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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 90 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 www.ecre.org, find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

     
19 April 2019
  
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EDITORIAL

OP-ED

EUROPEAN DEVELOPMENTS

NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS

BEYOND EUROPE
  

EDITORIAL

Countering the Far Right has to Continue in Election Countdown

Two interesting publications from European think-tank and research institute this week explore European public opinion on migration in more detail. Elements of both reinforce ECRE’s view on the inaccuracy and danger of the over-simplistic narrative that the European public is opposed to migration and there is therefore a wave of success for far-right political parties.

The ECFR’s paper “What Europeans Really Want: Five Myths Debunked” presents public opinion studies in the run up to the European Parliament elections and shows that migration is not a major concern for the public in any country (except Hungary), with only 15% of voters considering it a threat to Europe; when it comes to concerns, people in many parts of Europe are more concerned about emigration than immigration. There are a range of issues that are considered threats, including nationalism. Indeed, generally, people are more concerned and worried about far-right parties than they are supportive of them.

The fragmentation, volatility, disillusionment and desire for change on  the part of the electorate are all confirmed but should not be equated with either far-right sympathies or general anti-migration views. In good news for the EU, the research confirms and references recent Eurobarometer statistics that show the strong popularity of the EU among the European public overall (there are of course national variations).

OPAM’s study of public opinion in the Mediterranean region argues – following other recent academic research – that the saliency of the issue of migration is the reason for the increase in support for far-right parties; there has not been significant change in public attitudes. They predict an increase in voter share of just 3% for the far-right. 

The need for a more nuanced approach and a change in strategy of mainstream parties comes across clearly. Make no mistake, the politicians, parties and activists of the far-right are dangerous – they incite hatred and violence. ECRE and its members work with the targets of the violence, repression and destitution these political forces generate – and in some cases are the targets. So no-one is complacent. However, over-estimating the success of these parties and public support for them is also dangerous. It makes them a phenomenon, creates a sense of momentum, provides free publicity and helps mobilise their supporters.

The panic about the rise of extremism influences the choices of mainstream political parties and other policy-makers but it is just one factor in shaping their strategy. Through the last four years of “the crisis”, time and again we have heard restrictive measures that undermine the right to asylum in Europe justified on the basis that “the public don’t want migration” or “the public are opposed to accepting refugees”. The strategy of prevention of all migration is based on this over-simplified understanding of public opinion.

Despite the inaccuracies and misrepresentations at play, disputing inaccurate presentations of public opinion is met with the accusation of naivety or wishful thinking, even when it is based on the EU’s own statistics from Eurobarometer or EU-funded academic research. Given that the statistics are widely available, it is hard not to conclude that these over-simplistic references to public opposition are used to justify measures that the policy-makers themselves want to take and actually believe in. It would be refreshing to just hear them own their decisions rather than inaccurately claiming public support. Hopefully analysis of public opinion on migration by more mainstream and neutral organisations will also start to have an influence.

An area where more research is needed is the impact of mainstream parties’ strategies on public opinion. There is a clear correlation between the absorption of far right views by mainstream parties and public opposition to migration – the most extreme example being Hungary. But what is the direction of causality? What is the impact on centre left parties of absorbing the narrative of the far right? It doesn’t seem to do them much good. How does the strategy of accepting the far right into governments affect public opinion and voting compared to the Cordon Sanitaire approach?

In the light of these new publications and impending European Parliament elections, ECRE revives its “Nine Suggestions for Countering the Far Right”, first published in September 2018:
 

1) Know (and name) your opponent

In much of the political debate, “populism” or “populist party” are inaccurate terms, deployed lazily or due to the lack of easy shorthand – or due to the lack of courage to name what is really the problem. Populism is an approach to politics, a method or at most a partial ideology based on direct appeal to the public, a claim to represent the public rather than the establishment or the elite. It is not necessarily undemocratic or even “bad”.  The centre can also use populist tactics (En Marche and Ciudadanos are often not covered in discussions of populism despite following some of these approaches).

For ECRE, the main concern is a group of parties which could be termed extremist-nationalists or if the term populist is to be used, it at least has to be qualified as “far right populism”. These parties are sufficiently similar to be grouped together: they are all anti-EU, anti-migration and anti-democratic. This is a distinct group and this is our target. They should also be the target of the mainstream left, right and centre. In terms of the European Parliament, this is recognised at every level: these parties self-identify as similar, work together in groups – or at least try to do so – and promote the same positions. There isn’t a group of “populists”.

Despite their similarities, as nationalists they struggle to form pan-European alliances – but aim to do so for the election, with the Orbán-Salvini or Salvini-Le Pen axis leading and volunteers such as Steve Bannon. No doubt their Russian backers are also gearing up their support machine by staffing their troll farms.
 

2) Talk about migration, but say something different

If mainstream politicians accept the premise that migration is a problem to be solved, they are doomed from the start. The exhausting repetition of myths has totally distorted the debate. Myths like “None of these people are refugees” – in fact, the majority of those who arrived in Europe during the recent political crisis were refugees, with by far the largest number from Syria. Forced displacement is at record levels, and there is a brutal war going on in Europe’s “neighbourhood”. In any case, people without protection needs have human rights. Other myths are also too popular like “By welcoming refugees, Merkel made a terrible mistake and destroyed her career.” Sorry, but who is the Chancellor of Germany for an unprecedented fourth term? Or “return is simple and will resolve everything.” Or “doing deals with third countries to contain migration is in Europe’s interest” (in fact, cooperation with corrupt security forces leads to more forced displacement).

