Copy

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.

     
24 April 2020
  
Do you want to receive this or other newsletters from ECRE? You can subscribe following this link.
 

EUROPEAN DEVELOPMENTS

NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS

EUROPEAN COURTS AND INTERNATIONAL MECHANISMS
  

EUROPEAN DEVELOPMENTS

Med: 180 Quarantined on Italian Ship while NGO takes Legal Actions against Maltese Decision-Makers

Two groups of rescued people from the civilian rescue vessel Aita Mari and Alan Kurdi are now spending a fourteen-day quarantine on an Italian passenger ship. Maltese decision-makers face investigations over actions and inactions concerning the rescue of people at sea.

The NGO Repubblika has taken court action against the Maltese cabinet, over the decision to close the country's ports and refuse disembarkation to people rescued at sea. The political decision-makers were liable for breaching human rights as well as for criminal action in view of the lack of efforts being taken to protect life, the NGO said in a judicial protest filed in court.

The NGO also filed two police reports. One report was filed against Prime Minister Robert Abela and Army Commander Brigadier Jeffrey Curmi over inaction to save people at sea. Up to twelve people died last week after Maltese authorities failed to assist a boat in distress in their rescue zone despite being informed by the NGO Alarm Phone. “Due to their action or inaction in time of necessity and when they [Robert Abela and Jeffrey Curmi) had the power to act, they left tens of persons to risk their lives,” Repubblika stated. A second report concerned the alleged sabotage of a boat of people fleeing Libya by officials from the Armed Forced of Malta (AFM). However, Repubblika has now submitted contradicting evidence that depicts the incident as a standard rescue procedure.

In an address to the nation broadcast live, Abela confirmed that police had launched an investigation into himself, Curmi and crew members of patrol boat P52.

A total of 180 rescued people left on the civilian rescue vessels Alan Kurdi, run by the NGO Sea Eye, and Aita Mari, run by the NGO Salvamiento Maritimo Humanitario, have been evacuated onto the Italian passenger ship Raffaele Rubattino, where they will spend a 14-day quarantine. The transfer began on Friday afternoon close to the port of Palermo with the involvement of several ships of the Italian coast guard and under the coordination of the Italian Red Cross.  Both group spent days stranded at sea as Malta and Italy declared their ports ‘unsafe’ due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Sea Eye reports that during the blockade, the organisation experienced unprecedented solidarity, particularly in Italy: “After a letter from Luca Casarini, the Italian sea rescuer, to Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic church, replied and unequivocally stood behind all civilian sea rescuers. However, the commitment of the Mayor of Palermo deserves special mention.”

The NGO Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has ended its rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea, following disagreements with its operations partner SOS Mediterranee on how to proceed amid the coronavirus pandemic. MSF wanted to continue rescue operations despite the refusal of European governments to let rescued people disembark. SOS Mediterranee will temporarily suspend rescue missions "until the circumstances allow us to safely resume our work".

As of April 23, 253 people have been recorded to have died trying to reach Europe by the Mediterranean in 2020.

For further information:

 

EU Member States Face Criticism and Legal Action for Compromising Rights of Asylum Seekers Through COVID-19 Measures

The limitation of rights of asylum seekers in the context of measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic raises concern among international lawyers and civil society organisations.

International lawyers have expressed their concern over a decree by the Austrian Ministry of the Interior that limits the right to asylum by requiring every asylum seeker to provide a health certificate. The decree is not binding, but presents guidelines for how border police officers should deal with people at the border wishing to enter Austria, including those seeking international protection. As the Ministry of the Interior has offered no further clarification but endorses the decree, the NGO Asylkoordination announced that they will submit a factual report to the Vienna Public Prosecutor's Office. They argue that the rejection of people seeking international protection at the border is illegal until a procedure has been completed. To prevent health risks related to the coronavirus, they can be placed in a two-week quarantine for the duration of the state of emergency, Asylkoordination states. Upon scrutiny, the constitutional court may repeal the untenable and disproportionate measure, but only in a couple of months; the legal action is therefore the only way to make sure that Austrian authorities fulfil their obligation under international law, Lukas Gahleitner-Gertz from Asylkoordination commented.

While suspending Dublin procedures due to Corona-related risks, a measure welcomed by ECRE, Germany has come under criticism for suspending the Dublin transfer period. According to the Dublin III regulation, an EU member state can request a transfer of an asylum applicant to the country of their first documented entry into the EU. However, if the transfer is not implemented within a period of six months, the responsibility for the processing of the asylum application shifts to the country that requested the transfer. Germany has suspended this time limit together with transfers to avoid becoming responsible for the people not transferred due to corona-related precautions. In a Guidance on the implementation of relevant EU provisions in the area of asylum and return procedures and on resettlement, the EU confirms that the measure introduced by Federal Office for Migration and Asylum (BAMF) is in breach of European law. The NGO PRO ASYL demands that the Federal Ministry of the Interior puts an end to this practice immediately and that family reunifications under Dublin continue to proceed with adequate precautions.

