During the Global Refugee Forum taking place in Geneva, December 16-18, EU member states have pledged a total of 30,000 resettlement places for 2020, backed with financial support from the European Commission. A delegation of MEPs called for more ambitious resettlement efforts.
The pledges from member states made in the context of the Global Refugee Forum in Geneva makes EU the largest contributor to global resettlement efforts. A total of 50,000 resettlement places were pledged by states globally. Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson stated: “Resettlement is a key tool in ensuring that people in need of protection do not put their lives at risk and reach the EU via safe and legal pathways.” According to the European Commission the EU resettlement programme will focus on resettlement from “Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and countries along the Central Mediterranean route. Resettlements from the Emergency Transit Mechanisms in Niger and Rwanda will also remain a high priority.”
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) hosting the event estimates the global resettlement needs at 1.44 million. A delegation of MEPs headed by Swedish MEP Malin Björk (GUE/NGL) regretted that: “no substantial new pledges were made from the EU” and urged the EU to: “support and encourage Member States to commit to more ambitious resettlement pledges for the most vulnerable refugees, coordinated by UNHCR, as well as humanitarian admission.”
The expansion of resettlement and complementary pathways to Europe was among the recommendations for EU institutions and member states in the recent ECRE policy note Time to Commit: Using the Global Refugee Forum.
More than 770 pledges by states, local authorities, institutions and agencies, civil society, refugee communities were made during the forum. The private sector pledged 250 million USD, more than 15,000 jobs and 125,000 annual hours of pro bone legal counselling for refugees.
For further information:
France has offered assistance to the return of rejected asylum seekers, combatting “illegal immigration” and the relocation of 400 asylum seekers from Greece. In 2019, 70,000 people have arrived in Greece and the critical situation on Greek islands, hosting 40,000 people in overcrowded camps with a capacity of just 5,400, is worsening.
Referencing a letter from French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner proposing collaboration between the two countries on matters of migration and asylum, French Ambassador to Greece Patrick Maisonnave stated: “Within the next few months, France will take in 400 people who have entered Greek territory. We want to help Greece in a practical manner to deal with the increased migration flows of recent months... For individuals whose [asylum] applications have been rejected, we will carry out, in cooperation with Greece and Frontex, group flights to their countries of origin.” Maisonnave also proposed assistance in combatting “illegal” migration and support on the ground in the form of increased presence of French experts, interpreters, doctors and psychologists.
Recent reports from Oxfam, Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) and Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) confirm the grave situation on the Greek islands including the lack of access to legal information to navigate the asylum process, systematic violations of basic rights and severe overcrowding. According to RSA there are now 7,600 people inside and around the Samos hotspot with an official capacity of 648 people. The organisation states: “At least 3.500 individuals (including many vulnerable) are forced to live in tents or makeshift shacks with very little protection from the weather conditions and lack of essential access to WASH facilities and basic relief items.” Further, the inhabitants including children suffer from lack of medical resources and access to education, 1,600 children having no regular education.
As of December 15, a total of of 71,368 people (14,312 by land and 57,056 by sea) have arrived in Greece in search of protection. The total number of arrivals in 2018 was 50,508 while the number at the peak of arrivals in 2015 was 861,630.
For further information:
- ECRE, Greece: Six People Found Dead in Evros Region while Authorities Prop Up Border Security, December 2017
- ECRE, Weekly Editorial: Containment instead of Protection – EU Politics in Greece and the Balkans,November 2019
- ECRE, Greece: Return to Plans for Detention Centres on the Islands, November 2019
- ECRE, Greece: New Restrictions on Rights and Procedural Guarantees in International Protection Bill, October 2019
- ECRE, Greece: Legislation Reform and Chaos on the Islands amid Expected Surge in Arrivals, October 2019
For the first time the Danish Appeal Board (Flygtningenaevnet) has confirmed the Immigration Services first instance decision to reject the protection need of three female asylum seekers from Syria based on a general improvement of the security situation in Damascus. The Danish Refugee Council (DRC) expresses concern that the Appeal Board ignored the serious risk of human rights violations in Syria.
The three cases concern Syrian women, a mother and daughter of Kurdish descent and one of Arab descent all from the Damascus area. In all three rulings (case 1, case 2, case 3) the Appeal Board finds that given a significant change in the security situation in Damascus since May 2018 when the Syrian regime gained full control of the area the applicants do not qualify for protection based on the general situation. Further, the appeal board did not find individual circumstances justifying protection.
ECRE member the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) expresses concern about the safety of the three women if returned, given the serious risk of human rights violations in Syria. The organisation further underlines the particular individual circumstances for single women and people with family members escaping military service that has been ignored in these cases but were the basis of earlier overturns of first instance decisions to deny protection for Syrian nationals. DRC also fears that the rulings can create precedence as this would be the first time an EU member state has rejected the asylum application of Syrian nationals since the start of the civil war in 2011.
In its ruling the Appeal Board refers to a variety of sources regarding the security situation in Syria including the Immigration Service’s own report from 2019.
As late as 10 October 2019, the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR stated that: ”any return of refugees to Syria has to be voluntary, dignified and at a time when it is safe to return. It is up to refugees to decide if and when they wish to return.” According to the agency more than 11 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance in Syria, more than 6 million internally displaced and 5.6 million are refugees outside Syria.
