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.

31 October 2019
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Refugees Shouldn’t Be Used as Props to Alert to the Dangers of Climate Change

By François Gemenne & Caroline Zickgraf

François Gemenne is Director of the Hugo Observatory at the University of Liège and Lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Caroline Zickgraf is Deputy Director at the Hugo Observatory. Her research focuses on immobility in relation to climate change.

Recent mobilisations against climate change, such as those initiated by activist Greta Thunberg or civil disobedience movement Extinction Rebellion, have awaken many about the imminent threats presented by climate change. Climate change is finally recognised as a crucial political issue, and this is a welcome development – yet to be followed by meaningful political action.

The impacts of climate change in developing countries are key drivers of migration and displacement, both internal and across national borders. They affect directly millions of people, and also weigh in significantly on the political or economic drivers of migration and displacement. For example, about half of the population in sub-Saharan Africa depend directly on subsistence agriculture as a primary source of income, which means that any change in temperature or rainfall has severe and immediate economic consequences for these households.

Yet, when such migration and displacement are addressed in the debates on climate change, it is usually in the future tense along these lines: “Hundreds of millions of ‘climate refugees’ would be displaced if we fail to curb our greenhouse gas emissions radically”. It is indeed a likely possibility that climate change will displace millions of people in the next decades. However, we’d like to argue that it is wrong to use this fact in the context of the mobilisations on climate change. Here are some reasons why.

First, it is wrong to present climate-induced migration and displacement as a future risk. It is already a reality today, which demands attention and policy responses. Projections of ‘zillions of people’ displaced by 2050 or the end of the century overshadow the fact that millions of people are currently displaced. Climate-induced displacement is not a looming disaster: it is first and foremost a present reality that needs to be addressed.

Second, it sets those displaced by climate change impacts apart from those displaced by other political or economic factors, as if ‘climate migration’ was a new, discrete migration category. People displaced by climate change are also displaced by economic, political, and other reasons: the political situation and economic conditions in many places of the world are deeply embedded in the environment. Any environmental disruption has immediate economic or political consequences. Most importantly perhaps, climate change is a very political and economic issue: it is a form of persecution inflicted on the most vulnerable populations of the world. We are now well aware of the dramatic consequences of greenhouse gas emissions produced in industrialised countries. Failure to curb these emissions amounts to a new form of political persecution, which raises important questions regarding responsibility and protection.

Third, it does not acknowledge the millions more people who are unable to leave even in the direst of circumstances.  Climate change degrades the very resources people need to migrate, and yet for many migrating offers a pathway out of danger.  We so rarely acknowledge that migration can be a good thing: it can get people out of harm’s way before they become displaced and help them secure a better life for themselves and their families back home. Some of the most vulnerable populations to climate change are those that don’t have the opportunities to move: the poor, children, the elderly. Adaptation planning that respects human rights need to be about enabling choice, including the choice to migrate.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the current rhetoric about ‘climate refugees’ doesn’t serve the interests of those who should be protected. Floating the prospect of a looming migration crisis is only likely to fuel current xenophobic prejudices against migrants and refugees. Whether such rhetoric can convince governments to curb greenhouse gas emissions remains to be seen. Rather they are likely to reinforce border surveillance and tighten migration policies: their way to prepare for the ‘human impacts’ of climate change.

Op-ed: 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.



Med: Armed Intervention against Rescue Ship and Pull-Back to Libya

Last week has seen a series of alarming developments on the Mediterranean including well-documented armed intimidation by a Libyan force toward an NGO ship carrying out a rescue operation, and a pull-back to Libya facilitated by Maltese authorities.

Video footage published by the NGO Sea Eye shows that their rescue vessel Alan Kurdi was threatened and shot at by a Libyan force during a rescue operation on October 26. The intervention led many of the 90 people rescued to jump over board out of fear. Despite signs of a political solution, the Alan Kurdi is still waiting to be assigned a safe port for disembarkation.

