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.

19 September 2014

Business as usual: yet another refugee tragedy on EU borders

Everyone was horrified this week to hear about yet another tragedy at sea. Yet, nobody was surprised. Even if this time we have not seen the same outcry from our politicians that followed the death of over 300 people off the coast of Lampedusa almost one year ago, everyone seemed to agree that all should be done to prevent this from happening again. In particular, efforts should be stepped up to fight smuggling rings.

In the ‘20s, mafia groups celebrated the prohibition of alcohol sale in the US, as they could take up that profitable underground market. Today, Libya’s most successful smuggler presents himself as a businessman. The commodity is no longer alcohol but the promise of safety in place free from war and oppression. Smuggling is a lucrative business and one which knows no State regulations. Smugglers are criminals and we have just been reminded of the complete disregard they have for the people who are forced to put their lives in their hands. Last week, 500 people, including up to 100 children, drowned in the middle of the Mediterranean when smugglers rammed their boat until it sank because they refused to be transferred to a small vessel that was apparently unseaworthy.

The EU speaks relentlessly of its determination to combat smuggling. However, whether by act or omission, it’s undeniable that preventing people fleeing war and persecution from safely and legally accessing Europe is fuelling this market. Most nationals from countries where people are highly likely to be in need of protection cannot access the EU without a visa and they will most often be refused one if they apply for it. At the same time, apart from limited resettlement opportunities, the EU States provide hardly any ways for refugees to reach the EU in a legal and safe way. Even those who have family members in Europe and are in urgent need of a safe place are most often prevented from joining loved ones here by complex administrative procedures.

About half of the over 100,000 people who have arrived in Italy by boat so far this year are Eritreans and Syrians, people fleeing a repressive regime and a war-torn country. Our authorities are very well aware of that and once in European territory, and in accordance with international and domestic law, these refugees will be granted protection. Focusing on reinforced border controls and agreements with third countries to keep refugees out of the EU, while refusing to open up channels for them to get here in a legal and safe way is missing the point. The smuggling business will continue to flourish, and refugees will have to keep putting their lives in the hands of these criminals, as long as smugglers have the monopoly to give people in need of international protection their only chance to reach it. 



Registration open for ECRE Annual General Conference & UNHCR NGO Consultations 2014

ECRE’s Annual General Conference (AGC) and UNHCR NGO Consultations will be held in Brussels on 15 - 17 October.

The conference gathers each year about 100 representatives from the refugee-assisting community in Europe. The AGC is a key moment for the ECRE network as it provides the Secretariat with general direction for the coming year and allows members to guide ECRE’s policy and advocacy positions, based on their experience on the national and pan-European level. This year’s conference includes UNHCR NGO Consultations creating the space for NGOs to raise issues, network and exchange views with UNHCR on asylum in Europe.

This year’s event includes Roger Zetter of Refugee Studies Centre discussing “Forced Migration, Protection and Europe - Protection Space or Protection Denied”, a panel discussion on managing reception crises in Europe and several workshops on a variety of topics including detention, ensuring safe and legal access to Europe, rescue at sea in the Mediterranean, and  family reunification.

The conference programme and registration details can be found on the ECRE website and the deadline for registration is 3 October.

To follow the discussions on twitter, just follow @ecre.



Germany, France, Poland, Spain and the UK call for enhanced border controls and cooperation with third countries to prevent departures

Germany, France, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom have requested the European Commission to submit a proposal for the implementation of a number of actions, which they consider should be a priority to respond to migration in the Mediterranean.

The five Member States affirm that it is essential for the EU to intensify the surveillance of its external borders and ask for the Italian search and rescue operation Mare Nostrum, which has rescued more than 100,000 people this year, to be replaced by a Frontex operation. According to the French Ministry of Interior, the operation should take place close to the European coasts.

The EU’s cooperation with countries of origin and transit should be reinforced to contribute to a decrease in departures of migrants from these countries and to counter migrant smuggling networks. According to this group of States, these measures should be supported by information campaigns in the countries of transit and origin showing the risks of irregular migration via the Mediterranean.

The five governments stress that all migrants crossing the EU external borders irregularly must be identified and registered in the Eurodac database of fingerprints that enables the functioning of the Dublin system. The countries call on the European Commission to examine models for the temporary distribution of recognized refugees in other Member States on a voluntary basis.
The governments also underlined the need to enhance the implementation of a common returns policy.

The States do not make any reference to the need to create and expand channels for refugees to reach Europe in a legal and safe way.
In a letter sent yesterday to the European Commission, Swiss Minister Simonetta Swiss Sommaruga supported the initiative by Germany, France, Poland, Spain and the UK. 



