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.

14 June 2019
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Weekly Editorial: Just When You Thought It Was Safe...

Just when it seemed that the debate on asylum and migration policy might creep back towards rationality... Just when you thought you could read a policy document without becoming infuriated… out comes “A New Strategic Agenda for 2019-2024”.

The Agenda, authored and presumably leaked by the office of Council President Donald Tusk, to be discussed by the EU Member States this month, shows that apparently zero lessons have been learned from recent elections and recent history. The document adopts the migra-steria style favoured by Orbán et al, with language that would be deemed “emotional” if expressed by an NGO or a woman. The most important priority for Europe is the “integrity of our physical space”. We must be the ones to “decide who sets foot on EU territory”. It is not clear who this “we” is, perhaps the European “family” referred to in the document, with the EU as a stern paterfamilias, beating back the invaders at border with a big stick.

Control of the external border should be the EU’s priority for the next five years. According to the Agenda, it is more important than economic development or climate change. This is not a parody.

All this fits under the heading “Protecting Citizens and Freedoms”. First, why is the language of “freedoms” slipping in to replace “rights”? Second, refugees crossing borders to seek protection is not something from which we need protection. Our own governments are more likely to be violating rights in most cases. And most Europeans see that. As well as generating fear and hostility, using this kind of language and magnifying the migration issue increases its salience and continues to benefit the extremists.

Hopefully the Member States will water down or turn down this Agenda. Or write it off as a manifesto for the Polish election campaign. The timing shows the Council President’s office jumping in to pre-empt the Commission and the Parliament. The latter two institutions should put together an alternative strategy for the EU, one that reflects people’s priorities accurately, focusing on economic and real security issues such as climate change rather than the external border. It should also incorporate a balanced and realistic strategy on asylum and migration, encompassing a fair and functional asylum policy, safe and legal routes for asylum and non-asylum migration, and inclusion in European societies for all on the move through rights, respect and regularization. There is an opportunity this year to broaden the agenda in the interests of all. It has to be seized – that would be just what the EU needs.

Editorial: Catherine Woollard, Secretary General for the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE)



Rescue Meltdown on the Med

Rescue efforts cannot keep up with departures and loss of lives on the Mediterranean while crackdown on rescue ships and civil society organisations continues.

This week, seven people have drowned while trying to reach the Greek island of Lesvos from Turkey in a boat carrying more than 60 people. After being alerted the Greek coastguard arrived and rescued 57 of the passengers. On Wednesday, two boats carrying over 100 migrants were reported missing in the Alboran Sea. According to the Spanish NGO Caminando Fronteras, one boat has returned to Morocco while the other was accompanied by the Spanish maritime rescue service to Motril in Spain. A group of 97 migrants disembarked in Malta after being rescued by an Armed Forces (MAF) patrol boat on Monday. The MAF was alerted to the situation by the NGO Med Alarm Phone.

75 people rescued by an Egyptian Tugboat two weeks ago continue to be blocked from entering the Tunesian port of Zarzis. Regional authorities say, the migrant centers are too overcrowded to allow them to disembark. The passengers reportedly refuse food and medical aid and demand to go to Europe.

The civil rescue vessel Sea Watch 3, operated by the NGO Sea Watch, rescued 52 people from a rubber dinghy off the Libyan coast this week. The vessel was the only civil rescue ship on the Central Mediterranean. Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said, the disembarkation should take place in the port of Tripoli.

On Tuesday, the Italian government passed new legal measures including fines of up to €50,000 for ships that "ignore bans and limitations" on accessing Italian waters and the seizure of ships that ignore orders more than once. The new decree also gives the interior ministry the power to deny or limit access to Italian territorial waters and disembarkation, including to "specific ships carrying out the activities indicated by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea".

UNHCR urges Italy to reconsider the proposed decree. It is concerned that it may result in captains being penalised for refusing to disembark rescued people in Libya. “In light of the extremely volatile security situation, widespread reports of human rights violations and routine use of detention for people rescued or intercepted at sea, no one should be returned to Libya”, UNHCR stresses.

According to aid groups, almost 700 people have left the coast of Libya in recent days, 5 per cent, 82 people, were intercepted by the Libyan coastguard and sent back to detention centres. 40 percent arrived in Malta and 11 per cent in Italy; it is not known what happened to the others.

