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.

26 June 2015
ECRE expresses deep concerns over EU Commission’s fingerprinting guidelines
ECRE has published comments on the European Commission’s Staff Working Document “on Implementation of the Eurodac Regulation as regards the obligation to take fingerprints”, issued on 27 May 2015 as part of the first round of implementing measures announced by the European Agenda on Migration. These comments point to some alarming elements in the Commission’s guidance that challenges several underlying principles of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
ECRE expresses concern over the proposed use of detention against asylum seekers who refuse to be fingerprinted on the grounds of establishing identity or nationality. Collecting and storing fingerprints in the Eurodac database is not directly relevant to the establishment of a person’s identity or nationality, as the only way to determine an identity or nationality, on the basis of such information, would be to share that data with his or her country of origin. Under the Asylum Procedures Directive, this would be in violation of the prohibition on disclosing information to the alleged actors of persecution.
Moreover, ECRE regrets the opaque and broad reference to detention for the purpose of removal, whereby the Commission refers to the Return Directive as the applicable legal framework to irregular migrants who refuse to be fingerprinted in Eurodac. Recalling that the purpose of Eurodac is to facilitate the application of the Dublin III Regulation, ECRE points out that the procedures for identifying and transferring these persons to another EU Member State fall under the Dublin III Regulation. Accordingly, the only permissible ground for detaining them is to secure a Dublin transfer, where there is a “significant risk of absconding” and where less coercive alternatives cannot be applied. 
ECRE also voices deep concerns around the Commission’s guidance to Member States to make use of coercion as a last resort to collect fingerprints, despite the fact that 15 out of 28 EU countries prohibit the use of force for that purpose. The necessity of coercion for the purpose of fingerprinting is not straightforwardly established: taking fingerprints is not necessarily a condition for applying the Dublin Regulation, since other circumstantial evidence can also be used to determine which Member State is responsible for a person’s asylum application. Even in the exceptional cases, where it would be deemed necessary, the use of force, against an asylum seeker or migrant, for the purpose of obtaining his or her fingerprints, would never be proportionate to the aim pursued. More specifically, as regards vulnerable applicants, such as children, ECRE stresses that coercive fingerprinting is fundamentally incompatible with the ‘best interests of the child’ principle. In that light, it is particularly regrettable that the Commission has merely proposed a guideline for Member States to refrain from using coercion against certain vulnerable groups and not suggested a prohibition on the use of force for children.
Photo Exhibition “Syrians in Transit” highlights inadequate European response to Syrian refugee crisis, MEPs state

“The smugglers lied to us; they said we would arrive in Italy in four hours. We stayed two days sitting and waiting for Italy, the sky was dark and a storm was approaching, and we kept asking ourselves “where are we?”.”

This is one of the quotes featured in the exhibition “Siriani in Transito – Syrians in Transit” that ECRE and the Italian Cultural Institute have brought to Brussels this week. The exhibition invites the viewer to get to know the journey of some Syrians, who after arriving by boat to Italy, continue their trip to Sweden where they claim asylum. 

At the opening reception MEPs Cécile Kyenge (S&D) and Jean Lambert (Greens) stressed that the response of EU Member States to the Syrian crisis has been inadequate and emphasised that some countries, including the UK, must step up their commitment to creating safer legal channels for Syrians to reach Europe.

“The exhibition Syrians in Transit clearly shows how Syrians and other asylum seekers have no other option but to take unseaworthy boats, as EU countries provide almost no safe and legal routes to Europe. Humanitarian visas, family reunification and sponsorships are barely used by EU Member States, allowing smugglers’ business to thrive and putting lives at risk”, said ECRE Secretary General Michael Diedring at the opening of the exhibition. “I invite you to look at the photographs and imagine yourself in this situation – what would you do? You, like me, would do your best to bring your family to safety.”

