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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.

     
27 January 2017
  
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OP-ED

NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS
REPORTS AND NGO ACTIONS
  

EDITORIAL 

Wilful denial: ignoring consequences of outsourcing protection

It should not take an intervention from the Ombudsman to convince the European Commission that an assessment of the human rights implications of the EU-Turkey deal is needed. However, the approach from the Commission seems to be one of deliberate blindness.
 
At the height of what has come to be known as the ‘EU migration crisis’ the reactions were political panic and ad hoc initiatives at EU and national level rather than a coherent strategy. Now the European Commission is trying to get back in the game with an emerging strategy based on externalizing: blocking access to Europe and paying other countries to take responsibility for persons in need of protection, despite being ill-equipped to do so.
 
New initiatives are designed to reduce access to protection in Europe for people in need rather than to ensure it. The EU-Turkey deal stands as a symbol of the European response to the increasing forced displacement caused to a large extent by the war in Syria and other major conflicts. Other dirty deals have followed: Afghanistan (money in exchange for accepting returns from Europe, with the Afghan government able to name its price); deals under new Partnership Framework (development, diplomacy and trade at the service of migration control); and this week a Commission Communication for the Southern Mediterranean.
 
The first point in the new Communication is strengthening the Libyan coastguard. No-one would deny the need for increased search and rescue. Indeed, many NGOs have stepped in to operate such missions. However, if migrants are rescued by the Libyan coastguard, the Europeans are off the hook: people rescued by European ships or transported by NGOs to Europe fall under European jurisdiction and are entitled to seek asylum (which many need).  By supporting the Libyan coastguard, Europe can dispense with its obligation to provide protection. But what “protection” will be provided when they are returned to Libyan soil – and the migrant centres it hosts? The Communication itself notes that there is “no real governance” in Libya and that the conditions in centres are “unacceptable”. It is hard to see how the identification of “focal persons” in ministries or the creation of “synergies” and “platforms” is likely to address the situation. Prospects for “integration” seem poor in a militia-dominated country with no functioning government and a history of discrimination against migrants. But at least they will be out of Europe.
 
While the irrational fear of the costs of immigration into Europe drive policy making, the Communication continues the trend of channeling EU funds to the migration-security industry.     
 
The risk of complicity in human rights abuses to result from the new Communication is clear. ECRE argued that the EU-Turkey Deal was unethical, illegal and unworkable, in part because the abuses it may give rise to.

The grave human rights situation and humanitarian challenges in the hotspots in Greece and Italy or along the Balkan Route for that matter, is no secret to anyone with eyes and ears in their head. The fact it takes intervention from the Ombudsman for the Commission to recognize this reflects a broader problem.
 
The Communication on the Southern Mediterranean is just the latest in a line of initiatives to restrict the access of asylum seekers and migrants to Europe to be developed without sufficient assessment of the human rights consequences and despite obvious practical problems.
 
The real challenge for civil society and accountability bodies such as the Ombudsman is not revealing mistakes that need to be corrected but to address the fundamental approach of the EU and its member countries.
 
Politicians are not blind – they are denying their human rights obligations and they are doing so in the name of all of us. 
 
Let us insist that it does not have to continue like this!

Catherine Woollard
Secretary General for the European Council on Refugees and Exiles ECRE
 
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OP-ED

Summary deportations of Afghans in Germany continue – a question of life and death, OP-ed by Karl Kopp, Pro Asyl Director of European Affairs

This week the first summary deportation of rejected asylum seekers from Afghanistan to Kabul took place. According to media 26 men have been deported from Frankfurt to Kabul. This is the second summary deportation to Afghanistan carried out from Germany.
 
The first collective deportations to Afghanistan took place on 14th December last year, where 34 people were deported to Kabul out of 50 initially planned. The deportations could potentially be stopped – in some cases only at the last minute.
 
In the last deportation, a rumour the Federal Minister for the Interior, de Maizière, stated later in a press release  that “about a third” of the group had committed crimes and talked about a whole host of accusations, however he gave no further details. Additionally, Pro Asyl holds information, of varying detail, from a variety of sources on 23 of the affected people, some of whom were deported as part of the group, whose deportation could be prevented for the time being. These sources draw a different picture from that painted by the de Maizière.
 
