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 82 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, find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

26 September 2014

140,000 refugees flee to Turkey in 3 days: Turkish NGOs call for borders to remain open and for more resettlement of refugees

Last week, ISIS fighters attacked the Kurdish town of Kobani, also known as Ayn al-Arab, in northern Syria, causing Kobani’s residents to flee towards the nearby Turkish border. Turkey’s initial response was to close the crossing points with Syria saying that humanitarian aid would be provided on the Syrian side of the border. On Friday 19 September, Turkey opened a 30 kilometre section of the border section with Syria and hundreds of thousands of Syrian Kurd refugees started crossing into Turkey. However, since Monday 20 September, Turkey has kept only two crossing points open out of nine, as reported by UNHCR. Up until 25 September, 144,000 Syrian refugees, mainly Kurds, have sought refuge in southern Turkey; 80% of the refugees are women and children and the remaining 20% are elderly or disabled. Carol Batchelor, the Turkey representative for UNHCR, said “I don’t think in the last three and a half years we have seen 100,000 cross in two days,” according to Reuters.

The Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly and Mülteci-Der, Turkish NGOs and ECRE members, have criticized that Turkey’s initial response to the arrival of the refugees was to seal off the crossing points with Syria. “Turkey’s decision to allow the arrival of this massive latest wave of Kurdish refugees from Syria 19 September onward was preceded by days of hesitation on the part of the Turkish Government and an effective blockade on crossings by Turkish border units. It appears that earlier the same week Turkey’s new Prime Minister Davutoglu issued instructions for the sealing of the entire Syria and Iraq border stretch before he changed his mind and Kurdish refugees were allowed to cross”, stated Oktay Durukan of Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly. “We are pleased that Turkey has now opened the border as it should, but have concerns that opening border to people fleeing war and persecution cannot depend on daily decisions. There must be complete protection for refugees governed by a legal framework respecting human rights and dignity”, stated Piril Ercoban of Mülteci-Der.

Acknowledging the vital role that Turkey and the broader region is assuming by hosting the vast majority of the refugees fleeing violence in Syria and Iraq, the NGOs underine that all States must maintain an open-border policy and call on the European and international community to also play their part by admitting more refugees through resettlement and humanitarian admission.

 “During the Syrian crisis for the last four years and the recent ones in Iraq and Syria, almost all the responsibility of the humanitarian response has been left to the neighbouring countries. Many countries, including European States are doing very little to deal with the plight of refugees. Just 35,000 places have been provided in response to UNHCR's call for more resettlement from the neighbouring countries. This is indeed amazingly little while there are millions of refugees in the region. While the number of refugees and the need for international solidarity are rising, the neighbouring countries and refugees are increasingly left alone in this grave humanitarian crisis”, stated Ercoban.

“While it is absolutely clear that Turkey needs dramatically more European and international solidarity to help cope with the humanitarian needs of a 1.5 million strong refugee influx, Turkey must not resort to non-arrival measures as the security situation on both the Syria and Iraq sides of the border continues to deteriorate”, warns Durukan. “We are concerned that the rising pressures on Turkey’s resources and administrative capabilities, a growing anti-Syrian sentiment among the public at large and cross-border security considerations appear to have shaken the Government’s resolve on the ‘open borders’ policy to the brink.”

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Germany adds Serbia, Macedonia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina to the list of safe countries of origin

On 19 September 2014, the German Bundesrat (Federal Council) passed a law according to which Serbia, Macedonia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina will be added to the list of safe countries of origin. Applications of asylum seekers from these countries will be considered as manifestly unfounded. Therefore, these applications will not be examined on their merits, unless asylum seekers present facts or evidence that they might be persecuted in spite of the general situation in the country of origin. Until now, the list of safe countries of origin in Germany consisted of Ghana and Senegal in addition to all EU Member States.

The new law follows a rise in asylum applications by citizens from these countries, which represented a sixth of all asylum applications in 2013. Since most of the applicants from these countries are likely to belong to the Roma minority, the bill has been criticized for discriminating against Roma, who often live in slums on the edge of society in these countries, with limited access to education, health, water or electricity. Human rights NGOs, such as Amnesty International and Pro Asyl, and representatives of the German Roma minority have strongly criticized the law for undermining the applicants' right to an individual examination of their cases.

