Norway, France, Belgium & Netherlands pledge to admit more refugees from Syria ahead of UNHCR Conference
As the ministerial-level pledging conference on resettlement and other forms of admission for Syrian refugees, to be held in Geneva on 9 December, approaches, some European countries, Norway, France, Belgium and the Netherlands, have shown their intention to welcome more refugees who have fled war and persecution in Syria in 2015.
Norway resettled 1,000 Syrians in 2014. On 21 November, a parliamentary agreement raised the total resettlement quota for 2015 by an additional 500 places, the majority of whom are expected to be refugees from Syrian. Speaking to the ECRE Weekly Bulletin, the Norwegian Refugee Council has welcomed the decision as a step in the right direction, but believes an increase of 3,000 would have been more reasonable, given the scale of the Syrian refugee crisis.
There are also indications that France is likely to pledge at least an additional 500 places for refugees fleeing Syria under a resettlement and humanitarian admission programme in 2015. France Terre d’Asile has told the ECRE Weekly Bulletin that, although it is a welcome step towards more protection and solidarity, France can and should commit more places for the refugees in the neighbouring countries, in particular as the current programme, which saw 500 refugees admitted to France in 2014, seems to be running quite well.
Furthermore, the Belgian Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration announced that Belgium will resettle 150 more refugees from Syria and Iraq next year, bringing the total number of refugees that will be resettled by Belgium in 2015 to 300 people, 225 of which will be Syrian or Iraqi. The Secretary of State highlighted that particular attention will be paid to religious minorities. Welcoming this increased commitment, Flemish Refugee Action have said that they hope this will not be a 'one time' measure and that Belgium will also explore, besides resettlement, other ways to give safe and legal access to Syrian refugees.
The Dutch Secretary of State has also announced that the Netherlands will resettle 250 Syrian refugees in 2015 bringing the Dutch pledge to a total of 500 Syrian refugees over three years (2013 – 2015). However the Dutch Council for Refugees has noted that it is disappointing that Secretary of State rejected a motion from the Parliament to accept an extra 250 Syrian refugees above the resettlement quota for 2014. In addition, the 250 Syrian refugees for 2015 will be within the regular quota for resettlement, meaning that refugees in need of resettlement from other countries will not be offered this opportunity.
With the pledging conference offering a crucial opportunity for States to act together and offer additional places for refugees fleeing the conflict, NGOs across Europe are calling for EU States to offer a substantial number of new and additional resettlement places, through resettlement and other forms of admission, either in the framework of national quotas or by means of ad hoc commitments. A large coalition of NGOs in the UK has sent an open letter to David Cameron calling for the UK to offer 10,000 places to refugees fleeing Syria in 2015. Thus far, Britain has only resettled around 100 Syrian refugees, a woefully inadequate number compared to the scale of the crisis, according to the NGOs. Just last week, ECRE joined with Amnesty International, CCME, ICMC, International Rescue Committee, Jesuit Refugee Service Europe, Norwegian Refugee Council and Save the Children to call on the EU and EU States to seize this chance of the pledging conference to offer more refugees the opportunity to rebuild their lives in Europe.
Since 2013, EU Member States have committed over 33,000 places for resettling or admitting refugees from Syria. Germany alone has made 28,500 places available, with twelve other Member States together contributing under 5,000 places. The vast majority, 97% of the refugees, remain in the neighbouring countries of Syria, who are increasingly unable to meet the basic needs of the refugees and some countries, such as Turkey and Lebanon, have started to restrict access to refugees at their borders. At the Annual Tripartite Consultations on Resettlement in June 2014, UNHCR estimated that 378,684 (more than 10%) of Syrian refugees in the Middle East and North Africa region and Turkey have resettlement needs. The UN Refugee Agency is currently calling for 100,000 refugees to be resettled worldwide in 2015 and 2016, with the previous call for 30,000 places to be committed for 2013 and 2014 already met and surpassed.
ECRE: System needed to allow positive decisions on asylum claims to be recognised across the EU
A major challenge facing beneficiaries of international protection is the fact that they cannot move and settle freely in another Member State after they have been granted status by one Member State. By virtue of the Dublin III Regulation, strict criteria are used to determine which Member State is responsible for processing an asylum claim which can leave an individual separated from their family or unable to move to another country where they have better integration prospects. In order to seek solutions for these difficulties facing refugees in Europe, ECRE has released a discussion paper
on the mutual recognition of positive asylum decisions and the transfer of international protection status within the EU.