The people are between 21 and 57 years of age and had mostly been in Germany for between two and five years; some even longer. Some of them had started apprenticeships or were already in employment. Many were in medical care, for instance for psychological issues. For most of these 23 people there is no evidence of any offending. So far, investigations have only revealed that at least one person was collected directly from detention in Hamburg, and that, according to an information request from the Ministry for the Interior in North Rhine-Westphalia, five of the deportees from that region were “delinquents”, although apparently only three of those had been convicted by a court of law, while two court procedures were still ongoing.
 
The identities of those individuals to be deported this week also remain unclear. What is certain, especially given the approach taken with December’s deportations, is that separate investigations into each individual case, the existence of which was publicly admitted by the federal states, have clearly not taken place.
 
This clearly shows that there is an attempt to tarnish the entire group of deportees with the same brush and to create a general suspicion of “delinquency”.  By further stressing the fact that the deportees are “young, single men” the inhibition threshold for deportations to a war-torn and crisis-ridden region is lowered and public acceptance for such a practice is created. This is done in order to build public acceptance for deportations to a region of crisis and war.
 
Upon arrival in Afghanistan media has reported on the lack of support provided to deportees.
If at all, shelter is provided only for a matter of weeks, and financial support is very low, even by Afghan standards. What compounds the problem is that currently thousands of Afghans are forced to return to their home country from neighbouring nations such as Pakistan and their situation is equally precarious.
 
By carrying out these deportations, the Federal Ministry of the Interior is completely ignoring the security situation in Afghanistan. Even a specially commissioned UNHCR report states “with reference to the interpretation of the term ‘internal armed conflict’ by the European Court of Justice in the case Diakité […] the entire state territory of Afghanistan is affected by an internal armed conflict as per Article 15(c) of the EU Qualification Directive.” Even this cannot deter de Maizière from his path.
 
It is evident that the problem of deporting asylum seekers starts with the decreasing recognition rates of Afghan asylum seekers, as is occurring all over Europe. In Germany, the recognition rate for Afghans has decreased by 16.4% between 2015 to 2016. Other European countries, such as Norway are showing an even sharper decline of more than 50%.
 
While declining recognition rates and asylum requests as well as increasing deportation rates seem to become a synonym for political success all over Europe, it is important to remember that for people affected by these policies it remains a question of life and death.
 
Pro Asyl has published advice for Afghan refugees in Germany and their advisors. To find out more, please click here
 
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NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS

UK Detained Fast-Track system denied asylum seekers justice for ten years

The High Court of England and Wales ruled on 20 January 2017 that asylum seekers have been denied justice for 10 years under the Detained Fast-Track (DFT), used by the Home Office to accelerate the examination of asylum claims.
 
After the Detained Fast-Track appeal rules changed in 2014, in 2015 the Court of Appeal suspended the Detained Fast-Track (DFT), finding the rules to be “structurally unfair and unjust” because they imposed very short time limits on detained asylum seekers.
 
The High Court found that the rules applicable from 2005 to 2014 were also unlawful. This means that as many as 10,000 asylum seekers have been treated unfairly by the Home Office and are entitled to have their cases heard again. However, the media states that many have already been forcibly removed from the UK amid dangers of torture and death.
 
“This ruling confirms that for ten years the Home Office was putting asylum-seekers through a detained process that was unlawfully unfair.  Countless thousands of people will have been deported, without ever having a lawful hearing of their cases.  No-one can know their fate.  The Home Office and the courts must make sure that never again are asylum-seekers systematically denied justice”, said Jerome Phelps, Director of Detention Action.
  
For further information: 
                                                                                                                                                                   
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REPORTS AND NGO ACTIONS

Pushed back to Serbian winter: 1,600 cases of alleged push-backs in last two months

Save the Children released a statement this week showing that 1,600 cases of push backs from Hungary and Croatia to Serbia have taken place during the last two months. Push backs to Serbia have previously been reported by the Asylum Information Database (AIDA) and Human Rights Watch, and are regularly recorded by UNHCR.