“Syrians in Transit is a photographic project that aims to tell the experiences of Syrians forced to flee the war, but at the same time it tells the story of many other war refugees,” MEP Cécile Kyenge stated. “Thanks to the testimonies gathered by [the team of Syrians in Transit] many people that took this journey have today a voice and are sharing their experiences with us.”

“We believe it is important to frequently raise these issues instead of caring only about them when there is a shipwreck and people die in the Mediterranean Sea,” stated Siriani in Transito team Marta Mantegazza, Anna Pasotti, and Alessandra Pezza. “We believe that everyone should have the right to choose which country to live in and that freedom of movement should be secured in a safe and legal way. In this sense we believe that new national and European policies are needed.”

The photo exhibition was presented in Brussels thanks to the support of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP and will run at the Italian Cultural Institute until the 30 June.

Registrations open for ECRE Annual General Conference & UNHCR NGO Consultations 2015

ECRE’s Annual General Conference (AGC) and UNHCR NGO Consultations will be held in The Hague on 14-16 October.

Each year, over 100 representatives from the refugee-assisting community in Europe gather for the ECRE AGC. It is a key moment for the ECRE network as it provides the Secretariat with their general direction for the coming year and allows members to guide ECRE’s policy and advocacy positions, based on their experience at both the national and pan-European levels. This year, given the dynamics of today’s European asylum debate, “ECRE vision” workshops will be looking into the future, with members guiding and revitalising ECRE’s policy and advocacy positions.
There will also be a commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the founding of the “consultation” that led to ECRE, with a celebration at the Mauritshuis museum.

This year’s conference will again include UNHCR Europe Bureau - NGO Consultations, intended to complement UNHCR’s Global NGO Consultations, creating the space to raise issues, network and exchange views with UNHCR on asylum in Europe.

AGC 2015 keynote speeches will include Halleh Ghorashi, an Iranian-born anthropologist and Professor in Diversity and Integration at VU University Amsterdam and Volker Türk, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection.

The conference programme and registration details can be found on the ECRE website.
To follow discussions on Twitter, just follow @ecre.

European Council: 40,000 asylum seekers to be relocated voluntarily and 20,000 refugees to be resettled

At the European Council meeting in Brussels on 25-26 June, European leaders agreed on a voluntary plan to relocate a total of 40,000 Syrian and Eritrean asylum seekers from Italy and Greece to other EU Member States. Hungary and Bulgaria were excluded from the relocation scheme proposed. In addition, 20,000 refugees will be resettled to Member States.

The agreement was sealed in the early hours on Friday after long and difficult negotiations on how to handle the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean.

"Given the extent of the problem, (…) this is a modest effort. And it took us hours to reach an agreement – this serves to demonstrate that Europe isn’t necessarily always able to live up to its ambitious goals which it expresses to the outside world. But the Council was at least able to agree on the fate of this 60,000 people," stated European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at a press conference.

"It's not a big number. For Italy, it's a small help, but there's still a lot of work to do," stated Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

"Whilst the implementation of EU plans for relocation of migrants may take some pressure off the Greek and Italian islands in the short term, what is needed are more safe and legal routes into Europe for refugees. This includes more resettlement places together with significantly enhanced financial and operational support for reception and asylum processing and the provision of greater freedom of movement for successful asylum seekers," stated John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia, an ECRE member.

"With global displacement at an all-time high, it’s frustrating to see EU government foot-dragging over the European Commission’s modest proposals on resettlement and sharing of responsibility," said Judith Sunderland, Senior Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch.

During the press conference, EU Council President Donald Tusk, stressed that EU leaders had reached a consensus on EU’s return policy. "Migrants with no legal right to enter the EU must be returned. (…) Today, leaders have agreed to accelerate readmission negotiations with the third countries and to fully implement EU rules on returns. (…) Frontex will get more powers to help with the illegal migrants", stated EU Council President Donald Tusk. The Commission will be proposing an amendment to the Frontex Regulation to allow the Agency to "initiate return missions".

