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.

16 March 2018
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Deconstructing the deal behind the statement

This month marks the two-year anniversary of the ignominious EU-Turkey deal. Although rebranded and formalised as a “Statement”, in part to avoid the parliamentary and judicial scrutiny that an international agreement entails, at its heart there is a deal, an agreement for the mutual benefit of the two parties.

The true heart of the deal for the EU, its benefit, is the blocking of departures of people from Turkey. As most of those who arrived during the crisis were refugees, this means the containment of refugees, mainly Syrian, in Turkey. This action of preventing of departures or reducing their facilitation, is not even explicitly mentioned in the Statement, it is dressed up in point 3, that Turkey will “take any necessary measure to prevent new sea or land routes for illegal migration opening…” But there is no doubt that this is what is important to policy-makers who claim that the deal is a success because the measure of success is exactly this: people were prevented from leaving (and thus the EU was saved).

The Statement itself should therefore be seen as an enabling tool, packaging the deal at its core in a way that allowed EU Member States to sign up to the prevention of departures, which few would have explicitly negotiated and agreed to. Many of the other parts of the Statement serve as masking, mitigating or distracting elements.

Attention has focused on the one-to-one exchange, point 1 of the Statement, whereby “bad Syrians” who dared to use smugglers to get to the EU in search of family and protection are returned to Turkey and in exchange “good Syrians” are resettled directly from Turkey – one for one. ECRE has criticised this piloting of the inadmissibility/safe third country mechanism for preventing access to asylum which runs throughout the proposed reforms of the Common European Asylum System, and many analysts and politicians have condemned the measure for its illegality and inhumanity. But it was not essential to the deal – logically. As the (non-voluntary) return of Syrians under the deal was blocked by the Greek courts until recently, it cannot have acted as the disincentive that changed behaviour. And the deal’s purported “success” cannot rest upon it.

If, for the EU, it was all about blocking departures, what Turkey got out of the deal is less clear. It would be wrong to see it as bribery, as the EUR 3 billion was not enough to get Turkey on board, especially as much of the money has been disbursed to implementing partners. The provisions on visa liberalisation, Accession, and Customs Union were more valuable. The first two are now moot due to political developments and legal changes in Turkey, but its hand has probably been strengthened in Customs Union negotiations.

Far more valuable for Turkey is the power over the EU that the deal bestows on it – and a level of immunity from EU involvement and critique of internal changes, as well as long-awaited security support and a tacit acceptance of its activities at its border and in Syria.

ECRE will shortly publish its analysis of the asylum system in Turkey under its AIDA database: despite continued and well-documented flaws in what is a relatively new asylum system and apparatus, Turkey’s efforts are also commendable in many ways. Without commenting here on conditions, in terms of sheer numbers, Turkey is more than doing its fair share, now hosting 3.4 million Syrians under the Temporary Protection Regime. Therefore, the EU adding to this number through its failure to take on its responsibility leads to major protection challenges. 

Some of those who supported the deal knew it was wrong but argued that there was no alternative, and opponents of the deal have been – sometimes rightly – criticised for not articulating alternatives at the time. However all of this is disingenuous, tactical and self-justifying: between the deal in its final form and the “open borders” policy that opponents are caricatured as supporting, there were multiple other options, which could have involved working with Turkey, deployment of crisis operations in Turkey, Greece and beyond, as well as forcing political agreements and positive action by smaller groups of European states. It is also likely that the numbers of refugees moving would not have continued at the same rate, and that even if they had, Europe would have coped, as fragile and poor countries facing even larger influxes of people (Kenya, Uganda, Bangladesh) manage to do.

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

A full version of the editorial is available on our website.



How a Syrian man, living in Cyprus got caught up in Hungary’s anti-terror laws

Op-ed by Eda Seyhan, Amnesty International’s campaigner on counter-terrorism in Europe.

Ahmed walked into court handcuffed, shackled around the feet and waist, attached by a leash to men in balaclavas, as in every previous appearance. Despite this degrading treatment, he keeps his dignity and speaks with respect to the judge and lawyers. He had been hoping that this would be the final time he had to endure this humiliating show. But the judges’ decision sadly dashed that hope.

Ahmed has not set foot in the home he shares with Nadia, his Cypriot wife, and their two daughters for two and a half years. And after such a long and painful separation from his family, he is desperate to return home. Yet instead he remains languishing in a Hungarian jail, having been sentenced to 7 years on spurious “terrorism” charges.

His encounter with the Hungarian authorities began at the height of the arrival of refugees in Europe in the summer of 2015. But in contrast to his fellow Syrians, Ahmed was coming from Cyprus, where he was a long-term resident.