ECRE has compiled a non-exhaustive list of measures related to asylum and migration introduced in response to the COVID-19 health crisis in Europe. The list includes measures introduced by governments and is based on open-source information, ECRE’s AIDA database and the ELENA network, including information provided by ELENA network members, as well as information compiled by PICUM and the extensive information compiled by JRS Europe.

According to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, 57 of 167 countries that have closed their borders to contain the spread of the Coronavirus make no exception for people seeking asylum.

 

Greece: Unrest Amid Intensifying Corona Threat, ECtHR Orders Measures for Vulnerable Groups
 

Two inhabitants of the Moria camp in Lesbos were injured by gun-shots allegedly after openly attempting to break the quarantine imposed on its residents. A fire caused by unrest following the death of a woman in the Vial refugee camp on Chios island cost severe damage. A pregnant woman tested positive for the Corona virus in a mainland hostel now facing a serious outbreak. On April 16 the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ordered immediate transfer of several vulnerable people out of Moria where residents face acute health risks.

In the beginning of the week, hundreds of residents from the Moria camp on Lesbos protested to demand transfers to the mainland in fear of exposure to the Corona virus due to the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions in the camp. On April 22 following the unrest gun-shots were fired into the camp wounding two people with the assailant or assailants evading capture. Reportedly the two were shot after openly attempting to break the quarantine imposed on the residents of camp.

A woman from the Vial refugee camp on Chios island was returned from hospital after testing negative for the Corona virus later died of causes that are still being investigated. Her death caused severe protests in the camp and fire breaking out during the unrest. Greek migration ministry secretary, Manos Logothetis stated that: “A large part of the camp’s administrative services was destroyed”.

After a positive Corona test of a pregnant woman in a hostel in Kranidi South of Athens used as a refugee shelter, another 150 out of the 497 people living or working in the facility run by International Organization for Migration (IOM) tested positive. The hostel that has been quarantined since April 16, is the third facility hosting migrants in Greece to face an outbreak.

the European Court of Human Rights ordered interim measures under Rule 39 in the case of E.I. and others v. Greece to ensure the immediate transfer of several people out of Moria. Refugee Support Aegean (RSA), which represented the applicants, commented: “many more people face acute health risks, not least due to particular circumstances including age, medical conditions and trauma. Immediate transfer of those individuals, regardless of status, to appropriate accommodation is necessary for Greece to comply with its human rights obligations”. The organisation further quotes an announcement by the Ministry of Migration of the transfer to the mainland of vulnerable asylum seekers, including elderly people and people suffering from chronic medical conditions.

The European Commission has yet to release its report on the controversial suspension of Greek asylum procedures in between 1 and 31 March, a measure that has been widely critisised for being illegal but was ratified by the Greek parliament on March 26. The suspension was followed by a freeze of asylum applications due to the COVID-19 crisis and, on 10 April, followed by a bill amending the restrictive measures introduced in October 2019 in the International Protection Act. In its analysis of the bill RSA points to several concerns including extending competence for asylum registration to reception facilities, the introduction of a “merits test” depriving the majority of appellants of the right to legal assistance, and the possibility for authorities to forgo interviews when interpretation services are not available in the language of the applicant”. Particularly, the introduction of detention in a pre-removal centre upon rejection of the appeal “amounts to a flagrant violation of Greece’s duty to resort to detention only as a last resort and the right to an effective remedy”.

As part of general funding package of €3 billion to support the EU healthcare sector, Greece will receive €350 million Euro to deal with increased migratory pressures.

For further information:

 

NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS

AIDA 2019 Update: Croatia*

The updated Country Report on Croatia documents the main developments in the area of asylum procedures, reception conditions, detention of asylum seekers and content of international protection in 2019.

Access to territory and situation at Croatian border: It sheds light in particular on the situation at the Croatian border where push backs and violent police practices have been documented, affecting several thousands of persons. Overall, the Ministry of Interior stated that, from January to September 2019, it had prevented 9,487 people in their attempt to illegally cross the border, which marks a significant increase of 200% compared to the same period in 2018. This strict border regime limits access to the territory and to the asylum procedure. It puts individuals at risk of serious human rights violations, including vulnerable groups, and is particularly worrying in light of the level of violence that has been reported, involving incidents of torture, shootings, accidents and deaths of migrants in certain cases. The situation at the border is being heavily criticised by a variety of national and international organisations and is under particular scrutiny in the context of Croatia’s accession to Schengen.

