were in distress in international waters […] This is a violation of international law and maritime conventions.”

The civilian rescue ship Sea-Watch 3 is still stranded outside of the Italian island of Lampedusa waiting to be assigned a port of safety after rescuing 53 people off the coast of Libya last week. Italian authorities have disembarked ten “vulnerable” people in international waters but warned the crew members from the NGO Sea Watch that they could be fined up to 50,000 EUR if they entered Italian waters, according to new decree by Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini.  Meanwhile, the German Interior Ministry confirmed that it received formal requests from more than 50 municipalities to host migrants rescued in the Mediterranean off the Libyan coast by German NGO Sea-Watch.

The Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic published recommendations for “Bridging the protection gap for refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean” this week and stressed: “The urgency to act is evident[…] The effective protection of the human rights of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, on land and at sea, should always prevail over any political dilemma or uncertainty that the interaction of different legal regimes, practices and policies may cause”.

Missing Migrants recorded that at least 597 people died trying to cross the med in 2019.

For further information:

 

UNHCR’s Recommendations to the Finnish Presidency of the Council

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) calls on the future Finnish Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU) to progress on the EU’s asylum reform.

On 13 June 2019, UNHCR published key recommendations and protection priorities to be considered by the Republic of Finland, who will be responsible as of 1 July 2019 for driving the Councils’ work inter alia on the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) and on other relevant legislation. The main recommendations can be summarised as follows: first, UNCHR insists on the necessity to enhance solidarity and responsibility-sharing amongst EU Member States and beyond. This includes contributing to the first Global Refugee Forum (GRF), cooperating with third countries to support quality protection, expending resettlement and responding to the needs of internal displaced persons (IDPs). Second, the Presidency should promote and foster fair, effective and well-managed asylum systems, notably by taking into account specific vulnerabilities and allowing asylum applicants to exercise their fundamental rights effectively, but also by enabling protection-sensitive border management. Thirdly, as part of its #I Belong Campaign to End Statelessness, UNHCR encourages the EU and other relevant actors to address statelessness and will convene a global High-Level Segment (HLS) on Statelessness in October 2019 to that end.

The Presidency of the Council of the EU rotates every 6 months between the Member States the current Presidency is held by Romania and will end on 30 June 2019.

For further information:

 


NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS

Austria: Increasing Use of Detention According to Latest Statistics*

The use of immigration detention is increasing in Austria, according to information disclosed by the Federal Ministry of Interior in response to two parliamentary questions (3078/J and 3131/J) in May 2019.

The Federal Agency for Immigration and Asylum (BFA) took 5,010 detention orders in 2018, resulting in 5,242 persons placed in detention. Of those, 4,803 were men and 439 were women. The detention orders issued by the BFA mainly concerned nationals of Nigeria (809), Slovakia (412), Serbia (331), Afghanistan (323), Pakistan (281) and Hungary (248). This represents an increase compared to 2017, during which 4,962 persons were placed in detention.

The BFA reported an average duration of detention of 25.2 days in 2018. Out of the total number of people in detention, 1,628 were detained for up to one week and 682 for up to two weeks. 9 persons were detained for more than 30 weeks.

Capacity and occupancy of detention centres: Detention was mainly implemented in the pre-removal centre (AHZ) of Vordernberg and the police station (PAZ) of Vienna Roßauer Lände, which have a maximum capacity of 193 and 353 places respectively. During 2018, 3,844 people were detained in Vienna Roßauer Lände and 1,646 in Vordernberg. At the end of the year, there were 464 persons in detention, including 240 in Vienna Roßauer Lände and 118 in Vordernberg.

The Federal Administrative Court (BVwG) is competent for reviewing detention orders issued by the BFA. In the last four years, detention cases before the Court have grown exponentially from 596 in 2015 to 1,873 in 2018 of which detention was upheld in 1,075. The BVwG found that 23.8% of the detention orders issued in 2018 by the BFA were unlawful.

For further information:

*This information was first published by AIDA, managed by ECRE.

 

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Local Authorities Relocate People to “Middle of Nowhere”

On 14 June authorities in Una Sana Canton began the relocation of migrants and refugees from Bihac to Vucjak. According to the UN Country Team in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) the conditions in Vucjak are posing “significant health and safety risks” to those relocated.

