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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.

     
23 March 2018
  
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EDITORIAL

OP-ED

EUROPEAN DEVELOPMENTS

GENERAL COURT OF THE EUROPEAN UNION

NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS

REPORTS & NGO ACTIONS

BEYOND EUROPE

INTERVIEW
  

EDITORIAL

Reclaiming security from migration

At a meeting in Niamey last week European and African interior and foreign affairs ministers and international organisations met to discuss smuggling and trafficking. The meeting is the next step in the initiative for cooperation on security and migration launched at the Paris meeting convened by President Macron last year.

The initiative appears to be expanding in terms of participants but narrowing in terms of scope. It combines France’s long-standing interest in building strong states in Francophone Africa and Germany’s new-found interest in preventing irregular migration from Africa. But it is funded and in large part delivered through the EU. This means that other Member States and EU institutions and civil society have interests, as well as the local societies. It fits the EU’s new approach of Capacity Building for Security and Development (CBSD) and national level capacity building (training and equipping), building the G5 regional armed force, and some legislative reform, with activities delivered through the EU’s crisis management (CSDP) missions, Frontex, and EU funding.

There are potentially positive elements here and it would be wrong to reject linking security and migration per se: after all, the people of the Sahel desperately want security and one of the main reasons for forced displacement is lack of security; horrendous abuses are committed on migrants, destroying their security.

And criticising the initiative as “securitisation of migration” is to only see half the picture: it is not only about using security tools to address migration but also about the continued intrusion into the security field of policy objectives linked to migration – “migratising” security rather than the other way round. And this gives rise to questions.

First, what are the objectives of this initiative and of EU CBSD in the Sahel now? Is it supposed to strengthen security? Or is it to disrupt smuggling to prevent irregular migration to Europe? The latter is a short-term objective which distorts CBSD to meet Europe’s own perceived interest in preventing migration, and it may undermine security in the region.

Second, whose security is at stake? The EU can play a useful role in supporting security in the Sahel+ region but its actions have to be based in some way on the security priorities of the region. Is disruption of smuggling the number one security priority for either the states or the people of the region? Are the people of the countries being consulted in any way about their security needs? Some of the countries involved are significant countries of origin of migrants leaving for Europe and lack of security is a reason for departure, so even from a migration control perspective it is important to include them. Security for the region is far more than states controlling their borders. Although it is sacrilegious to say it these days, even for Europeans, irregular migration is not the number one security threat we face.

Third, who provides security? The initiative looks very étatist – focused on building up state security forces. But what if these forces are themselves the creators of insecurity, violators of human rights – and facilitators of smuggling? These are the risks attached to the CBSD approach in general.

Fourth, how does the initiative relate to economic development? Security is a precondition for development but does this type of initiative generate the right security? Migration is also essential to the economies of the region and research has already demonstrated that European efforts to prevent migration of the small percentage of people who seek to reach Europe disrupts intra-regional migratory flows of people and goods. The statement from the meeting includes references to sustainable development and alternative livelihoods, all of which must be backed up by adequate support from development funding (rather than it being diverted to yet more “security” initiatives.)

The effectiveness of the initiative could be improved: make it less state-centric by integrating some assessment of people’s security needs, and consult and engage beyond the state forces to be supported. Add in reform and accountability measures. Bolster safeguards such as the presence of human rights advisors in EUCAP Sahel and Mali with extra support, resources and higher status.

But really, this should be more about security and less about migration. Well-governed states providing security for their people is the best way to reduce forced displacement in the short term and to create economic development in the longer term. We need to reclaim development and security policies from migration.
 

Catherine Woollard, ECRE Secretary General
 

 


OP-ED

New Statelessness Index reveals protection gaps across Europe and points to a better approach to tackling statelessness

By Nina Murray, Research & Policy Coordinator at the European Network on Statelessness.
 