According to the EU Council conclusions, reception and first reception facilities in the frontline Member States are to be set up, “with the active support of Member States' experts and of EASO, Frontex and Europol to ensure the swift identification, registration and fingerprinting of migrants ("hotspots")".
For further information:
EUNAVFOR Med: EU launches a controversial military operation against smugglers

On 22 June, EU Foreign Affairs Ministers launched the EUNAVFOR Med, “to disrupt human smugglers and traffickers in the Mediterranean”. For an initial mandate of one year, Italy, Greece, Spain, France, Germany, the UK, Luxemburg, Belgium, the Netherlands, Hungary, Lithuania, Slovenia, Sweden and Finland, will monitor and patrol the Southern Central Mediterranean, initially gathering intelligence, followed by providing assessments of human smuggling and trafficking networks.

According to the press release, it will be necessary to secure a mandate from the UN’s Security Council, together with the consent of Libya and those coastal states concerned, so that the EUNAVFOR Med could “search and, if necessary, seizure vessels suspected of smuggling migrants”. The launch of the next - ‘third’- phase would allow for “the disposal of vessels and related assets, preferably before use, and to apprehend traffickers and smugglers.”

When the EU announced its intention to establish the operation, Michael Diedring, ECRE's Secretary General, pointed out that "the most efficient method of shutting down smugglers – a goal we agree with – is to eliminate the need for their services by providing safe and legal channels to Europe.” He said a military operation might lead to more deaths.

On the day of the operation, launched this week, the Financial Times quoted an unnamed EU official, warning that the military operation created the risk of collateral casualties. "Of course it would," he said. 

Aspasia Papadopoulou, ECRE’s Senior Policy Officer, commented during a debate in the European Parliament last week: “The military operation proposed by the EU shows a wrong understanding of how smuggling networks and migratory flows work”. In fact, the EUNAVFOR Med’s effectiveness has been questioned by many commentators. In the last few days, Fabrice Leggeri, the Director of Frontex, noted: “If there is a military operation in the vicinity of Libya, this may change the migration routes and make them move to the eastern route.”

Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the EU, said “the targets are not the migrants but those who are making money on their lives and too often on their deaths. It is part of our efforts to save lives”. Furthermore, she added, the military operation is “only a part of a broader strategy, including the cooperation with our partners in Africa, particularly in the Sahel region, and the work with the International Organization for Migration and the UNHCR.” However, on other proposals put forward by the European Commission, namely on relocation of asylum seekers across Member States, the EU countries remains strongly divided.

For further information:   


Hungary reverses suspension of Dublin Regulation
Hungary announced, on 23 June, that it would suspend applying the Dublin III Regulation, a key European Union asylum rule, raising concerns among rights monitors and at the European Commission. However in a surprise move, it reversed its decision the next day.
A government spokesman had announced the suspension of the regulation, which establishes that the country where an asylum seeker first sets foot in the EU must process their claim, claiming that it was “overburdened”.  A day later, the foreign ministry said in a statement that it was not suspending any EU rule, and that it had merely requested a grace period to deal with asylum seekers who were arriving.  
As the Dublin rules do not foresee such a suspension, following the suspension announcement, the EU Commission sought “immediate clarification on the nature and extent of the technical failure” and the measures being taken in response, a Commission spokeswoman said.
Gábor Gyulai, Refugee Programme Coordinator at the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, told the Associated Press that the EU and the international community must assist the system in Hungary, and that the country was able to cope only because most of the asylum seekers eventually moved westward within a few days.
Meanwhile, on 17 June, Hungarian Foreign Minister, Péter Szijjártó, announced at a press conference that the country would construct a four-meter-high fence running 175 kilometers along its border with Serbia. Serbian Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vucic, told RTS television during a visit to Oslo that he was “shocked” and that it was “not the solution.”
The country also published, on 19 June, a planned amendment of the Asylum Act, with a deadline for comments the same day.
Gyulai told Canada’s CBC Radio that the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán had started “a hate campaign” against migrants and asylum seekers in February this year. “In reality, it was a political reaction to a political challenge, namely, the worsening popularity of this government.”
According to Eurostat, Hungary received 42,775 asylum seekers in 2014, up from 18,900 in 2013 and 2,155 in 2012. The Hungarian government says that, to date, this year, it has received 61,000. Gyulai said the average in May was 2,000 per week, and that it was rising. The arrivals originated mainly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
For further information:  

