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, find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

03 July 2015
ECRE raises serious concerns over Council Conclusions and mistrust between Member States
ECRE has expressed its disappointment following the Conclusions of the European Council meeting of 25 June and is particularly concerned about the incapacity of EU leaders to reach an agreement on a mandatory scheme to relocate 40,000 asylum seekers and resettle 20,000 refugees. In ECRE’s view, even these numbers are insufficient, notwithstanding the complete failure to achieve solidarity and trust between Member States on asylum policies; at the expense of asylum seekers.

ECRE is concerned about the setting up of “hotspot” reception and first reception facilities to identify, register and fingerprint migrants in frontline Member States, as the Council Conclusions do not specify whether these centres would be closed or open facilities. More worrying, a letter sent by Commissioner Avramopoulos to the Ministers of Justice and Home Affairs seems to legitimise the use of physical coercion, including detention, when taking migrants’ and asylum seekers fingerprints. ECRE fears detention might become the norm. Thereby, ECRE argues, the respect for migrants’ and asylum seekers’ fundamental rights, the rule of law,  as well as the principles of necessity and proportionality, as enshrined in the European asylum law, all risk being undermined.

ECRE considers that the opaque and broad reference to detention for the purpose of sending irregular migrants back to their country of origin, encouraged by the European Commission, does not correspond to the narrow scope of detention, which can only be applied if a significant risk of absconding exists and other alternatives to detention cannot be applied.

Commenting on the decision to relocate 40,000 asylum seekers and resettle 20,000 refugees, the UNHCR spokesperson, Adrian Edward said: “It is an important step along the way to finding answers to this crisis, but clearly much more will have to be done”. “This initiative,” he added, “needs to be accompanied by a better functioning of the Dublin system", as well as by legal venues for people seeking international protection, including “a more effective, timely and consistent application of family reunification procedures.” “For that purpose”, he stressed, “It’s essential that states work together to find answers”.

Nils Muiznieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, also comments: “Divided as they are, European leaders do share a view of migration as a security problem, often using inappropriately militaristic language. The European Commission exhibited the same approach in last week’s proposal to strengthen the powers of the European Union border agency, Frontex, to fingerprint, detain and expel migrants.” Therefore, he calls Member States to increase legal avenues for migrants to reach Europe, including humanitarian visas and family reunification, to stop criminalizing migrants who enter and stay irregularly in Europe, to set up a European search-and-rescue operation and offer more support to UNHCR proposals to resettle refugees.

 For further information:  
AIDA legal briefing on detention under the Dublin Regulation

ECRE has published its first AIDA Legal Briefing, focusing on the legality of detaining asylum seekers for the purpose of transfer to the Member State responsible for examining their application under the Dublin III Regulation.
The briefing analyses the new Article 28 of the Dublin III Regulation which permits detention if certain conditions are met; where there is a ‘significant risk of absconding’, no alternative measures which are less coercive, and detention is necessary and proportionate to the aim of transferring the person. The briefing also sketches out the applicable safeguards and conditions of detention under the Dublin III Regulation.
The briefing examines the legality of detaining asylum seekers subject to Dublin procedures under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and its corresponding provision in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Article 5(1)(f) ECHR allows states to detain non-nationals, either to prevent them from “effecting an unauthorised entry” in their territory or to deport them.
The assumption that asylum seekers are detainable as they are “effecting an unauthorised entry”, as suggested by the European Court of Human Rights in Saadi v United Kingdom, seems untenable under EU law, since the Asylum Procedures Directive provides asylum seekers with a right to remain on the territory of Member States pending a decision on their application. As the Court of Justice of the European Union has detailed in Cimade and GISTI, all rights attached to asylum seekers’ status remain applicable throughout the entire Dublin procedure, until a person has effectively reached the territory of the receiving country.
At the same time, the European Court of Human Rights has clarified that asylum seekers cannot be deported before their claim has been examined. In that sense, the Dublin Regulation creates a peculiar category of asylum seekers who may be removed from the territory of a Member State before their application is examined, falling outside the scope of Article 5(1)(f) ECHR. Under an appropriate reading of the ECHR, Dublin detentions should not be permissible.
 For further information:  

Registrations open for ELENA Network's 30th Anniversary course

ELENA’s 30th anniversary advanced course on legal avenues for strengthening international protection in Europe will take place on Friday 30 October and Saturday 31 October 2015 in the Royal Hotel Carlton in Bologna, Italy.

