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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.

     
07 June 2019
  
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EDITORIAL

EUROPEAN DEVELOPMENTS

NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS

EUROPEAN COURTS AND INTERNATIONAL MECHANISMS

REPORTS & NGO ACTIONS

BEYOND EUROPE
  

EDITORIAL

After the European Parliament Elections: What Now?

The EP elections have come and gone, and assessing the results throws up qualified positives: turnout was up… but it is still low; the far right populists have not significantly improved their position… but are still too strong. Four key conclusions and accompanying opportunities for action can be highlighted for now:

1) The Vast Majority of the European Public is Opposed to the Far Right’s Message of Hate

The far right, anti-migration and anti-asylum parties have increased their percentage of seats in the parliament. By 2%. They have moved from 21% to 23%.

Even then, the 23% still includes Italy’s 5Star, where a variety of views are to be found on migration, and it now includes Farage’s band of merry men, who will leave soon with the UK. The mooted far right Bannon-Salvini super alliance has not yet materialised – fortunately nationalists tend to struggle to build international coalitions and these parties remain dominated by little “strongmen” all of whom want to be alpha dog.

These poor results arise despite everything that has happened in Europe and despite the distorted media coverage which continues post-election (and ad nauseam). Disproportionate attention creates free publicity for the far right, along with the constant overstatement of their results. Their “success” is the headline, despite the increased votes of other parties. In the EP, the share of seats for the Liberals and the Greens is up (an extra 5% and 3% of the total respectively).

Let’s break out of the old narrative of anti-migration public, where even success of other parties is presented as a victory for the far right, for example here is an alternative account of the Danish elections: within a fragmented system, the Social Democrats are the largest party despite failing to gain votes probably due to their anti-migration stance; there was a huge increase in votes for progressive parties who condemned Denmark’s hard-line policies; the far right was soundly defeated by public opposition to the policies that it has been able to test.

These political forces are always there. Adopting their policies or allowing them to participate in government to pursue their destruction agenda doesn’t make them go away. Just ask the Belgian PM. Anti-migration policies are never enough.

 

2) (Discussion of) Political Fragmentation is the Order of the Day

Political fragmentation continues – although we should be used to it after thirty years. The EP elections show the continued gradual electoral decline of the two big left and right blocs in Western Europe and the creation, reinvention and consolidation of parties in Eastern Europe. Although coalition building becomes more complicated, there are also advantages: the greater the number of parties the more options for avoiding an alliance with the far right (something that would be helpful in Austria right now, for example, where more fragmentation would be good). Most European countries are adept at building coalitions able to govern.

For the European Parliament, there are benefits to a three or four party coalition rather than straight left or right majority or grand coalition. Progressive parties can make their participation conditional on rational and humane asylum and migration policies.

Principled coalition building should involve a redrawn cordon sanitaire to suit the contemporary context. That means excluding alliances with the parties that become extremist, such as Fidesz, not just those born that way, and with those that undermine the rule of law and democracy, regardless of their ideology. Of course, some cooperation is necessary and correct when parties are elected but handing them portfolios where they can do harm is wrong, and handing them the keys to ministries is madness.

By adopting hard-line stances, “centre” right and left parties are limiting their options. And ultimately because of their anti-democratic approach – and their very populism – the far right do not make good coalition partners.

Within the European Parliament, new coalitions can focus on the issues people care about – climate, the economy, Europe’s role in the world, security (which is not a code word for migration) – instead of focusing on the obsessions of the extremes. There is also an opportunity to capitalise on the pro-EU sentiment of the public – the latest Eurobarometers continue to show approval ratings for the EU that most national leaders can only dream of.

 

3) Now for the Commission

The next institution to undergo change will be the European Commission, with the appointment of a new College of Commissioners. A new President of the Council will also emerge from the Member States’ deal-making. It is likely that ALDE and the EPP will take the two presidencies, with the High Representative for Foreign Policy position going to one of the others in the coalition of three or four political groups.

Whoever takes over, for the Commission it is time to switch to a broad, pragmatic and humane strategy on asylum and migration, moving away from the one-track approach of preventing arrivals of all persons to Europe at any cost, full stop. Instead, broader alternatives are available: making asylum systems work in Europe, continuing expansion of legal routes for asylum and non-asylum migration, external policies that allow Europe to  tackle the causes (or to stop causing) forced displacement; and inclusion of all in Europe through rights, respect and regularisation. Is that really so difficult?