UK announces ‘modest expansion’ to Syrian resettlement scheme
On Friday 19 June at a speech at the GLOBSEC Forum in Slovakia, UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced a ‘modest expansion’ to the national resettlement scheme for particularly vulnerable people fleeing Syria.
The Vulnerable Person’s Relocation scheme was set up in January 2014 with the aim of resettling around 500 Syrian nationals to the UK by 2017. While being separate, it is operated in conjunction with UNHCR’s Syrian Humanitarian Admission Programme, helping the UK government to identify individuals who are most vulnerable and cannot be adequately protected in the region.
To date, 187 people have been resettled via this scheme, with the first group of Syrians arriving in March 2014. ‘Several hundred’ more are thought to be accepted. Cameron’s announcement came the day after UNHCR’s annual Global Trends report was published, stating that there are 3.88 million people displaced by the Syrian conflict.
The UK has faced criticism for the relatively low numbers resettled compared to the rest of the international community, including by a coalition of 25 major charities, and British celebrities.
The Head of Advocacy at ECRE member, the British Refugee Council, welcomed the news as it will ‘transform people’s lives’ but called on the Government to offer a safe haven to ‘thousands, not hundreds, of refugees from Syria who desperately need it’ as this commitment ‘still pales in comparison to pledges made by other European countries’.
Similarly, Zoe Gardner of ECRE member Asylum Aid, comments that: “every individual life saved through resettlement should be celebrated, and so we are pleased to hear that perhaps a few hundred more of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees will now be offered a chance at a new life in safety in the UK under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme. However, the numbers that the UK is proposing, adding up to fewer than a thousand resettlement places in total, are pale in comparison to the scale of displacement from Syria. The UK should take pride in our ability to help and should be taking the lead in the European resettlement response, rather than trailing behind our neighbours. We certainly have the capacity to match other European countries’ resettlement pledges, such as Germany’s, what is lacking is the political will.”
For further information:  

UK not adequately protecting women asylum seekers: UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women

The UN special rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Rashida Manjoo, calls for better protection for women seeking asylum in the UK, citing concerns about the adequacy of assessments about experiences of gender-based violence.

Manjoo's report was published on 17 June during the United Nations’ Human Rights Council in Geneva, following a tour in the UK in April 2014.

It includes allegations of sexual assault and threats by staff during detention, pending removal and deportation, including at the Yarl’s Wood facility, to which Manjoo was denied access for a visit.

The report cited concerns about the Home Office’s assessments’ adequacy in identifying experiences of violence among asylum-seeking women. It also noted that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had raised concerns that such women may not have the ability to speak in confidence about the gender-based violence they have faced. It points out that the Detained Fast Track Processes do not provide favourable conditions for those cases where gender-based violence is involved, as such cases are determined quickly, with less participation from legal representatives. Additionally, the report noted that austerity measures and cutbacks have affected women seeking asylum, as services catering to them have been reduced.

Manjoo recommended that the UK should ensure specialist services be made available to asylum-seeking women, and that experiences of victimisation are properly considered in asylum claims.
Refugee Council Advocacy Manager, Anna Musgrave, said in a response, on the NGO’s website, that the report provided more evidence that the UK was not doing enough to ensure the safety of asylum-seeking women. “Shockingly: The asylum system is actually putting them at risk of experiencing further violence.”

Asylum Aid wrote in a statement on its website: “Our asylum system continues to put women at a disadvantage, especially those who are escaping sexual or domestic violence, leaving them faced with a system that is stacked against them.”