ECtHR condemns Greece’s detention conditions and lack of support for homeless asylum seekers

In two separate cases this summer, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held that the living conditions in several detention centres across Greece amounted to degrading treatment, thus triggering a breach of Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

In the case of F.H. v. Greece, the ECtHR held that the applicant, an Iranian national, was detained in overcrowded and unhygienic conditions before ending up on the streets without any material support and no access to health care. The ECtHR ruled that both the detention conditions and the living conditions after the applicant’s release constituted degrading treatment.

Furthermore, the Court held that Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) read in conjunction with Article 3 was further breached given that F.H. had been given no effective remedy by which to complain of his detention conditions. The ECtHR ruled that Greece had not breached the applicant’s rights to liberty and security.

Upon arrival in Greece in 2010, F.H. was arrested, ordered to return to Iran and held at Feres detention centre. He subsequently applied for asylum but was later transferred to Venna detention centre. The asylum application was rejected by the Greek authorities, upon which F.H. lodged an appeal. He was released pending the examination of the appeal.

In the case of Tatishvili v. Greece, the Court took into particular consideration the length that the applicant had been detained, 10 months in Petrou Ralli detention centre, and the over-crowding in both Thessaloniki immigration police and the Attica immigration department (Petrou Ralli). The Court noted that centres, including Petrou Ralli, were inappropriate for detention purposes of irregular migrants.

These cases reiterate previous judgments by the ECtHR that have repeatedly condemned Greece for violating Article 3 ECHR which prohibits inhuman and degrading treatment, as a result of the conditions of detention in which applicants have been held, such as M.S.S. v. Belgium and Greece, Tabesh v. Greece and Bygylashvili v. Greece

For further information

ECtHR rules against return to Russia of the relatives of a Chechen rebel 

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ruled in the case of M.V. and M.T. v. France that to send a couple back to their country of origin, the Russian Federation, would violate the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). In light of their family connections, notably an uncle who had participated in the Chechen rebellion, previous attacks and threats on their persons, and the general situation both previously and in present day Chechnya, the Court held that their return would run a real risk of inhumane treatment by the Russian authorities contrary to Article 3 of the ECHR. The Court, however, declined to accept the applicant’s submission that removal to Russia would amount to violation of Article 13 - right to an effective remedy- read in conjunction with violation of Article 3. 

 Three times more people displaced by natural disasters than conflicts in 2013, study shows

In 2013, almost 22 million people were displaced in at least 119 countries by natural disasters, almost three times as many as were displaced by conflict and violence, according to the report Global Estimates 2014: People displaced by disasters by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC). Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines caused the largest displacement of the year, forcing  1 million more people to flee their homes than all the natural catastrophes that occurred in Africa, the Americas, Europe and Oceania combined.

The report shows also that in the last four decades, the risk of displacement due to natural disasters is estimated to have more than doubled. A number of factors explain this increase, including the fact that the world population has increased by 96% since the 1970s, increasing concentration of people in urban areas of countries which are more vulnerable to natural disasters (urban populations in developing countries have risen by 326%), and early warning mechanisms and emergency evacuations save more people, leaving them displaced.

In addition, the report shows that in 33 out of 36 countries affected by armed conflict between 2008 and 2012, there were also reports of natural hazards forcing people to flee their homes. The combination of conflict and natural hazards limits people’s options in terms of flight and destination, and creates even more obstacles to return. In some cases, many people who flee a combination of conflict and natural hazards suffer repeated displacement, including those who take refuge in areas where they are then exposed to further risk.

Most disasters are as much man-made as they are natural,” said IDMC’s director Alfredo Zamudio. “Better urban planning, flood defences and building standards could mitigate much of their impact”. As world leaders prepare to gather for the United Nation’s Global Climate Change Summit, the report calls for action to be taken to reduce disaster risk and to help communities adapt to changing and unpredictable weather patterns and geophysical  hazards, without which much more displacement will occur in the future.


SHARE calls for nominations of Resettlement Ambassadors

The SHARE network is inviting European civil society organisations to nominate resettled refugees who have an interest in becoming ‘Resettlement Ambassadors’ to promote their city’s resettlement achievements and advocate for more and better resettlement at the local, national and European levels.

SHARE Resettlement Ambassadors will follow an online training course designed to build their capacity to engage in advocacy and campaigning. Potential training topics include creating campaign materials and messages, using social media, and public speaking. Additionally, Share Resettlement Ambassadors will be invited to present their work and experiences in the programme at SHARE events and resettlement discussions at the European level.

SHARE Resettlement Ambassadors should be previously resettled refugees with a good command of English and/or French and basic IT skills (internet and email). Ambassadors should also be able to commit to the programme throughout its duration in 2014-15.  Ensuring a broad range of national backgrounds and a gender balance among the ambassadors will be a factor when selecting the successful candidates.

Organisations and previously resettled refugees with an interest in or questions about the programme should contact Rachel Westerby at ICMC Europe (