It has been particularly galling to hear Commissioners, officials, and technocrats justify the narrow “prevention of access” policy with the repetition of two lines “It is what the Member States want” or “It is what the public wants”. The latter is not true and, concerning the former, it is not the job of the Commission to do “what the Member States want”, especially when this is narrowly defined as what the interior ministers want. Cutting the racist tropes about birth rates in Africa would also be welcome.

As well as the Presidency, other Commission portfolios are important. The Justice Commissioner position is potentially crucial to the future of rights and values, including democracy and the rule of law. Could one of the Member States propose someone with the background, experience, conviction and stomach for a fight that this job requires? Unfortunately, it may be considered a minor portfolio handed out to n’importe qui when the big jobs have gone.

The external affairs portfolios are also crucial. Can the next HR/VP, Development and Trade Commissioners resist the capture of their policy areas (and money) by a narrow migration control agenda, driven by DG Home and interior ministries? These policies will contribute to reducing forced displacement if they are able to just get on with the job they are supposed to be doing. Of course, many Member States are not really interested in EU foreign affairs unless it involves doing their dirty work, but why then have it at all?

Overall, we need a Commission that sets another course – despite the pressure from Member States.

 

4) The Real Battle: the Rule of Law

For both the Commission and the European Parliament, defence of the rule of law in Europe is a central challenge. Who wouldn’t want to step in to that? We are witnessing a domino effect as countries topple one by one when “populists” join governments and systematically remove all opposition, checks and balances by restricting media freedom; undermining the independence of the judiciary through court packing; and repressing civil society. Italy and Austria are the dominoes at risk of falling now unless action is taken. Anti-migration rhetoric is often used as distraction tactic or as a smokescreen.

On asylum and migration, civil society – NGOs, volunteers, professionals, businesses – has stepped in when governments are unable to manage or are deliberately absent or repressive. As hostile policies create destitution and despair (and therefore fuel extremists), civil society will be needed more than ever. The crackdown needs strong resistance through legal, financial and political action at European level.

Is it too idealistic to expect a new set of leaders that focus on a humane and functioning asylum policy? Or on an evidence-based approach to migration that takes Europe’s interests into account? On external policies that do what they are supposed to do and restore Europe’s reputation in the world? On a defence of European law, rights and values internally? It is worrying that we have to ask these questions, especially as these are surely appealing as well as worthy political challenges for an ambitious politician. But let’s have some faith in the incoming politicians and officials to step up and steer a new course – for now at least.

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

 


EUROPEAN DEVELOPMENTS

Back and Forth on the Med: Rescues, Deaths, Interceptions, Resistance

This week, Maltese Armed Forces rescued 370 people. Off the Libyan coast, at least two people drowned and 25 remain missing while a group of 73 was rescued and brought back to Libya. A group of 75 rescued migrants demands to go to Europe after Tunisian authorities continue to refuse letting their vessel dock. UNHCR endeavours to relocate refugees and migrants from Libyan detention centres to safety.

On Wednesday, 370 people disembarked in Malta after Maltese Armed Forces carried our three rescue operations in the Mediterranean. The number of rescues was the highest in recent months for Malta and more than the total rescues in 2015, 2016 and 2017 combined.

A women and a baby died and around 25 others are missing after their inflatable boat capsized off the western coast of Libya. 73 other people were rescued and returned to Libya after fishermen alerted the Libyan coastguard. The group had reportedly been left without an engine.

On Monday the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), relocated 96 people to safety from the Zintan detention centre in Tripoli, Libya, to a Gathering and Departure Facility. According to the agency, 654 refugees and migrants remain held in Zintan in dire conditions. At the same time new detainees are being brought to the detention centre, after being intercepted at sea by the Libyan coastguard, at a faster rate than people are being evacuated.

After seven days at sea, a group of 75 people, rescued by an Egyptian towboat off the Tunisian coast, refused medical checks by NGOs. In a video published on the Facebook page of the NGO Tunisian Forum for Economic And Social Rights they demand: '''We want to go to Europe, we don't want food, we don't want to stay here, we want Europe.'' Tunisian authorities continue to refuse the boat to dock in the port of Zarzis. The regional authorities were awaiting confirmation of government support given the recent increase in arrivals of people from Libya. According to the captain, the conditions on board are critical and water and food supplies are running low.

Italian authorities released the rescue vessel Sea-Watch 3, operated by the civil sea rescue organization Sea Watch. Italy had seized the vessel after it was used in a rescue operation saving 65 migrants in the Mediterranean. A spokesperson of Sea Watch said that all their actions had conformed to the law. Investigations against crew members for aiding illegal migration are upheld.