Statelessness is a legal anomaly affecting more than half a million people in Europe - not only recent migrants and refugees, but also people whose families have lived in the same place for generations. For many people, statelessness means denial of the basic rights many of us take for granted: to go to school or work, to get married or register the birth of your child, to ‘legally exist’. All European states have obligations in international law to protect stateless people and prevent statelessness, but in many cases, these have not been translated into effective laws at the national level. More than half a million men, women and children in Europe are falling through these gaps.
 
And it’s not an issue that is likely to go away any time soon. According to Eurostat, 2.5% of all asylum applicants in the EU in 2016 were stateless or had ‘unknown citizenship. That is around 30,000 people with an identified nationality problem, and the true figure is likely to be much higher given problems with accurate identification at Europe’s borders. At the same time, gender discrimination in nationality laws in many countries of origin, combined with a lack of legal safeguards in European countries to prevent statelessness, mean that some children born to refugees here in Europe are at risk of statelessness. Under Syrian law, for example, women cannot pass on their citizenship to their children, and the UN estimates that a quarter of Syrian refugee households are fatherless.
 
Organisations supporting refugees and migrants in Europe are increasingly discovering that nationality and statelessness issues are affecting people they work with. Meanwhile, countries across Europe have very different approaches to dealing with statelessness. There is no clear, consistent, or comprehensive approach to identifying who is stateless, granting protection to stateless people, and preventing children from being born stateless in Europe. More clear and comprehensive information and guidance on statelessness in Europe is urgently needed. Stateless people and those working with them need to know who is doing what to respond to the phenomenon, what works, and what their rights are.
 
The European Network on Statelessness and its members across Europe have developed a new online tool to address this gap. The Statelessness Index enables instant comparison of how different countries protect people without a nationality and what they are doing to prevent and reduce statelessness. It provides extensive country by country analysis of law, policy and practice, which has been benchmarked against international norms and good practice and then assessed using five categories, ranging from the most positive to the most negative. The Index allows users to quickly check law or policy in a specific country, find examples of good practice, and understand where advocacy is most needed to push for reform.

The Index will be an important tool for different audiences. It can support civil society organisations and lawyers helping people affected by nationality problems or advocating with decision-makers for reform; government officials drafting new procedures can look to the Index for examples of good practice from neighbouring countries; students and academics can use it in their research; and stateless people will be able to access important information about their rights and entitlements. As well as checking performance and comparing countries on the main site, users can also download the original country surveys containing all the data, including links and references to national law and policy, which formed the basis of the assessment of a country’s performance. Publishing this data and the sources behind the Index not only helps to ensure transparency, but will also support the work of researchers, lawyers and other experts.

Currently the Index offers comparative data for 12 countries: France, Germany, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, The Netherlands, Poland, Serbia, Slovenia, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and Ukraine, but we will be adding more countries soon. We will also continue to work with our members and partners to update the country profiles with new information and to develop other useful resources from the Index data, such as policy briefings, training packages, and awareness raising materials.

 
 


EUROPEAN DEVELOPMENTS

European Commission presents proposal to reform EU Visa Policy as leverage to ensure return of irregular migrants

The European Commission has put forward a proposal to reform the EU’s common visa policy with the goal of making it easier for tourists to obtain a visa to come to Europe, while strengthening security and “mitigating irregular migration risks”. According to the EU migration commissioner, the EU will “introduce stricter conditions for processing visas when a partner country does not cooperate sufficiently on the readmission of irregular migrants”.

Under the proposal, if the European Commission finds that countries are uncooperative on readmitting its nationals who are to be returned from the EU, the Commission can toughen rules on granting visas, including changing the processing time of applications, the length of validity of visas issued, the cost of visa fees and the exemption of such fees for certain travellers such as diplomats.

The proposal is presented as another measure of the European Commission under its European Agenda on Migration, namely the objective to “deliver on return and readmission”. This week the European Commission published a communication presenting the developments since November 2017 and reporting on the progress made under the European Agenda on Migration.

For further information:  
 

GENERAL COURT OF THE EUROPEAN UNION

General Court of the European Union rules in favor of complainant on public access to trilogue negotiation documents  

In its judgment in De Capitani v European Parliament (Case T-540/15) the General Court of the European Union finds ‘that no general presumption of non-disclosure can be upheld on the basis of the nature of a legislative procedure’ leaving documents related to trilogue negotiations between the European Commission, Parliament and Council in principle open to the public.

