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.

12 June 2015

CJEU: Costly language and cultural exams for non-EU residents in the Netherlands undermine integration

The Court of Justice of the EU has given a judgment which clarifies the ability of EU Member States to set integration requirements for non-EU long term residents. The case related to a complaint by two long-term residents in the Netherlands, who were required by national law to take a course, and pass an exam, testing their knowledge of Dutch society and language skills.

The Court was concerned about the high registration fee for the exam in Dutch law, along with a system of fines for failing, or not sitting, the exam before a deadline. The fine could be imposed multiple times for ‘repeat offences’. The Court found that these aspects of the exams infringed EU law by undermining the objective of integration.

The Court emphasised the importance of integration measures, which encourage communication, interaction and social life between long-term residents and the local community; as well as making it easier for them to access the labour market.

As a result, it found that integration requirements, such as exams, are compatible with EU law in principle, but there are limits to avoid them becoming so burdensome that they result in become barriers to integration. To justify these limits, factors such as the level of knowledge required, the availability of preparation courses, the amount of fees, and the approach to individual circumstances such as age and level of education should be considered.

The Advocate General, in his separate opinion, was more critical and was against the idea of a compulsory exam testing language skills, or knowledge of society, which he believed did not assist people to integrate into society.

The Court has struck a good balance between ensuring that immigrants fit into society and the need to prevent integration tests forming a disguised means of excluding migrants from ever really fitting in despite their genuine efforts, commented Steve Peers, Professor of EU Law at the University of Essex.

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Sealing Europe’s external borders is not sustainable, says UN Rapporteur on migrants’ rights

In a recent report, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, François Crépeau, stated that the EU’s approach to border control is not sustainable. The report stressed that sealing European borders is impossible, regardless of the huge resources invested by the EU into “ineffective and paradoxical border control mechanisms”. The UN Special Rapporteur argues that the increasing number of people that have resorted to using smugglers to cross the Mediterranean, the human rights abuses occurring at different stages of this dangerous route, and the numerous deaths at sea, have clearly shown that people are willing to take numerous risks in order to escape war, persecution and extreme poverty. 

The Special Rapporteur also emphasised that the EU should take stock of the systemic failures of the Dublin system, and should drastically revise it by allowing asylum seekers to apply for asylum in the country of their choice. At the same time, adequate financial and technical support should be provided to countries receiving asylum claims, and that the harmonisation of asylum policies and conditions should be implemented across EU Member States. 

Furthermore, the Special Rapporteur noted that immigration detention in some EU Member State is not in line with international human rights standards, as its definition, and implementation, in domestic laws is neither necessary, nor proportioned, nor assessed on a case-by-case basis. Member States should increasingly resort to alternatives to detention and avoid detention of children in all circumstances. The Special Rapporteur further highlighted that the criminalisation of undocumented migrants, and their labelling as ‘illegals’, has played a role in the general public’s negative perception of migrants and has ‘legitimised’ policies that are not in compliance with human rights standards. 

To reverse the current situation, the Special Rapporteur stressed that a coherent and human rights-based approach should be adopted in migration and asylum policies. In his view, it is of paramount importance that the EU increases its efforts in search and rescue at sea, provides legal channels to access Europe to people in need of international protection, and to migrant workers of all skill levels as well as offering more resettlement places to refugees. 

Tackling xenophobia, racism and discrimination, by using research-based data demonstrating that migrants are neither a ‘burden’ nor “job stealers” but rather a resource for the host countries, is also essential to improve the current political debate and social perception of migrants. The report argues that these measures would allow the EU to move away from a focus on securing its external borders towards welcoming migration mobility, which in the long term would help the EU to cope with its economic and demographic challenges. 
Hundreds of thousands of Eritreans seek protection from possible crimes against humanity

In a report issued this week, the UN Commission of Inquiry on human rights in Eritrea denounces the systematic and widespread human rights violations that have led to hundreds of thousands of refugees having fled Eritrea. The report documents extrajudicial executions, torture, sexual abuses and forced labour, as well as the period of unlimited military service during which Eritreans are subjected to torture, inhuman, cruel or degrading treatment. The UN report concludes that these human rights violations can constitute crimes against humanity.

“To ascribe [‘Eritreans’] decision to leave solely for economic reasons is to ignore the dire situation of human rights in Eritrea and the very real suffering of its people. Eritreans are fleeing severe human rights violations in their country and are in need of international protection,” the UN Commission argues.