HRW: severe human rights violations in refugees’ home countries drive Mediterranean migration crisis

Human Rights Watch's recent report "The Mediterranean Migration Crisis: Why People Flee, What the EU Should Do" identifies severe human rights violations in asylum seekers’ countries of origin, forcing them to make perilous journeys across the Mediterranean to reach Europe. It also examines the deficiencies in EU migration and asylum policies that contributes to the failure to respond to the current situation.

The report is based on over 150 interviews with migrants and asylum seekers who arrived in Italy and Greece in May. In addition, it draws on Human Rights Watch research in Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia; countries engaged in war and generalised violence that accounts for over 60 percent of those taking the journey. Similarly, the report cites the situation in Eritrea, a country ruled by a highly repressive government. Asylum seekers arriving from these countries have experienced recruitment by armed groups, threats from insurgent groups, such as the Taliban, Al-Shabaab and ISIS, arbitrary arrests and detention, sexual violence and other severe human rights violations that forced them to flee.

As Judith Sunderland, senior Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report, states: “The majority of those crossing the Mediterranean are taking terrible risks because they have to, not because they want to. Saving lives and increasing safe pathways into Europe should be the EU’s priorities, while ensuring that all cooperation with countries of origin and transit countries respects international human rights standards.”

The Mediterranean is identified as "the world’s deadliest migration route". In the first five months of 2015 alone at least 1,850 people died at sea trying to reach European coasts. The EU has recently taken some positive steps with the adoption of the “European Agenda on Migration” but remains focused on preventing departures, and limiting arrivals, rather than providing legal alternatives to dangerous migration avenues.  The severe human rights violations that these people face clearly calls for drastic changes in EU’s priorities.

Human Right Watch calls on EU leaders to uphold search and rescue operations, ensuring that those rescued are brought to safe EU ports.  With the approaching EU Council on June 25-26, HRW calls on EU leaders to increase legal and safe ways for people to seek asylum in Europe, by expanding resettlement for refugees, facilitating family reunification and increasing humanitarian visas to people in need of international protection.

Taking into account the inequitable distribution of asylum seekers among EU member states, a more fair solution within the European Union is needed, based on country population, total GDP, unemployment rates and the respective number of asylum applications and resettled refugees from 2010-2014.

Furthermore, HRW urges the EU to ensure that anti-smuggling operations to tackle irregular migration - including EUNAVFOR Med operations - will be in full compliance with rights protected by the European Convention on Human Rights, such as the right to life and security, effective remedy and protection against refoulement.

HRW urges the EU to ensure that cooperation with sending and transit countries will not trap people in abusive situations and calls on EU member states and the EU to use their political and economic influence to address the causes of migration and focus on the human rights violations that constitute the main push factor for refugees fleeing to European countries.

Caritas: “Seas and Walls” - Infinite deadly barriers for migrants

In a new publication, "Mari e Muri", Caritas Italiana examines the natural and artificial obstacles that migrants and refugees have to cross, as they risk their lives to seek protection and find a better, safer future. In particular, the paper describes the situation in the Gulf of Aden (the Red Sea), across which, in 2014, over 82,000 people have fled conflicts, persecution, environmental disasters and food insecurity. These human adversities, in the Horn of Africa, include Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti.

The report highlights that, according to the latest IOM figures, of the 100,000 migrants who, cross the Gulf every year to Yemen and the Arabic peninsula, not everyone is able to survive: in 2014 alone, 265 migrants died in the Gulf of Aden’s. Furthermore, Caritas points out that of those who finally reach Yemen, many become victims of human trafficking, torture, sexual abuse, violence and in some cases killings.

Moreover, due to the civil conflict in Yemen, Caritas notes that refugees also began their dangerous journey in the opposite direction, heading south, crossing the Gulf, to Djibouti. Reportedly, by the end of April 2015, almost 500 Yemeni refugees were registered in Djibouti; while others were forced to flee the country by plane.