According to Missing Migrants 555 people have lost their life or are presumed dead on the Mediterranean as of June 14.

For further information:


UN Agencies Raise Alarm over Libya on Land and Sea

The UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) reports of migrants and refugees left “effectively to die” in the Zintan detention Centre. As more people flee abuse and danger in the conflict ridden North African country the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) warns of the Mediterranean turning into a “sea of blood”.

OHCHR, expresses deep concern about the conditions in the Zintan detention centre south of Tripoli where 22 people have died of tuberculosis and other diseases since September, and the detained are facing “inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment”. The capital is currently the scene of clashes between forces loyal to the Tripoli government and forces loyal to the parallel administration in Benghazi. The OHCHR further states that “people are being sent to a different place near the front line effectively to die there”. The UN organisation is also concerned about “ongoing reports of disappearances and human trafficking” of people intercepted and returned by the Libyan Coast Guard. 82 people were reportedly intercepted on June 11 off the coast of Garabulli, northeast of Tripoli and returned to Libya.

UNHCR warns that the risk of death at the Mediterranean is the highest it has ever been given the combined factors of the conflict in Libya, the lack of NGO search and rescue ships, and the favorable weather conditions enabling departures. Carlotta Sami, the spokeswoman for UNHCR in Italy stated: “If we do not intervene soon, there will be a sea of blood”. A recent Statewatch analysis outlines how the European Commission and Italian Ministry of Interior “are trying to assert the fiction of a Libyan SAR zone […] in order to neutralise concerns over both the north African country’s status as an unsafe place and their own humanitarian obligations” to save lives in the Mediterranean.

The responsibility of the EU and some member states for deaths on the Mediterranean, refoulement and subsequent abuse in Libya is the topic of a legal submission to the International Criminal Court.

For further information:



German Parliament Passes “Orderly-Return-Law”

On 7 June 2019, the German Parliament adopted several controversial amendments which regulate immigration and asylum-related issues. The amendments are now awaiting approval from the second chamber, the Bundesrat.

One of the amendments is the “Orderly Return Law” (Geordnete-Rückkehr-Gesetz), the second round of legal measures to facilitate deportations of persons obliged to leave the country, following a law passed in 2017. It has drawn extensive criticism from several civil society organisations, including PRO ASYL. The bill facilitates the use of detention by expanding the grounds for using detention e.g. when asylum seekers  do not cooperate for the purpose of their deportation or in cases in which there is no evidence of a risk of absconding. Similarly, the authorities responsible for carrying out deportations are granted the right to access apartments without a judicial order in certain circumstances. In violation of the EU Return Directive, the bill also provides that, until 2022, people awaiting deportation may be placed in regular prisons as long as people affected will be held in premises separate from convicted criminals.

Moreover, the length of stay in initial reception centres has been increased from 6 to 18 months as a general rule and to more than 18 months in certain circumstances (e.g. persons from safe countries of origin or persons who do not provide correct information on their identity). Minors and families still fall under the previous maximum period of 6 months. According to Günter Burkhardt, Head of PRO ASYL, the deliberate isolation of people is a catastrophe for integration policies.

Also, the amendments transpose a current pilot project into law, whereby the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge, BAMF) also provides counselling and legal assistance to asylum seekers. ECRE has already expressed concerns over the quality of the new counselling arrangements with regard to its independence and potential conflict of interests.

The syndicate of social-democratic jurists notes that the foreseen expansion of detention and the cuts of social benefits compromise constitutional values. “It is a dark day for our democracy”, said a German MP from the Greens, who have requested a conciliation committee on the legislation in the Bundesrat.

For further information:


Germany: End of Church Asylum?

In the first quarter of 2019, Germany recognised only 2 out of 147 cases of “church asylum”. MPs and inter-faith associations fear the disappearance of the humanitarian practice and attribute the stark decrease to stricter criteria of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees and (BAMF).

In Germany, “Church asylum” is the temporary sanctuary offered by religious institutions to people facing deportation to protect them from undue hardship. The cases mostly concern transfers to another European country under the Dublin III Regulation, where people may not receive adequate support, experience homelessness and are at risk of inhuman and degrading treatment.  Upon granting temporary sanctuary to a person, the parish submits a request to the BAMF to process the asylum claim in Germany.

