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.

13 February 2015

Over 300 people feared dead at sea – Europe needs to step up search and rescue in the Mediterranean

Some 300 people are now confirmed missing and believed to have drowned in the Mediterranean according to reports gathered by UNHCR following the rescue of some 100 people by the Italian Coast Guard on Monday.

Survivors said that four dinghies left from a beach near Tripoli on Saturday. Twenty-nine migrants died, most of them of hypothermia, after they were rescued from an inflatable dinghy carrying 106 people. Only two people were recovered from a dinghy which, according to survivors, had departed with 107 passengers and only seven people survived on another which had carried 109 people. A fourth boat with approximately 100 people is missing.

UNHCR and NGOs have repeatedly warned that ending Italy’s rescue operation Mare Nostrum, launched following the Lampedusa tragedy of 2013, without replacing it by a well-resourced European search and rescue initiative would mean more deaths at sea.
“There can be no doubt left after this week’s events that Europe’s Operation Triton is a woefully inadequate replacement for Italy’s Mare Nostrum,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. “The focus has to be about saving lives. We need a robust search and rescue operation in the Central Mediterranean, not only a border patrol.”

"If a well-resourced European search and rescue initiative is not put in place, more people will die in their attempt to reach our shores. It's a question of life or death and the EU needs to engage now to save lives", said ECRE's Secretary General Michael Diedring.

The Italian Council for Refugees (CIR) has urged the EU to modify the regulation of the EU Border Agency Frontex to include search and rescue at sea in its mandate or to establish a Search and Rescue Agency.

According to IOM, more than half of the 76 survivors rescued at sea on Monday are from the Ivory Coast (39), followed by Mali (18), Senegal (7), Guinea (7), Gambia (2) and Niger (2). Three of them are unaccompanied children. It is reported that most people who died were also Ivorians. 3,528 migrants and refugees have crossed the Mediterranean during January, according to Italy’s Ministry of the Interior. The main country of origin was Syria, with 764 people, followed by Gambia (451), Mali (436), Senegal (428), Somalia (405) and Eritrea (171).
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Greek government commits to end indefinite detention of migrants

Greece’s new Deputy Minister for Public Order, Giannis Panousis, announced that Greece is going to stop detaining migrants indefinitely.

A year ago the Greek government introduced the policy of detaining irregular migrants subjected to return procedures beyond the 18-month limit set by the EU Returns Directive if the individuals were deemed not to be cooperating with the execution of the return order.

The Greek Council for Refugees and Amnesty International have welcomed the announcement and urged the Greek government to implement this decision immediately.

The organisations further called the government to improve detention conditions and to revise the policy of indiscriminately and systematically detaining irregular migrants and persons applying for asylum while in detention.

Over the past year, the Greek Council for Refugees, with the support of Amnesty International, offered legal assistance to ten migrants who had been subject to indefinite detention, to challenge the lawfulness of their detention after being held for 18 months. In all ten cases, the competent judge found that the extended detention breached the existing Greek legislation.
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Council of Europe’s anti-torture Committee monitors Frontex return flight to Nigeria

The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) has issued a report on the first monitoring mission of a Frontex Joint Return Operation by air. The charter flight between Rotterdam (Netherlands) and Lagos (Nigeria) was organised by the authorities of the Netherlands and also involved Bulgaria, Germany, Slovenia and Spain. The monitoring mission took place between 16 and 18 October 2013.

The Committee stressed that until a person is physically handed over to the local immigration officials of the country of destination, their lawyer is entitled to use any national or international legal recourse to stop the removal. This means that, after landing and before disembarkation, the authorities carrying out the removal operation should seek a last contact with their headquarters to check, if during the flight, a national or international court (including the European Court of Human Rights) has issued a decision that would halt the operation.

The CPT welcomed the approach of the Dutch authorities reflecting the Committee’s view that the use of chemical restraint during removal operation is “unethical and strictly prohibited by the law” but underlined that the means of restraint were excessive at some stages of the procedures. One of the persons being returned was body-cuffed from 6.10 am to 3.45 pm, despite being under constant and close surveillance by escorts.

