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, find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

10 January 2020
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Appeal Court Cleares Lifeline Captain of all Charges – NGOs Continue to Rescue

A Maltese Appeal Court cleared Lifeline Captain Claus-Peter Reisch of all charges. The Court found no criminal intent when the Captain entered Maltese waters without licence after saving over 200 people at sea. This week, NGO Sea Watch rescued over 200 people after Maltese authorities failed to intervene.

Captain Reisch was arrested in 2018 following the rescue of 234 people from the Mediterranean Sea.  He was charged with two offences: entering Maltese waters without the necessary registration or licence and using a vessel for commercial purposes without a licence. In the initial judgment, delivered in May 2019, he was found guilty of charge one and issued with a €10,000 fine. Now, the Court of Appeal concluded that there was no evidence of criminal intent in relation to navigating in Maltese waters without the necessary registration and overturned the previous ruling.

The NGO Aditus, involved in the case, commented: “Today’s victory is extremely significant for us. It confirmed what we have been saying since the very beginning of this saga: Captain Claus-Peter Reisch had only been interested in saving lives at sea and his actions had been all performed in good faith. The judgement highlights short-comings in the manner the prosecuting officers handled the case. For us, yet without attributing such opinions to the Court, these statements confirm our suspicions that this case was never really ever about the ship’s registration but more about EU Member States’ attempts to frustrate NGOs rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean.”

On Thursday and Friday of this week, the rescue vessel Sea Watch 3, run by the NGO Sea Watch, saved over 100 people at the Central Mediterranean in three operations within 24h. Maltese authorities reportedly refused to initiate a rescue in their waters. Sea Watch also reports pull-backs to Libya by the so-called Libyan Coastguard.

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Spain: Summary Expulsion of 42 People to Morocco

On 3 January, the Spanish NGO Caminando Fronteras reported the summary removal by Spanish authorities of 42 people disembarked in the morning at Chafarinas, a Spanish group of small islands situated 3.5 km from the Moroccan Coast.

As testified by a recorded message sent by a person involved in the push-back, people were returned to Morocco by the Spanish Civil Guard while they believed they were approaching the Spanish enclave of Melilla. Only when they heard Arabic voices, they realized they were back at the starting point.

Over 60 NGOs signed a statement denouncing Spain’s violation of the non-refoulement principle, which prohibits States from returning people to a state where they may face severe human rights violations amounting to inhuman and degrading treatment. States are thus obliged to examine each case.

The activist Helena Maleno, member of Caminando Fronteras, underlined: “It wasn’t just a push-back at the entrance, these people were waiting for hours in Spanish territory without any assistance”.

In contradiction with the pictures and the geolocation collected by the NGO, the Government denied any involvement, reporting that people were rescued at sea by the Moroccan Coast Guard who transferred them, as prescribed by the law, to the nearest safe port.

In the last six months, arrivals at the Spanish islands off the Moroccan coast have increased as Spanish and Moroccan police forces stepped up border control in the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. Since August, more than 600 people entered Spain through this route, 120 in the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

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Austria: New Coalition Government Continues Hard-line Stance on Migration 

The Greens’ participation in Austria’s new coalition government failed to overhaul the restrictive asylum and migration policies of the previous right-wing coalition.

Following several months of negotiations, Austria's Conservative party led by Sebastian Kurz agreed to form a coalition government with the Green Party rather than the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ). Still, the 300-page coalition agreement and several declarations made by the Government indicate that the reached compromise comes at the expense of asylum seekers. The establishment of a Federal Agency in charge of providing legal assistance to asylum seekers (BBU) goes ahead despite numerous concerns raised by UNHCR as well as ECRE members Diakonie and asylkoordination campaign #FairLassen. ECRE has also called for the withdrawal of measures that severely restrict access to independent legal assistance.

Further restrictive measures announced by the government include preventive detention for persons considered to pose a threat to the general public as well as the creation of facilities at the border to process asylum seekers who are already living in urban areas, thus contributing to their isolation. The prospective introduction of a headscarf ban on girls under the age of 14 at state schools could hamper integration of Muslim refugees.

Asylkoordination expressed concern over the constitutionality of preventive detention and assured that they will exhaust all means to prevent the end of independent legal assistance in Austria.

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Greece: Government Hit with Interim Measures and Introducing New List of Safe Country of Origin

The European Court of Human Rights recently granted interim measures to unaccompanied children living in reception and identification centres (RIC) in the "jungle" of Samos Island. The ruling comes amid a more restrictive approach to asylum seekers from the Greek government that declared twelve countries as safe countries of origin on January 4.

The case, which was brought by the Greek Council for Refugees, together with Still I Rise and Doctors Without Borders, concerned five unaccompanied teenage asylum seekers living on Samos Island pending their transfer to a centre with better living conditions. The applicants in the case complain that their living conditions constituted a gross violation of Article 3 ECHR due to a lack of access to medical services, security, food, and adequate hygiene facilities. Such conditions are exacerbated due to the age of the applicants, who also alleged that adults were able to access areas specifically reserved for minors.