The civilian rescue vessel Ocean Viking, which rescued 104 people on 18 October, was allowed to disembark their passengers in the Italian port of Pozzallo in Sicily on Tuesday. According to the NGO SOS MEDITERRANEE (SOS), which operates the Ocean Viking jointly with Doctors without Borders (MSF), those rescued will be distributed to France, Germany and Italy. The ship was stranded at sea for twelve days. "The agreement of today is again an ad hoc solution with only 2 EU countries showing solidarity towards a coastal state. A predictable and coordinated mechanism will only work if a broader coalition of willing European countries come together", stated Guillaumat, Operations Deputy Director of SOS.

On Monday, 44 people rescued in Maltese waters by the civilian rescue vessel Open Arms, run by the NGO Proactiva Open Arms, have disembarked in Malta. They were brought to shore after being transferred onto an Armed Forces patrol boat. Back in the SAR zone on Tuesday, the Open Arms rescued another 15 people from distress in a rubber boat off the Italian island of Lampedusa. After searching for the boat for 24 hours the crew eventually detected it with the help of the reconnaissance plane Moonbird. Among those rescued were two toddlers and five children.

According to the NGO Alarm Phone, which runs a distress hotline for migrants on the Mediterranean, Maltese authorities facilitated the interception by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard (LGC) of a boat in distress in Maltese Waters. The Maltese Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) had confirmed that they received the distress call via Alarm Phone but did not intervene. Seven hours later, the RCC informed the NGO that the LGC had intercepted the boat from within the Maltese SAR zone. Alarm Phone could confirm that those intercepted were disembarked in Tripoli and transported to the Triq al Sikka detention center, which is known for its inhumane conditions and severe human rights violations.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), launched an investigation into the actions of Maltese authorities. Vincent Cochetel, the UNHCR special envoy for the central Mediterranean commented: “The problem is that the migrants were disembarked in Libya. That’s certainly a violation of maritime laws ... It’s clear that Libya isn’t a safe port.”

In the meantime, Amnesty International Italy warns that, a memorandum on cooperation between Italy and Libya will be automatically renewed on November 2, if the government does not actively cancel it. The memorandum includes a series of agreements financed by Italy, which among other things foresee that the Libyan coast guard intercepts and reports people trying to flee to Europe in boats.

Missing Migrants has recorded 1086 deaths of people trying to reach Europe via the Mediterranean in 2019.

For further Information:


Series of Incidents of People Risking Their Life on Refrigerated Trucks to Reach UK

A few days after 39 people were found dead in the back of a truck close to London, 20 people were discovered in the back of refrigerated trucks in France and Belgium. Fleeing war-torn countries, they hoped to reach the UK via this life-endangering pathway.

On Wednesday, twelve people were reportedly found in the back of a refrigerated fruit and vegetable lorry on the motorway, near the Flemish town of Oud-Turnhout, Belgium. The driver had called the police when he suspected people were hiding in the back of his truck. All twelve people, who had fled Syria and Sudan, were in decent health conditions.

On Sunday, eight people were found hiding in a refrigerated truck in the northern port city of Calais. Four adults and four children were taken to the hospital for treatment after showing signs of hypothermia. The temperature in the refrigerated section was set at 7 degrees Celsius. The group, who fled Afghanistan, was discovered during a control on a ferry that was about to leave for the UK. The two drivers of the truck were taken into custody.

The discoveries follow the deaths of 39 people of Vietnamese origin who were found in the back of a refrigerated lorry truck in Essex last week. They crossed to the UK in a trailer from the Belgium port city of Zeebrugge. British police launched an investigation against the driver on account of manslaughter in 39 cases.

Guardian editor Anne Kelly criticised the UK government’s immigration and trafficking policy for creating “an environment in which the business of exploiting the desperation of human beings can thrive”.



Malta in the ‘Imperfect Storm’: Illegal Detention, Crack Down on Protests, Abuse and Overcrowding in Centres

A Maltese Court recently ruled the detention of six people in the Safi detention camp beyond the formal limit of ten weeks on health grounds, illegal. On October 29 Maltese riot police rounded up detainees of the same facility for questioning following protests. Protests turned violent last week in the Ħal Far centre that is severely overcrowded.

