Given the late summer break we will rerun last week’s editorial by ECRE Secretary General Catherine Woollard outlining the situation of EU Asylum and migration politics at a time of change. Read or reread the challenges ahead for the new Commission and Parliament.
"...During the next five years, there will be lots of decisions, lots of fights and no doubt many crises – real, imagined and manufactured – on migration. But it won’t destroy the EU – unless the mainstream politicians play into the hands of the extremists and continue to follow a road of unrealistic and inhumane non-solutions. Instead, facing the fork in the road, these are just some of the decisions that could be taken in the short term to orientate the EU firmly on the right road."
Read the full editorial: A Fork in the Road
Amid rescues by a ferry and the Spanish coast guard, one NGO rescue vessel is still stranded at sea. Two were allowed to disembark in Italy but fear heavy fines and persecution for breaching decrees passed by outgoing interior minister Matteo Salvini. However, new government coalition partner in Italy is pushing for less hostile migration policies.
A ferry of the company Corsica Linea rescued 18 migrants on its way from Algiers to Marseille. The group had spent several days at sea on their way to Europe and reportedly ran out of gas. They were disembarked in the port of Alcudia, on the Spanish island of Mallorca. The Spanish coast guard rescued 180 refugees in the Mediterranean on Sunday. 75 people in the straight of Gibraltar and over 100 in the Alboran Sea between Spain and Morocco. Most of them were brought to the Spanish city of Malaga.
The German rescue ship Eleonore, operated by the NGO Mission Lifeline, docked at the port of Pozallo, Sicily, in defiance of a ban from Italian authorities, which have now seized the ship. The Eleonore had been at sea for eight days, amid deteriorating humanitarian conditions for the over 100 people it had saved in the Mediterranean. The captain had declared the state of emergency after the deck was flooded by a storm. Captain Claus Reisch, who had been on trial in Malta in June, and the first officer of the ship were detained by Italian authorities upon their arrival but released later. Portugal, Ireland, Luxemburg, France and Germany agreed to take in those rescued.
After granting it permission to dock at the port of Lampedusa, Italian authorities also seized the rescue vessel Mare Jonio. The operating NGO Mediterranea reports that the Italian coastguard agreed to let the 31 migrants left on the vessel disembark for health reasons but notified the captain of the seizure and a 300,000 euro fine for violating Salvini’s Security Degree Bis. Over 50 “vulnerable” people had already been evacuated from the vessel in previous days.
Mediterranea commented: “Mediterranea Saving Humans has saved 237 lives in 2019. Our ship has become a symbol for the ‘other’ Italy, for the part of the country that is not afraid, for those who won’t be fooled and who managed, despite everything, to keep an open heart and soul, remembering that it is not by denying the value of every single life that you will obtain more rights for all.”
The rescue vessel Alan Kurdi, operated by the German NGO Sea-Eye, is still stranded at sea between Malta and Italy. The ship rescued thirteen people on Saturday, 31 August, including eight minors. Salvini had banned the ship from entering Italian waters. In a message to the Prime Minister of Malta, Joseph Muscat, the Alan Kurdi’s Head of mission complained that Maltese rescue coordination centre first decided to take responsibility and rejected it several hours later without clear reason. On 2 September, the crew commemorated the fourth anniversary of the drowning of the three-year old Kurdish refugee Alan Kurdi, whose images sparked outrage across Europe and who gave the ship its name.
Outgoing Interior Minister Matteo Salvini announced that the NGO would “pay dearly for the violation”. Meanwhile, Democratic Party (PD) leader Nicola Zingaretti, who just entered a government coalition with the 5Star movement, told the old and new Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte that a "radical" change was needed from the last government's closed ports policy. Salvini has been replaced by Luciana Lamorgese, a veteran of the interior ministry, who recently has been in charge of planning refugee reception centres and is known for promoting integration events and policies.
Later this month, the EU plans a meeting in Malta to discuss more permanent disembarkation and relocation arrangements among Member States willing to take in those rescued on a regular basis. At the end of September, the mandate of EUNAVFOR MED Operation Sophia is up for renewal.
Until September, Missing Migrants recorded 911 deaths of people trying to cross the Mediterranean in 2019.
