Central European NGOs call for an adequate and coordinated response to the refugee crisis
ECRE members from Austria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Switzerland came together on 14 and 15 January to voice their concerns over the poor European response to the refugee crisis and to call on EU Member States to jointly agree on solutions.
“In 2015 we saw fences instead of humanity, chaos instead of reasonable policies, and political egoism instead of solidarity and cooperation,” the NGOs said in a statement issued today. “Without immediate action, the situation could worsen in 2016. We therefore call on Europe to implement safe and legal channels to protection: resettlement, humanitarian admission programmes, broader family reunification, visa liberalization and the cessation of push-backs.”
The NGOs also call for a system of fast identification and registration of individuals to be put in place at first EU entry points and for immediate humanitarian assistance to be provided.
At a time, when the terrorist attacks in Paris and the recent violent incidents in Cologne are being used to stigmatise refugees, the statement also urges European countries to address security concerns without jeopardizing human rights, people’s dignity and the right to asylum.
ASYLUM INFORMATION DATABASE
AIDA Update Sweden: Proposed reforms are a draconian response to increase in refugees
The updated AIDA report on Sweden provides information on proposed reforms to the asylum system in Sweden, following a rapid increase in refugees towards the end of 2015. With over 80,000 refugees arriving in September and October 2015 alone, reception facilities were put under severe pressure forcing some to sleep outdoors. In response to the rising numbers and strain on public services, the government proposed a number of draconian measures to dissuade asylum seekers from choosing Sweden.
The proposed reform would reduce the duration of residence permits to three years for refugees, and one year for those eligible for subsidiary protection. There are exceptions to this for children and their families whose applications had already been registered, provided that the child is still under 18 at the time of the decision, and for quota refugees who will continue to receive permanent residence permits. This policy will apply for those who submitted asylum applications after 24 November 2015.
The report also details concerns in relation to age assessment procedures used by the Swedish Migration Agency. These have been criticised by the professional organisation of Swedish paediatricians which encouraged its members not to participate. As part of the government’s reform proposals, it will assess alternative methods for establishing age through the use of MRI scans, and introduces medical age assessments for asylum seekers.
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AIDA Update Turkey: less reception, more detention following EU-Turkey Action Plan
The updated AIDA report on Turkey provides detailed information on the country’s evolving international protection system, as well as compiling up to date statistics based on publicly available data.
It outlines the current state of transition to a new legal framework, which is set out in the Law on Foreigners and International Protection (LFIP). It also explains recent changes to the special role of UNHCR in Turkey, as a ‘complementary’ protection actor, during the process of establishing the new national asylum procedure. Since May 2015, police authorities no longer handle asylum caseloads and this has been taken over by a new agency, the Directorate-General for Migration Management (DGMM), which is now in charge of migration and asylum.
The report also documents reception conditions and the use of detention in Turkey. Refugee Rights Turkey, author of the report, explains that Turkey currently only has one operation reception centre. Out of six planned centres, only one will be dedicated to the reception and accommodation of asylum seekers, while the remaining five will become detention centres, following the EU-Turkey Action Plan of 29 November 2015. DGMM which has now taken over the administration of detention centres has indicated that it plans to achieve a detention capacity of 10,000 places in Turkey by June 2016.
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Unwelcome to Denmark: bill proposal backtracks on refugees rights
The Danish Parliament debated this week a new bill that would further restrict the asylum space in the country: the proposed law will among other things authorise police to search belongings of refugees and asylum seekers and seize valuables worth more than 10,000 kroner (around 1,400€) to contribute to the cost of their stay in the country.
An earlier draft of the law envisioned the confiscation of valuables of over 400€, but the criticism raised by the first proposal led the government to change the limit and to exclude items of sentimental values, such as medals or wedding rings, from the belongings that could be confiscated.
An even more alarming part of the proposed bill is the amendment to family reunification procedures for persons with temporary protection status, which would require a waiting period of three years before the process can be initiated, as opposed to one year under current legislation. According to the Danish Institute for Human Rights, such change constitutes a violation of refugees’ human rights, and would be a solid basis to allege a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Such concerns are shared by Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks, who sent a letter to the Danish Minister for Immigration expressing his worries about the new amendments being discussed. “Family reunification is one of the avenues that should be made available to refugees to obtain international protection in Denmark safely and legally, thereby enabling these persons to avoid risking their lives or going through very difficult journeys and seeking the help of smugglers to reach safety,” he stated.