The complainant Emilio Di Capitani requested access to documents from the EP including the positions of the institutions in ongoing co-decision procedures. The request related inter alia to the ‘four column’ tables drawn up during so-called trilogues, informal tri-partite meetings between representatives of the Parliament, Council and Commission with the aim of securing agreements on amendments to be later confirmed by the co-legislators. The General Court ruled in favor of the complainant. It found that there is no general presumption of non-disclosure in relation to the four column tables and that it was not demonstrated that disclosure of the requested documents was likely to undermine the legislative process in a reasonably foreseeable and non-hypothetical manner. The General Court underlined that “If citizens are to be able to exercise their democratic rights they must be in a position to follow in detail the decision-making process within the institutions taking part in the legislative procedures and to have access to all relevant information.” Indeed, expression of public opinion in relation to provisional agreement in the course of a trilogue forms an integral part of the exercise of EU citizen’s democratic rights.

EU institutions maintain a certain discretion to refuse access to certain documents of a legislative nature on the basis of the exception set out in the 2001 Regulation on public access to EU institutions documents, but such refusal will have to be duly justified and general considerations relating to the sensitive nature of the negotiations and effectiveness of the decision-making process will no longer suffice.

The ruling acknowledges the problematic nature of the trilogue phase in EU legislative negotiations from a transparency perspective and narrows the margin for refusal for EU institutions to requests for access to trilogue documents. This is particularly relevant in the context of the negotiations on the reform of the CEAS, where trilogues are ongoing regarding five of the seven Commission proposals. It is too early to know how increased transparency at this stage of negotiations will affect the negotiations but it has the potential to change the dynamics of the legislative process.

The court noted that trilogies cover 70 to 80 per cent legislative procedures and that the legislature itself recognises them as an integral part of them.

An appeal against the decision to seek annulment can be brought before the Court of Justice within two months of notification of the General Court’s judgment by Member States, the European institutions or individuals.  

 

 


NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS

United Kingdom: Landmark trial as anti-deportation activists face terrorism charges

The Stansted 15, fifteen anti-deportation activists who grounded a charter immigration removal flight last year, began their trial on Monday. They have been charged with aggravated trespass and endangering safety at an aerodrome, an unprecedented terrorism related charge which could result in life sentences.

The 15 were a coalition of three activist groups; End Deportations, Lesbian and Gays Support the Migrants and Plane Stupid. On the 28th of March the group locked themselves to a tripod to stop a deportation charter flight leaving from Stansted Airport in Essex, to Nigeria and Ghana. The defendants claim that the action was able to stop 34 of the 57 deportations, as a delay allowed these detainees additional time to pursue legal options. Although activists in the UK have used almost exactly the same direct action techniques on airplane runways before, they were charged only with aggravated trespass. The 15 will plead not guilty and the trial is set to last 6 weeks.

The UK began using charter deportation flights in 2001, alongside deportations taking place on standard flights. The Home Office reported 12,521 enforced returns in the year ending in September 2016. Juno Davis from End Deportations said, “Flights like the one stopped by the defendants in March last year are a brutal, and secretive and barely legal way of forcing people out of the UK. The government racially profiles people to fill seats on a plane, sending people to countries they may have little or no contact with and where they may face real risk of serious harm or even death.” Last year the British Supreme Court ruled the governments ‘deport first, appeal later’ policy introduced in 2014 was unlawful.

There has been vocal public support for the defendant’s, including a letter published in the Guardian calling for an end to the secret deportation flights. The letter states: “People across the UK are standing together to stop the Home Office breaking up families and tearing communities apart. We call for all charges against the Stansted 15 to be dropped and for the Home Office to immediately cease chartering flights for deportation.” Signatories include Caroline Lucas MP, David Lammy MP, Gloria Steinem and Naomi Klein.