The course will provide practical insights on the various legal remedies that can be used to ensure better protection standards in Europe. It will focus on bringing asylum cases to the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the European Union as well as exploring lesser used avenues such as UN and other Council of Europe mechanisms for advancing the rights of those in need of international protection. The event will also cover the implementation of ECtHR judgments, EC infringements procedures and monitoring Member States asylum systems. There will also be three thematic practical workshops focusing on legal remedies in Dublin Regulation cases, family reunification and detention cases.

Interested participants should register by Friday 25 September to secure a place. However, given the limited places available, interested persons are recommended to reserve their place as soon as possible. 
New Head of Communications at ECRE

ECRE is pleased to announce Thorfinnur Omarsson as its new Head of Communications. Thorfinnur has worked in the field of media and communication for over 20 years, as a TV-host, Radio, and Web- and Newspaper reporter. He has also been a press and communication officer in Ministries and International Organisations.
For years, Thorfinnur was the Director-General of the Icelandic Film Centre and was, as such, a Board member of several European film bodies. Later, during the ceasefire agreement between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil tigers, he became the principal spokesperson for the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission in Colombo. He has also worked in the Academy, as the Director of Media and Communication Studies of the University of Iceland.  More recently, he was the spokesman for the Ministry of Economic Affairs in Iceland during the most turbulent period of the Icelandic economic crisis, and later the Editor-in-Chief of one of the country’s most popular news websites.
In Brussels, he was the Public Information Officer for Caritas Europa, an ECRE member, for the past four years.
Thorfinnur was educated in France, where he also worked as a correspondent. He has an advanced degree in Journalism and European Affairs from communication establishments in Paris and a diploma in French from Paul Valéry University in Montpellier. Later he studied the Global Economy, and holds an MSc in International Business from universities in Reykjavik, Iceland, and Buenos Aires, Argentina. Along with the Scandinavian languages, Thorfinnur speaks English, French, Spanish and German.
“Thorfinnur – or Thor, as he prefers to be called at the office – comes to ECRE with vast experience in communication, journalism and the film industry in different corners of the world, oftentimes dealing with very challenging situations and working with different forms of media,” stated  Michael Diedring, Secretary General of ECRE. “Building upon the excellent work of Ana Fontal, his predecessor, I am sure Thor’s experience, global mindset and engaging personality will assist us in giving a stronger voice to those in need of international protection and will provide valuable support to our overall mission to protect and advance the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and displaced persons through the establishment of fair and humane European asylum policies and practices.”
At ECRE, Thorfinnur Omarsson is responsible for developing and coordinating ECRE’s communication strategy. He deals with media enquiries and other requests for information, manages ECRE’s presence in social media and is editor of the Weekly Bulletin. As Head of Communications, he manages the communication team and coordinates the ECRE Media Officers Network. Thorfinnur gives interviews to the press, facilitates press contact with the Secretary General or other colleagues, and may represent the organisation on certain occasions.
Vacancy: ECRE is recruiting a Media and Communications Assistant

ECRE is offering an 11-month Media & Communications internship, starting preferably at the beginning of September 2015. The assistant will support the Media & Communications Team in a wide range of tasks, including write articles for the ECRE Weekly Bulletin and contribute to maintaining and developing ECRE’s presence in social media. This is an exciting opportunity for people with a strong interest in asylum, refugees’ rights as well as media & communications.
To apply for this position, please complete the application form and return it to Thorfinnur Omarsson ( cc-ing Rita Carvalho ( stating “Application Media and Communications internship” in the subject heading.
The deadline for the receipt of application is 22 July 2015. 

UK: Immigration Minister suspends Detained Fast Track process

James Brokenshire, UK’s Minister for Security and Immigration, has announced that he would ‘temporarily suspend’ the operation of the Detained Fast Track system until ‘the right structures are in place to minimise any risk of unfairness’.

This follows a number of successful legal challenges brought by the NGO, Detention Action. Its litigation led to the High Court finding that the Detained Fast Track rules for appeals were ‘structurally unfair’ and therefore unlawful. However, a ‘stay’ was put on the order suspending the system in order to avoid inconvenience to the UK government, who will appeal the judgment.

Detention Action’s application to have the ‘stay’ lifted was granted by the Court of Appeal last week, on the basis that the reputation of the justice system might suffer if cases were heard under an unlawful process, and it would be a "very horrible waste of money" if cases had to be heard again.