The UN Commission estimates that 5,000 people leave Eritrea each month, facing the risk of being killed at the Eritrean borders due to shoot-to-kill policies promoted by the government in order to force people to stay. The report documents kidnappings, tortures and risks of death resulting from Eritreans’ journeying across Africa to Europe in search of safety. The report also calls for the creation of safe and legal channels to Europe in order to ensure that people no longer have to risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean.

The UN commission highlights that, with few exceptions, when Eritrean asylum-seekers are returned to their country they are detained. In detention, Eritreans are often victims of torture and inhuman or degrading treatments in breach of the right to life as well as abuses, exploitation and slavery practices, for indefinite periods of time. Moreover, lack of sufficient food, water and medical care are causes of health complications, and sometimes death. The report states that these harsh conditions of detention push some detainees to suicide. Eritreans voluntarily returning to their country may also face arbitrary arrest, the report stresses.

Leslie Lefkow of Human Rights Watch stated that: “This authoritative report rightly condemns the horrific patterns of torture, arbitrary detention, and indefinite conscription that are prompting so many Eritreans to flee their country. In the absence of tangible human rights reforms by Eritrea’s government, host countries, particularly in the European Union, should not close the door on Eritrean asylum seekers or send them back to almost certain abuse.”

According to UNHCR, in mid-2014, 357,400 Eritreans fled their country. With 48,400 new asylum applicants in 2014, more than doubling those registered in 2013 (22,300), Eritrean asylum-seekers are the fifth largest group seeking international protection among 44 industrialised countries. Almost 37,000 of them applied for asylum in the EU, in 2014.

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European Network on Statelessness hosts conference on ending child statelessness

Between the 2 and 3 June 2015, the European Network on Statelessness (ENS) held a conference addressing the theme “None of Europe’s Children should be Stateless”. It brought together scholars, practitioners, and policy makers from over 30 countries to discuss how to end statelessness among European children.

The conference presented eight country studies, undertaken by ENS members, that demonstrated the resulting diversity of circumstances for those children who are left without a nationality, such as: intergenerational statelessness left untreated; a conflict of nationality laws; the consequence of child abandonment and of systemic discrimination that has prevented people from accessing identity and nationality documentation.

An action statement was adopted at the end of the conference to guide joint efforts to end childhood statelessness, which included: calls to address research gaps; developing effective strategies to push the issue into the public and political domain; mobilising national- level actors to improve laws and policies to prevent statelessness; engaging actors at the regional and international level to promote solutions to childhood statelessness.

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Tackling childhood statelessness in Ukraine

Contributing to the European Network on Statelessness (ENS) conference on childhood statelessness in Europe, Khrystyna Kolesen presented her paper, ‘Tackling childhood statelessness in Ukraine’. She outlined the situation that currently exists in Ukraine, looking into how, since its formation in 1991, the country has introduced a national legislative basis for citizenship. Furthermore, she indicated how legislative gaps result in statelessness remaining a problem in Ukraine, leaving children legally invisible and without any possibility of realising their basic rights.

The latest population census in Ukraine in 2001 suggested that there were over 82,000 stateless persons in Ukraine, 17,000 of whom are children. While the 2014 UNHCR statistics indicate that there has been progress in rectifying this situation, with 35,504 persons now falling under their statelessness mandate, the report makes clear that without a specific body engaged in resolving the problem of statelessness, and the inactivity of public authorities, it is difficult to establish exactly how many other persons remain stateless, or are just living without valid identification documents in Ukraine. Suggested factors behind why some people in Ukraine have no nationality result from: specific historical events; gaps in national legislation; continuous migration flows through Ukraine; cases of children being unregistered at birth; the lack of a governmental body entitled to deal with this issue directly and the unawareness of the population about the problem.

The paper calls for changes to be introduced that would allow for the registration of a child’s birth, even where the parents do not have any identity document or are not legal residents in Ukraine. To do this, the report suggests an extension of legal and administrative assistance in the sphere of birth registration and the issuance of identity documents. It further calls for a survey to be carried out to verify the exact number of stateless persons in Ukraine in order to more effectively direct efforts to combat the problem and to help categorize stateless persons in order to have a specific approach to the challenges they face. It is suggested that having a greater awareness of the scope and the consequences of the problem would aid the development and implementation of both national policies and advocacy campaigns.