Asylum procedure and reception conditions: Other developments relevant to the asylum procedure include inter alia the re-structuring of the determining authority, concerns regarding the length of appeal procedures as well as the Constitutional Court’s ruling highlighting the importance of thoroughly examining individual circumstances in subsequent applications.
As regards reception, the living conditions in the Reception Centre in Zagreb have significantly improved following renovations. These were carried out, however, because the local population voiced strong opposition against the creation of a new Reception Centre near Petrinja, in Mala Gorica, as was initially planned in 2018. Hate speech and discrimination has been reported as a growing issue in Croatia in 2019.

Content of international protection: Beneficiaries of international protection are also still facing significant challenges in exercising their rights in almost all areas, as persisting obstacles are not solved nor sufficiently addressed at state level, thus rendering the role of civil society organisations crucial. The most important issues still relate to the language barrier, health care, employment, education and housing. As the previous Integration Action Plan expired at the end of 2019, a new Integration Action Plan is under discussion, covering the period 2020-2022.

Covid-19 measures: The AIDA report further includes a short overview of key measures taken in the context of Covid-19 which have an impact on the situation of asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection.

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

AIDA 2019 Update: Malta*

The updated Country Report on Malta provides a detailed overview of the main developments in the area of asylum procedures, reception conditions, detention of asylum seekers and content of international protection in 2019.

2019 saw an increase in sea arrivals to Malta due to the ending of an informal agreement between Malta and Italy where Italy had agreed for migrants rescued in Maltese territorial waters to be disembarked in Italy. As a result of the rise in arrivals and the saturation of the reception system, the Maltese authorities in 2019 decided to detain each and every person arriving irregularly to the country under national health regulations.  Such systematic detention is applicable to unaccompanied children, families and vulnerable persons and it has been implemented on the ground that there is a reasonable suspicion that new arrivals might spread contagious diseases. The health regulations allow the authorities to restrict a person’s movements for up to four weeks - with a possible extension of up to ten weeks - on suspicion that a disease may be spread. In practice, no form of assessment is conducted, and applicants are only provided with a simple document stating the duration of detention. In addition, despite the limitation on the duration of detention as provided by the health regulations, it has been observed that applicants would not be released even after they were medically screened and cleared. Instead, individuals would only be released when a place is made available in open centres. This is also the case for children and vulnerable persons.

Alongside triggering the systematic implementation of detention for new arrivals, the inadequate space in reception centres, which reached full capacity in 2019, has also exacerbated the nefarious conditions in reception centres in the country. As such, the lack of space and resources have led to overcrowded reception centres and a severe deterioration of reception conditions. Several riots took place throughout 2019 as residents complained about the extreme degradation of conditions. In addition, evictions have taken place to make space for new residents resulting in a number of asylum-seekers becoming homeless.

Last, it is to be noted that the report has largely been written prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 in Malta. However, it does include recent information relating to the Maltese government’s announcement that in light of COVID-19 Malta can no longer “guarantee the rescue of prohibited immigrants on board of any boats, ships or other vessels, nor to ensure the availability of a “safe place” on Maltese territory to any persons rescued at sea”. Several days after this statement, the International Organization for Migration confirmed that five people were found dead in a boat left stranded in Maltese waters with others missing and presumed dead. The boat had been left floating in Malta’s Search and Rescue zone for several days before it was intercepted by a commercial vessel and handed over to the Libyan coast guards. The survivors were then placed in detention in Tripoli.

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

 

Portugal: 138 Asylum-Seekers in Hostel Infected by Coronavirus

138 out of 175 asylum seekers housed in a hostel in Lisbon have reportedly tested positive for the Coronavirus.

After one of the residents tested positive for the virus, all were evacuated to Lisbon’s Central Mosque for testings. Asylum-seekers who were not tested positive can return to the decontaminated hostel. According to Monica Farinha, Head of the Portuguese Council of Refugees (CPR), the process was handled smoothly but she voiced her concerns about the risk of further contamination in other hostels where social distancing is rather impossible. ECRE member CPR currently houses 950 people – 150 in its own centres and 800 in hostels.

In response to the Corona outbreak, Portugal granted the rights of permanent residents on a temporary basis for all foreigners with a pending application. The measure grants them access to national health services, welfare benefits, bank accounts and work and rental contracts. In addition, detained migrants at Lisbon’s airport were moved out of the detention centre.

