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The ECRE Weekly Bulletin provides information about the latest European developments in the areas of asylum and refugee protection.ECRE is a pan-European alliance of 90 NGOs protecting and advancing the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and displaced persons.If you would like to know more about ECRE’s advocacy work, policy positions, press releases and projects, please visit our website at www.ecre.org, find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

     
23 November 2018
  
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EUROPEAN DEVELOPMENTS

NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS

REPORTS & NGO ACTIONS
  

EUROPEAN DEVELOPMENTS

Italy: Crack Down on Civilian SAR Operations while Operation Sophia’s Future Uncertain and Abuse Continues in Libya

The Italian authorities have ordered the seizure of one of the last civilian search and rescue vessels, the Aquarius, chartered by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and SOS Mediterranee. The order comes at a time where the future of Operation Sophia is uncertain and the abuse by both Libyan Coast Guards and in detention centers continues.

The seizure of the Aquarious currently held in Marseille by request of the Italian goverment in September comes along with the freezing of MSF assets in Italy, a fine of 460,000 Euros and investigation of 24 people for ‘‘trafficking and the illegal management of waste.” This represents the latest initiative “in two years of defamatory and unfounded allegations” according to MSF. The organisation is preparing an appeal to the Italian review courts.

The order follows an investigation by the prosecutor’s office in Catania regarding the labelling of 24 tonnes of waste including food, medicals and clothes. Accusations that the clothes of migrants could pose a health threat to Italy by transferring infectious diseases like HIV, meningitis and tuberculosis has been categorically rejected by international experts. The order has been met with strong critisism, including from the European United Left/Nordic Green Left European Parliamentary Group who state: ”The only crime committed in the Mediterranean is thus: the deaths and the suffering of thousands of people.”

The mandate of EUNAVFOR Med (Operation Sophia) is ending this year, and with the Italian refusal to receive migrants rescued by the EU naval mission, its future remain uncertain. According to the EU Observer, EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini “called the migrant issue a ‘small element’” of Sophia, which also trains the Libyan coastguard and enforces a Libya arms embargo.

With civilian search and rescue under crack down and EUNAVFOR search and rescue operations in question, much will rely on the Libyan Coast Guard and authorities who on November 20, used rubber bullets and tear gas to force more than 90 migrants rescued by a cargo ship to disembark in the Libyan port of Misrata. The group was refusing to leave the ship for fear of being abused and tortured by human smugglers and in detention centres in Libya.

For further information:

 

 


NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS

Austria: Social Welfare Restrictions on Refugees Contrary to EU Law*

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has decided, regarding the case C-713/17 Ayubi, that persons granted refugee status must also be entitled to the same level of social assistance as nationals of the host country in accordance with the EU’s recast Qualification Directive, regardless of whether they have temporary or permanent residence.

In recent years, a number Austrian provinces introduced rules precluding refugees with a temporary residence permit from access to the needs-based minimum benefit (BMS) under the same conditions as Austrian nationals, and instead offered them lower levels of support. In Upper Austria, refugees received 405€ per month and an additional 155€ subject to compliance with integration measures, while nationals received 921.30€.

The CJEU clarified in Ayubi that the right to social assistance under Article 29 of the Directive is attached to refugee status and not to the residence permit issued to people granted protection. Accordingly, refugees are entitled to social benefits under the same conditions as nationals, irrespective of the duration of validity of their residence permit.

The same is not true for beneficiaries of subsidiary protection, to whom Member States are allowed to grant lower levels of social assistance under the Directive.

For further information:

 

AIDA: A version of this information was first published by AIDA*

 


Unprecedented Suspension of UN- Hungary Visit as Detention Experts are Denied Access

A team of United Nations experts have been denied access by the Hungarian government to visit two border ‘transit zones’ where refugees and migrants, including children, are being detained. According the Working Group the visit had been planned in response to “a number of credible reports concerning the lack of safeguards against arbitrary detention in these facilities”.