The NGO Are You Syrious quote local volunteers confirming that following food distributions on the evening of 14 June police took “all the people — except one group — to the Vučjak area”, a small town around 10 km from the main centre “in the middle of nowhere” where the ground was still being flattened.

The relocation of migrants and refugees residing outside of the overcrowded official reception centres to Vucjak raises serious concern from the UN Country Team working with partners on the ground to support authorities: “’Vucjak’ poses very significant health and safety risks and is currently not equipped to accommodate migrants and refugees in accordance with international standards. The site is located very close to landmine infected areas. There is also a high fire and explosion hazard due to the possible presence of methane gas underground, as the site was a former landfill”. Further, the UN underlines the lack of sanitary facilities, running water and electricity on the site, concluding: “Under these circumstances, locating migrants and refugees there is not acceptable”.

The UN Inter Agency Operational Update reveals an increase of unaccompanied and separated children in the Una Sana Canton and estimates that there are 6,000 – 6,500 refugees and migrants in BiH as of 30 April 2019 with a maximum available accommodation capacity of 4,294.

For further information:

 


Sweden: Parliament Extends the Temporary Law*

The Swedish Riskdag adopted yesterday a two-year extension of the temporary law on residence permits. The law, voted in July 2016, had introduced a three-year period of reduced standards for people seeking asylum from 24 November 2015 onwards.

The restrictive measures applicable to persons seeking asylum as of November 2015 will remain in force until July 2021. This means that asylum seekers granted refugee status and subsidiary protection will continue to receive residence permits of three-year and thirteen-month duration respectively, rather than permanent residence permits.

Contrary to the measures applicable at the moment, however, the extension temporary law will lift the ban on family reunification for subsidiary protection beneficiaries. The amendment is partly a response to a judgment by the Migration Court of Appeal ruling that the prohibition on family reunification violates Article 8 ECHR and is not in line with the best interests of the child. Holders of subsidiary protection who have well-founded prospects of being granted a permanent residence permit to be reunited with their family members.

As a result of the proposal for a continuation of the temporary law and against the background of Sweden's commitments under the UN Conventions on Statelessness, a provision has also been adopted which, in some cases, allows for a permanent residence permit to be issued to persons born in Sweden and who have been stateless since birth.

The Swedish Refugee Law Centre has criticised the reform for prolonging lower protection standards without an impact assessment based on the current situation in Sweden.

For further information:

ECRE thanks Peter Varga of the Swedish Refugee Law Centre, AIDA expert for Sweden, for providing information for this article.

*This information was first published by AIDA, managed by ECRE.

 

Germany: Conservatives Push for Deportations to Afghanistan and Syria

The Interior ministers of the German federal states are considering to expand deportations to Afghanistan and start deportations to Syria for certain groups of people.

The conference of interior ministers of the German federal states extended the halt on deportations to Syria until the end of 2019, but also asked the German government for a reassessment of the security situation in the country. The conference chair, Hans-Joachim Grote, said they also asked the federal ministry of the interior to propose a concept for the return to Syria of people convicted of crimes and seen as a danger to national security (“Gefährder”).

While conservative representatives advocated for deportations to Afghanistan to be extended beyond criminals and Gefährder, the social democrats stressed that the situation in the country is too dangerous to deport innocent people and families. However, the CDU/CSU-led states Saxony and Bavaria will continue this practice. Conference chair, Grote also announced that the number of federal police carrying out deportations will increase.

The NGO Pro Asyl urges the government to immediately suspend deportations to the country described as one of the most insecure countries in the world and criticises the strikingly low recognition numbers in Bavaria, which diverge from the national average. On the evening of 17 June, Germany carried out the 25th deportation flight to Afghanistan increasing the number of people deported to the country to 600.

Last week, the German parliament passed a set of legal measures to facilitate deportations. The so-called “Orderly-Return-Law” is awaiting approval from the second chamber (Bundesrat).

For further information:

 

Cyprus: International Protection Administrative Court Starts Operations*

The International Protection Administrative Court (IPAC) officially started operations on 18 June 2019 as the new judicial authority competent for examining asylum appeals in Cyprus.

The Court was established by a legislative reform in 2018 and will take over cases from the Administrative Court. It will also be responsible for processing the backlog of cases pending before the Administrative Court as of 18 June 2019. At the end of 2018, the number of pending appeals was 555.

