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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 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 www.ecre.org, find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

     
17 April 2015
     
 
EUROPEAN DEVELOPMENTS

400 people feared dead - EU under pressure to do more to prevent further deaths in the Mediterranean​

Some 400 people are feared dead after their boat capsized on Monday in waters about 120 kilometres south of Italy's Lampedusa Island, according to survivors of the latest shipwreck in the Mediterranean. If the reports are confirmed, this would bring this year’s death toll to nearly one thousand. So far, 142 people have been rescued and eight bodies recovered.
According to the Italian Coastguard more than 8,500 people have been rescued in the Mediterranean since 10 April.

UNHCR, as well as ECRE and other NGOs have repeatedly called for the EU to step up its efforts to save lives in the Mediterranean. “Our calls for EU search-and-rescue efforts in the Mediterranean have fallen on deaf ears. Apart from the outstanding efforts of the Italian navy, the EU continues to fail to act. A similar tragedy can be happening right now”, said ECRE’s Secretary General Michael Diedring.

The Italian navy’s search-and-rescue operation, Mare Nostrum, which saved more than 100,000 people since it was established following the shipwrecks off Lampedusa in October 2013, was suspended at the end of 2014 and has not been replaced by a mission with a similar capacity to save people. In its place, Frontex operation Triton is working on a monthly budget of €2.9 million, a third of Mare Nostrum’s budget.

“Europe has scaled back search-and-rescue capacity based on the flawed argument that such operations were acting as a ‘pull factor’, attracting more migrants. But the reality in the Mediterranean is exposing that fallacy, since the numbers of desperate people seeking to make it to Europe are only going up,” said Gauri Van Gulik, Deputy Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International.

People fleeing war and persecution undertake these life-threatening journeys because they do not have another way to reach a safe place. “We could put smugglers out of business immediately if the EU would create legal channels for refugees to reach Europe”, Diedring said.

Answering to questions from the press and having refused to comment on the alleged death of 400 people, European Commission’s Spokesperson Natasha Bertaud said “today the European Commission has neither the funding nor the political support needed to create a European border guard system, which would carry out search-and-rescue missions”

The European Commission is due to present a “migration agenda” in May. According to Human Rights Watch “Some of the proposals, while cloaked in humanitarian rhetoric about preventing deaths at sea, raise serious human rights concerns (…) These include setting up offshore processing centers in North African countries, outsourcing border control and rescue operations in order to prevent departures, and increasing financial assistance to deeply repressive countries like Eritrea, one of the key countries of origin for asylum seekers attempting the sea crossing, without evidence of human rights reforms.

Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, stated: “The response to the repetitiveness and magnitude of these tragedies cannot be apathy, but it must be an urgent and comprehensive solution to this calamity”

 
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COUNCIL OF EUROPE
 
Spain: Council of Europe’s Anti-torture Committee denounces violence against migrants in Melilla

report by the Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) documents excessive violence at the fence border in Melilla. The report follows the CPT visit in Spain in 2014.

In Melilla, migrants interviewed by the CPT referred to excessive use of force by the Spanish police at the multi-fence land border with Morocco. The CPT requested a prompt and effective inquiry into an incident occurring on 15 October 2014 during which a migrant was repeatedly beaten by Guardia Civil officers. The CPT also recommends members of the Guardia Civil to receive appropriate training in professional techniques which minimise harm to any individual whom they - are seeking to apprehend.

According to the Committee, the Spanish amendment to the Aliens Act – which was still in its draft stages at the time of the report - intends to legalise the existing practice of forcibly returning to Morocco irregular migrants without conducting any identification or assessment of their needs.

Furthermore, testimonies document that Moroccan Auxiliary Forces, who sometimes operate in between the fences, use physical violence against migrants, including kicks, punches and blows with wooden sticks in order to forcibly remove them to Morocco.

In the light of the risk of ill-treatment by members of Moroccan Auxiliary Forces of irregular migrants returned to Morocco, the CPT recommends that the Spanish authorities ensure that no person is handed over to them. Further, the Committee recommends that the Spanish authorities ensure that Moroccan Auxiliary Forces officials do not enter Spanish territory to apprehend and forcibly return irregular migrants to Morocco.

The CPT reiterated its request to receive detailed accounts of the use of the Readmission Agreement between Spain and Morocco since 1992 and the number of foreign nationals concerned.

Furthermore, the CPT underlined that irregular migrants are detained in a prison-like environment. In the two detention centres visited, in Barcelona (Zona Franca) and Madrid (Aluche), the shutters on the windows prevented detainees from having access to sufficient natural light. Moreover, despite many places being available at the half-empty Aluche detention centre in Madrid, migrants were made to live in multi-occupancy cells which did not provide for 4 m² of living space per person.

Detainees had no ready access to toilets from midnight to 7 a.m. as the cells, which were locked during this period, were not equipped with toilets. Several detainees indicated that they had to use plastic bottles as staff would not open the cell door at night.