According to the latest data from the International Organisation of Migration (IOM), 519 people died in 2019 trying to cross the Mediterranean. With 21,301 arrivals, the death rate is higher than in previous years. Most deaths occurred along the Central Mediterranean route.

For further information:

 

 


NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS

Germany Rejects 75% of Greek Requests for Family Reunification

In 2019, the German Federal Office for Asylum and Migration (BAMF) rejected three quarters of requests for family reunification under the Dublin III regulation from Greece. The high rejection rate draws criticism from NGOs and MPs who say the BAMF imposes exceedingly harsh requirements.

The government’s response to a parliamentary question by the German left party, Die Linke, revealed that from January until May 2019 the BAMF rejected 472 of 626 requests from Greece. Under the Dublin III Regulation, an EU Member State can file a “take-charge request” to ask another EU member state to process an asylum application, if the person concerned has family there. Data from the Greek Asylum Service shows that in 2018 less than 40% of “take-charge requests” were accepted, a stark proportional decrease from 2017, when over 90% of requests were accepted. The German government did not provide any reasons for the high rejection rate.

Gökay Akbulut, an MP from Die Linke, noted that often family reunification failed because the BAMF imposes exceedingly strict requirements that have no basis in the regulation. At the same time people affected have limited access to legal advice needed to appeal illegitimate rejections of their requests. For people enduring inhuman conditions on Greek Islands family reunifications were often the last resort from misery, Akbulut commented.

In 2018, 70% of all Dublin requests from Greece to other EU Member states related to family reunification cases. Germany has been the major country of destination for these request. An estimate of over 15,000 live in refugee camps on Greek islands with a capacity of 9000.

For further information:

 

France: Systematic Immigration Detention further Undermines Rights

France continues to use immigration detention routinely and broadly, according to the annual report published by six civil society organisations present in the country’s detention centres.

According to statistics published by the organisations, 43,609 people were placed in an administrative detention centre (CRA) in 2018. Of those, 24,912 were detained in mainland France and 18,697 in Mayotte and other overseas territories. Several hundred persons were also placed in a place of administrative detention (LRA), where detention is applied for a maximum of 48 hours.

The main countries of origin of people subject to immigration detention on the mainland were Algeria (3,640), Albania (2,451), Morocco (2,286), Tunisia (2,128), Romania (1,366) and Afghanistan (892)

The detention of children continues to increase, according to the organisations. 1,429 children were detained in 2018, of which 1,221 (85%) in Mayotte, where the authorities unlawfully “attach” children to unrelated adults. In mainland France, 208 children in 114 families were detained for an average period of two days, of which 51 in Metz, 42 in Mesnil-Amelot and 10 in Toulouse.

Detention under the Dublin Regulation was applied to 3,857 persons, most coming from Afghanistan, Sudan and Guinea. As the 2018 reform has permitted the use of detention pending the determination of the Member State responsible for an asylum application, many asylum seekers have been detained for a 15-day period while the Prefectures await the reply from the requested country, prolonged by several weeks to organise the transfer.

The extension of the maximum duration of detention from 45 to 90 days has made authorities less diligent in the treatment of return procedures, according to NGO’s observations in the first months of 2019. This is due to the fact that the administration can maintain people in detention for longer periods, whereas, prior to the reform, it returned most persons within 20 days of detention. On average, the duration of detention in CRA has risen from 12.8 days in 2017 to 14.6 in 2018. However, the number of people detained for more than one month has increased to 4,432 last year.

Finally, the report expresses concerns about France’s steadily increasing detention infrastructure, with an additional 480 places made available in CRA such as Mesnil-Amelot, Palaiseau and Plaisir in Paris, Nîmes, Vincennes and Lyon, as well as the reopening of CRA in Strasbourg and Hendaye. Prefectures have also been instructed to fill more places in the CRA, leading to high occupancy rates and tensions in certain centres.

For further information:

 

SJME Denounces Discrimination in Spanish Migrant Detention System

In its annual report on migrant detention in 2018 entitled “Discriminación De Origen”, the Servicio Jesuita A Migrantes in Spain (SJME) denounces the discriminatory treatment of people because of their nationality and calls for abolishing migrant detention centres.

The report summarize the findings of visits to five migrant detention centres (Centro de internameinto de Extranjeros, CIE) in Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia, Algerciras and Tarifa. It also analyses the number of people detained in CIEs in 2018, their origin and grounds for detaining them as well data on returns and expulsions. The final section displays the structural deficiencies of the detention system and implicated rights violations.

