EDITORIAL: A dark winter in Europe
Developments this winter will make you question everything you thought you knew about Europe.
As freezing temperatures have taken hold, French police are reported to be harassing migrants seeking shelter, in Greece and Bulgaria migrants are dying from hypothermia and thousands of people are stranded without access to shelter in Serbia.
Also at the political level cold winds blow, with Slovenia ready to close its borders to asylum seekers, Hungary preparing mass detention of asylum seekers and violent push backs at the Spanish borders - the shameful list goes on…
It is hard to understand the total disregard for fundamental human rights that is the trend on our continent. Especially since Europe, the world’s richest region with an aging population of more than 500 million people has received just a few million asylum seekers last year – in comparison, Lebanon, with a population of 4 million hosts an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees on top of the 450,000 Palestinian refugees already in the country. It is truly chilling to imagine how Europe would react to a challenge of those proportions.
While defense of rights is limited, the willingness to invest financial and political resources in reducing the relatively modest influx seems limitless. The discourse that frames it is cynical and seems to rob people of their humanity simply because they were forced to flee.
Our only hope is the people of Europe. We need to see a real counter-reaction to thaw this coldness – the warmth of their welcome and the heat of their rage. We must stand up and maintain a counter reaction of all who refuse to allow a dehumanizing debate or the violation of basic human rights to be the order of the day in Europe in 2017.
Otherwise we are indeed facing into a long winter…
Secretary General ECRE
Slovenian amendments threaten to close borders for refugees -OP-ed by Slovenian legal-informational centre for NGOs (PIC)
Later this month the Slovenian Parliament are set to vote on legislative amendments to the Slovenian Aliens Act proposed by the government. The amendments are entrusting the Parliament with the power to effectively close the borders for asylum seekers.
Such a closure can be imposed as the result of migrations posing a ‘serious threat to public order and security.’ However, the amendments contain no criteria for what constitutes a threat of this kind and the decision would apparently be left entirely to the judgement of the members of the Parliament. The amendments also represent a circumvention of the provisions of the Slovenian Constitution on “state of emergency”, which needs to be declared in order to impose limitation on constitutional rights.
The effect of a closure would be that all persons arriving irregularly and expressing an attempt for asylum in Slovenia would be forcefully returned without their asylum claims being heard. The only exceptions are predicted for persons in immediate danger of loss of life, persons who would be in danger of inhuman and degrading treatment in the country of return, persons whose return would not be possible due to medical reasons and persons assessed to be unaccompanied minors. The assessment of all of the above circumstances would be conducted by the Police in the field.
In view of national and international experts on asylum and migration the proposed amendments constitute a breach of the 1951 Refugee Convention, the European Convention on Human Rights and the EU asylum acquis. On 11 January 2017, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe expressed his concern with the amendments in a public letter sent to the Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar. Later, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks also raised serious concerns in a letter addressed to the Slovenian parliament. A previous (but essentially similar) version of the amendments has also been addressed in written recommendations by the UNHCR.
Slovenian NGOs are also concerned about the untransparent manner of adoption of the bill, which had not been disclosed to the public prior to its adoption. The proposed amendments follow a prior attempt by the Slovenian government at adopting provisions effectively closing the border, which took place in the course of adoption of the new International Protection Act in early 2016. Fortunately, those provisions were eventually scrapped, following opposition and advocacy from the civil society.
Hungary: to increase detention of asylum-seekers and crack down on NGOs
On 12 January the Hungarian government published a statement by the Minister heading the Prime Minister’s Office János Lázár revealing the intent to reinstate alien police detention. These plans were later reiterated by Prime Minister Victor Orbán. The result will be the detention of asylum seekers prior to the assessment of the asylum application and in the event of refusal until the assessment of the application is final.
The Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC) has strongly condemned this initiative pointing out that detention is already widespread measure in Hungary. The country holds 225 detainees compared to only 163 persons in open reception centres on the day of the statement. Further HHC states that asylum seekers are not allowed to be detained before the refusal of their asylum claim and most certainly not in a scheme of mass detention without an individual assessment. The HHC also highlights the false sense of security offered since there is no established link between refugees and terrorism and underlines the extremely high costs for the Hungarian tax payers. The HHC promised to bring these violations of the rights of asylum seekers before the European Court of Human Rights.