The Home Office announcement relates to the entire Detained Fast Track system, not just the appeals part, which had been found unlawful. The Minister explained that the legal challenges had highlighted risks in the functioning of the safeguards that were being used to identify vulnerable applicants, and, consequently, he could not be certain that they received a fair hearing. All the individuals who were being detained under these procedures will have their detention urgently reviewed and will only continue to be detained if they meet the general detention criteria. It is thought that around 800 cases will be reviewed, leading to the release of approximately 100 people.  

Detention Action Director, Jerome Phelps, welcomed the announcement, stating that “We hope that the Home Office will accept the judgements of the courts and work with civil society to build an asylum system that is both fast and fair, with alternatives to detention that are both cheaper and more just.”
For further information:

Majority of people risking their lives in unseaworthy boats to Europe are fleeing war and persecution, UNHCR states

In a report published this week, UNHCR announced that 137,000 people reached Europe’s shores in the first six months of the year. According to the UN Agency’s report, the majority of those taking the Mediterranean route are refugees who are fleeing war, conflict or persecution at home, as well as worsening conditions in many refugee-hosting countries. The top five nationalities of people arriving are Syrians, Afghanis, Eritreans, Somalis and Nigerians.

“The decline in people drowning over the past two months is encouraging; a sign that with the right policy, backed by an effective operational response, it is possible to save more lives at sea,” said António Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “Nonetheless, we must stay vigilant. For the thousands of refugees and migrants who continue to cross the Mediterranean every week, the risks remain very real.”

During the first six months of 2015, 68,000 people arrived on the islands of Greece and 67,500 people arrived in Italy. According to the report, 85% of those arriving in Greece are from countries experiencing war and conflict; Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia. 20% of the Syrians interviewed in Greece by UNHCR stated that they did not have regular access to a toilet and 70% did not regularly receive hygiene items. 30% had no mattress to sleep on and more than half did not have access to a shower or blankets.

Most people who arrive in Greece move onwards, across the Balkans, to western and northern Europe. In the western Balkans, since the beginning of June, 1,000 people have been arriving each day. The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Serbia, together only offer 3,000 reception places, significantly below the figure of 19,000, being the level of arrivals in the first weeks of June alone, according to the report.

UNHCR stresses that these people are facing serious humanitarian and protection challenges “linked to the hardship of the journey, the abuses of smugglers and criminal gangs, and the increasing tightening of the borders.”

The UN Agency calls for improved and uniform reception conditions throughout the EU, greater solidarity within Europe, the continuation of a robust search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean and increased legal avenues to safety.

Although the number of refugees entering Europe has increased, UNHCR recalls that 86% of the world’s refugees are hosted in developing countries. 
For further information:  

Human Rights Commissioner urges Bulgaria to accept report’s recommendations

In a report released on 22 June 2015, Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed concern about summary returns of asylum seekers at the Bulgarian border and called on the government to make improvements to its asylum system. 
Muižnieks was quoted as saying that Bulgaria had made some progress in strengthening human rights protection, but progress remained slow and fragile, including with regards to migrants.
He wrote the report following a visit to the country from 9 to 11 February 2015, during which he focused on; the human rights of people in institutions, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers and media freedom. During the visit, he met with Bulgarian authorities and NGOs.
The Commissioner was “seriously concerned” about push-backs at the border and urged the authorities to refrain from the summary returns. “Immigration detention must only be used as a last resort, for the shortest possible period of time and on the basis of individual assessments. Children should not be subjected to immigration detention, whether with or without their families,” he said.
He called on the government to make improvements in the early identification, assessment and referral of vulnerable asylum seekers with specific needs, in access to free legal aid and in the integration of those with refugee and protection status. The frequent unlawful detentions of asylum seekers and conditions at detention centres were also of concern.
The Bulgarian Red Cross agreed with the report, stating in a note to ECRE that; gaps and challenges remained, there was no integration programme for refugees in place for 2015, the Law on Asylum and Refugees was still under revision and that detention facilities remained overcrowded.
In a press release, the Bulgaria Helsinki Committee welcomed the report and its recommendations, saying it had made similar warnings regarding the human rights situation in the past. In a press statement on 17 June 2015, prior to the report’s release, it had expressed its concerns regarding the speed of registration and legal assistance for asylum seekers and the insubstantial protection for unaccompanied minors.
In 2014, according to Eurostat, Bulgaria granted protection in 7,000 of the 7,435 asylum applications.