According to Save the Children, push backs are often carried out violently. The organisation found an average 30 push backs back to Serbia on a daily basis in the last two months. From Monday to Wednesday this week, UNHCR states that 45 refugees and migrants have been denied access to asylum procedures in Hungary and were forcibly pushed back to Serbia.

In its latest fact-finding visit report to Croatia published last December, ECRE also found that the problem of push backs persists at the Croatian-Serbian border. The report states that while information on push backs has been shared by UNHCR with Croatian authorities, no investigations had been carried out by authorities, due to lack of precision as to dates and location of the incidents reported. However, as many push backs are carried out in woods and forests, information on precise location remains difficult.

“The persisting and well-documented deficiencies of the Serbian asylum system clearly demonstrate summary returns to Serbia as unlawful. The closure of the Balkan route has created higher risks of abuse and denial of protection against those who most need it. It is crucial that allegations of push backs are thoroughly investigated and that UNHCR and expert human rights organisations are enabled to conduct systematic border monitoring.” says Minos Mouzourakis, AIDA Coordinator.

For further information:
 
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Italian NGOs raise concerns over conditions in Cone reception centre and government reform plans to tackle reception problems

This week a coalition of NGOs has reiterated their concerns over the conditions at the Emergency Reception Centre (CAS) in Cona close to Venice amid controversial government plans aiming to improve the reception conditions in the country.

ECRE Member ASGI together with four other Italian NGOs stated that the centre is overcrowded, and reiterated concerns over access to basic services, legal assistance and the presence of unaccompanied asylum seeking children. At the beginning of the month, legal action resulted in an interim decision by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) demanding clarification by the Italian government regarding conditions and unlawful presence of minors in the centre. Meanwhile, concerns persist over more than 30 other unaccompanied asylum seeking children who are still present in the CAS in Cone, in breach of national law and the wrong registration of children as adults.

The CAS in Cona is one of Italy’s first line reception centres, as the Italian reception system is divided into first line reception centres for people that whole claims need to be registered and second-line reception centres, SPRA that accommodate asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection. Those centres are better equipped and run by a publicly funded network of local authorities and NGOs.

In a quest to encourage municipalities to host more asylum seekers and participate in the SPRA system, the Italian government laid out its plan this week to pay €500 per asylum seeker to each municipality without defining how the money is to be used. This move has been criticised by Caterina Bove, a lawyer at ASGI, who told ECRE: “This is unlikely to into higher quality reception standards compatible with those of the SPRA system.” According to the ASGI, the solution lies in adapting reception standards CAS centres to those lied down for SPRA centres. Without adapting standards the closure of existing CAS centres will not be feasible and more emergency shelters opened.

For further information:
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Poland, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovenia: Pushed back at the door

A new report “Pushed back at the Door”  by five human rights NGOs shows that access to protection is increasingly limited in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia. The report urges European governments to find the right balance between protecting borders and people.

The report highlights that there have been increased border controls including the construction of physical barriers in Bulgaria and Hungary. In both countries concerns over police violence towards asylum seekers persist, in Hungary especially in regard to the “push-back law” and in Bulgaria in regard to the interception of asylum seekers who have crossed into the country irregularly. In the Czech Republic and Poland the main concerns lie in the lack of transparency and oversight of border control  have led to violations of the principle of non-refoulement by border guards. In Slovenia access to the territory is very difficult, although these issues are currently being discussed. 

Among the recommendations, the report concludes that there is a need for the introduction of effective border control mechanisms involving external actors that monitor and train staff and have full access to border check-points. Furthermore, the report calls on NGOs and international organization to cooperate in producing informational materials for asylum-seekers and to follow up on human rights violations.

Aniko Bakonyi, Co-author of the report and Advocacy Officer at ECRE Member organisation the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC) told ECRE, “While increased border controls and physical barriers, have proven to be ineffective as they cannot divert refugees from seeking protection, the wide-spread nature of violent push-backs in Bulgaria and Hungary is of serious concern. The direct result of these policies might be best described by those that are directly affected, such as an Afghan refugee child who was exposed to police violence in Hungary and who HCC interviewed who stated ‘This is not Europe.’”

For further information:
  

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