The report stresses that developed countries have largely been responsible for creating the economic, political and environmental circumstances which encourage people to flee; only to forcibly return many of those refugees and migrants who seek protection in Europe.

Caritas raises further concerns about other barriers, such as: Ceuta e Melilla, the Saharawi "wall of shame" between Morocco and the former West-Sahara; the Tijuana barrier between Mexico and the United States; the Israeli-Gaza wall, the wall between India and Bangladesh and that between Iran and Pakistan. In addition, one could add the barrier at the border with Serbia, recently announced  by Hungary. Whilst these are physical barriers, Caritas reminds us of the other , metaphorical, walls that divide our societies, inhibiting the mission to promote the fundamental rights to freedom of movement for every human being.

For further information:  
First quarter 2015 EU asylum applications see an 86% increase compared to 2014

In the first quarter of 2015, Eurostat reported that 185,000 people applied for asylum for the first time in the EU-28 states. This figure shows an increase of 86% in the number of asylum applications submitted in EU countries compared to the same period in 2014. This number, however, is relatively stable if compared to the last quarter of 2014. The main nationalities of asylum seekers who sought protection in the EU-28, in the first three months of 2015, are: Kosovars (26% of total number), Syrians (16%) and Afghani (7%).

The vast majority of Kosovars (90%) applied for asylum in Hungary and Germany. They also accounted for the biggest national group of asylum seekers in France and Luxemburg. With respect to Syrian nationals, being the main citizenship of asylum seekers in 11 member states, half of them (13,800) applied for asylum in Germany. The number of Ukrainian asylum seekers saw a five-fold increase in the first quarter of 2015 compared to the same period of last year. In addition, a three-fold increase was registered of Iraqi asylum seekers, and a two-fold increase of Libyans and Albanians.

The highest number of asylum applications was registered in Germany and Hungary, where respectively 73,100 and 32,800 first asylum applications were lodged, accounting for 40% and 18% of the total applications submitted in the EU in the first three months of the current year. Compared with the previous quarter, Sweden and Italy saw a significant reduction in the number of asylum applications, while a moderate reduction occurred in the United Kingdom, Austria and France.  

European Migration Network Annual Report: 30% increase in asylum seekers

The European Migration Network (EMN) have released their annual report on immigration and asylum for 2014, providing an overview on the main legal and policy developments in the area of migration and asylum taking place at EU level and within EU Member States and Norway.

The document observed that political instability, and on-going crises in Europe’s neighbouring regions, have resulted in a sharp increase in asylum applications to EU Member States. In 2014 the 627,710 applications constituted a 30% increase from 2013. This has brought a number of associated challenges to various Member States, such as managing reception capacity and pressures on asylum application systems. These, in turn, have led to prolonged procedures, delays in decision making and long periods of detention for asylum seekers. To combat this, the report notes that many Member States have increased their reception capacity and made improvements in order to provide more dignified and decent conditions. This has been allied with improved processes for examining asylum claims through improved staff training, better access to information for applicants, better legal counselling and greater access to interpretation services.

During 2014, regarding the resettlement of beneficiaries of international protection, almost half of all Member States engaged in general resettlement schemes. In response to the Syrian crisis several special resettlement programmes were developed for refugees originating from this region. In contrast, no Member States reported that they had relocated any beneficiaries of international protection, despite funding being available for this purpose under the European Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund.

The report goes on to outline the significant rise in asylum applications submitted by unaccompanied minors, which EMN say have risen by nearly 100% compared to the average number of applications submitted in previous years. In 2014, a total of 23,075 applications were received from unaccompanied minors. In response, a number of EU states introduced a range of institutional, legislative and policy changes, aimed to alleviate this worrying development. 

Detailed information can also be found in the document on securing Europe’s external borders, irregular migration and return, and actions addressing trafficking in human beings, as well as European policy on legal migration and integration.