The Committee encouraged Frontex State Parties to undertake in-depth discussions to promote more precise common rules on the use of means of restraint.

CPT recommended that health-care staff present in return flights should be systematically provided with fully equipped emergency equipment.

During the monitoring mission, the CPT delegation was informed that, in exceptional cases, removal operations could be carried out without informing the person concerned of the time of the removal. The CPT underlined that the person concerned should be informed and prepared about their removal well in advance, as this would be “the most humane and efficient approach” to ensure that the procedure is carried out efficiently and the person is aware of what will happen.

The CPT recommends incorporating in the text of new readmission agreements an explicit reference to the possibility for monitoring bodies to observe removal operations, and that similar monitoring activities should be carried out for similar agreements already in force.

This was the second time the CPT monitored a removal operation by air. The first time was a flight from London to Colombo, Sri Lanka, in October 2012.
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Dublin III Regulation: Save the Children advocates for the best interest of unaccompanied children

Save the Children has warned that the best interest of the child must be a primary consideration when amending the Dublin III Regulation with regards to Member States responsible for examining asylum applications of those unaccompanied children with no family members residing legally in the EU.
According to Save the Children, the State responsible for examining the asylum application must be the one where the unaccompanied child is present, regardless of the place of his first application.
Save the Children welcomes the Commission's proposal, amending the Dublin III Regulation in order to comply with the C-648/11 MA & Others judgment of the Court of Justice of the EU.
Save the Children affirms that the principle of the best interest of the child is interpreted in a different way across EU Member States. In order to ensure more coherence, it is recommended to include the provision defining ‘the best interest of the child’ in an article of the Regulation rather than in the recitals. The wording should be consistent with EU legislation, according to which family reunification possibilities, safety and security considerations, and the child’s background as well as his age, should all be taken into account. Furthermore, Save the Children encourages the Member State to align their conduct with the joint guidance provided by UNHCR and UNICEF and the general comment of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
Save the Children is concerned about the Council's position, which would allow children being sent back to another Member State that has already taken a decision at first instance regarding the substance of the application. According to Save the Children, while respecting the Court’s judgment, this position does not serve the best interest of the child and the particular vulnerability of unaccompanied children.
Save the Children recommends that information on the right to seek asylum should be provided by social workers in a climate of trust, duly taking into account the age, the educational background and the basic needs of the child.
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Bulgaria is failing to protect against hate crimes, Amnesty International report finds

A report by Amnesty International has highlighted a spike in attacks against asylum seekers and migrants as well as other minority groups in Bulgaria. The NGO says that Bulgaria’s failure to adequately investigate and prosecute such hate crimes is fuelling fear, discrimination and ultimately violence in the country.

The report notes a failure to identify, investigate and prosecute hate crimes in a manner that accounts for their discriminatory motive. Although amendments to Bulgarian law in 2011 mean that discriminatory elements of such crimes must be taken into account, there is a tendency to consider these crimes as being motivated by hooliganism, which entails softer punishments.

Amnesty believes that many cases of violence go unreported and hate crimes are largely hidden and unacknowledged. Many victims were scared to report their attack or, if they did, found that their rights were not respected and they were not kept informed of the follow-up of their case.

Among the NGO’s recommendations is the focus that judges need to give to the discriminatory element of hate crimes, and the improvement of effective investigations into incidents of hate crime. Amnesty International also encourages better training of state officials.

Amnesty calls on the EU to raise awareness of the issue and to adopt guidelines on the implementation of the EU’s Framework Decision on combating racism and xenophobia to ensure that any alleged discriminatory motive is thoroughly investigated and taken into account in the prosecution phase.

According to Amnesty International, the spike in hate crimes targeting minorities corresponds to a sudden increase in the number of refugees and migrants crossing the country’s border from Turkey. 11,150 migrants and refugees entered irregularly in Bulgaria in 2013, with over three quarters arriving between August and November. This number is more than six times the number of asylum seekers and migrants who had crossed the same border in 2012.

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