The increase of detention is introduced in the context of a Trump-inspired crackdown on NGOs backed by foreign funding. In an attempt to intimidate civil society the Hungarian government is planning to force NGO leaders to declare their personal assets in the same way as MPs and public officials. In a press statement, János Lázár explicitly mentioned George Soros as ‘opposition to Hungary.’ The HHC publicly spoke out against this violation of internationally and nationally guaranteed rights such as the right to free expression and the freedom of association. Márta Parvadi, the co-chair of the HCC said “There’s an expectation by Mr Orbán that there will be more space for the Hungarian government to carry out measures that in our view hamper democratic governance and the rule of law”.
For further information:
Austria: Proposals to restrict humanitarian visas and family reunification
The draft Aliens Reform Act 2017 (FrÄG 2017) has been presented to the Austrian Parliament. The draft document will further restrict refugee protection. It foresees amendments to a number of Austrian laws, including the Asylum Act and the Aliens Police Act.
One of the foreseen changes is the abolishment of the possibility for refugees to obtain a D-type Visa for humanitarian reasons. This visa type allows people to legally travel to Austria to seek protection. ECRE member Diakonie has warned against such a move, as it would leave no legal pathways for people to access protection on Austrian territory and could interfere with their right to family life safeguarded in the European Convention on Human Rights.
Another change brought forward with the reform is the introduction of more onerous financial hurdles for family reunification of refugees. Financial hurdles will be introduced by obliging refugees to cover the costs of evidence such as DNA tests to prove family links. Higher costs are liable to render the right to family reunification ineffective in practice, according to Diakonie.
Austria received 42,073 asylum applications last year. Out of those, 27,254 were deemed Austria’s responsibility, while the rest were channelled into Dublin procedures for people to be transferred to other Member States. The government had announced in 2016 that a quota of no more than 37,500 would be admitted to the country to have their claims processed.
For more information:
REPORTS & NGO ACTIONS
Asylum Information Database (AIDA): Asylum statistics 2016: Sharper inequalities and persisting Asylum lottery
On January 17th the ECRE’s Asylum Information Database (AIDA) published an overview of the latest asylum trends revealing sharper discrepancies in the distribution of refugees across Europe, as well as persisting disparities in the recognition of international protection.
“We do not yet have data from all European countries but based on available information it is clear that there is an increasing lack of fair distribution of asylum seekers and significant differences in the recognition rates across Europe,” says Minos Mouzourakis, AIDA Coordinator.
Although statistics for Germany 2016 includes a backlog of cases from 2015 the number of applications is substantial compared to other European countries – a few examples below:
Germany: 745,545 Italy: 123,482, France: 85,244, Sweden: 28,939, Belgium: 18,710
At the same time recognition rates continue to vary significantly from one EU Member State to another. Sweden reported an overall protection rate of 77.4%, whereas neighbouring Finland had a rate of 35.2% and Italy a rate of 38.7%.
Recognition rates have also varied for the same nationalities – a few examples for Iraqis below:
Germany: 70.2% Belgium: 54.4%, Sweden 45%, Finland 24.1%, Norway: 18.4%
For further information:
ECRE Policy Note: Agent of protection? Shaping the EU Asylum agency
The latest ECRE Policy Note Agent of protection? Shaping the EU Asylum Agency comments on the Commission proposal for a Regulation on the European Union Agency for Asylum and repealing Regulation (EU) No 439/2010 showing potential shortcomings and offering policy recommendations’.
The Regulation proposes to strengthen the role of EASO, which will become the European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA), and will play a more central role in shaping the Common European Asylum System. Against the backdrop of the unprecedented increase in asylum applications in the EU, operational weaknesses and limitations in the Agency’s mandate which constrain its response to operational challenges have become evident.
The Commission proposal would boost the Agency’s role in technical and operational support; information collection and analysis, including on countries of origin; and coordination of practical cooperation to enhance convergence of asylum practices across Europe. Some of these proposals raise fundamental questions in relation to the Agency’s accountability, impartiality and independence.
While ECRE acknowledges the potential of the proposed Agency, it raises human rights concerns linked to the current proposal and urges that the reform of the Agency cannot take place in isolation from the rest of the asylum package. ECRE recommends strengthening the monitoring and assessment mechanism, the establishment of an Independent Expert Panel on country of origin information (COI) that takes into account the most recent UNHCR eligibility guidelines and ensuring that personal data is kept confidential. Finally, given the serious conflict of interests that may raise, third party officials must be excluded from processing applications on the territory of Member States.
The ECRE Policy Note: “Chartering a way to protection - The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights – An indispensable instrument in the field of Asylum,” offers an overview of how the EU Charter can be used to further the rights of those in need of protection.