In August 2015 he had received a phone call from his elderly parents in Syria. There had been a lull in the bombing of their town and they were leaving to seek safety in Europe with his brother, sister-in-law and his nieces and nephews. Ahmed set off to Turkey to help them navigate their journey. But following clashes with police in Hungary, during which Ahmed spoke through a megaphone and threw a few stones, he was arrested and charged with an “act of terror.” After a trial that made a mockery of justice, he was convicted and sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment, by a judge whose decision was later annulled on appeal. The retrial, which was concluded this week (14 March) once again found him guilty and sentenced him to seven years’ imprisonment.

Ahmed’s case highlights the impact of draconian counter-terrorism legislation that was introduced at speed in Hungary. Laws providing for sweeping executive powers in the event of a proclaimed emergency, including the banning of public assemblies, severe restrictions on freedom of movement and the freezing of assets, were enacted in 2016. Vaguely defined provisions grant powers to suspend laws and fast-track new ones and deploy the army with live firearms to quell disturbances.

But it is not just Hungary that has introduced such measures. Indeed, a report by Amnesty International looking at 14 EU countries found a deep and dangerous trend towards permanent securitization. Hard-won protections—the human rights mechanisms and checks and balances built over many decades—are being dismantled.

Following the horrific Paris attacks, France declared a state of emergency. At the time, it was a temporary measure to ensure public safety. Human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, repeatedly warned of the danger of normalisation of emergency rule. As predicted, a new counter-terrorism law embedded into normal law many of the intrusive measures previously reserved for exceptional circumstances.

Discriminatory counter-terrorism measures across Europe have had a disproportionate and profoundly negative impact on Muslims, foreign nationals or people perceived to be Muslim or foreign. Amnesty International documented the discriminatory impact of France’s emergency measures, which included the closure of mosques and house searches without warrants, against Muslims. Discriminatory action by the state and its agents is increasingly seen as “acceptable” in the national security context. "Migration and mass population movement are bad, dangerous things which we want no part of,” said Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in a speech earlier this month.

A full version of this Op-Ed is available on our website.

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.



Austrian Presidency: to focus on external borders rather than internal solidarity

Revealing its first visions of the Up-coming Austrian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is announcing a focus on ‘securing external borders’ rather than ‘only dispute over redistribution.’

Euroactiv quotes Chancellor Sebastian Kurz for the following statement at a news conference on the priorities of the Austrian Presidency: “Our aim is very clear – that in Europe there should not only be a dispute over redistribution (of refugees) but also, at last, a shift of focus towards securing external borders.” The Chancellor is elected for the Austrian Peoples Party (Österreichische Volkspartei, ÖVP) in government coalition with the Freedom Party of Austria (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, FPÖ) the alliance and government programme marked a step to the right and the introduction of what has been widely interpreted as an anti-migrant agenda.

Hungary is looking to broaden coordination on migration policies beyond the so-called Visegrad Group: “What we definitely would like to do is to have a closer and more efficient cooperation with Austria and of course hopefully with the upcoming Italian government,” stated Hungarian Foreign Minister, Peter Szijjarto while also underlining that there was no intention to formally expand the alliance.  A joint statement on migration from the Prime Ministers of the four countries in the Visegrad Group illustrates the strong focus on external border control and the European Commission has imposed infringement procedures against three of its  members - Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland for non-compliance with their obligations to receive refugees under the relocation scheme.    

“The Austrian Presidency of the EU is an alarming prospect and other Member States should resist the development of a broader anti-migration alliance. That said, there are still significant conflicts between these countries when it comes to migration, including between Hungary and Austria and between both of them and Italy. In terms of their plans, it's hard to imagine more spending and attention going to the external borders - years of experience show that it is not the way to create a functioning asylum system in Europe,” says ECRE Secretary General, Catherine Woollard.

For further information:  


France: a sharp rise in rates of child detention is cause for concern

The French Defender of Rights has condemned the recent rise in the number of children being placed in administrative detention under harsh conditions in a letter to the French Prime Minister last week.  

Since 1 January 2018, 40 children have been detained in France. In 2017, the number of children placed in administrative detention was 275; almost as many as in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 combined, and under harsh conditions. Citing a document published by his office last month, Defender of Rights Jacques Toubon highlighted the example of ten children and babies, aged between 3 months and 17 years old, who had been held in the administrative detention centre at Mesnil-Amelot for 9 days as of 6 March 2018. Reports from French humanitarian organisation La Cimade describe cold temperatures in the bedrooms at the centre, as well as a mother whose stress made her unable to breastfeed her child.