ECRE concludes that having a system in place which recognises another Member State’s positive asylum decision and allows for the transfer of international protection status between States would alleviate these problems facing refugees. It would also rectify the anomaly which allows States to recognise and implement another State’s negative and return decisions, yet there is no systematic recognition of a Member State’s positive asylum decision. Having such instruments in place would also complete the Common European Asylum System and would ensure that a uniform status on asylum be truly valid within the Union.
The discussion paper starts by examining whether there is a legal basis for the application of the principle of mutual recognition under international and European Union (EU) law and the consequences thereof. It finds that while there is some basis for its application under international and EU law, the principle lacks implementation and as a result more detailed regulation is required to give it its intended effect. ECRE also analyses what it means to transfer an international protection status between Member States, whether it is necessary, and the practical difficulties that may be encountered. Finally, the paper looks at the Long Term Residence Directive as amended and its current protection gaps including in relation to the free movement of beneficiaries of international protection.
The Action Plan implementing the Stockholm Programme foresaw a communication from the European Commission on the topic of mutual recognition of positive asylum seekers. However, the strategic guidelines in in the area of Freedom, Security and Justice adopted last June did not make any reference to the topic. As previously stated by Kris Pollet, ECRE’s Senior Legal and Policy Officer, “It is extremely disappointing that the Strategic Guidelines lack any ambition and vision on the next steps needed to complete a Common European Asylum System that respects the rights of asylum seekers and refugees. For instance, it is striking that the mutual recognition of positive asylum decisions across the EU has not been included in the Strategic Guidelines as it is the next logical step in the completion of the legal framework of the Common European Asylum System.”
REPORTS AND NGO ACTIONS
Excessive red tape prevents refugees from reuniting with their family, ECRE and Red Cross EU report
ECRE and the Red Cross EU Office, along with several national organisations, have released a report, Disrupted Flight - The Realities of Separated Refugee Families in the EU, on practices in 12 EU Member States in relation to family reunification.
For people fleeing war and persecution, getting family members to join them in their new host country is key to their well-being and integration. Many refugees are forced to leave their home on their own because of conflict, violence or persecution and undertake a journey to safety in Europe. The constant worry about their family left behind and the absence of any relatives in their country of asylum increase their vulnerability.
The report confirms that current procedures tend to lead to further isolation and separation of families due to the length and costs of such procedures, including strict requirements on proving family ties, and high administrative requirements, in particular for the family members, who are often in more precarious situations than the sponsor.
In order for the right to family reunification to be effective, ECRE and the Red Cross EU office recommend that family reunification procedures should be applied more flexibly, taking into account the realities of forced migrants. Access to procedures is also key to make the right to family life a reality. In that regard, ECRE and the Red Cross EU recommend further reflection so as to ensure effective access to embassies and consulates abroad, without unnecessary obstacles such as disproportionate documentary evidence or unjustified presence requirements.
International community’s response to Syrian refugee crisis an abject failure, Amnesty International
In a new report ‘Struggling to Survive: Refugees from Syria in Turkey’, Amnesty International (AI) severely criticises the international community’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis which has left “the hopes of safety and security for most refugees cruelly denied”. With funding to support the humanitarian effort as well as resettlement commitments entirely inadequate, AI denounces that Syria’s neighbours have disproportionately shouldered the responsibility to receive the refugees.
AI notes that Turkey as well as Syria’s other neighbouring countries, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt, are bearing the brunt of the refugee crisis, hosting altogether 97% of the 3.2 million registered Syrian refugees, while the world’s most prosperous countries are failing to respond. In just three days this September, Turkey took in over 130,000 refugees, more than the EU received over the past three years. In terms of resettlement and humanitarian admission to refugees in the neighbouring countries, Germany’s commitment to accept 28,500 refugees stands in stark contrast to the rest of the EU who together have guaranteed less than 5,000 places. In addition, the UN’s 2014 regional funding appeal for Syrian refugees in the whole region of $3.74 billion remains only 51% funded.
While commending Turkey’s significant resource commitment and many positive policy initiatives to deal with the refugee crisis, particularly in light of the failings of the international community, AI notes that the limitations of Turkey’s response is increasingly visible. AI reports on serious human rights abuses suffered by refugees fleeing Syria in and trying to enter Turkey. While Turkey officially maintains an open border policy, AI found that people without passports are routinely denied access at official border crossings unless they have urgent medical or humanitarian needs. For those who must cross irregularly, AI reports that they may face serious human rights abuses such as push-backs, being fired at with live ammunition, or torture and other ill-treatment. Furthermore, once in the country, the status of the refugees who have fled the war in Syria is not entirely clear or secure according to the organisation. Those who are not accommodated in camps, which are running at full capacity at 220,000 people out of the 1.6 million refugees who are currently in Turkey, are left to fend for themselves meaning destitution is widespread.