For further information:
 


REPORTS & NGO ACTIONS

AIDA 2017 Update Italy: obstacles in accessing asylum procedures and lack of reception capacity*

The updated AIDA Country Report on Italy documents developments in the asylum procedure, reception conditions, detention of asylum seekers and content of international protection throughout 2017.

The year 2017 has been chatacterised by media, political and judicial crackdown on non-governmental organisations (NGOs) saving lives at sea, and by the implementation of cooperation agreements with African countries such as Libya, while barriers to access to the territory have also been witnessed at the northern borders of the country, against the backdrop of increasing arrivals from Austria.

Severe obstacles continue to be reported with regard to access to the asylum procedure in Italy. Several Police Headquarters (Questure) in cities such as Naples, Rome, Bari and Foggia have set specific days for seeking asylum and limited the number of people allowed to seek asylum on a given day, while others have imposed barriers on specific nationalities. In Rome and Bari, nationals of certain countries without a valid passport were prevented from applying for asylum. In other cases, Questure in areas such as Milan, Rome, Naples, Pordenone or Ventimiglia have denied access to asylum to persons without a registered domicile, contrary to the law. Obstacles have also been reported with regard to the lodging of applications, with several Questure such as Milan or Potenza unlawfully refusing to complete the lodging of applications for applicants which they deem not to be in need of protection.

Since December 2017, Italy has established a specific Dublin procedure in Questure in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region bordering Austria and Slovenia, with support from EASO. According to that procedure, as soon as a Eurodac ‘hit’ is recorded, Questure move the lodging appointment to a later date and notify a Dublin transfer decision to the persons concerned prior to that date. Applicants are therefore subject to a Dublin transfer before having lodged their application, received information on the procedure or had an interview.

Despite a continuing increase in the capacity of the SPRAR system, which currently counts over 35,000 funded places, the vast majority of asylum seekers are accommodated in temporary reception centres (CAS). CAS hosted around 80% of the population at the end of 2017. In Milan, for example, the ratio of SPRAR to CAS is 1:10.

Destitution remains a risk of asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection. At least 10,000 persons are excluded from the reception system. Informal settlements with limited or no access to essential services are spread across the entire national territory.

Throughout 2017, both due to the problems related to age assessment and to the unavailability of places in dedicated shelters, there have been cases of unaccompanied children accommodated in adults’ reception centres, or not accommodated at all. Several appeals have been lodged to the European Court of Human Rights against inappropriate accommodation conditions for unaccompanied children.

Five pre-removal centres (CPR) are currently operational, while a new hotspot has been opened in Messina. However, substandard conditions continue to be reported by different authorities visiting detention facilities, namely the hotspots of Lampedusa and Taranto and the CPR of Caltanissetta and Ponte Galeria.

The hotspots of Lampedusa and Taranto have been temporarily been closed as of March 2018.


*This information was first published by AIDA

 
 


BEYOND EUROPE

NGO rescue boat is held by Italian authorities after refusing to cooperate with Libyan coastguard

After a tense altercation between the Libyan coastguard and the vessel of a Spanish NGO during a rescue operation involving 218 migrants in the Mediterranean Sea on Friday, the ship concerned has been impounded in a Sicilian port, with the crew under investigation by the Italian authorities for “conspiring to facilitate illegal immigration”.

The captain of the ship, which belongs to Barcelona-based NGO Proactiva Open Arms, described how the rescue operation began in international waters 73 miles from the Libyan coast, after a general call from the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre. Although the MRCC named the Libyan coastguard as the authority responsible for managing the operation, the Open Arms captain reported that the crew proceeded with the rescue having encountered the migrants’ dinghy in a perilous situation and with no Libyan vessel in sight. According to a journalist on board the Open Arms vessel, the Libyan coastguards who subsequently arrived at the scene demanded that the migrants be handed over, while intimidating rescue workers and migrants by firing warning shots with their weapons and making threats of violence. Reports also describe migrants jumping into the water after a Libyan coastguard entered their dinghy. The Libyan coastguard has a different version of events stating that the Spanish NGO were "starting a contest with Libyan coastguards to rescue migrants," and ”acted as if it was hunting preys [sic].”