Overall, 7,855 persons, 7,676 men and 179 women, were detained in 2019. A striking finding of the report is that over two thirds of people detained in CIEs came from Algeria (32%) or from Morocco (36%). 70% of people in the centres were detained to be returned for reasons of “illegal entry by boat”. 15% of people were detained to be expulsed for reasons of “irregular stay”. Overall in 2018, 7,203 people were returned and 4,181 people were expulsed, adding up to an increase in forced repatriations of 2,058 compared to 2017.

SJME raises concern over the failure of the detention system to identify persons with special vulnerabilities and discriminatory treatment of people with Moroccan and Algerian nationality. They are much less likely to have access to temporary reception centres (CATE) and humanitarian services, which should be available for all vulnerable people and potential refugees, regardless of their nationality, SJME notes.

Although a number of watchdogs and civil society organisation document an incremental improvements regarding living conditions and rights guarantees in the facilities, SJME stresses that the abolishment of administrative detention and the closure of the CIEs must remain the fundamental demand.

For further information:

 


EUROPEAN COURTS AND INTERNATIONAL MECHANISMS

ICC Submission Seeks to Hold the EU Accountable for Creation of “World’s Deadliest Migration Route”

A new legal submission to the International Criminal Court (ICC) accuses the EU and some of its Member States of “crimes against humanity” against refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean in.

The submission by international lawyers seeks to hold the EU accountable for over 14,000 deaths in the Mediterranean and the creation of the “world’s deadliest migration route.” The communication alleges that EU migration policies of deterrence on the Central Mediterranean Route between 2014 and 2019 is responsible for: “(i)the deaths by drowning of thousands of migrants, (ii) the refoulement of tens of thousands of migrants attempting to flee Libya, and (iii) complicity in the subsequent crimes of deportation, murder, imprisonment, enslavement, torture, rape, persecution and other inhuman acts, taking place in Libyan detention camps and torture houses.”  

The indictment pays particular attention to the end of the search and rescue practices of Mare Nostrum and the implementation of the ‘Triton’ policy. The submission alleges that politicians and policy makers pursued this change despite knowledge of the fatalities it would cause. The submission also seeks punitive measures for the increased support of the Libyan coastguard.

The European Commission responded to the submission stating that, “Our priority has always been and will continue to be protecting lives and ensuring humane and dignified treatment of everyone throughout the migratory routes.”

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) released statistics for January to May 2019 showing 519 individuals have died or gone missing during their crossing of the Mediterranean this year.

For further information:

 


REPORTS & NGO ACTIONS

Greece : European Committee on Social Rights Decision on Immediate Measures for Migrant Children Requires Urgent Action

Joint statement by International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) and the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR)

ICJ, ECRE and GCR welcome the decision of the European Committee on Social Rights that Greece should take “immediate measures” to protect the rights of migrant children as required under the European Social Charter.

The Greek government should now take urgent steps to comply with the Committee’s decision, to prevent serious and irreparable injury or harm to the children concerned, including damage to their physical and mental health, and to their safety.

The Committee’s decision, issued on 23 May, requires the government to immediately provide migrant children with appropriate shelter, food, water, education and medical care; to remove unaccompanied migrant children from detention and from Reception and Identification Centers (RICs) at the borders, place them in suitable accommodation for their age and appoint effective guardians. The Committee noted that “immediate measures” were exceptional, but found that they were necessary in this case given the government’s failure to dispel serious concerns about the gravity and urgency of the situation of migrant children in Greece.

This decision is in response to a collective complaint brought before the Committee by ICJ, ECRE and GCR, alleging systemic violations of migrant children’s rights on mainland Greece and the North Eastern Aegean islands. The complaint catalogues the numerous ways in which Greece has failed to fulfill its obligations under the European Social Charter to protect the rights migrant children, leaving them in conditions of squalor, insecurity and violence.

In addition to indicating immediate measures, the Committee found the complaint itself admissible. The complaint now awaits examination and determination on the merits by the European Committee on Social Rights.

The European Committee on Social Rights is an expert Committee of the Council of Europe charged with supervising the obligations of Council of Europe Member States under the European Social Charter through collective complaints and national reports by Contracting Parties.  Collective complaints can be brought by non-governmental organisations and social partners, alleging violation of the rights of the Charter.

The collective complaint by International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and European Council for Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) v. Greece (Complaint No. 173/2018) was lodged with the Committee in December 2018.

The complaint alleges systematic violations of the rights of migrant children guaranteed under the Charter.  These include the systematic and ongoing absence of sufficient accommodation facilities and the lack of an effective guardianship system for unaccompanied children in Greece, exposing them to significant protection risks, including homelessness and placement in detention.