European Court of Human Rights: Switzerland may remove traumatised asylum seeker to Italy

The European Court of Human Rights ruled in a judgment on 30 June that a Syrian asylum seeker with post-traumatic stress disorder may be removed under the Dublin Regulation from Switzerland to Italy, as he would be able to receive appropriate care there.
A.S. argued that he had been diagnosed with PTSD and suffered from back pain as a result of torture and persecution in Syria, and that two sisters residing in Switzerland provided support for overcoming his trauma. Being removed to Italy, he said, would heighten his risk of suicide and take him away from his sisters’ emotional support.
A.S., the appellant, had claimed asylum in Switzerland after arriving via Greece and Italy. He had appealed to the Court after the Swiss Federal Office of Migration rejected his claim in May 2013 on the basis that he had already been registered in EURODAC in Greece and Italy.
Since no transfers are allowed to Greece under the Dublin Regulation, the question centred on whether A.S. could be returned to Italy, which had earlier agreed to the Swiss request to take responsibility for his asylum application.
In the judgment, the Court ruled that Article 3 and 8 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms – relating to the prohibition of torture and the right to family life – would not be violated if Switzerland removed him to Italy. The Court found that he could receive a suitable level of care in Italy, and that his relationship to his sisters was not enough to permit him to stay.
In a media release, Swiss human rights NGO Schutzfaktor M said that the decision once again showed health reasons only prevent the return of an asylum seeker in very rare cases. “The consequences for the applicant are questionable from a human rights point of view,” the media release reads. The NGO added that authorities should make use of the options available to them by assessing the asylum application of A.S. under an article in the Asylum Ordinance which makes it possible for the government to take on a case on humanitarian grounds, even when another state is found to be responsible for it.

Towards fairer credibility assessment in asylum procedures  

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee has published a second volume of a multidisciplinary training manual, titled ‘Credibility Assessment in Asylum Procedures’. This publication is in response to concerns that determining authorities reject the majority of asylum applications on the basis of disbelieving applicants’ claims. Credibility assessment, therefore, remains a challenging and important aspect of asylum decision-making.

The credibility assessment training manual aims to encourage fairer and more objective credibility findings, apply a more structured approach to credibility assessment and reduce the possibility of errors in the process. It draws together core knowledge from various disciplines such as law, medicine, psychology and anthropology in order to help asylum professionals develop their skills, reduce the possibility of errors and reach more objective and fairer credibility outcomes.

This volume has a specific focus on credibility assessments with children and in asylum cases based on sexual orientation or gender identity. It offers training that sensitises professionals to gender related issues in order to respond more perceptively, during interviews, to potential misrepresentations in this regard. In particular, the manual describes the specific challenges, and necessary preparedness, when undertaking sexual or gender identity credibility assessments.  The manual also addresses child-specific issues that need to be borne in mind when interviewing minors, such as understanding the recall problems they have in providing accurate statements, with a coherent time-frame, and a consistent, overarching, theme. Also, the manual explains how the peripheral aspects of a memory are remembered less well amongst children.

ICMC report launch: future prospects for refugees’ resettlement and legal access to the EU 

On Tuesday, 7 July, the International Catholic Migration Commission will launch the report “10% of refugees from Syria – Europe’s resettlement and other responses in a global perspective”, at the Maison des Associations Internationales (MAI) in Brussels.

Philippa Candler, Head of Policy and Legal Support Unit at UNHCR, Jo de Backer, EU Policy and Liaison Officer at the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Matthieu Tardis, Researcher at the Institut Français des Relations Internationales (IFRI) and a representative from the Asylum Unit of the European Commission, will discuss future prospects to develop resettlement and alternative legal avenues, in the context of the European Agenda on Migration.

The publication is written in the framework of the project “Strengthening the response to Emergency Resettlement Needs”, carried out by IOM, UNHCR and ICMC, co-funded by the European Commission.

The event will start at 9 am, at the MAI (Salle Commission 2) in Rue Washington, 40. To register, please contact


ECRE expresses deep concerns over EU Commission’s fingerprinting guidelines - ECRE Weekly Bulletin 26 June 2015

In last week’s Bulletin, the article ‘ECRE expresses deep concerns over EU Commission’s fingerprinting guidelines’ was published without a link to ECRE’s comments on the guidelines. The article is now corrected and available on ECRE’s website