For further information:

 

EUROPEAN COURTS AND INTERNATIONAL MECHANISMS

CJEU: Advocate General: Detention in Röszke Transit Zone at the Hungarian-Serbian border Unlawful

The limitation of rights of asylum seekers in the context of measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic raises concern among international lawyers and civil society organisations.

International lawyers have expressed their concern over a decree by the Austrian Ministry of the Interior that limits the right to asylum by requiring every asylum seeker to provide a health certificate. The decree is not binding, but presents guidelines for how border police officers should deal with people at the border wishing to enter Austria, including those seeking international protection. As the Ministry of the Interior has offered no further clarification but endorses the decree, the NGO Asylkoordination announced that they will submit a factual report to the Vienna Public Prosecutor's Office. They argue that the rejection of people seeking international protection at the border is illegal until a procedure has been completed. To prevent health risks related to the coronavirus, they can be placed in a two-week quarantine for the duration of the state of emergency, Asylkoordination states. Upon scrutiny, the constitutional court may repeal the untenable and disproportionate measure, but only in a couple of months; the legal action is therefore the only way to make sure that Austrian authorities fulfil their obligation under international law, Lukas Gahleitner-Gertz from Asylkoordination commented.

While suspending Dublin procedures due to Corona-related risks, a measure welcomed by ECRE, Germany has come under criticism for suspending the Dublin transfer period. According to the Dublin III regulation, an EU member state can request a transfer of an asylum applicant to the country of their first documented entry into the EU. However, if the transfer is not implemented within a period of six months, the responsibility for the processing of the asylum application shifts to the country that requested the transfer. Germany has suspended this time limit together with transfers to avoid becoming responsible for the people not transferred due to corona-related precautions. In a Guidance on the implementation of relevant EU provisions in the area of asylum and return procedures and on resettlement, the EU confirms that the measure introduced by Federal Office for Migration and Asylum (BAMF) is in breach of European law. The NGO PRO ASYL demands that the Federal Ministry of the Interior puts an end to this practice immediately and that family reunifications under Dublin continue to proceed with adequate precautions.

ECRE has compiled a non-exhaustive list of measures related to asylum and migration introduced in response to the COVID-19 health crisis in Europe. The list includes measures introduced by governments and is based on open-source information, ECRE’s AIDA database and the ELENA network, including information provided by ELENA network members, as well as information compiled by PICUM and the extensive information compiled by JRS Europe.

According to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, 57 of 167 countries that have closed their borders to contain the spread of the Coronavirus make no exception for people seeking asylum.

Based on an unofficial translation by the ECRE Legal team.

For further information:

 



RECENT REPORTS




FEATURED CAMPAIGNS & JOINT STATEMENTS

Joint NGO Press Release Malta: The nation cannot quietly celebrate Easter whilst men, women and children are drowning on our doorstep. We urgently call on the Prime Minister to ensure that all persons within Malta’s responsibility are rescued and that their safety is guaranteed#DontLetThemDrown
 
#CitiesMustAct - A solidarity campaign by Europe Must Act: is a bold new campaign asking the citizens, councils and mayors of European towns and cities to pledge their support for the immediate relocation of asylum seekers on the Greek islands.

Leaving no one behind in the coronavirus crisis: ENAR calls for system change now to achieve real equality.

Greece: Urgently protect refugees from COVID-19. Amnesty. While the world is facing the crisis of COVID-19 pandemic, the risks for refugees in the Greek islands are multiplying by the hour.

URGENT CALL TO ACTION: Refugee Rights Europe. EU Member States Should Commit to the Emergency Relocation of Unaccompanied Children from the Greek Islands.

Displaced Syrians in Lebanon facing COVID-19 Updates on the situation in Shatila, Saida and Arsal in Lebanon, March 2020
 
Covid-19: AN OPPORTUNITY TO IMPROVE OUR WELFARE SYSTEMS. Caritas Europe. Caritas Europa is pleased to see the speed at which the European Union mobilises funding in support of both direct public health and indirect immediate humanitarian consequences of the pandemic.

Protect the most vulnerable to ensure protection for everyone! Restore legality to protect refugees and the society at large amidst the pandemic’ Open letter signed by 121 Organizations.

RefAid COVID-19 Expansion: Leading Global App Connecting Refugees with Services: As COVID-19 impacts service delivery, displaced people need vetted information about what services are accessible remotely. RefAid, the leading global app connecting refugees with services, has added a COVID-19 information category to provide service information and health guidance from multiple organizations. 