Toubon attributes the signicant rise in child detention to recent changes in legislation. The law of 7 March 2016 governing the situation of foreign nationals in France specifies that adults accompanied by underage children should be assigned a place of residence while awaiting return. However, it provides the exception that minors and their families may be detained in circumstances where a family has not respected the conditions of their assigned place of residence or has attempted to leave it, or if a family must be placed near an airport in order to facilitate their removal. According to Toubon, these exceptions have led to “a more systematic use of placement in detention.” He further states: “Under the pretense of protecting the best interests of the child, the administration may resort to detention in order to facilitate the execution of the expulsion order.”

The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights also condemned the practice in a letter to members of the French National Assembly, published on Monday. Alongside his criticisms of the proposed changes to French asylum legislation, he said “I consider there to be no circumstances in which the deprivation of liberty of a child migrant, whether alone or with their family, could be in their best interest.”

In 2016, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against France in five judgments concerning the detention of children with their families. The Court stated in their judgment in R v France in July 2016 that ‘the situation of extreme vulnerability of children is decisive and predominates over the status of illegal migrant.’

For further information:  

“Considerable failings” in safety and respect at UK detention centre

An official report on Europe’s largest detention facility Harmondsworth immigration removal centre (IRC) found “considerable failings”, including detention of victims of torture, lack of mental health provision and excessive periods of detention. The British government faces increasing condemnation for its detention policy, particularly due to the lack of time limit.

The report was published following an inspection by Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, and interviews with hundreds of staff and detainees. Inspectors found that in 9 out of 10 sample cases, the Home Office accepted evidence that the detainee had been tortured, but continued their detention regardless. There was a lack of safeguarding, particularly for detainees with mental health problems. The absence of time limit on detention also led to some men being held for excessively long periods; 23 men had been held for over a year and one man had been held for over 4.5 years. A large proportion of detainees reported feeling unsafe due to the uncertainty of their cases and high levels of stress, anger and mental health issues amongst other detainees.

An earlier report in 2015 had highlighted 58 recommendations and whilst some improvements had been made, 37 had not been addressed by the time of the current visit and some areas had deteriorated. In particular, in 2015 there was a “more proportionate approach to handcuffing”, following a case in 2013 where an 84 year old man had died in hospital still in handcuffs. But the latest report found detainees were routinely handcuffed when attending appointments outside the IRC, without evidence of them being a risk. Physical conditions were also reported to be improved yet still unhygienic and below standard, with infestations of bedbugs and mice.

The release of this report adds to increasing pressure for an end to indefinite detention, from politicians and civil society. Jesuit Refugee Service UK Director Sarah Teather said, “This report once again reveals the cruelty of the detention system, a system which incarcerates many already acknowledged to be vulnerable.” At Yarl’s Wood IRC, over 100 women are now in their third week of hunger strike, their demands include an end to indefinite detention, re-detention and charter flights.

The Home Office welcomed the positive aspects of the report concerning welfare services, faith provision, healthcare and collaboration with third-sector groups supporting detainees. But they said, “Elements of this report make for difficult reading and we are committed to a programme of transformation.”

For further information:  


Lack of access to the asylum procedure from 2009 to 2012 in Greece violated the applicant’s fundamental rights

On 15 March 2018, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in case A.E.A. v. Greece (application no. 39034/12) and found that Greece had violated the human rights of a Sudanese national who was unable to apply for asylum in Greece from 2009 to 2012 due to the systemic deficiencies of the Greek asylum system at the time. 

The Sudanese national arrived in Greece in April 2009 and was issued with an automatic expulsion order upon his arrival. He was then prevented from having access to the asylum procedure between April 2009 and July 2012, despite successive attempts and the support of NGOs. As a result, he lived in destitution and had no access to social services. In July 2012 the Greek authorities registered his asylum application, which was rejected a year later.

First, the Court pointed to its conclusions in M.S.S. v. Belgium and Greece on the systemic deficiencies in the Greek asylum system at that time. Moreover, the Court recalled that international and domestic law recognised the right “to seek asylum” and that the Asylum Procedures Directive, transposed into the Greek law, requires the authorities to “ensure that each adult having legal capacity has the right to make an application for asylum on his/her own behalf”.

The Court noted that the possibility to lodge an asylum application in practice is a prerequisite for the effective protection of those in need of international protection. If access to the asylum procedure is not guaranteed by the national authorities, asylum applicants cannot benefit from the guarantees afforded to them under the asylum procedure. In this case, the applicant was not able to lodge an asylum application for a significantly long time (three years) due to the deficiencies in the asylum procedure at the time of the decision, thus violating his rights under Article 13 ECHR read in conjunction with Article 3 ECHR.