This amendment was part of a larger bill on asylum reform which also reduced time restrictions on asylum seekers’ access to the labour market. Asylum seekers will now be allowed to work three months after submitting their asylum application, instead of the current nine months waiting period. Furthermore, 15 months after lodging their asylum application, candidates from Germany and EU States will no longer be prioritised over asylum seekers for a job opening. This priority review does not apply to occupations where there is a shortage of candidates and academics. These new terms apply both to asylum seekers and people with a "tolerated stay", i.e. people with a temporary suspension on their deportation.

Furthermore, benefits in kind outside of the initial reception centres will be replaced by a cash allowance, meaning people will be able to choose what items to buy.

The new law is expected to take effect before the end of the year.

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UK pledges €15 million to prevent migrants and refugees in Calais from entering Britain

The UK has committed 15 million euro to the strengthening of controls, surveillance and security at the port of Calais. A Joint Declaration from the French Ministry of Interior and UK Home Secretary agree that funding will be given to France for a period of three years to strengthen security and to prevent migrants from crossing into the UK. This will be done through the building of robust fences, permanent security installations, and operational cooperation between British and French law enforcement agencies at the border. According to the joint declaration, part of these funds will be used to ensure that vulnerable persons, such as victims of trafficking, receive appropriate support.

Through the declaration, both countries agree also to take action “to stem the flow of illegal migration into Europe” building upon the joint letter to the European Commission from the French, Polish and Spanish Interior Ministers and the British Home Secretary on the 9 September.  The Joint Declaration refers to the “volume of illegal migrants arriving along the southern Mediterranean border of the European Union” as well as deterring illegal migrants from congregating in and around Calais. However, about half of those arriving by boat in Italy are Eritreans and Syrians, who have 76% and 91% recognition rates respectively European wide according to ECRE and EASO.  



Italy urged not to criminalise victims of trafficking by CoE GRETA group 

The Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) of the Council of Europe has issued its first report on Italy showing that victims of human trafficking are being convicted for criminal offences, often linked to irregular migration. The GRETA group urges Italy not to convict victims of human trafficking for their involvement in unlawful activities, to the extent that they were compelled to do so.

Italian law lacks a specific norm prohibiting the punishment of trafficking victims in line with article 26 of the Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. Nonetheless, the Italian legal framework provides that a person is not punishable for a criminal offence committed in a ‘state of necessity,’ i.e. when the person has been forced to commit the offence under violence or threat. This applies to victims of human trafficking obliged to do something illegal, as long as the victim has been officially identified and when the exploitation has been proven in a criminal procedure against the traffickers. However, GRETA is concerned by reports showing that when the exploitation is not officially demonstrated, victims of human trafficking are convicted of criminal offences, in cases of pickpocketing or drug smuggling. Furthermore, the non-punishment clause is often not applied for offences such as illegal entry or presence in the state territory, which are typically linked to the situation of being trafficked.

While GRETA commends the steps taken by Italy in combatting trafficking in human beings, such as the possibility for victims of trafficking to receive a residence permit in order to get assistance and be involved in social integration projects, the GRETA group is concerned by the absence of coherent national identification and referral mechanism for victims of trafficking. GRETA urges Italy to introduce such mechanisms and emphasises that “particular attention should be paid to detecting victims of trafficking among unaccompanied minors, irregular migrants and asylum seekers.” The Group of Experts further urges Italy to improve coordination among the public bodies and civil society organisations involved in the fight against trafficking in human beings. It also encourages Italy to develop country-wide awareness-raising activities on all forms of human trafficking.

