237 people rescued by NGOs at the Central Mediterranean will disembark in Italy after four EU states agreed to relocate them. According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) the vast majority of people trying to escape the worsening security situation in Libya by sea is returned to detention camps.
The search and rescue vessels Open Arms, run by the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms, and the Sea Watch 3, run by the German NGO Sea Watch, received permission to disembark a total of 237 people in the Italian ports of Messina and Taranto. In the course of last week. The Open Arms had rescued 119 people in two operations and the Sea Watch 3 rescued a total of 118 people in three operations at the Central Mediterranean. Sea Watch reports that Maltese authorities failed to initiate or delayed rescues on several occasions.
The two vessels had been stranded at sea for several days before being assigned a safe port. According to a statement by the Italian Interior Ministry, Portugal, Ireland, Germany and France agreed to relocate those rescued. Both NGOs operating the vessels are calling for a more systematic distribution mechanism instead of ad-hoc negotiations that leave highly vulnerable people in limbo at sea. Sea Watch tweeted: “We are happy that our guests can finally step on safe land, but there is still a lot that needs to be changed: Shady deals with #Libya, further ad-hoc agreements, #EU-funded #humanrights abuses, this must stop!”
IOM reports that at least 953 people trying to escape Libya by boat have been returned there in the first two weeks of 2020. Most were disembarked in Tripoli and all were taken to detention centres. The increasing number of people departing are driven by “the heaviest clashes Tripoli has seen since hostilities began nine months ago”. While the organisation provides emergency assistance at disembarkation points, the IOM stresses that “measures to protect lives and guarantee the safety of these people are not in place.” In light of the volatile security situation, IOM had to suspend their “Voluntary” Return programme. The EU has received repeated criticism for supporting the so-called Libyan Coast Guard, which systematically returns refugees to abusive conditions in detention camps.
The first two weeks of 2020 has already seen 63 recorded deaths of people trying to reach Europe via the Mediterranean.
For further information:
- ECRE, Appeal Court Clears Lifeline Captain of all Charges – NGOs Continue to Rescue, January 2020
- ECRE, A Contingency Plan for Disembarkation and Relocation, January 2019
- ECRE, Med: Deaths, Returns, Rescues and Hope for Justice, December 2019
- ECRE, EU Praise of Libyan Coast Guard out of Touch with Reality, September 2020
A report from Council of Europe’s Anti-Torture Committee (CPT) raises severe critique of conditions in the Danish detention centres for asylum seekers in Ellebæk and Nykøbing Falster. Denmark has three months to comply with CPT recommendations or will face possible legal actions through the European Court of Human Rights.
Hans Wolff, who led the CPT delegation to Denmark in April expresses shock over detention conditions in the country that are among the worst in Europe. Wolff stated that: “Either Denmark must make some very fast and serious changes on all the areas we have mentioned in the report. Or they must close down Ellebæk and move the detainees to a place with better facilities”.
The main points of critique from CPT includes “unacceptable” prison like regimes of rules, a “carceral and oppressive” material environment and “clearly inappropriate” material conditions with rooms and sanitary facilities in a “deplorable state of repair”. Further, lack of staff, inadequate legal advice and translation, overcrowding, limited health services and lack of comprehensive medical screenings including of mental or physical diseases was criticised by CPT. Also, the CPT raised critique of the use of disciplinary solitary confinement for extended periods of time and remarked alleged verbal abuse by centre personal and the risk of suicides due to the lack of suicide-proof clothing with detainees “sometimes placed entirely naked in an observation room”, a practice that according to CPT “could be considered to amount to degrading treatment”.
The centre-left parties of the Danish Parliament, the Liberals (Radikale Venstre), the Red-Green coalition (Enhedslisten), and the Socialist People’s Party (SF) urges the Social Democratic government to follow up on the critique from CPT. Kristian Hegaard representing the Liberal Party underlines that these people have not committed any crimes and should not be treated as monsters.
According to the CPT the centres in Ellebæk and Nykøbing Falster holds mainly rejected asylum seekers awaiting deportation and were “at the time of the visit, as the only administrative migration detention centres in Denmark the only administrative migration detention centres in Denmark”. Administrative detention can last up to 18 months under special circumstances.
For further information:
Six months after scrapping the ministry for Migration and Asylum, the Greek government announced the reintroduction of the ministry under the former deputy minister of labour and social affairs, Notis Mitarakis. The ministry will be responsible for dealing with the challenging situation on the Greek islands including overcrowding of reception facilities and processing of asylum applications.
The Greek government also announced the creation of ten new camps on the mainland and the transfer of 10,000 refugees from islands by the end of February. New centres with greater capacity are also planned on the islands where most people arrive and where around 42,000 asylum seekers are trapped in critical conditions. According to the government, new centres on the islands were to host between 1,000 and 5,000 people and replace the open overcrowded camps.
The municipal council of the island of Chios rejected a government proposal to set up a closed pre-departure centre but is willing to accept an identification centre for 500 people. Together with local councils of the two other Northern Aegean islands of Lesvos and Samos, the Chios council will hold a general strike on January 22 to protest the government’s handling of the situation of asylum seekers on the islands. They demand additional funding as well as administrative, health, and protection support.