The complaint also notes that severe deficiencies in basic care facilities have serious knock-on effect on hygiene, sanitation and substantive physical and mental health care and treatment for children. In addition, mixed living arrangements, limited, if not non-existent security patrols and deficient guardianship systems have led to numerous reports of sexual abuse, violent assaults, harassment and humiliation of migrant children in camps on the Greek islands.

The consequences of the conditions listed in the complaint have been, in certain locations, children self-harming and even attempting suicide.

For further information:

 

Situation Worsens for Migrants on Western Mediterranean Route

The NGO Watch the Med Alarm Phone warns of police violence and unlawful arbitrary repression of migrants in Morocco and increasingly dangerous crossings to Spain. The organisation links the developments to Morocco’s role as Spain’s and the EUs “watchdog at the South-western EU border”.

Based on video, pictures and interviews, Watch the Med Alarm Phone outlines wide-spread violence, repression, detention and refoulement of “black people” in Morocco in the transit hubs of Nador and Tanger as well as the inland and multiple cities including Rabat, Fes, Oujda and Agadir. At the same time, the organisation estimates, based on its involvement in 26 distress situations, that the part of boats reaching the Spanish mainland has dropped from 50 to 20 per cent over the latest period (18 March to 31 May 2019). For the full period of January to May 2019 the total number of arrivals through the Western Mediterranean is 7,465, which represents a 24 per cent increase compared to the same period in 2018. The death rate is increasing with 164 deaths recorded on the Western Mediterranean route up until end of May 2019 compared to a total of 218 throughout 2018.

Watch the Med Alarm Phone links the wide-spread violence as well as the increasingly limited access to Spain to Spanish and EU cooperation with Morocco on migration control: “This brutality of police raids in the north strongly depends on the influence of Europe asking for Morocco to tackle migration issues” and: “The dubious and dangerous collaboration between the Moroccan and Spanish SAR stakeholders were clearly and disgustingly illustrated on Friday 17th of March, where 7 survivors of a shipwreck in the Alborán Sea had managed to arrive at the historically contested Spanish island, Isla de Perejil.  After hours of distress in the presence of Spanish aerial and naval assets, they were eventually returned to Morocco.”

While according to Watch the Med Alarm Phone numbers are difficult to confirm, the report quotes a Moroccan Minister, Mustafa Jalifi, for stating that the Kingdom has stopped 30,000 attempts to emigrate to Spain. The report further notes that according to Moroccan military sources Marine Royale intercepted 249 people within just two days in May.

For further information:

 


BEYOND EUROPE

Lebanon Continue Pressure on Refugees to Return to a Syria Still Unsafe

The Lebanese authorities have set a deadline on June 9 after which all “semi-permanent” refugee shelters in the border region of Arsal will be demolished. INGOs warn that it could make 15,000 Syrian children homeless. In Syria hundreds of people have reportedly been arrested, interrogated and in some cases tortured after returning.

According to a joint statement from Save the Children, World Vision and Terre des Hommes Foundation the deadline set by the Higher Defense Council relates to “all ‘semi-permanent structures’ built by Syrian refugees using materials other than timber and plastic sheeting.” The demolishing of 5,000 structures in Arsal in Northeastern Lebanon could make 25,000 people including 15,000 children homeless. “Many of these families are very poor, barely making ends meet and put food on the table. If their homes are demolished, they have no means of rebuilding them or paying rent elsewhere. For a child who barely eats, and often doesn’t go to school, losing a home is extremely traumatic”, said Country Representative for Terre des hommes Foundation, Piotr Sasin.

The Lebanese authorities does not allow the establishment of formal camps for Syrian refugees and the pressure on Syrians to return is increasing with 74 per cent now lacking legal residency and being at risk of deportation.

Reports of hundreds of Syrians being harassed and extorted by Security Agencies, facing detention and in some cases torture and being forced to inform of political activities of family members, have emerged. A young man who returned to government held areas outside of Damascus told the National Post under anonymity: “People are still being taken by the secret police, and communities are living between suspicion and fear […] When they come to your door, you cannot say no. You just have to go with them.”

According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights nearly 2,000 people have been detained upon return to Syria within the past two years, and hundreds more have been arrested in areas formerly under control by armed forces opposing the government.

UNHCR estimates that 5.6 million people have fled Syria since 2011 and another 6.6 million people are internally displaced.

For further information:

 


FEATURED CAMPAIGNS

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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