“The bill should unfortunately be seen in the light of the race to the bottom we are seeing in Europe at the moment, where most countries are taking part in a negative competition to try to look as unattractive for asylum seekers as possible. We think that the proposal to prolong family reunification waiting periods is inhumane, because it will have huge consequences for refugees coming to Denmark” stated ECRE member Danish Refugee Council.
These restrictions to the right of asylum are the latest in a series of measures adopted by the country to deter more people from coming: in September the Danish government decided to place adverts in Lebanese newspapers to inform potential refugees that the benefits have been halved, and last week it re-instated border controls with Germany.
Moreover, Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen recently called for an amendment of the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees if Europe is unable to manage the high numbers of refugees arriving. The call caused a wave of backlash among UN officials. “We are seeing a derogation from the responsibility to protect, at a time when more and more people are in need. We need to strengthen our unity in the EU and UN when addressing the refugee situation not the opposite,” says Secretary General of The Danish Refugee Council, Andreas Kamm.
Though the bill proposal will be voted on 26 January, it is believed that Parliament secured a strong majority which would imply its adoption.
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From bad to worse: Dunkirk refugee camp makes Calais pale in comparison
The shores of northern France facing the UK are becoming an infamy in Europe, with refugees living in squalid conditions. Those who come to the area and attempt the crossing to the UK often remain stuck, due to the increased security controls and difficulties in reaching their desired destination. The ‘Jungle’ camp in Calais has been making the headlines for quite some time now, though in the past few weeks readers have learnt about another similar situation: Grande-Synthe, a suburb of Dunkirk, just 35 kilometres away from Calais.
Grande-Synthe is an informal makeshift camp which used to host around 100 people, but has recently seen a huge increase, with as many as 100 people arriving every day. Most of them are Kurds from Syria and Iraq, as well as Syrians, Iraqis, Iranians and Afghans. A number of people have been coming from Calais to escape police brutality in the ‘Jungle’ camp.
Many recent pictures indicate that, at the present, approximately 3,000 people live there, in unsanitary, freezing and inhumane conditions. Heavy rains and dropping temperatures contribute to create an unsafe muddy swamp, where conditions are defined as much worse than those in Calais. Many people are ill; chest infections and scabies are extremely common and cannot properly be treated. Grande-Synthe has been called ‘hell on hearth’ by one of the refugees living there.
Up until a few days ago, local police was restricting the delivery of aid to the camp, and volunteers had to smuggle in tents, sheets, and any building material needed, often without success. On 12 January, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was granted permission for the construction of a camp which could accommodate around 2,500 people.
The new camp will be in a location 10 minutes away from the current one, and will have around 500 heated and winterised tents which can accommodate five people each. It will also have toilets, water and electricity points and all the necessary basic equipment to ensure better living conditions. The camp will be entirely funded by MSF and will take around four weeks to complete.
“The construction of an organised camp will of course improve the current situation”, said Pierre Henry, Director of ECRE member France terre d’asile. “We have to enable people to live in dignity, at least in a camp that would comply with international standards. It is also important that people who have applied for asylum have an effective access to reception centres, as per the law, which is not the case for the moment. Yet a country like France should not accept and get used to hosting migrants in camps; the current situation questions Europe and solidarity between European countries. It can only be dealt with jointly, not by shying away”.
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Turkey introduces new visa laws and proposes work permits for Syrians
Visa restrictions for Syrians entering Turkish territory have been introduced for those who enter via air or by sea. These restrictions will not apply to Syrian refugees who cross the border by land. The Turkish Foreign Ministry said that these new restrictions were to reduce the numbers of Syrians arriving indirectly from third countries such as Libya and Egypt.
This has led to reports of Syrians being stranded at Beirut airport, with 400 people denied access to their flights on January 8, with Amnesty International branding the new visa regulations as “yet another hurdle for Syrians desperate to seek sanctuary from the conflict”.
In a meeting with EU Commission Vice-President, Frans Timmermans, on 11 January, the Turkish government announced proposals to increase access to Turkish work permits for Syrian refugees. Since the start of the Syria conflict, over two million Syrians have fled to Turkey, but only 7,300 work permits have been issued so far. The Turkish minister for European Affairs Volkan Bozkır said that these plans are hoped to discourage Syrian refugees from crossing into the European Union.