The applicant had also claimed that, because of his difficulties in lodging an asylum application, he had to live in destitution and that he had not received a work permit after lodging his application, amounting to a violation of Article 3 ECHR. The Court did not agree with the applicant since he had not sought the Ministry of Social Solidarity to request for material assistance or to be placed in a reception facility. Therefore, the ECtHR concluded that the applicant had not sufficiently substantiated his complaint under Article 3 ECHR and declared it inadmissible.



AIDA 2017 Update Slovenia: increasing delays in asylum procedures*

The new Country Report on Slovenia, the 23rd country covered by the Asylum Information Database, offers a thorough analysis of the country’s legal framework and practice relating to the asylum procedure, reception conditions, detention of asylum seekers and content of international protection.

The report, written by the Legal-Informational Centre for non-governmental organisations (PIC) provides a detailed account of the asylum procedure and current challenges facing people seeking international protection in Slovenia. Procedures before the Migration Office were not subject to substantial delays in 2014 and 2015, when the numbers of asylum applications were very low (385 in 2014, 277 in 2015). However, due to a relative increase in 2016 (1,308 applications) and 2017 (1,476 applications) the length of procedures has become a major problem. In the second half of 2016, more than one third of asylum applicants in Slovenia had been waiting for a first on-merit decision for more than six months and this trend continued in 2017. Asylum applicants can wait for up to 18 months for a first instance decision.

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) delivered a key ruling concerning Slovenia in relation to the Dublin Regulation. Slovenia issued 742 outgoing Dublin requests and implemented 50 transfers, while it received 657 requests and 51 transfers in the course of 2017. The majority of outgoing Dublin procedures concerned Bulgaria and Croatia.

The AIDA report also provides information on detention of asylum seekers, which is generally not imposed on asylum seekers. A total of 48 applicants were detained in 2017, mainly in the context of Dublin procedures. Case law from the Administrative Court has laid down strict criteria for detaining asylum seekers for the purpose of a Dublin transfer on the basis of a “significant risk of absconding”, in line with the Al Chodor ruling of the CJEU.

Finally, the report covers the rights of beneficiaries of international protection and obstacles to accessing them in practice. One example concerns family reunification, where the authorities impose strict criteria regarding required documents for establishing identity of and links with family members, which can be problematic for citizens of countries where the acquisition official documents is difficult or impossible. So far, all Eritrean nationals arriving in Slovenia through relocation have had their family reunification applications rejected on that basis.

*This information was first published by AIDA



AIDA 2017 Update Spain: doubling of arrivals and lengthy procedures and automatic detention

The updated AIDA Country Report on Spain tracks recent developments in the asylum procedure, reception conditions, detention of asylum seekers and content of international protection throughout 2017. Spain registered 31,738 asylum seekers, almost doubling the number of applicants in 2016.

The majority of new arrivals came by sea. Almost 21,258 persons arrived in Spanish shores by boat, leading to a second year of record numbers of arrivals since the “Crisis de los Cayucos” in 2006. All persons rescued at sea are issued an expulsion order. If the order cannot be executed within a period of 72 hours, they are transferred to detention in a Detention Centre for Foreigners (CIE) in order to proceed with the expulsion. The majority of migrants who are sent there are eventually not removed from the country.

Delays in registration of asylum applications have persisted in 2017. In the summer, media reports showed long lines of asylum seekers waiting for their appointment to lodge their asylum claim in front of the offices of the Office for Asylum and Refuge (OAR) in Madrid. At the time of writing, the average waiting time for an appointment is 6 months. In 2017, the average duration of the procedure was 9.2 months for Syrians, 16.8 months for Afghans and 20 months for Iraqis. The overall average processing time in 2017 was reported at 431 days or 14.4 months.

The increase in the number of arrivals of asylum seekers in Madrid Barajas Airport during the summer of 2017, which saw applications quadrupling the number registered in 2016, resulted in overcrowding and inadequate conditions in border facilities at the airport and severe difficulties for the OAR and police to regularly register and process the admissibility of applications, often resulting in allowing entry into the territory before taking a decision on the application under the border procedure. That said, the Ombudsman documented cases of persons who were kept in the airport facility longer than the prescribed time limit under the border procedure.

The number of CIE rose to 9 in 2017, including the provisional CIE established in the prison of Archidona in Málaga. The latter was closed in January 2018 following severe criticism. CIE have been the object of high public, media and NGO attention during 2017 due to several episodes that took place throughout the year: Barcelona (July 2017), Aluche (October 2017), Murcia (November 2017). Worrying conditions have also been reported in police stations where people are held upon arrival by boat. 