In two separate case rulings came out in favor of all six asylum seekers, legally assisted by Aditus Foundation and the Jesuit Refugee Service. The six were detained for more than ten weeks on the basis of “reasonable grounds” to believe they carried contagious disease and as a result required medical screening. The court declared the ongoing deprivation of personal liberty unlawful and ordered their immediate release.

“The six judgements tell Government that the current detention regime has no legal basis and is therefore contrary to law. It is clear that Malta has been relying on health grounds as a detention basis when the reality is another one. Due to a stubborn refusal to invest in increasing Malta’s reception capacity to deal with the arrivals by sea, the system is at breaking point. Whilst we appreciate Malta’s limitations, we nonetheless insist that violating people’s fundamental human rights can never be part of the solution,” said the Director of Aditus Foundation, Dr. Neil Falzon.

Protests from other detainees at the Safi detention centre, stating that they are not criminals and demanding the EU to safeguard their rights, ended up in confrontation with service staff. Riot police arriving with shields and batons reportedly handcuffed and took detainees away in a police van.

According to eyewitnesses about 60 inhabitants of the reception centre in Ħal Far were involved in protests that turned violent on October 21 with Maltese Home Affairs Minister, Michael Farrugia setting the number as high as 300. Severe damage was caused to the centre when fires were lit and stones were thrown by frustrated inhabitants.

As reported by AIDA, managed by ECRE, the conditions in the Ħal Far and other open centres are “extremely challenging”: “low hygiene levels, severe over-crowding, lack of physical security, location of most centres in a remote area of Malta, poor material structures and occasional infestation of rats and cockroaches are the main general concerns expressed in relation to the Open Centres.”

The Correctional Services Agency of Corradino denies allegations of mistreatment of people involved in the incident at Ħal Far brought forward by several sources according to whom they were stripped down and hosed “like animals” and manhandled in prison by the Special Response Team using batons. Other allegations brought forward by local media include inhabitants as young as fourteen being left without food for days as the Agency for the Welfare of Asylum Seekers suspended daily meals following the violent protests.

For further information:


Greece: New Restrictions on Rights and Procedural Guarantees in International Protection Bill*

The International Protection Bill presented by the Greek Ministry of Citizen Protection brings about several restrictions on individual rights and procedural guarantees in the Greek asylum system.

The bill tabled to Parliament on 21 October 2019 following a five-day consultation period and expected to be adopted in the coming days, consolidates rules on qualification, reception and the asylum procedure into a single legislative instrument. The government has explicitly tied the bill to its objectives of tightening asylum procedures and increasing returns. Among other measures, the International Protection Bill sets out the following changes:

Residence permits: Article 24 reduces the duration of residence permits for subsidiary protection to one year, as opposed to three.

Detention of asylum seekers: Article 46 introduces several provisions liable to expand detention measures. It allows for the possibility to detain persons who have previously applied for asylum at liberty, abolishes the mechanism of ex officio review of detention orders, and prolongs the maximum duration of detention of asylum seekers to 18 months – in which previous periods of pre-removal detention are not counted.

Access to the labour market: Article 53 introduces a six-month time limit before access to the labour market is granted to applicants, as opposed to the current rules on immediate access to employment.

Personal interview: Under Article 77, the personal interview can be conducted by authorities other than the Asylum Service, namely the Police and Armed Forces, in cases of large numbers of arrivals of asylum seekers.

Accelerated procedure: Under Article 83(9), the accelerated procedure may be applied to cases foreseen by Article 31(8) of the recast Asylum Procedures Directive but also to vulnerable applicants.

Safe third countries: Article 86 sets out rules for the establishment of a list of safe third countries by way of Joint Ministerial Decision.