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REPORTS & NGOs ACTIONS
Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon are living in dire poverty
UNHCR and the World Bank have partnered to publish a detailed collaborative report into the welfare, poverty and vulnerability of Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon. The report notes that as of December 2015, almost 4.4 million Syrians had registered as refugees, making it the largest refugee crisis of our time. Around 1.7 million are registered in Jordan and Lebanon.
The report which draws on a wealth of data collected by the two institutions shows that nine in ten refugees in these countries are living in poverty. Most are destitute and live on the margins in informal settlements, with only a minority living in refugee camps. Registration with UNHCR and the authorities does not automatically confer them with legal rights or entitlements to assistance making their circumstances precarious. Although they have access to government services, this is limited in practice due to high demand.
While current strategies have been very effective in reducing poverty, such as the provision of cash assistance by UNHCR and the food voucher programme by the World Food Programme, these are not sustainable in the medium to long-term. Instead, this leads to refugees remaining dependent and being kept in a ‘poverty trap’ where they spend a large amount of time trying to meet their essential basic needs of food, clothes and medicine.
The report recommends a more comprehensive strategy aimed at fostering the economic inclusion of refugees, allowing them to become self-reliant. There should be a shift in policy from humanitarian assistance towards economic growth measures that will benefit both the refugee population and local host communities. This recognises that the crisis can be transformed into a development opportunity, to ensure a more stable and prosperous future for all.
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Study shows the advantages of mixed classrooms for social cohesion in Lebanon
International Alert released a study documenting the impact of mixed and segregated schooling of Lebanese and Syrian students on social cohesion in Lebanon. The research, conducted between May and July 2015 in Beirut, shows how mixed classes improve the perception Lebanese children have of their Syrian counterparts, as opposed to the negative perceptions of Lebanese pupils in segregated classes.
Due to the high number of Syrian refugee children, the Lebanese school day has been split into two shifts, a morning mixed one and an afternoon one reserved exclusively to Syrians. Those attending the morning shift benefit more from the academic programme and social life and the perceptions that Lebanese children and their parents have of Syrians are more positive due to the daily contact and interaction. However, contacts between Syrian and Lebanese children outside the classroom environment remain limited.
The report includes a number of recommendations for the Lebanese government, aimed specifically at acknowledging the positive impact of the morning shift mixed schooling and to replicate it as much as possible. It also highlights the need to provide extracurricular activities – with a special focus on girls – to improve the cohabitation of Lebanese and Syrian children.
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“Searching for Solidarity in EU Asylum and Border Policies” – 1st Odysseus Network Annual Conference
The Odysseus Academic Network, in cooperation with the Migration Policy Centre of the European University Institute will hold its first Annual Conference, “Searching for Solidarity in EU Asylum and Border Policies” on 26 and 27 February 2016 at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) in Brussels.
The conference will analyse financial, physical and operational solidarity within the EU from a legal and policy perspective, including an analysis of the future role of EU agencies Frontex and EASO. A detailed programme of the conference is available here. Speakers include representatives from the European Institutions, academics, NGOs and Member States officials. There are 250 places available, so early registration is encouraged. More information about the conference can be found on the Odysseus Academic Network website.
- 22 January, In the same boat: Morocco’s migration lessons for Europe, The Humanitarian Assistance Podcast
- 22-24 January, Brussels, Refugees Hackaton, Hack with Refugees
- 30 January, London, TEDxEastEnd 2016: Society Beyond Borders, TEDx
- 2 February, Glasgow, Médecins Sans Frontières and the European ‘Refugee Crisis’ - a focus on Calais, University of Glasgow
- 3 February, Brussels, Border Stories: From there to here. How innovative research into personal experiences can help the EU address Intra EU mobility and Third Country Migration, London Higher Europe
- 15 February, Brussels, Mental health in migration, Haute Ecole Galilée (conference in French)
- 15 February, London, Refugee Open Day Advice Sessions: Access to Legal Aid, Queen Mary University of London
- 16 February, London, Refugee Open Day Advice Sessions: Access to Education & Recognition of Qualifications, Queen Mary University of London
- 26-27 February, Brussels, Searching for Solidarity in EU Asylum and Border Policies, Odysseus Network 1st Annual Conference