After the eventual departure of the Libyan coastguard, the Open Arms vessel proceeded to Malta and then to the port of Pozzallo in Ragusa, Sicily, where the migrants disembarked on 17 March before being taken to the hotspot. The ship has been impounded in Pozzallo since 18 March. The ship’s captain and head of mission, along with the NGO's general coordinator, are under criminal investigation due to the NGO’s refusal to transfer the rescued persons to the Libyan coastguard.

The investigation comes in an atmosphere of increasing suspicion on the part of the Italian authorities towards NGOs working in the Mediterranean. The Vice-President of SOS MEDITERANEE, now the only NGO conducting search and rescue missions in the area, has observed “a clear conjunction of the media and politics against search and rescue NGOs in Italy that is linked closely with internal political debates…we clearly observed a shift in the way the Italian society views these rescue operations. It has been quite difficult for the NGOs in general to cope with this.” After a controversial code of conduct for charity boats conducting rescues in the Mediterranean was introduced by the Italian government last summer, the rescue ship Iuventa operated by German NGO Jugend Rette was similarly impounded under suspicion of “activities facilitating illegal migration.” The court of Rome is due to issue its ruling on the seizure on 23 April.

The controversy comes in the same week that the EU’s naval mission announced its intention to rapidly expand its training programme of Libyan coastguards. Since 2016 the EU naval mission’s Operation Sofia has trained 188 Libyans, which according to the mission’s chief contributed to a sharp fall in the number of attempted Mediterranean crossings in the second half of last year.


For further information:
   
 


INTERVIEW

Free Movement - inclusion on wheels

An interview with Will Ascott, co-founder of Free Movement Skateboarding.

What is Free Movement and how did it begin?

We are a charity that provides skateboarding lessons on our portable skate park to young refugees and locals in Athens. We teach in community centres, squats and camps. We started almost exactly a year ago. Prior to that I was volunteering with a charity SkatePal, which makes skate parks and run other youth engagement activities in the West Bank. This is where I met Ruby who I run Free Movement with. All these ideas about what skateboarding can do - particularly in places where it doesn’t yet exist were really fresh in my head. It was very inspiring to see what a difference skateboarding was doing for the communities we were working with in the West Bank.

I came straight from there to Athens to volunteer at Khora Community Centre, with ideas of having a mobile skate park and taking it to different camps and communities. I then pitched the project to Help Refugees and they were really supportive. This was in November 2016 and after some fundraising in the UK we were able to launch the project in February/March 2017. 

Why and how does skateboarding make a difference to displaced people?

Our three core values are the positive effects on mental health, integration and women’s empowerment.

With mental health, skateboarding requires mindful focus to progress and improve techniques. You’re only going to land a trick if you devote your full concentration. The physical aspect – simply using your body and letting go of your worries also has a clear impact on mental health. We include a yoga warm up to release the students of stress and increase their emotional control. A lot of the refugees have suffered and may still be affected by traumatic experiences so they need to learn to regulate the emotional responses their body is going through. There’s also a mental ease that comes with feeling like you’re a part of a community.

By being part of the skate scene they become part of the local community in a very direct and practical sense. We get local instructors and we encourage local kids to come to the sessions. Kids from other countries get a chance to practice their Greek and English skills.

We have a mixed gender team and we always promote skateboarding as a sport as much for girls as it is for boys. For a lot of these kids this is their first introduction to skateboarding and there’s no preconceptions of a Western male dominated skate scene. So it’s quite empowering for girls from conservative backgrounds who aren’t afraid to engage as it’s just a new hobby for them. Hopefully this empowerment works off the skateboard as well if that confidence is carried on to other areas of their lives.

Who are the target participants of your classes?

We really try and encourage everyone to get involved, as long as you’re 6 and above and someone can sign the disclaimer! We encourage local kids alongside refugee kids to get them to hang out and have some mutual understanding and form friendships.