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had been invited by Hungary to conduct the visit from 12 to 16 November 2018 in order to follow up on its 2013 recommendations, while continuing its engagement with the Hungarian government on addressing issues regarding deprivation of liberty. During the mission, human rights experts Ms. Elina Steinerte and Mr. Sètondji Roland Adjovi had planned to meet with the relevant authorities, civil society and other stakeholders, and visit detention centres across the country.

In an unprecedented step, they were obliged to suspend their visit after they were denied access to the Röszke and Tompa “transit zones” at the border with Serbia, on the basis that they would be unable to fulfil their mandate because under the terms of reference for these visits, governments are required to guarantee full freedom of inquiry, particularly with regards to “confidential and unsupervised contacts with persons deprived of their liberty”.

The investigators stated “There can be no doubt that holding migrants in these ‘transit zones’ constitutes deprivation of liberty in accordance with international law.”

In August it was found that asylum seekers whose claims were considered inadmissible under Section 51(2) (f) of Hungary’s Asylum Act- a provision that since formed part of the European Commission’s infringement procedureagainst Hungary- were being denied access to food. The Hungarian Helsinki Committee described the tactic as amounting to “inhuman treatment and an absurd legal action”. Prior to this, In a report released in April, the Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) expressed profound concern for children whom, while detained in transit zones, had no access to a ‘protected environment,’ and in 2017 the Lanzarote Committee for the Protection of Children Against Sexual Abuse and Exploitation raised concerns that children in the Hungarian transit zones were at risk of being asked for sexual favours to increase their chances of reaching Hungary or receive more food from distributors.

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has said that it hopes Hungary will enter into a constructive dialogue to enable the delegates resume their visit in the near future.

For further information:

 


Sweden: Inquiry on Reception System Reform Tests “Arrival Centres” and “Departure Centres”*

The Swedish government has launched an inquiry on the reform of the reception system for newly arrived asylum seekers with the objective of “rapid settlement or return”. Civil society organisations including ECRE members as well as the Swedish Migration Agency (Migrationsverket) have provided input to the consultation, highlighting concerns about the feasibility of the proposals and protection risks they carry.

The ideas for reform put forward by the government in the inquiry include the establishment of “arrival centres” (Ankomstcenter). These facilities, reminiscent of the German arrival centres (Ankunftszentren) and Dutch Process Reception Centres (POL), would be set up at central government level as the designated centres where asylum applications should be lodged, and where applicants would receive information and a medical examination. According to the proposals, arrival centres should be large facilities bringing together all relevant actors in the asylum procedure to enable a swift examination of applications and orderly reception. Asylum seekers could be required to reside there for 30 days.

According to the Swedish Refugee Advice Centre and the Network of Refugee Support Groups (FARR), the introduction of arrival centres could have positive effects in terms of effective provision of information and health checks. However, a general obligation on all asylum seekers to reside in arrival centres could have negative effects on persons with vulnerabilities and children, whose best interests must be secured. The Swedish Refugee Advice Centre has also expressed doubts about the capacity of the Swedish Migration Agency to swiftly process asylum claims in arrival centres.

The inquiry also covers reduced possibilities for independent accommodation. Asylum seekers would no longer be able to arrange their own accommodation in municipalities with socio-economically disadvantaged neighbourhoods without prior inspection from the Migration Agency. Residence in independent accommodation without Migration Agency approval would result in withdrawal of asylum seekers’ financial allowance.

FARR has criticised this suggestion, highlighting that independent accommodation enables asylum seekers to better integrate within host communities. The measure is also liable to undermine the Migration Agency’s ability to stay in contact with applicants who live independently, even if their allowance is withdrawn.

The establishment of departure centres (Avresecenter) introduced in the inquiry would mean that persons issued a return or Dublin transfer decision would be required to live in a departure centre, so as to facilitate their removal from the country. This element has been strongly opposed inter alia due to the authorities’ lack of capacity to ensure that stays are as short as possible. Civil society organisations argue that individuals could end up detained for prolonged periods. The Swedish Refugee Advice Centre has also highlighted that the presence of civil society in departure centres and contacts with medical and other authorities are not clearly established in the proposals.