Boat arrivals of asylum seekers to Greece are at 7% of the level in 2015 and have been going down since September 2019 due to weather conditions. Out of a total of around 75,000 arrivals in Greece in 2019, 50,000 arrived by boat to the islands of Lesvos, Samos, Chios and Leros.
For further information:
- ECRE, Greece: Government Hit with Interim Measures and Introducing New List of Safe Country of Origin, January 2020.
- AIDA, Country Report Greece, 2019 Update
- ECRE, France to Assist Greece Where Situation Continues to Worsen, December 2019
- ECRE, Greece: Six People Found Dead in Evros Region while Authorities Prop Up Border Security, December 2017
- ECRE, Weekly Editorial: Containment instead of Protection – EU Politics in Greece and the Balkans,November 2019
- ECRE, Greece: Return to Plans for Detention Centres on the Islands, November 2019
In the morning of 12 January, a person was found dead in his bedroom inside the pre-removal detention centre of Piano del Lago (Caltanisetta), Sicily.
The man, a 34 years old Tunisian citizen, was detained in the centre waiting to be returned to his country of origin. Italian authorities reported that the death happened for natural reasons but an autopsy was requested in consideration of the deprivation of liberty he was subjected to at the time of the death. According to others in the centre, the man had suffered of medical diseases in the previous days but did not receive any help from the staff of the facility.
LasciateCIEntrare, an organization involved in monitoring the pre-removal centres throughout Italy, described the situation inside the CPR of Piano del Lago as despicable considering that the rooms are cold, without windows and basic services like medical care and legal aid are not provided.
After a moment of pray, a protest arose inside the centre, some mattresses were set on fire leading to the intervention of the police and firemen. Already in 2018 a fire caused by people detained damaged three pavilions of the centre and, since the reopening, protests never stopped.
With the entry into force of the so-called “Salvini decree”, the maximum period of administrative detention has been extended from 90 to 180 days and the discussion about the opening of new pre-removal centres is still on. Despite continued violations of fundamental rights reported by the Guarantor for the rights of detained persons, there are currenlty seven CPR operating around Italy and three facilities are supposed to re-open in Macomer (Sardinia), Milan and Modena in 2020.
For further information:
- ECRE, Italy: Report on Effects of the “Security Decrees” on Migrants and Refugees in Sicily, January 2020
- AIDA, Country Report: Italy, December 2018
- ECRE, Italy: Rescued Asylum Seekers Left in “Extremely Critical” Conditions in Messina Hotspot, October 2019
- ECRE, Salvini Decree Approved by Italian Senate, Amid Citizen’s Protests and Institutional Criticism, November 2018
- ECRE, Italy: Latest immigration decree drops protection standards*, September 2018
EUROPEAN COURTS AND INTERNATIONAL MECHANISMS
On 14 January 2020, the European Court of Human Rights published its judgment in the case of D and Others v Romania (App no. 75953/16). The Court found that the applicant did not have access to an effective remedy to challenge an order for his expulsion to Iraq, contrary to Article 13 ECHR in conjunction with Articles 2 and 3 ECHR.
The applicant complained that his return to Iraq would expose him to a risk of death or ill treatment contrary to Articles 2 and 3 ECHR respectively. He also complained that he did not have access to an effective remedy to challenge the findings of the national courts, contrary to Article 13 ECHR in conjunction with Articles 2 and 3. The applicant, an Iraqi national, arrived in Romania in 1994 and remained until 1997. In 2006, the public prosecutor declared that the first applicant posed a threat to the national security of Romania and was deported to Syria. Several criminal investigations were launched against him, which included charges of facilitating the entry of Iraqi nationals who had allegedly supported or committed terrorist acts. He was sentenced in relation to these charges and was also given a five year ban on the right to remain in Romania. On appeal, the High Court rejected the applicant’s argument that he would be exposed to a risk of treatment contrary to Article 3 ECHR. In 2017, after the applicant’s release from prison, he was placed in administrative detention pending his expulsion during which time his application for asylum was rejected.
The Court observed that evidence presented to show a risk of death or ill treatment was general and, as such, did not show evidence of a personal risk to the applicant. As there was no direct link between the applicant’s conviction and the risk of death or ill treatment, the Court found no violation of Articles 2 and 3 ECHR.
The Court noted that Article 13 ECHR requires the existence of domestic law or remedy capable of providing appropriate redress. It observed that while the applicant was able to challenge the enforcement of the sentence imposed and make an application for asylum, the available appeals did not have a suspensive effect in relation to his expulsion order. As such, the Court found a violation of Article 13 in conjunction with Article 2 and 3 ECHR.
Interview with Francesca Zalambani ECRE Legal Assistant
ECRE is an alliance of 104 NGOs across 41 European countries and its diverse membership ranges from large INGOs with global presence to small organisations of dedicated activists. Members’ work covers the full circle of displacement from zones of conflict, to the dangerous routes and arrivals in Europe, to long-term inclusion in European societies, with their activities including humanitarian relief, social service provision, legal assistance, litigation, monitoring policy and law, advocacy and campaigning. We decided to share some of their voices.