*This information was first published by AIDA



Civil society extends to the sea, search and rescue NGO’s in the Mediterranean

An interview with Sophie Beau, vice-President of SOS MEDITERRANEE.

Could you briefly explain your mission and operations?

SOS MEDITERRANEE is a European civil society association, founded in 2015. It was founded at the end of operation Mare Nostrum in Italy when the Italian navy put an end to their one year operation (November 2013-2014) and saved about 150,000 lives at sea in the Central Mediterranean. This operation was terminated under pressure from the European Union, leaving the Mediterranean without any rescue capacity. This is the time when we met, Klaus Vogel and myself. Klaus is a merchant marine captain from Germany and I am from the humanitarian field. We decided to create a European civil rescue association to save lives at sea. That’s the first objective, of course. The second objective is to protect and assist the people we rescue, and the third is to testify in our respective countries. The idea was to have the presence of civil society in these very dramatic circumstances and this very particular area of the Central Mediterranean; to bear witness as civilians to what is going on.

Through a lot of refusals from public donors at the national, European and international level, we learned that public funds were not available for this humanitarian issue and that we had to rely on  civil society – who were more responsive to our call for action. We chartered a ship - the Aquarius - and began operations on 26 February 2016 first in partnership with Doctors of the World and later Medecins Sans Frontieres. We have been able to rescue 27,454 people since we began and in total we performed more than 210 rescues and transfers from other ships as well.

On board we have 3 different crews working together as one team. Firstly, the crew of the Aquarius which is composed of 11 seamen who are completely dedicated to the navigation of the Aquarius. The Aquarius is a big ship, it’s 77m long, and so you need this amount of people to run it 24 hours a day. The second crew is SOS MEDITERRANEE’s crew which is composed of 11 seamen, they are the search and rescue team, plus two communications officers including a photographer. More than 115 volunteers have been involved in the SOS MEDITERRANEE rescue teams since we started. Then there is the team from MSF who are dedicated to the medical care on board and also to identify vulnerable cases to notify the Italian authorities so there is a proper follow up on disembarkation in Europe. We are all working together and the ship is operating on three week operations, after which it disembarks in Sicily in our home port of Catania.

The Aquarius has now been operating for 2 years. What are the major changes you have seen over this time?

First of all, the movement of people crossing is not constant. There are hectic periods and things can get quite intense. It depends on the political situation in Libya and on the pressure from Libyan authorities on the smugglers network to release the boats with migrants and we understand from the testimonies of people rescued, that sometimes they cannot leave for weeks because there are clashes between militias.

There has been a general decrease in the number of people crossing since last summer, especially during the months of August, September and October last year. There were still hundreds of people rescued every month, but less than previous months for sure. It’s absolutely obvious that it’s linked to the political situation and deals made between the European countries, in particular Italy, and Libya. But then we also noticed in the winter there was a sudden increase again, so we cannot make a general conclusion. When I hear in the media that the route of the Central Mediterranean is almost closed I just can’t agree, because we still face a lot of departures. It remains the deadliest migratory road in the world, and the first in the Mediterranean for the number of crossings.

It’s a difficult context for NGOs to operate in. The first campaign to criminalize NGOs started at the beginning of 2017 and from extreme right-wing groups it spread to mainstream media in Italy. There was a clear conjunction of the media and politics against search and rescue NGOs in Italy that was linked closely with internal political debates and the fact that Italy has been left alone for years with the responsibility of people crossing, without support from other European countries. We clearly observed a shift in the way the Italian society views these rescue operations. It has been quite difficult for the NGOs in general to cope with this because there was a lot of fake news, disinformation and accusations without any evidence that we were colluding with smugglers. This was aimed at weakening NGOs and some of us had to stop operating. In particular one German NGO (Jugend Rettet) had to stop their operations because their ship (Iuventa) was seized by the Italian authorities. There has still not been any evidence, but they are still not able to operate.

During the summer, there was also a clear change from the Libyans who declared unilaterally a “Search and Rescue region” in the international waters next to Libya – which is not recognised by the International Maritime Organisation. They announced an expansion of operations into international waters and the demand for NGOs to leave this area, in violation of maritime law. So it has indeed been quite complicated for some of the NGOs - MSF had launched a SAR operation on the ship Prudence, which they stopped at that time. A couple of months later Save the Children also stopped their operations. In the end we are very few left in the area. At the moment there are only two NGOs in the area – SOS Mediterranee, Proactiva while two German NGOs (Sea Watch, Sea Eye) announced they will resume operations.

A full version of this interview is available on our website.





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