For further information:

 

This information was first published by AIDA.*

 



REPORTS & NGO ACTIONS

ECRE publishes comments on the Commission Proposal for a Regulation on the European Border and Coast Guard

ECRE has published its comments on the European Commission’s proposal to revise the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (EBCG) mandate. The Commission proposal of September 12, 2018 repeals the mandate and replaces it in its entirety with a new text. ECRE’s comments provide an analysis of the proposal as well as a number of key observations and recommendations to the Commission.

While the proposed changes to the EBCG mandate are significant, they do not fundamentally overhaul the core functions of the Agency but expands its tasks, competencies, budget and technical resources to unprecedented levels; a proposed massive budget increase to 12 billion euros (up from 5.5 million in 2004) and the creation of a standing corps of 10.000 European borders guards by 2020.

The Commission sees a pivotal role of the EBCG Agency to be to increase the numbers of migrants effectively removed from EU territory, for which it proposes to bolster its powers and resources to coordinate and initiate return operations and seek the cooperation of third countries. Meanwhile the proposal on the European Union Asylum Agency (EU AA) sets out that both agencies should cooperate by way of the deployment of migration management support teams at hotspots and controlled centres.

The proposals are presented only eight months before the European elections in May 2019 which, given the highly controversial nature of the legislation, provides very little time for the European Parliament and Council to adopt their respective positions and conclude inter-institutional discussions appropriately. Moreover, the presentation of ambitious proposals on the Agencies and the Return Directive, in conjunction with a reduction of procedural safeguards in return processes, indicates a major shift of priority from the asylum package to border management and return. At a time when the number of migrants arriving irregularly over sea or land in the EU has substantially decreased compared to previous years, the expansion of the EBCG Agency’s mandate would seem to perpetuate a crisis mode approach contrary to the realities on the ground.

ECRE’s comments and recommendations concentrate on key provisions in the Commission proposal which raise concerns from a fundamental rights perspective. These include the potential accountability gaps resulting from the far-reaching executive powers Agency statutory staff can be entrusted with under the proposal, the extended mandate in the area of return and cooperation with third countries. The provision reintroducing “mixed return operations” – return operations to be carried out by the Agency from the territory of a third country to another third country – is extremely problematic in this regard.  Unable to verify whether return and return decisions taken by the third country concerned comply with human rights, the Agency and participating Member States would assist in returning persons on the assumption that national procedures in the third country concerned respect the fundamental rights of returnees in practice. For this reason, the European Parliament had successfully opposed the inclusion of such provision in the existing EBCG Agency Regulation adopted in 2016. Furthermore, the paper argues that the opportunity should be taken to strengthen the independence and resources of the Fundamental Rights Officer in light of the boosted operational capacity of the Agency while further changes enhancing the accessibility and effectiveness of the individual complaints mechanism are called for.  Finally, ECRE’s comments also look at the potential data protection risks resulting from the proposed extended powers for the Agency to process operational and personal data relating to third country nationals. The EP rapporteur’s draft report on the Commission proposal will be discussed in the LIBE Committee on Monday 26 November.

 


UNHCR and ECRE publish New Report on Asylum Migration & Integration Fund (AMIF)

This week, the strategic partnership of the European Council for Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) published “The Way Forward – A reflection paper on the new proposals for EU funds on Asylum, Migration and Integration 2021-2027”. This reflection paper addresses the proposals of most relevance to beneficiaries of the current Asylum Migration & Integration Fund (AMIF) 2014-20, and those that are proposed to be implemented by Member States via ‘shared management’ arrangements (National Programmes). It concentrates mainly on the proposed Asylum & Migration Fund (AMF) and European Social Fund+ (ESF+).

The paper can be read in conjunction with the study “The Way Forward – A Comprehensive Study of the new Proposals for EU funds on Asylum, Migration and Integration”, also published by the ECRE and UNHCR strategic partnership. This reflection paper does not aim to provide a complete analysis of the new proposals, instead it notes key risks and potential mitigating actions the followings seven key areas; 1. Integration 2. Programming 3. Distribution of asylum and migration funding to Member States 4. Allocation of funds within National Programmes (Asylum & Migration Fund) 5. Participation of third countries (Asylum & Migration Fund) 6. Partnership 7. Access to funding for civil society organisations and local authorities.