In its response to a parliamentary question by Die Linke, the German left party, the German government states that in 2019 until May only 1.4% of the parishes’ request have been accepted, a further increase from 2018, when 14% (77 out of 570) were accepted. According to an open letter by the ecumenical network Asylum in Church, the acceptance rate before 2016 was as high as 80%. The letter attributes the substantive drop to a change in internal criteria by the BAMF upon analysing exemplary BAMF’s rejection letters for people who are suicidal, victims of trafficking, demented elderly people.

The ecumenical network Asylum in Church urges the conference of interior ministers to reassert the purpose of the original agreement between churches and BAMF and, together, seek humanitarian solution in cases of undue hardship.

In light of the new data Ulla Jelpke, MP from Die Linke, comments that Church asylum has virtually ceased to be recognised and is used to make an example to discourage parishes and those they are protecting, in absolute contradiction with Christian values.

New rules of procedure introduced in 2018 consider a person in church asylum “absconded” if certain procedural standard are not met. In these case, the maximum period for the implementation of a Dublin transfer can be extended from 6 to 18 months.

For further information:



New Reports on Detention in the Baltics

The Global Detention Project released reports on detention of migrants and asylum seekers in Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia revealing challenges in all three Baltic States.

Estonia: fails to conform to EU Return Directive by allowing for automatic detention of non-citizens based on the lack of proper documents. Further, the law does not prohibit detention of children and the transfers of unaccompanied minors to “substitute homes” are in practice delayed in some cases. The use of alternatives to detention is limited as asylum seekers and migrants are assumed to be at high risk of absconding in Estonia as a country of transit.

Lithuania: The grounds for detention are broader than the scope of the EU Return Directive and includes irregular entry or stay, use of false documents as well as national security and public order. The material conditions in the only immigration detention Centre in Pabrada are criticised as inadequate. Further, asylum seekers risk being detained at border crossings or in transit zones while the migration department decides how to process their application and if it is examined as part of the border procedure asylum seekers may be detained for weeks, including during a potential appeal – only if no decision is made after 28 days will the applicant be allowed to enter Lithuania. Alternatives to detention are rarely granted given the extra resources required.

Latvia: is detaining more people for longer periods despite less arrivals. Non-citizens can be detained by border guards for up to ten days with no juridical approval. Children above the age of 14 can be detained and the number of detained children nearly four-folded between 2013 and 2016. Further, despite procedural safe-guards courts in practice almost never disagree with border guard decisions to detain. Alternatives to detention can be considered for humanitarian reasons but are rarely granted.




Over Four Million Refugees have Fled the Deepening Humanitarian Crisis in Venezuela

The number of refugees fleeing the worsening crisis in Venezuela has now surpassed 4 million, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). Since November 2018, over 1 million people have fled the country, in part of what UNHCR has called the largest exodus of people in Latin America’s recent history.

The majority of refugees fleeing Venezuela have sought safety in neighbouring Latin American countries. Colombia is host to the largest population of refugees, with some 1.3 million now living in the country, while Peru hosts the second largest population of 768,000 refugees. With limited funding and resources, these countries are struggling to provide adequate conditions for refugees. In Peru, President Vizcarra declared the government will start taking a tougher stance towards Venezuelans in the country and announced the introduction of stricter entry requirements for Venezuelans.

Others have fled to the Caribbean islands north of Venezuela, including to the Dutch colony of Curaçao , and face a dangerous journey by boat. Last week, a boat carrying refugees fleeing Venezuela sunk and 32 people are reported missing.

According to Eduardo Stein, joint UNHCR-IOM Special Representative for Venezuelan refugees and migrants, “These alarming figures highlight the urgent need to support host communities in the receiving countries. Latin American and Caribbean countries are doing their part to respond to this unprecedented crisis but they cannot be expected to continue doing it without international help.”

In Europe, Venezuelans make up the second highest nationality applying for international protection, after Syrians. The European Asylum Support Agency (EASO) reports that the number of applications for asylum from Venezuelans has increased since last year.

For further information:



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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