Regarding investigation and prosecution of trafficking in human beings, GRETA reports that in 2011, 228 criminal proceedings were initiated against 774 suspected perpetrators; in 2010, 229 proceedings against 479 suspected perpetrators; and in 2009, 271 proceedings against 1,072 suspected offenders. Despite these high numbers, GRETA denounces that only 14 suspected perpetrators were convicted in 2010 and 9 in 2011. GRETA urges the Italian authorities to take all the possible steps to fight human trafficking, such as ensuring that all crimes related to human trafficking are duly investigated, perpetrators are promptly and effectively prosecuted, and proportionate and dissuasive sanctions are adopted.

The report on Italy was adopted on July 2014 and published on 22 September 2014. The GRETA group monitors the implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings by the States Parties.

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COMPAS report shows that irregular migrant families are often excluded from welfare benefits in Madrid and Berlin

A new report by the Centre on Migration, Policy, and Society (COMPAS), of the University of Oxford, City-level responses to migrant families with restricted access to welfare benefits: A European pilot study finds that, in both legislation and practice, access to welfare for migrants can be restricted in Berlin and Madrid. The report is a pilot study which aims to provide concrete research on entitlement and restrictions to welfare for migrants which has been the subject of tense and emotive debates in some EU countries recently.

Regarding entitlement to welfare, the research shows a certain degree of inclusion in the provision of welfare benefits for migrant families in Berlin and Madrid, including for refugees, those with subsidiary humanitarian status (granted in that country), some third-country nationals, asylum seekers, some EU citizens, and those with a longer period of residence. However, irregular migrants and job-seeking EU citizens in Berlin and irregular migrants and migrants with less than a year’s residence are excluded from basic support by restrictive laws and policies set at federal or regional levels.

Where migrants were entitled to support, it was found that the experiences of migrants in asserting these rights varied depending on the local area, and that some local government institutions and/or ‘street-level bureacrats’ were gatekeeping, i.e. restricting services arbitrarily. For those unable to access welfare whether due to the law or the practice, the research demonstrated that the implications for migrant families can be severe, often leading to destitution, which could be in the form of illegal encampments, sleeping in abandoned buildings or the back rooms of shops, sofa surfing and the inability to afford basic living needs such as food for children.

The researchers encourage national, regional and local authorities to engage in a dialogue to find “the appropriate and proportionate balance of immigration enforcement vis-à-vis prevention of safeguarding risks, regardless of immigration status”. COMPAS also recommends that Member States share good practices with regard to inclusion of migrant families to welfare benefits.

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Stuck in poverty - Swiss Refugee Council finds destitute recognised refugees are unable to move residence within Italy

A report by the Swiss Refugee Council (OSAR) finds that beneficiaries of international protection in Italy are in practice unable to take up residence in a municipality other than that of their initial residence, even when the support provided in that particular municipality is not sufficient. Consequently, their right of freedom of movement is hindered and people are not able to access community support services, including health care and are left with no other alternative than living in squats under substandard conditions.

The research shows that destitute people, including homeless refugees who are unable to rent any form of property, cannot register in a new community as their applications are systematically refused. In order for the request to change the place of residence to be successful, the person must provide an address in the new community and the local authorities must confirm that the person does, in fact, reside at the address given.

Without a formal residence, the health insurance card and tax code cannot be issued. Therefore, municipalities and NGOs cannot provide beneficiaries of international protection with access to community support services, except in a limited number of cases: foreign children, pregnant women and women up to six months after giving birth, and people who find themselves in a region, where it is not possible to refer them to the appropriate social services in their region of residence. In addition, without a tax code people are excluded from the legal employment market.

The research follows a Swiss Federal Administrative Court judgment of November 2013 concerning a single mother and her child with refugee status in Italy, who submitted an asylum request in Switzerland. In the judgment, the Court stated that the situation for asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection in some Italian areas, especially sea arrival points (such as Sicily and Calabria) and big cities such as Rome and Milan is deplorable. However, the court reasoned, where beneficiaries of international protection live in unacceptable living conditions, they could take up residence wherever they choose in Italy based on the right of freedom of movement. Nevertheless, the mother and child are still in Switzerland as their removal has been stayed by a Rule 39 interim measure pending the outcome of the Tarakhel v Switzerland case before the European Court of Human Right on removal of an Afghan family to Italy under the Dublin Regulation.

The report is available in English, French and German.