Appeal from European doctors: bring refugees on the Greek islands to safety. Doctors in Europe call on the leaders of our governments and of the European Union to bring refugees in Greek camps to safety immediately.

Greece: Move Asylum Seekers, Migrants to Safety. Joint statement. Immediate Hotspot Decongestion Needed to Address COVID-19

Sea-Watch calls on EU Commission: Send decommissioned cruise ships to evacuate camps in Greece. While the Corona crisis is keeping Europe in suspense, the suffering of those seeking international protection and the humanitarian disaster at Europe’s borders are fading into the background.

Urgent Appeal For The Evacuation Of The Greek Refugee Camps. Joint petition. We urge the immediate evacuation of the refugee camps and hotspots on the Greek islands to avert a catastrophe amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

Greece: Rights violations against asylum seekers at Turkey-Greece border must stop – UN Special Rapporteur. OHCHR. Greece must take immediate action to end the violence against migrants and asylum seekers at the Turkey-Greece border and enhance their protection
 
Protect our laws and humanity! Joint Statement. The undersigned organisations are deeply concerned about recent developments at the Evros border and the Aegean islands where people are stranded at the borders of Europe, instrumentalized for political purposes, and subject to violations of their rights.

Statement by Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, on the COVID-19 crisis UNHCR. wars and persecution have not stopped – and today, across the globe, people are continuing to flee their homes in search of safety. I am increasingly worried by measures adopted by some countries that could block altogether the right to seek asylum.

COVID-19: No one is safe until All are protected! Open Letter from the Transbalkan Solidarity Group. Currently there are tens of thousands of refugees and other migrants in the Balkans.

Our community is as healthy as all of its members. NGO Press Release on the human rights of migrants in the current epidemic. It is appalling to hear Government talk of non-Maltese nationals without acknowledging their humanity and – in many cases – their vulnerability.
 
We need Physical distances Not Social Distance! Urgent statement New Women Connectors. At this point social solidarity is one of the most important aspects of our reactions to hashtag#covid19outbreak.

Stand Together to Beat Coronavirus. Global Citizen website. It's time to take action — by taking steps to change our own behaviour, call on governments to step up, and encourage donations, we can protect ourselves and others.

COVID-19 does not discriminate; nor should our response. OHCHR. As the world confronts the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations Network on Migration salutes the immense efforts to date to combat this crisis and urges that all – including migrants regardless of migratory status – are included in efforts to mitigate and roll back this illness's impact. 
 
#LeaveNoOneBehind: In view of the great challenge we face, many signs of solidarity are needed. Petty-mindedness or egoism will not lead us the way. The corona virus will especially hit those who already have difficulties.
 
Stay Calm, Stay Human ECRE Statement on the Situation at the Greek Turkish Border. ECRE is highly concerned about the political developments emanating from last week’s events in Idlib, Syria and urges calm and measured response, focused on accepting refugees and sharing responsibility across Europe.
 
Hungary : Parliament should not pass COVID-19 permanent emergency powers Bill. ICJ calls on the Parliament of Hungary not to approve a Government bill that would extend indefinitely the emergency powers of the executive to counter the Covid-19 pandemic.
 
EP stands up for democracy in Hungary during COVID-19. The Civil Liberties Committee highlights that any extraordinary measure adopted by the Hungarian government in response to the pandemic must respect the EU’s founding values.

UNLIMITED POWER IS NOT THE PANACEA HHC: Assessment of the proposed law to extend the state of emergency in Hungary and its constitutional preconditions.

Our international solidarity campaign – Free the El Hiblu Three! Passengers of the El Hiblu 1, sea-rescue organisations, international lawyers, researchers, activists, human rights organisations in Malta and beyond have come together to call for the immediate dismissal of the trial. Instead of being prosecuted, the El Hiblu Three should be celebrated for preventing an illegal push-back to Libya.

#GrowYourCommunity: We all want to live in a community where people accept us the way we are. We want to be free to pursue our religion and be open about our sexual orientation. #GrowYourCommunity is a video series that explores the concept of inclusion and caring communities.

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.

#FairLassen …: For independent legal assistance in the asylum process. Against isolation.  The Austrian legal reform of May 2019 jeopardises dignified asylum procedures in line with European law. We demand the provision of independent legal assistance, dignified reception conditions and integration instead of isolation for people seeking protection in Austria.


EVENTS


VACANCIES



CALLS FOR PAPERS & OPEN CALLS







This email was sent to <<Email Address>>
why did I get this?    unsubscribe from this list    update subscription preferences
European Council on Refugees and Exiles · 146 rue Royale · Brussels 1000 · Belgium