Right to remain on the territory: Article 104 removes the automatic suspensive effect of appeals for claims dismissed as inadmissible or rejected in the accelerated procedure. The applicant will have to file a separate request to the Appeals Committee for suspensive effect to be granted in order for removal from the country not to be effected pending the examination of the application at second instance.

Content of appeals: Article 93 requires asylum seekers to state the full grounds for appealing a first instance decision for their appeal to be considered admissible.

Composition of Appeals Committees: Article 116 brings about another modification of the composition of Appeals Committees, following the composition introduced in June 2016. According to the bill, the Committees are to be composed by three administrative judges. A single-judge composition is also foreseen for cases such as those processed under the accelerated procedures.

Deep concerns have been expressed by UNHCR, the Ombudsman, and the National Commission for Human Rights, civil society organisations and the Athens Bar Association about the objectives of the bill, the compatibility of its provisions with domestic and international law, and the administrative pressure it is liable to create on asylum authorities. Opposition parties (SYRIZA, KINAL, KKE) have raised similar concerns during parliamentary committee discussions on 29 October 2019.

For further information:

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




Amnesty Report Documents Forced Returns from Turkey to Syria

A report by Amnesty International documents the return of Syrian nationals back to Syria by Turkish authorities, exposing them to risks of serious human rights abuses in clear violation of international human rights and refugee law.

The report is based on desk and field research conducted between July and October 2019 and includes testimonies of violent practices whereby persons were being arrested, beaten up and forced back to Syria, “one of the world’s most dangerous countries”. Although it concerns mainly single men, some families and children have reportedly also been deported. While the Turkish authorities argue that Syrians are voluntarily returning back to their country, several sources, including the AIDA report on Turkey, have recorded cases of persons being subject to violence and pressured to apply for “voluntary return”.

Amnesty International also points out that the expulsion of Syrian refugees from Turkey “must be understood in the context of the government’s longstanding plans to set up a so-called demilitarised ‘safe zone’ along the border”. According to the report, the rationale underlying the policy of the Turkish government is to relocate refugees from Syria there, which also encouraged the Turkish military intervention in north-eastern Syria during October 2019. Unless this safe zone is established, the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to “open the gates” to Europe for Syrian refugees. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that a total of 202,429 population movements were recorded as of 28 October 2019.

According to UNHCR, Turkey currently hosts over 3.6M refugees from Syria, as well as about 400,000 refugees and asylum-seekers from other countries. Eurostat statistics on the first half of 2019 further indicate that Syria remains the first country of citizenship of applicants in Europe, with a total of 16,175 applications for international protection as of 30 June 2019, followed by Venezuelans (10 690 applications) and Afghans (10 190 applications).

For further information:


UNDP Report: Stark Personal and Socio-economic Implications of Lack of Legal Pathways

The report “Scaling Fences: Voices of Irregular African Migrants to Europe” released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) focuses on development related migration through irregular routes. The report concludes that migration is “a reverberation of development progress” and that the lack of legal routes has “stark personal and socio-economic Implications”.

The report is based on statements from 1970 individuals from 39 African countries who have migrated through irregular routes and “whose primary motivation, in their own words, was not humanitarian or protection-related in nature”. The report establishes that the people travelling are “relatively better off than their peers” in terms of income and education, yet 50 per cent do not earn enough to get by in their home countries. While the segment interviewed for the report has benefited from economic development in Africa over the last decades this process is “not fast enough and with gains that are uneven and limiting” and in fact fuels aspirations of social change and enables migration.

For the majority the irregular journey is a calculated risk, with just two per cent reporting that the greater awareness of the risks of irregular migration would have affected their choice to leave. The majority chose to move based on lack of opportunities and social exclusion at home particularly amongst the youth paired with a hope of fulfilling economic and social aspirations for them and their families. 78 per cent of those who were earning were sending money home.

The lack of legal pathways means that migrants are absorbed into an irregular job market including by otherwise regular businesses in Europe. A majority of those employed in Europe are earning wages “well below their host country’s minimum-wage threshold”, which exposes them to other “types of insecurity associated with work — further highlighting the exploitation contingent on their irregular status”.