How did you become involved in protecting the human rights of displaced people?
In 2015 when the crisis on the Mediterranean worsened I was an Erasmus student of law in Vienna. I guess at the time despite my comparatively privileged situation as an EU citizen I was a migrant myself. It was not hard to imagine why people would move to seek protection or opportunity from some of the poorest and most unstable places in the world. In fact it was quite clear to me I could have been on one of the boats if my circumstances had been different. I remember watching shipwrecks and drownings on TV happening close to Italy where I come from and feeling totally ignorant of the causes of these disturbing events unfolding. I ended up writing my Master thesis on the impact of search and rescue and push-back operations at sea.
Then I decided to specialize in migration. I am happy that my education includes broader migration studies as well as law because despite their importance as legal instruments, protection categories can never sum up individual human experience and nor can human rights conventions capture the complexity of the current global displacement or migration trends.
Since then I volunteered at a Jesuit Refugee Service run reception centre in Rome and worked as legal adviser in my hometown Bologna. Somehow, I had imagined, as many people arriving as refugees or migrants do, that reaching Europe meant the end of their troubles – I soon realised that indeed this was not the case.
What is the single most inspiring experience of your career?
Our asylum systems are asking people to come up with coherent and detailed accounts of their travels and pasts. For many it is the first time they have had to share deeply personal stories with complete strangers and on top of that they have just gone through extreme stress of flight and irregular travels.
My very first case as legal adviser in Bologna was a young man from West Africa. For the first hour with me and the cultural mediator he was silent. As a legal advisor you of course cannot suggest things or guide someone who is going to seek asylum so we simply didn’t push and tried to slowly create an atmosphere of trust. We spend 6-8 hours together over 3-4 sessions and he was able to retrace all the reasons why he left his county. When he later was granted asylum in Italy it left the feeling that we had played our little part in ensuring that he had been secure enough to share his story and obtain the right to protection.
Since the Salvini decree, that was sadly not changed by the current government, this of course will never be possible. The legal support has been replaced by a “legal information service” which is granted only for 3 hours a week covering 50 people. The cultural mediation and translation has been radically limited and the question is how you can you guarantee people’s rights if you can’t even talk with them because of the lack of linguistic support? This type of policies have impacted also the professionals involved in the sector, mainly young people like me, who are facing collective dismissals.
An illustrative example of the negative development of the last years would be the situation of a reception facility where I used to work. A big pre-removal detention centre reconverted firstly into a temporary hub and now into a reception centre. The conditions were so problematic that even the staff were suggesting its closure. Yet, when authorities moved to close it and transfer the 120 inhabitants to Sicily, where most of them had no connections or chances to find a job, the alternative was so much worse that the staff ended up mobilizing alongside civil society and trade unions in order to keep it open. When I started working in the sector, I thought things could only improve but now I’ve realized we should never take rights for granted.
What is your main professional motivation?
I have seen the concrete individual impact of European system failure. For example Dublin cases where people were forced to go underground because they were unable to join relatives in another EU country than where they were first registered.
I believe political change at EU level and full implementation at member state level is the only way to find solutions. ECRE is in a unique position to address EU institutions and politicians with its position in Brussels as well as national politicians through its membership – in that sense I am in the right place. Working in the Strategic Litigation Team is an amazing opportunity for me. I believe that the creation of an international network of lawyers that support each other and work together for the promotion of jurisprudence developments is an example of the importance of putting our skills and experiences together in order to achieve a more fair system.
On a more personal level and to go full circle on this interview, Italy has been a country of emigrants for centuries and still see more people leaving than arriving. Having lived in Austria as well as the UK amid the Brexit vote I am painfully aware that crossing borders in the world of today is a privilege we cannot take for granted and therefore we should be aware that the people risking their life on irregular routes or are detained, pushed back or deported trying to escape poverty, war or persecution have been and might be us one day.
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.
#FairLassen …: For independent legal assistance in the asylum process. Against isolation. The Austrian legal reform of May 2019 jeopardises dignified asylum procedures in line with European law. We demand the provision of independent legal assistance, dignified reception conditions and integration instead of isolation for people seeking protection in Austria.
- January-March 2020, Oxford: RSC Public Seminar Series, Feminism, Categorisation And Forced Migration, Refugee Studies Centre
- 16 January 2020, Berlin: Living hell in Libya's detention centres with Sally Hayden: What is the EU's responsibility? What are UNHCR and IOM doing? What paths lead out of the humanitarian crisis?, Seebruecke & PRO ASYL
- 21 January 2020, Paris: Les effets de la politique migratoire de l’UE en Méditerranée et en Libye : des crimes contre l’humanité ?, LDH & EHESS
- 23 January 2020, Brussels: Resisting Silence; Voices of New Women in Digital Age, New Women Connectors
- 7-8 May 2020: Alicante (Spain), European Network on Statelessness Conference Addressing Statelessness in Europe: Closing Protection Gaps and Realising Everyone’s Right to a Nationality, University of Alicante
- 7-8 July 2020, Brighton: SOGICA final conference, University of Sussex
CALLS FOR PAPERS & OPEN CALLS