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SB Overseas recently published its report on the situation of young refugees living in reception and accommodation centres in Brussels. The report provides an overview of the challenges faced by young asylum seekers and a critical analysis of the protection mechanisms that govern and shape the lives of individuals seeking protection status.
The report highlights two areas of particular concern in guaranteeing protection of rights. Firstly, the lack of support mechanisms for those denied protection status and for those who turn 18 and are subsequently denied protection. Secondly, the increased scrutiny placed on asylum claims and, in particular, age assessments, which contribute to increased psychological pressure and prolonged insecurity.
The report offers a discussion of the mechanism that’s govern and shape the lives of young migrants living in Brussels, focussing on three specific elements of protection necessary for personal security: the need for a positive physical living space; an environment of psychological support and guidance; and the need to protect the rights of those seeking international protection. It also details the legal complexities relating to age assessments, which often rely solely on physical examinations.
SB Overseas identify a number of areas to address these issues: Firstly, continuing to monitor the application of law to ensure respect for young people’s right to international protection; secondly, advocate for the improvement of procedures used in the examination of international protection claims; finally, provide more publically available information on the situation of young refugees in Brussels.
REPORTS & NGO ACTIONS
The Illegal Pushbacks & Border Violence Reports from the Border Violence Monitoring Network documents the continuation of systematic and widespread violence and abuse of people in transit along the Western Balkan route including the use of firearms during pushbacks.
According to the report the use of firearms during pushbacks is an exponentially increasing trend, not a question of a few tragic cases. Nineteen per cent of recorded pushback cases from Croatia involved the use of guns either used to target or threaten people in transit. Across the Balkan Region, BVMN has recorded 107 incidents of gun use by police.
While the use of arbitrary detention in harsh conditions, severe physical abuse and psychological violence are systematic features of Croatian pushbacks, the phenomenon of illegal pushbacks is happening across the region. The report includes cases of chain pushbacks from Italy to Bosnia and Herzegovina via Slovenia and Croatia and pushbacks from Greece to Turkey in the Evros region. Further, the report includes mass removals, of close to 10,000 people in the first ten month of 2019, through a readmission agreement from Slovenia to Croatia from where people are collectively expelled to Bosnia-Herzegovina or Serbia.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, the lack of formal accommodation and the violent removal of people and informal settlements leaves people in transit, including unaccompanied children, at risk.
In October 2019, the Border Violence Monitoring Network recorded 22 interviews revealing the pushback of 230 people. Seventeen were cases of pushbacks to Bosnia and Herzegovina, one a chain pushback from Italy, two from Slovenia, and fourteen direct pushbacks from Croatia. Three cases were pushbacks to Serbia, one a chain pushback from Slovenia, and two direct pushbacks from Croatia. Two cases were pushbacks to Turkey from Greece.
For further information:
- ECRE, Bosnia and Herzegovina: Authorities Remove Hundreds from Notorious Vucjak Camp, December 2019
- ECRE, Editorial: Croatia’s Schengen Accession: Reinforcing Legal Red Lines Not Borders, October 2019
- ECRE, Systemic Pushbacks and Border Violence Continue in the Balkans, October 2019
- AIDA, AIDA Country Update Croatia 2018, March 2019
- AIDA, AIDA Country Update Serbia 2018, March 2019
Almost 1000 people have protested in front of the office of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Agadez, Niger, against the poor conditions in the UNHCR-run facility and the delay of resettlement procedures. The systemic isolation in the centre is considered a model for “outsourcing of the asylum system outside Europe”.
Hundreds of people, among them many refugees from Sudan, marched 18 km from the humanitarian centre where they are accommodated to the UNHCR headquarters to submit a memorandum bearing their demands to expedite their resettlement procedures and denounce the deteriorating humanitarian conditions in the facility. The march turned into a sit-in and is part of on-going series of refugee protests in Niger since early 2019.
According to one of the protesters the facility is located in the middle of the desert lacking “the simplest means of life” as well as adequate education. Chronic disease is spreading among the refugees, many of which are unaccompanied who have been waiting in the facility for over two years, he added.
In 2017, UNHCR established an Emergency Transit Mechanism (ETM) in Niger for the evacuation of vulnerable people from Libya identified for resettlement to Europe and elsewhere. As of November 2019, 2,143 out of 2,913 of those evacuated by UNHCR have been resettled.
An increasing number of self-evacuated refugees have also arrived in Agadez from Libya with the hope of being resettled. Niger agreed to the ETM under the condition that all refugees would be resettled in Europe. However, as stated in a MEDAM police brief, for the self-evacuees, resettlement becomes increasingly unlikely and they were moved to a refugee camp outside the capital, which hampers local integration and their economic autonomy.
The network Alarm Phone Sahara commented. “This situation occurs in a context where European states are seeking to outsource the processing of cases of refugees, who have fled wars and persecution in countries like in East Africa, to countries far from the borders of Europe. The state of Niger is currently serving as a model for the outsourcing of the asylum system towards outside Europe, receiving considerable amounts of money from EU member states.”
Since 2017, a total of 4,252 persons have been evacuated from Libya: 2,913 to Niger, 808 to Italy and 531 to through the Emergency Transit Centre to Romania.
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#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.
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.
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