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The Greek Ministry of Citizen Protection announced on 2 September 2019 that over 1,400 asylum seekers were transferred from the Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) of Moria, Lesvos to camps in Northern Greece, in collaboration with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
The transfers are part of a package of measures decided by the Government Council for Foreign Affairs and Defence (ΚΥΣΕΑ) on 31 August 2019 to respond to increasing arrivals on the Eastern Aegean islands. About 25,250 refugees and migrants reside on the islands according to UNHCR statistics.
The majority of the group will be transferred to the camp of Nea Kavala, which already hosts 1,200 persons. While tents have been set up for the new arrivals due to a shortage of places, local authorities have alerted to critical living conditions stemming from risks of water and power shortages. The Ministry has announced that asylum seekers will only stay in Nea Kavala until the end of the month, pending their relocation to a camp currently under construction.
Legislative reform measures announced by ΚΥΣΕΑ include possible abolition of the administrative appeal before the Independent Appeals Committees to speed up asylum procedures and returns to Turkey under the EU-Turkey deal. While the exact plans for reform are yet to be detailed, the dismantling of the appeal procedure before the Appeals Committees has attracted sharp critique from the Union of Administrative Judges, who are members of the Committees, and civil society.
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In a new legal assessment the Swedish Migration Agency (Migrationsverket) states that the security situation in parts of Syria has improved. On those grounds the agency announces the end of automatic residency to all Syrian asylum seekers, which was introduced in 2013 based on the general risk in the country.
Syrian asylum seekers arriving in Sweden will no longer be granted asylum based on the general risk in the country but will have to be granted asylum based on their individual circumstances. The changes will not affect groups awaiting or already granted asylum.
Legal Director of Migrationsverket Fredrik Beijer stated: “We now assess that the situation in Syria has become slightly better - in any case we see that the number of deaths has decreased so much in Syria that the general risk of coming to harm has decreased. We must therefore return to the standard practice...”
The areas considered safer by Migrationsverket include Damascus and the southern provinces of Rif Dimashq, Dara’a, Suwayda, and Quneitra as well as Hassakah in the northeast and Latakia in the west of the country.
In its comments ECRE member Swedish Refugee Law Center states that Migrationsverket further opens up the use of the internal flight alternative to Damascus in cases where the applicant has the needed social and financial resources to stay in the Syrian capital. While children without guardians, disabled or with serious illness are exempted from the use of the internal flight alternative the Law Center argues that the exemption should be broadened to include also families with children and single women.
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The Human Rights Watch (HWR) report “Subject to Whim: The Treatment of Unaccompanied Migrant Children in the French Hautes-Alpes” finds that France continues its practices of flawed age assessment procedures and summary returns of unaccompanied children at the border to Italy. These breaches of EU and international law deny many children access to needed protection.
According to the report, examiners in the French region of Hautes-Alpes, who are in charge of certifying the status of an asylum seekers as a minor, do not comply with international standards and use various justifications to deny children protection. Research by HRW indicates that the flawed age assessment practice is common across the country.
Under French law, unaccompanied children are afforded special rights and should be taken into care by the child protection system, the Service de l’aide sociale à l’enfance (ASE). According to international standards age assessment procedures for declared children should only be used as last resort and authorities should always give the benefit of the doubt if there is a reasonable possibility that the declared age is correct. HRW points out that the age examination process does not account for the traumatizing experience many of the children have undergone on their journey, which can have well-documented effects on memory, concentration, and emotional expression. As a consequence, children risk ending up on the streets or in shelters for adults and may lose their eligibility for regular immigration status if they turn 18 while awaiting review of their assessment.
The research also affirms previous reports of summary returns of unaccompanied migrant children by French border police at the border between Italy and France. In the nine cases examined by HRW French authorities did not comply with the “entry refusal” procedure specific for children. The threat of summary returns pushes children to take ever more dangerous routes across the Alps, increasing the number of injuries and other health risks.
HRW demands that “French authorities should reform age assessment procedures and practices to conform to international standards and ensure that children are not arbitrarily denied formal recognition and […] end summary returns of unaccompanied migrant children to Italy and instead immediately transfer them to the child welfare system for appropriate protection and care”.