ECRE Policy Note: Chartering a way to protection - The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights - An indispensable instrument in the field of Asylum
The note analyses the reach the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU. The EU Charter is designed to consolidate all fundamental rights that are applicable at the EU level into a single text. It includes all the fundamental rights protected in the Union, and through the explanations, provides guidance on their scope, ultimately making them visible and predictable.
Although the EU Charter has been a legally binding instrument since December 2009, its use to date has been limited. Given its importance in ensuring that fundamental rights are upheld, ECRE recommends awareness raising and training activities on its use and scope. Furthermore, the EU Charter plays an indispensable role in ensuring that laws are drafted in a manner that complies with fundamental rights. The EU Charter is not an abstract set of values; it is an instrument to enable people to enjoy the rights enshrined within it and the Commission must uphold its role in ensuring that any legislation proposed or passed is in compliance.
EU agencies such as Frontex, Europol and EASO are also bound by its remit; they must ensure that any action undertaken is in compliance with the EU Charter when implementing EU law. With the increase of powers being vested in EU Agencies, ECRE recommends that a specific mechanism is required to ensure that any violation of fundamental rights can be reported and that an effective remedy is available. Therefore, sufficient resources should be put in place to ensure respect of fundamental rights in all Agencies activities. Furthermore, an individual complaints mechanism should be available within each EU Agencies as well as the independent Fundamental Rights Officer with resources commensurate to the size and tasks of the Agency
NGOs are expressing concerns with the conduct of police officers towards migrants and asylum seekers in the streets of Paris where more than 100 people are still without shelter.
France: NGOs concerned about police conduct towards migrants
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and the local association P’tis déj à Flandres report that French police is harassing migrants by confiscating their blankets and sleeping bags, and sometimes using teargas to disperse them. According to the organisations the migrants are prohibited to sit in the waiting line of the Humanitarian Center of the Chapel where they are waiting for a place of accommodation.
ECRE member organisation France Terre d'Asile who has staff members in the streets on a daily basis confirms that more than a 100 people are sleeping in the streets and that the lack of capacity of the Humanitarian Center have caused tensions.
“When people are forced to sleep in the streets in winter it leads to violence and confrontation but we are hoping that that the opening of a new Family Center in the South of Paris and the transfer of people to emergency shelters will solve parts of the problem,” says Pierre Henry Director of ECRE member France Terre d’Asile.
The French Minister of the Interior, Bruno Le Roux, firmly rejected the charges of police harassment, saying that the “national sport” of criticizing the police should stop. However, Human Rights Watch emphasizes that French authorities have not shown any intention to investigate allegations of what would be inhumane practices against already extremely vulnerable people.
- 31 January 2017, Brussels, Event: Breaking Barriers together – removing obstacles to protection, Registration here, Vluchtelingewerk Flaanderen
- 4 February 2017, London, Conference: Stand up to racism trade union conference, Stand Up To Racism
- 7-8 February, Manchester, Conference: Migration and Families in Europe: National and local perspectives at a time of Euroscepticism, Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity
- 10 February, Brussels: Conference: Beyond ‘Crisis’? The state of immigration and asylum law and policy in the EU, Odysseus Network
- July 2017, Warsaw, Summer School : Solidarity Beyond Borders, Transsol
VACANCIES & CALLS FOR PAPERS
- Lumos Foundation, Programme Manager Unaccompanied Migrant & Refugee Children, London, Deadline: January 20, 2017
- Refugee Action, Voluntary Return Good Practice Project Coordinator, Birmingham/ Manchester/ London, Deadline: January 30, 2017
- Refugee Action, Project Coordinator, London, Deadline: January 31, 2017
- Forced Migration Review, Call for Papers: Shelter in displacement, Deadline: February 13, 2017
- International Centre for Migration Policy Development, Junior Project Officer, Deadline: January 19, 2017
- UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group, Executive Director, Deadline: January 23, 2007
- Kiron Higher Education, Social Media/ Donor Relations Manager, Deadline: January 23, 2017
- International Centre for Migration Policy Development, National Project Officer, Deadline : January 31, 2017
- Annual Conference University of London Refugee Law Initiative, Call for Papers: Mass Influx? Law, Policy and Large-Scale Movements of Refugees and Migrants, Deadline: January 31, 2017
- Asylos, Director, Deadline: February 3, 2017
- International Catholic Migration Commission, Program Support Officer, Deadline: February 5, 2017