Croatia: vulnerable persons are not adequately identified and assisted during asylum procedure
The first AIDA Report on Croatia, compiled by ECRE member organisation Croatian Law Centre (HPC), shows that vulnerable asylum seekers are not properly identified and assisted throughout the procedure and that access to medical assistance is generally very limited.
In particular, the report highlights that, in Croatia, asylum seekers who are in need of special procedural guarantees are not identified in a timely manner and as a consequence their claims may not be assessed properly. This is due to the lack of a system for the early identification of victims of torture or other forms of ill-treatment in the asylum procedure. In addition, even when the claims of some asylum seekers indicate that they may have been victim of torture or inhuman and degrading treatment, medical examinations are not ordered due to the lack of sufficient State funds to cover their cost.
The report further notes that, following changes in the Law on Asylum in December 2013, health care assistance was drastically reduced to emergency healthcare. Emergency healthcare includes only the treatments “necessary to avoid imminent danger to life and health”. Following these legislative amendments, no doctor was present at the two reception centres for asylum seekers in Croatia, and currently a doctor is present only at the Zagreb centre on a weekly basis. Furthermore, effective access to health care is further impaired by the lack of State-funded interpretation for that purpose.
Finally, the report notes that free State-funded legal aid is not available during the first instance asylum procedure. Free legal aid and representation are only available during the second instance procedure before the Administrative Court against a negative first instance decision. The lack of free legal aid is reported as an issue also with regard to the possibility of challenging a detention order. In fact, due to the lack of free legal aid and of an automatic review of the detention order, as well as to the fact that most asylum seekers are not able to understand the reasons for their detention due to the language used in the decision, detention orders are not challenged before the Administrative Court.
Amnesty International and nearly 150 NGOs demand an end to repression of NGOs in Russia
On 19 November, activists from Amnesty International in Russia handed over an open letter to Vladimir Putin at the building of the Presidential Administration. It was signed by 148 national and international NGOs from Russia, Germany, the UK, Poland, France, Kazakhstan and other countries, including ECRE.
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The letter demanded that Vladimir Putin stop the clampdown on the right to freedom of association and end reprisals against independent NGOs in Russia, saying that since the law on “Foreign Agents” came out in 2012, hundreds of NGOs had been subjected to unannounced inspections by government officials and been forced to deal with lengthy court hearings. Several NGOs and their leaders had had to pay prohibitive fines, and some have been forced to close down because they refused to brand themselves as “foreign agents”. Recent legislative changes now give the Ministry of Justice powers to register organizations as “foreign agents” without their consent and without a prior court decision.
“Russian NGOs are still rejecting the insulting stigma - none of the forcibly registered organizations is going to lie to themselves and to society. They are not agents. These people, representing various NGOs in different cities of our country are working for the good of our fellow citizens by helping those whose rights have been violated by the Russian authorities”, said Sergei Nitikin, Director of Amnesty International Representative Office in the Russian Federation
The letter started as part of the Campaign #SpeakOut for freedom of expression in Russia run by Amnesty International in October to show solidarity with those in Russia speaking out against repression. The event was covered by an independent Russian news channel, TV Rain, and the Novaya Gazeta newspaper published the letter and signatories.
Sergei Nikitin from the Amnesty International Office in Russia said that they were hoping at least for an official response to the letter. Sometimes actions might seem small, like a letter, but combined they can lead to change.
Brussels, 12 December: Conference on judicial control of immigration detention in the EU
Within the framework of the Project CONTENTION (CONTrol of immigration detention), the Migration Policy Centre and the Odysseus Academic Network examined the lawfulness of different detention practices of irregular migrants in 11 EU Member States: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Slovenia and the United Kingdom. The project examined the jurisprudence on pre-removal detention of third country nationals between 2008 and 2014 in order to evaluate the impact of the Returns Directive in this area. The findings of the comparative research will be discussed by judges, academics and EU representatives at a conference on 12 December 2014 in Brussels. Furthermore, a database detailing more than 400 cases on migrants’ detention will be presented.
On the same occasion, the follow-up project REDIAL (RETurn DIAlogue) will be launched. REDIAL intends to promote dialogue amongst judges and legal academics in the Odysseus Network working on return cases.
For further information, please contact RSCAS.Conferences@EUI.eu and to register for the conference, see here.