Amongst other recommendations, the paper suggests ring-fencing funding for migrant integration in the ESF+ and amending the proposed AMF distribution key to ensure that the distribution of funding maps onto national capabilities.

For further information:

 


ECRE published Policy Note on EU’s role in implementing Global Compact on Refugees

ECRE has published a Policy Note “Global Means Global: Europe and the Global Compact on Refugees” which sets out how the EU should take forward the implementation of the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) within and outside Europe. It identifies sections of the GCR that are particularly pertinent in this respect and provides related recommendations.

As part of the New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants in 2016, UN Member States agreed to negotiate two global compacts to be adopted by the UN General Assembly, one on refugees, the other on safe, orderly and regular migration. With the passage of the so called ‘omnibus’ resolution on the work of UNHCR in the Social, Humanitarian and Cultural (Third) Committee of the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, 13th November, the Global Compact on Refugees is one step closer to being affirmed by the General Assembly before the end of this year. It was the first time that a vote was called on the ‘omnibus’ resolution which was adopted with 176 votes in favour, three abstentions (Eritrea, Libya and Liberia) and one vote against (USA).

In the Policy Note ECRE argues that the EU’s commitment to the GCR is undermined by the different measures currently used or proposed to shirk rather than share responsibility for refugees. The GCR applies to EU Member States both in the way they act domestically and in their approach to third countries on asylum, displacement and migration. Therefore, the application of the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) to Europe as a region should not be dismissed but viewed as an opportunity.

In addition, the EU and European governments should ensure that the negotiations of the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), which will govern the EU’s budget from 2021-2027, decides on funding priorities and programmes that support the objectives of the GCR. This pertains to the role of the EU and its Member States who are collectively the world’s biggest development donor as well as the considerable support the EU provides for asylum seekers and refugees within Europe.

The EU should support participation and empowerment of refugees and host communities as the GCR contains few concrete proposals on the active participation of refugees and host communities in its implementation. Engagement with civil society is an area where the EU should share its good practice to create a change in the way in which refugee policy is discussed, developed and implemented.

ECRE argues that the upcoming adoption of the GCR provides the EU with a renewed impetus to implement its commitment to humanitarian-development cooperation as part of its overall approach to forced displacement which is set out in its 2016 Communication, Lives in Dignity: from Aid-Dependence to Self-reliance.

Significantly expanding safe and legal routes to the EU and safeguarding the right to claim asylum in Europe are some of the most important contributions the EU can make to the implementation of the GCR. As a contribution to the measures outlined in the GCR on resettlement, the EU should continuously expand its resettlement from the current 50,000 places pledged over a two-year period, a commitment that runs out in October 2019. In addition, Member States should expand other safe and legal routes for refugees and withdraw restrictions on family reunification.

The preparation of the EU’s collective commitments ahead of the 2019 Global Refugee Forum, where all UN Member States and relevant stakeholders, including civil society, are expected to make pledges on contributing to the implementation of the GCR needs to start now. Those pledges need to cover how the EU supports the objectives of the GCR within and outside Europe. A dedicated accountability mechanism which records and tracks commitments is essential given the non-binding nature of the GCR. The European Commission should report regularly on progress towards achieving the indicators and the European Parliament should be given a role in monitoring the fulfilment of the pledges and the specific amount of funding from the EU budget that supports implementation of the GCR.

For further information:

 



FEATURED CAMPAIGNS

#Unlocked18: Unlocking Detention shines a spotlight on the hidden world of immigration detention.  This ‘virtual tour’ of the immigration detention estate uses Twitter, Facebook and a website to ‘unlock’ the gates of immigration detention centres and hear the voices of people who have been detained, volunteer visitors, NGOs, campaigners and the families, friends, neighbours and communities affected by immigration detention. This year’s ‘tour’ runs from 22 October to 18 December 2018.


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