Despite the transfer of competence to process appeals from the Administrative Court to the IPAC, the Refugee Reviewing Authority – an administrative body formally abolished in 2016 – has not ceased operations to date. Cyprus therefore continues to have a dual appeal system, whereby decisions of the Asylum Service can be challenged either before the Refugee Reviewing Authority or before the Court.

For further information:

*This information was first published by AIDA, managed by ECRE.

 

Hungary: New Police Department Takes Over Responsibility for Asylum*

A Government Decree entering into force next month establishes a National General Directorate for Immigration (Országos Idegenrendészeti Főigazgatóság) under the management of the Police, which will be responsible for immigration and asylum-related tasks.

The operation of the General Directorate for Immigration will be governed by the Police Act. According to Sections 1(1) and 1(2)(20) of the Police Act, as amended by Act XXXV of 2019, immigration and asylum tasks now come under the responsibility of the Police.

The General Directorate for Immigration will take over responsibility from the Immigration and Asylum Office (Bevándorlási és Menekültügyi Hivatal) on 1 July 2019, according to the amended Section 7/H of the Police Act and Section 6 of Decree 126/2019. The Decree specifies that employees of the Immigration and Asylum Office shall declare in writing before July 2019 whether they wish to become members of the new authority, i.e. cease their government employee status and join the police personnel.

According to Section 30 of Decree 126/2019, the Immigration and Asylum Office cease to exist by 1 July 2019.

For further information:

ECRE thanks Zita Barcza-Szabó of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, AIDA expert for Hungary, for providing information for this article.

*This information was first published by AIDA, managed by ECRE.

 


REPORTS & NGO ACTIONS

RSA Report on Greece’s Failure to Implement Long-term Solutions for Reception Conditions

In a new report “Structural Failure: Why Greece’s reception system failed to provide sustainable solutions”, Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) and Pro Asyl contend that the high-cost and emergency-oriented approach of Greek authorities in implementing EU funding has resulted in the continued inadequacy of reception conditions.

The report examines the use of EU funds, as allocated to Greece under the National Programmes of the Asylum Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) and the International Security Fund (ISF). It assess the ‘PHILOS’ project, the national medical response project initiated in 2015, showing how the ineffective implementation of funding, including in hiring staff, severely impacted on access to medical care and derailed vulnerability assessments, particularly on the Eastern Aegean islands.

The report also examines the recently implemented short-term ‘FILOZENIA’ (Temporary Shelter and Protection for the Most Vulnerable Migrants in Greece), introduced for the winter of 2018-19 to transfer vulnerable asylum applicants out of the EU Hotspots on the islands. It demonstrates how this short-term emergency solution is an example of the effects of the failure of Greek authorities to implement sustainable solutions from 2015 onwards.

RSA and ProAsyl warn that Greece will continue to approach asylum in a piecemeal and emergency-oriented manner at a high cost if the authorities do not recognize existing structural deficiencies and push for an overhaul the current reception system.

For further information:

 

 


BEYOND EUROPE

U.S.: Cuts of Aid to Prevent Migration More Likely to Increase it

The U.S. Administration will suspend hundreds of millions USD in foreign aid to Central American countries in an attempt to pressure governments to prevent citizens from migrating. Aid workers and law makers predict the opposite effect.

The State department has confirmed that $185 million will be withheld until Central American governments are perceived to have taken sufficient steps to reduce migration. Further $370 million allocated for the fiscal year of 2018 will be suspended entirely. The move has been met with critic from aid workers and lawmakers fearing that it will add to the causes driving migration such as poverty, instability and insecurity in the targeted countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. "Cutting off desperately-needed aid to Central America is not the answer to fixing our immigration system. In fact, it would exacerbate the crisis, driving children and families to our southern border," stated Catherine Cortez Masto, Senator of Nevada.

According to President Trump Guatemala is prepared to sign a safe-third country agreement aiming to make the country responsible for asylum seekers from El Salvador and Honduras. A U.S. State Department delegation has been in Guatemala for negotiations but there has been no official approval of any agreement.

Further, President Donald Trump has announced the deportations of millions of people without legal stay in the U.S. However, the practical implementation and available capacity for such an operation remain highly unclear and contested.