With an ambition of contributing to an “operationalization of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration” the report points to an underutilised human and labour potential of African migrants in a Europe in need of their services yet failing to create legal pathways.


Joint Statement: NGOs Call on the EU and its Member States to Demonstrate Leadership on Resettlement at the Global Refugee Forum 2019

The European Commission has recently announced that it has received pledges for 30,000 resettlement places in 2020 from 15 member states. Ahead of the Global Refugee Forum on 17th and 18th December, the undersigned organisations call on the EU and its member states to ensure that these pledges translate into a meaningful contribution to global responsibility sharing by:

  • Making a collective pledge of at least 30,000 resettlement places for 2020 at the Forum
  • Ensuring that these places are implemented within the calendar year and are not used to recycle pledges from previous commitments
  • Collectively committing to a continuous, sustainable and significant increase in resettlement numbers beyond this annual pledge
  • Asserting that EU resettlement is a protection tool and durable solution which is protectioncentered and responsive to global resettlement needs, and to that effect should not be made conditional upon third country cooperation in EU migration management objectives

One year after the adoption of the Global Compact on Refugees, the international community will gather in Geneva at the Global Refugee Forum on the 17th and 18th December 2019. The Forum is a crucial opportunity to take stock of progress made so far and to demonstrate that global leaders, including EU decision-makers, are serious about implementing the Compact.

Refugee resettlement was identified as a protection tool and durable solution to be supported by the Compact, yet the places offered by the international community continue to decline steeply. Following a fall in numbers of 50% between 2016 and 2017, last year the number of places fell by a further 15% to 55,680 – a mere 4% of the 1.4 million estimated to be in need. Recent developments in the United States indicate that this number will fall further.

While resettlement to the EU has seen a welcome moderate increase in recent years, current numbers are insufficient in this context. The Commission’s call for 50,000 places to be made available by 31st October 2019 has so far resulted in only 37,520 refugees arriving over a two-year period. EU resettlement places represent only 1.6% of global needs and remain far below the capacity of the EU as a wealthy region and major international humanitarian actor. In this context, we welcome the announcement of 30,000 places to be made available in a follow-up scheme. However, current trends show a decrease in the number of EU member states resettling, a tendency to prolong implementation periods beyond the original pledging timeframes, and a lack of understanding of resettlement as a protection tool and global responsibility sharing mechanism.

In 2018, developed countries hosted only 16% of the world’s refugees. The EU should therefore seize this opportunity to send a strong signal of international solidarity with refugee hosting countries in order to remain a credible humanitarian actor.

In this way the EU would also make an important and timely contribution to the three-year resettlement strategy on resettlement and complementary pathways, which has called for 1 million resettlement places and 2 million refugees to be admitted through complementary pathways by 2028.

Inaction is not an option: countries hosting the majority of the world’s refugees are counting on greater support from the EU as they struggle to assist large numbers of refugees with limited resources.

We therefore call on EU member states, led by the Finnish Council Presidency and supported by the European Commission, to make a collective pledge of at least 30,000 places to be made available for resettlement to the EU in 2020. It is imperative that these 30,000 places are implemented within the calendar year, guaranteeing a durable solution for some of the most vulnerable refugees in 2020. In addition, EU Member States should continue to expand complementary pathways such as humanitarian admission, humanitarian visas, private sponsorship, extended family reunification and higher education scholarships.

We also urge the EU to collectively commit to a continuous, sustainable and significant increase in resettlement numbers in addition to short-term, annual pledges. Such an increase should not rely on the recycling of pledges from previous years and should be demonstrated by transparent monitoring mechanisms. More places are needed to respond to emergencies as well as protracted refugee situations. Resettlement is a pathway allowing those in need of protection to reach the EU safely, and a significant increase in places could reduce the need for dangerous journeys and contribute to a more equal sharing of responsibility within the EU.