We focus especially on encouraging women and girls to participate, so we’ve just begun all women’s sessions in a more private space. Whilst younger girls are really keen to get involved, we noticed that beyond the age of around 13, a lot of girls become more self-conscious so these private sessions help them feel more comfortable. This is particularly true for women and girls coming from more conservative cultural backgrounds. Then as their confidence grows some of the girls going to private sessions are now coming to mixed ones. On International Women’s Day this year we had 80% female participation in one of our sessions.

At one camp we worked really hard for a long time to increase female participation, then a lot of new arrivals came and just saw it as a mixed activity and felt comfortable to participate. It initially can be challenging but once you have a solid group of girls it quickly becomes normal and doesn’t need encouragement.

What’s the response been to Free Movement from the local community?

The most direct way we’re involved is through the skate scene. We’re all skateboarders ourselves and have skateboarding friends, it’s the broader community we’re all part of. Everyone’s been really welcoming and supportive and the project seems to have really resonated with the local community. I think people are surprised and proud that this project is happening in Athens. We’ve had a lot of fundraisers put on for us and loads of people have approached us to volunteer.

There are skate communities wherever you go in the world and by introducing refugees to that global network enables them to integrate and find friends wherever they might end up. If they carry that passion for skateboarding on with them and find skateboarders in another city they’ll generally be welcomed with open arms. Recently one boy was relocated and we connected him to a local skate shop. He was instantly given a board and introduced to new friends.

Is there a difference in the sessions you teach in camps, and the inner city sessions?

They’re entirely different. We can’t promote integration in a camp, Greek locals aren’t allowed in. For a lot of those kids it’s just another evening activity which is available - they’re not necessarily devoted skateboarders. Which is fine, they do something they enjoy for an hour a week. Though of course we prefer to try and get kids passionate about it in the longer term. Camps are also very hectic environments, there’s so many young kids around and we can only teach so many at the same time. It takes a lot of energy to maintain a safe space.

But still people in those situations do really value the sessions. For example when we taught in Malakasa camp, which is an hour north of Athens. It’s really isolated and the way the public transport works has changed, so people were unable to access the city as easily. When we came for sessions it was clear people were really happy to see us.

In the city, kids are coming because they really want to be there. A lot of them have access to a skateboard elsewhere and are skating in their own time so you see progression which is great.

What’s the future for Free Movement?

We’re hoping to build Athens’ first indoor skate park. We’re fundraising for that and looking for a space. We’ve been contacted by the Community Collective who are some very reputable skate park builders who have built charitable skate parks before. They’ve built parks in places like Taghazout in Morocco, Palestine, La Paz in Bolivia. They have the materials and the team to build us a park we just need to find the space.

We also try and provide Greek jobs, so we have three Greek skateboarding instructors and we’re working on training modules to provide the best teaching methods and support for the people who participate in our sessions. We’re also starting a youth leadership scheme, to give some of the kids some responsibilities and ownership.

We’re trying to be financially sustainable by pushing our own branded merchandise, hats and skateboards etc. A big part of this is also awareness raising, not just of our cause but to inspire positive skateboarding in different contexts. It’s really easy to get old skateboarding materials off your friends and give them to someone in your local community who will appreciate it. So we’re going to create a little leaflet which will go with all our merchandise to inspire local activism.

We’ve been connecting to a lot of skateboarding charities recently and we’re going to have a forum where we discuss the positive potential of skateboarding. Whilst some charities, such as SkatePal, are more about community building, we’re more focused on trauma informed care and integration. In Palestine the skate park is a concrete structure serving as a community hub. It’s become a cultural centre, there’ll be a theatre built next to it and it’s as much of a community space as a teaching space. Long Live Southbank are also our friends, they voiced the loudest outcry against urban redevelopment in British history. At Free Movement it’s about supporting young individuals who’ve suffered trauma. Which just shows the multiple ways skateboarding can be used to have a positive impact.

I feel like we’re part of a wider mass movement of socially beneficial skateboarding projects and it’s a really exciting development. Skateboarding is quite polarised at the moment as we’re seeing it become more corporatized through sponsorship and advertising. But on the other hand there’s also more socially engaged positive movements as well and I’m very happy to be part of it.

 
 


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