For further information: 

 


INTERVIEW

Stranded at Sea – Observations from the Deck of the Sea-Watch 3

Interview with Oscar, law student and crew member on the civilian rescue vessel Sea-Watch 3, operated by the NGO Sea Watch.

 

You are a currently one of the speed boat drivers on the Sea-Watch 3, which rescued 53 people off the coast off Libya last week and is currently looking for a safe port to disembark. Italian Interior Minister Mateo Salvini said, the ship should dock in Tripoli, Libya, the nearest ”safe” port. Can you give us an overview of the timeline of events since you rescued the group?

Last Wednesday, we rescued 53 people from a rubber boat in international waters, 47 nautical miles away from Libya. The Libyan Joint Rescue Coordination Centre, which we consider incompetent, offered us a safe port in Tripoli in emails sent via an Italian server. But our captain disregarded this request, as we cannot consider Tripoli as a safe port for the people we rescued. The closest port of safety in our case was Lampedusa, so we sailed north to demand a port of safety in Italy. The Italian authorities refused to provide one, but agreed to disembark ten vulnerable persons outside of territorial waters, amongst them two babies with their parents and some urgent medical cases. Later, in the middle of the night the authorities came on board to personally hand over the new decree of Salvini, which we consider unlawful, to our captain. The decree means that we could be fined up to 50 000 EUR for entering Italian waters.

Italy referred our demand to our flag state the Netherlands but they too, like so many other states, refused to take responsibility even though this situation demands a common European solution. Instead they point the finger at each other and claim not to be responsible, at the expense of those rescued. Ever since, we are stranded in front of Lampedusa. In the meanwhile, our support office on shore is working hard to find a solution and exhaust all possible legal remedies against an unlawful decree, which was only put in place last week with the sole purpose of keeping out people rescued at Europe’s external borders as part of a wider deadly migration policy of Europe.

 

What is the state of people on board and what are the main challenges you are facing?

The people on board are severely traumatised. There is one word our guests use to describe Libya: Hell! All of them went through it and what they experienced is unbelievable. But not only in Libya. Many of them are fleeing war and conflicts in their home countries. For the first time in a long time, they can have a break and feel safe on our vessel and get as much care as possible from our crew. But at the same time they are trapped again and desperate given the refusal to disembark, which can easily overpower the feeling of safety. So the main challenge for us is to keep up the mood, which is constantly at its tipping point.

 

How are crew members impacted by the threat of being criminalised by Italian authorities, for example through Salvini’s latest decree?

The decree is of great concern for the crew members as we are the first vessel facing its consequences and do not know for certain what might happen to the ship and the crew beside the fines imposed. Regarding past developments for sea rescue in the Med we are aware of the fact that the organisation and individual crew members might face a criminal investigation once we have disembarked the people. But at the same time we are well prepared for this scenario and ready to fight for human rights principles and proof that we acted in accordance with international law. On the other hand, we are deeply concerned about the future of search and rescue in the Med as this decree prevents other vessels in the area of engaging in rescue operations.

 

How has the crackdown on a civilian search and rescue operations impacted the security of people crossing the Mediterranean?

By supporting a hostile environment for NGOs and at the same time withdrawing rescue operations in the Med like Sophia and Triton the EU rolled out a carpet of silence over the Med. It became difficult to report about the situation there, no eyes, no news, no more concerns and not our business anymore. But people are still trying to flee from Libya and many are still drowning in their attempt to do so. So the answer to this question is clear: it became way more dangerous!

Even merchant ships are avoiding this area as they are aware of the struggle to disembark rescued people later on. It became acceptable to turn a blind eye to distress cases although there exists a legal duty to rescue people in distress. Instead, the EU funds and cooperates with the so-called Libyan Coastguard, which is not equipped and trained to conduct mass rescue operations and is known for gross human rights violations. The result is that more people are dying but also fewer are arriving at European shores. For the EU, only the latter counts.

 

More than 50 German cities have declared their willingness to take in the people rescued by the Sea-Watch 3. Do you see a prospect for this engagement of civil society merging with national and EU-level policy?

According to the German constitution the federal government is in charge of deciding to take in people, and more specifically, the ministry of the interior. Changing this would require a constitutional change, unlikely to happen soon. Nevertheless, I think civil society engagement is a crucial tool to keep attention on the situation in the Med and to pressure our government to act.

 

For further information:


FEATURED CAMPAIGNS

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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