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REPORTS & NGO ACTIONS
The report “Stepping Up: Refugee Education in Crisis” by the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, found that less than half of the 7.1 million refugee children of school age go to school. UNHCR calls upon national education systems to adapt a more flexible approach that provides inclusive access to education, which is sensitive to the situation of refugees.
According to the report, only 63 per cent of refugee children go to primary school, compared to 91 per cent globally. For secondary education the discrepancy is even more pronounced: While, globally, 84 per cent of adolescents get a secondary education, among refugees only 24 per cent receive that opportunity. UNHCR states that the steep decline in refugee enrolment between primary and secondary education is the direct result of lack of funding for refugee education, which leads to school shortages, oversubscribed classrooms and a lack of teachers. With hosting countries such as Chad, Ethiopia, Uganda, Iran, Mexico and Pakistan making significant progress, enrolment numbers on all levels have improved by 1-2% compared to last year.
Besides calling for an increase in funding by international donors and local authorities, UNHCR urges that refugees should be included in national education systems instead of unofficial parallel schools. Participation in a formal, recognized curriculum all the way through their school education will allow them to obtain the recognition necessary to pursue professional pathway or higher education. Currently, only 3 per cent of refugees can enjoy the opportunity of pursuing higher education, compared to the global average of 37 per cent.
The report also calls upon schools, universities and education ministries to adapt a more flexible approach to documentation. “Many refugees are barred from the classroom because they left behind exam and course certificates, as well as ID documents, when they fled their homes. Even when these documents are available, some host countries refuse to recognize certification issued in refugees’ country of origin”, finds the report.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi stressed the importance of providing refugee children with access to quality education: “We need to invest in refugee education or pay the price of a generation of children condemned to grow up unable to live independently, find work and be full contributors to their communities”.
About half of the world’s 25.9 million refugees, are under the age of 18, as of end 2018.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports that the General Directory of General Security (GDGS) has deported 2,731 Syrian Refugees from Lebanon to Syria between May 21 and August 28. In May GDGS, based on an instruction from the Higher Defense Council, decided to return all Syrian refugees arriving irregularly after April 24 without prior assessment of their protection needs. According to HRW at least three Syrians have been arrested after being handed over to authorities in Syria.
The alleged arrest of at least three deported Syrians upon arrival in Syria follows warnings by human rights and civil society organisations. A position paper from Lebanese civil society organisations challenged the decision by GDGS to return Syrian refugees without accessing their protection needs and to hand them over directly to Syrian authorities: “…[S]uch deportations would occur without any judicial investigation to ascertain that the lives and freedom of the Syrian nationals are not in any danger in Syria. Most concerning is the fact that this decision, unlike the previous policy and practices, stipulates handing the deported Syrian nationals directly to the Syrian authorities, at which point they will likely be subjected to danger according to any objective observer.”
Amnesty International have recently warned of the lack of access to conduct international monitoring inside Syria: “As long as independent monitoring bodies are not allowed access to Syria - including the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria – in order to assess the security situation for the safe return of refugees, there is no way of determining whether returnees would be at real risk of serious human rights violations once back in Syria.”
The pressure to return Syrian refugees from Lebanon has been increasing over the summer with demolitions of refugee settlements and crackdowns on people working without permission. Lebanese officials including Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil have expressed increasing frustration with the international community for letting Lebanon with the highest number of refugees per capita in the world take a disproportionate responsibility for Syrian refugees.
According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) Lebanon was hosting 926,717 registered refugees from Syria as of July 31, 2019.
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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.
- 11 September 2019, Brussels, Saving Lives is not a Crime – GUE/NGL Hearing
- 19 September 2019, Nijmegen (NL), Workshop on Legal Implications of European Trends in the Externalisation of Migration Management, Dutch Association for Migration Research, register by 12 September 2019.
- 23-24 October 2019, Brussels, ECRE Annual General Conference, register by 15 September 2019
- 28 October 2019, The Hague, Farewell Lecture Tineke Strike, T.M.C. Asser Institute
- 8-9 November 2019, Sevilla, Advanced ELENA Course on International protection in Europe: persistent challenges and litigation opportunities, ECRE, registration by 26 September 2019