EU resettlement should be protection-centered and responsive to global resettlement needs, and to that effect should not be made conditional upon third country cooperation in EU migration management objectives or be used to deny access to asylum. This is crucial to ensure the sustainability of programmes as well as to demonstrate a commitment to resettlement as a responsibility-sharing mechanism, protection tool and durable solution, beyond short-term political objectives.

List of signatories:

International Catholic Migration Comission
Caritas Europa
International Rescue Committee
Red Cross EU Office
European Council on Refugees and Exiles
Action for Migration & Development
Network for Children's Rights
CNCD 11.11.11
Conselho Portugues Para os Refugiados
Save the Children
Solidarity Now
Dutch Council for Refugees
Danish Refugee Council
Jesuit Refugee Service
Care International
Action Aid
Greek Council for Refugees


#VoicesOfECRE: Herbert Langthaler

Interview with Dr. Herbert Langthaler, public relations, presentations, education outreach: Asylkoordination Oesterreich (Austria)

ECRE is an alliance of 104 NGOs across 41 European countries the diverse membership ranges from large INGOs with global presence to small organisations of dedicated activists. Members’ work covers the full circle of displacement from zones of conflict, to the dangerous routes and arrivals in Europe, to long-term inclusion in European societies, with their activities including humanitarian relief, social service provision, legal assistance, litigation, monitoring policy and law, advocacy and campaigning. We decided to share some of their voices.

How did you become involved in protecting the human rights of displaced people?

I studied Social Anthropology in the 1980ties an era when for the first time larger numbers of refugees from regions outside Europe arrived in Austria. At the same time there was a complete change of the political landscape. In 1980 we witnessed the last great movement of “old” refugees (from Poland) in the context of the Cold War and in 1989 with the end of the Soviet dominated “East Block” there was a fundamental change of paradigm – the connotations of the word refugee transformed from being heroic victims of the communist regimes to become economic parasites and a threat to our security. From ideological clichés to dehumanized aliens.

From 1986 I worked as a journalist for the radio and witnessed this radical change in public discourse first hand. At that time I met a lot of politically active people, who were engaged in helping refugees and working for an open society with open borders.

When in 1992 – meanwhile with a little help of Austrian and German politicians Yugoslavia had collapsed and thousands fled the wars that followed – the organisations working with refugees in Austria decided to form an umbrella organisation and I was asked if I could help to formulate a press emission. That was the beginning of my direct involvement in asylum policy in Austria.

What is the single most inspiring experience of your career?

The most inspiring experience was the moment when the first train arrived in 2015 at the Vienna Westbahnhof from Budapest carrying hundreds of refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. We stood at the platforms applauding, with tears in our eyes hugging each other and waving our welcome to the people arriving. They seemed exhausted but happy to be in a safe and welcoming environment after all they had to suffer on their long journey.

What has later been labelled a “European refugee crisis” was for us an unprecedented period of engagement and solidarity with thousands of volunteers working day and night managing to provide the needed support – where European politicians created the chaos that still divides Europe, the populations represented by civil society, activists and regular people concerned stepped up.

What is your main professional motivation?

My motivation is on the one hand a personal one. I am part of the generation of sons and daughters of people who where deeply involved in the catastrophe of the 20 century. In my family both, membership in the NSDAP and displacement came together. In Austria there was very little resistance against the Nazi regime and a big deal of cooperation. In the 1980ties with the Waldheim affair for the first time Austria’s status as “first victim” of Nazi Germany was questioned. As part of this late realisation of Austria’s role in the history of Holocaust, many people decided to dedicate their political and professional life to “never again”. And a part of this was “never again the boat is full”.

In the 20 years of my professional career with Asylkoordination I learnt to work together with a lot of different groups of people within the Austrian society – I even did trainings with law enforcement people. Through this experience I learned a lot about how democracy (could) work.

And still a main motivation are all the people from Afghanistan, Somalia, Bosnia, Syria, Chechenia, Nigeria … I learnt through their successful “integration” as critical citizens, empathic fellow women and men, skilful professionals and good friends.



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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