Moreover, the organisations have called upon the Greek authorities to take prompt and necessary steps to ensure the effective protection of young people seeking international protection. Such effective protection would include, inter alia: the introduction of an effective guardianship system, increasing access to suitable accommodation for minors, and prohibiting the legalisation of juvenile detention.

Interim measures serve as an indication to the Greek authorities to refrain from transferring the unaccompanied applicants, but are also brought to ensure that the reception conditions are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, namely Article 3.

The Greek government adopted on January 4 a Joint Ministerial Decision that declares twelve countries as safe countries of origin. This includes Albania, Algeria, Armenia, Gambia, Georgia, Ghana, India, Morocco, Senegal, Togo, Tunisia and Ukraine.

Introducing a list of safe countries of origin is one measure foreseen by the new International Protection Act (IPA) which has been heavily criticised for introducing several restrictions on individual rights and procedural guarantees in the Greek asylum system. Article 83(9) IPA foresees that applicants originating from a safe country of origin are subject to accelerated procedures.

Until last week, there was no national list of safe countries in Greece and the rules relating to safe countries of origin in Greek law were not applied in practice.

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Italy: Report on Effects of the “Security Decrees” on Migrants and Refugees in Sicily

Borderline-Europe published its 2019 report “The situation of refugees in Sicily”, focusing on the impact of the Decree Law 113/2018, implemented by Law 132/2018 on the asylum system. Despite a change of government in Italy in September 2019, the Law on immigration and security was neither abolished nor amended, resulting in profound consequences on the reception, protection and basic provisions in Sicily and across Italy.

With the aim to make the asylum system more effective, the Law transformed the System of protection for asylum seekers and refugees (SPRAR) to the System of protection of refugees and unaccompanied minors (SIPROIMI), excluding asylum seekers and beneficiaries of humanitarian protection status from the second-line reception centres. This means that the two groups are channeled into the existing Emergency Accommodation Centres (CAS), which do not offer integration opportunities and are often located in isolated areas. Additionally, the new Law massively reduced funds for CAS, which accommodates approximately 75-90% of all migrants, as well as funds for mediation and legal advice in them. Due to the reduction of funds, many CAS had to lower their services or close their facilities in Sicily.

The asylum procedure was affected through a legislate reform, abolishing the humanitarian protection status, which was frequently granted before the 2018 law reform. The report highlights how this led to the irregularization of migrants who were eligible for the humanitarian protection status, aggravating their access to the reception system and leaving them in destitution. The Law also repealed the rules governing civil registration, prohibiting asylum-seekers to register as residence, excluding them from basic health care and social coverage.

In August 2019, Degree Law 53/2019, adopted into Law 77/2019, further weakened the rights of migrants and asylum seekers. With the aim to control migration through restrictive policies, the Law increases the power of law enforcement and restricts and criminalises saving migrants at sea, despite international obligations under United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the guidelines of the International maritime organisation (IMO).

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ECRE Policy Note: Migration Control Conditionality: A Flawed Model

ECRE has published a Policy Note which discusses proposal to make EU external funding, including development assistance, conditional on third country governments’ willingness to increase cooperation on readmission.

The new leadership of the European Commission and the Council of the EU are currently discussing how to increase the number of people returned to third countries. Return and readmission is a priority for the new Commission and a continued disproportionate focus on deportations is likely, with an increased number of people returned from Europe seen as one – if not the most –  important indicator of a successful migration policy.

To achieve this objective, the Commission and Member States are currently considering different policy options to increase pressure on third countries to cooperate on return and readmission. Early discussions have centred on how to use visa restrictions or facilitations for nationals of a third country to increase cooperation. In addition , the use of EU external funding, including development assistance, is being considered and the negotiations on the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) in the next Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF) is viewed by EU Member States as an opportunity to anchor such an approach in the legislation that will underpin spending from 2021 onwards.

The Policy Note points out the various flaws in this approach, many of which also apply to using other policies, such as trade or security policy, to further the EU’s return objectives. It ends with recommendations regarding future cooperation on return and readmission as well as the negotiations of EU development funding after 2021.

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Peaceful Refugee Protest in Agadez Brought to Violent End

Niger’s authorities violently dispersed a sit-in protest of around 1000 refugees outside the office of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Agadez that had lasted 20 days.

The group of mostly Sudanese refugees, who escaped Libya, had been protesting peacefully outside of the UNHCR office since 14 December 2019 to demand better living conditions, basic health care and education as well as the acceleration of their resettlement procedures. On 4 January, after Niger's High Court ruled the sit-in “illegal”, police and security forces applied force to return the protester to the camp leaving many of them injured according to witnesses. Returned against their will to the camp 15km outside of Agadez, some of the protesters reportedly set fire to parts of the camp as a continuation of their protest. The police arrested over 300 of them.

After escaping Libya, many of the protesters have been waiting for resettlement in the isolated camp for over two years with temperatures reaching up to 50 degree Celsius.

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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.

#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.




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