At both centres, some migrants reported that they did not have the possibility of informing their relatives of their forthcoming deportation. A few of them also stated that they could not contact their lawyer before the deportation, as they were only informed of their forced return the night before it took place.

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UNHCR

UNHCR calls on countries not to forcibly return people to Yemen
 
UNHCR has called on all countries to allow civilians fleeing Yemen access to their territories and to suspend forcible returns of nationals or habitual residents of Yemen to the country.
 
UNHCR specifies that the suspension of returns is a minimum standard and should not be used to deviate from international protection obligations. In reaching this conclusion, UNHCR highlights the deterioration of political stability, as well as an increase in air strikes, leading to a sharp rise in civilian fatalities, and fears that Yemen is on the brink of civil war with continuous armed conflict prevailing between the government and Houthi forces.
 
UNHCR reports that by the end of 2014, more than 330,000 Yemenis were internally displaced. Yemen is already hosting more than 250,000 refugees, mostly from Somalia and countries from the Horn of Africa.

Additionally, the publication details “an acute humanitarian crisis in Yemen caused by years of conflict, drought, and chronic poverty” with two thirds of the population in need of humanitarian assistance.

The current instability has exacerbated already strained facilities with aid agencies reporting difficulties in accessing those in need.

According to the UNHCR report, the mixture of conflict and weak rule of law has led to human rights abuses, gender-based violence, violations of children’s rights, trafficking, smuggling and military recruitment of children.

Norway announced this week it has suspended returns to Yemen.
 
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REPORTS AND NGO ACTIONS
 
AIDA: Belgium cuts accommodation for asylum seekers amidst proposals for restrictive policies on asylum
 
A new AIDA Belgium report expresses concern around the continuous reduction of reception places for asylum seekers in the country. Following a drop from 23,800 reception places in 2013 to 19,000 in 2014, Belgium’s capacity at the beginning of 2015 fell once more to 17,400 places in addition to 1,800 places that can be made readily available in a few days in case of a sudden rise in asylum applications. By the end of the year, reception capacity is expected to shrink even further to approximately 16,600 reception places, as a consequence of budget cuts. The report by the Belgian Refugee Council (BCHV-CBAR) highlights that this reduction in reception space is taking place against a background of increasing numbers of protection applications in the country, which rose from 15,800 in 2013 to over 17,000 in 2014. The increase in applications has been coupled by a rise in positive decisions on asylum claims reaching over 36% in 2014, an unprecedented recognition rate in Belgium.
 
As the report details, the new Belgian Government, in office since October 2014, has expressed its intention to introduce a number of restrictive measures affecting protection seekers’ access to rights throughout the asylum procedure. Beyond gradual limitations on its reception capacity, Belgium is set to include more countries in its ‘safe country of origin’ list, thereby enabling asylum authorities to consider inadmissible the applications for international protection of these countries’ nationals. Asylum applications from these countries nationals are not examined in substance on the assumption that persecution is unlikely to occur in these countries.
 
Moreover, the government has stated they would increase the use of detention, including of families with children.
 
The Asylum Information Database (AIDA) is an ECRE project mapping asylum procedures, reception conditions and detention in Europe. The database covers 16 EU countries, and will soon be enlarged to include Switzerland and Turkey.
 
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AIDA Report: Switzerland tests pilot accelerated procedure and reforms rules on ‘Dublin’ detention
 
A new AIDA report on Switzerland, written by the Swiss Refugee Council, examines “Testphase”, a Swiss accelerated procedure introduced in January 2014, which will be pilot tested in the federal reception centre of Zurich until 2016.
 
Under this pilot accelerated procedure, asylum seekers are randomly selected and transferred to the Zurich test centre, an open reception centre, with a view to completing all stages of the first instance asylum procedure in the same place and within a short period of time. An important aspect of this pilot project is that every asylum seeker is assigned a free legal representative, a novelty for the Swiss asylum system. A draft federal law, to be discussed in Parliament, envisages the establishment of an accelerated procedure modelled after “Testphase” for all of Switzerland.
 
This new accelerated procedure differs from the airport procedure applied in transit areas of the country’s international airports, and from the “48-hour” procedure (not officially labelled as an accelerated procedure) applied to asylum seekers coming from “safe European countries” such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Kosovo and Georgia.
 
Swiss law is undergoing amendments to comply with the Dublin III Regulation, which allocates responsibility between Member States for processing asylum applications. Currently, Swiss legislation does not comply with the detention provisions of Dublin III, as it enables detention of asylum seekers on the sole ground that they are to be returned to another country under the Dublin Regulation. However, while the proposed federal law will comply with that provision of the new Regulation, it does not seem in line with the requirement to set the maximum duration of detention for these cases at 3 months and to provide clear objective criteria for the definition of “significant risk of absconding” as a ground for detention, according to the AIDA report.
 
Following the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in Tarakhel v Switzerland in November 2014, the Swiss Federal Administrative Court has also endorsed in March this year the view that asylum seeking families cannot be lawfully returned to Italy under the Dublin system if there are no guarantees ensuring that they will be accommodated adequately and have their family unity respected upon return.
 
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