How about: migration is positive and inevitable? It will save Europe from economic decline. Or: migration is the answer to Europe’s demographic crisis. There are multiple positive policies and recommendations out there. For example, that if Europe hosts its fair share of refugees it is more likely to encourage protection standards in other regions and generate cooperation. There are many ways to offer safe and legal channels to protection for those entitled to it. Integration is the success story nobody talks about: there are multiple examples of how to support it.
 

3) Don’t exaggerate the popular support of these parties

The media and NGOs are both guilty of exaggerating the success of the far-right populists, the former due to sensationalism; the latter due to fear. Headlines referring to “victories” and “tidal waves” of support, are followed by articles that clarify that the far-right party actually polled 10%. Let’s be clear: any political presence of these parties is a threat and should be resisted. But exaggerating their success makes them stronger and leads to self-defeating strategies, such as absorbing their views. It also legitimises support for them by making it seem normal when in most countries it is exceptional (Hungary is an outlier).

These parties have always been part of the European political landscape – unfortunately. In a majority of European countries, their share of the vote is stagnant or decreasing or negligible. Their “successes” need to be understood: Orbán’s electoral success is not because he has tapped into popular sentiment. It is due to a 10-year process of capturing independent institutions, allowing for unchallenged propaganda. The remaining opposition voices are now threatened with imprisonment under the latest laws that attack civil society.

Luckilly, we are now starting to see headlines saying that 85% of the electorate rejected the far right despite the political crisis on migration. Others need to follow: Europe accepts millions of refugees but the far right fails to make gains. Or the European public strongly supports refugees despite political opposition. The combination of economic crisis, disillusionment with politicians and the dramatic arrivals of refugees by sea created perfect conditions for these parties. And this is the best they can do?
 

4) Talk about ALL the issues that people care about

OK, migration should not be taboo but it is permissible to speak about other issues too. The centre-left in particular has internalized the far-right’s critique that it doesn’t talk about migration. In reality, it sometimes seems that politicians talk about nothing else, a view shared by the public in many places (the electorate in Bavaria, for example, where in the run-up to last year’s election a majority considered there to be too much discussion of migration). Migration has taken up a massively disproportionate amount of political resources, which increases its salience and leads to more votes for the far right. Given the issues that the public care about, changing the subject is neither cowardly nor irresponsible. The more the EP election is about migration, the better these parties will do. The last two years have also shown that preventing migration is not the way to change the debate or to reduce the popularity of these parties. Changing the way that migration and asylum are discussed and approached would be better. It just needs a little more honesty and courage. Civil society could do more to support politicians that challenge the narrative that migration and refugees are the problem.

The far-right often links migration and security. Mainstream politicians should not shy away from talking about security, just do that differently too. Refugees crossing borders is not the greatest security threat faced by people in Europe – that would be climate change; or lunatic strongmen leaders; or European governments that are in cahoots with organised crime. Here, rather than changing the subject, expand upon it. The parties of the far-right incite violence, social tension and instability – they are a security threat.
 

5) Stop the complicity

It is possible to talk to and even work with far right nationalist parties. But it has to be clear what the red line is – at which point does engagement become complicity? Going into government with these parties and allowing them to control institutions is one example; letting them join coalitions is another. The EPP has stepped over the line and the support it gives Fidesz is complicity. Party leaders and advisors must resist the misguided pressure to adopt anti-migration or anti-asylum positioning. The Centre-Left is not going to increase its votes by adopting the policies of the far-right; yet some PES members are doing that.
 

6) Understand political fragmentation and build coalitions

The “success” of the far-right is often relative and results from fragmentation of party systems. A party with 20% or even 15% might be the largest in a highly fragmented system. The main left and right blocs that dominated post-war Western Europe have lost voting share due to social changes. Post-Communist Eastern Europe has seen its own rapid processes of political party (trans)formation and division.

The EP elections will reflect this dynamic with polls showing that forming a majority will require not two but at least three political parties to join forces. Clever coalition building will be required increasingly at European as well as national level. ECRE urges the exclusion of far right parties from governing coalitions – handing over the power to manage institutions leads to normalisation and proliferation of their views.
 

7) Court the doubters

There are individuals and factions within parties that are currently allied with the far-right who might be shamed into renouncing their support and joining or at least allying with other forces. Bringing such individuals into other parties or supporting breakaway efforts should be encouraged.
 

8) Reclaim Europe

For the far-right populists, although they exploit the migration issue, their real agenda may be to destroy the EU, or to undermine democracy or to enrich themselves and their cronies. It is particularly unpleasant to see these parties now switching to a defence of European values, reinterpreted to mean the defence of the purely white, Christian Europe that never was and never will be. At the same time, there is a flourishing of new and positive pan-European forces. Some support reform of the EU but they still believe in it and are firmly internationalist. The mainstream parties should follow this line and re-affirm a vision of Europe as a place of cooperation, rule of law, democracy and human rights. Unity in diversity. With all the meanings of diversity.
 

9) Participate! Vote!

Those who care about human rights and democracy or Europe can’t “opt out”. It is self-indulgent inaccurate clap-trap to say that “all” political parties are the same or that “all” politicians are corrupt, and therefore it’s not worth voting. Sometimes these attitudes derive from apathy but often it is misplaced idealism, purism even – not wanting to vote for those who are seen as too compromising. If the far-right populists increase their seats in the European Parliament, there will be a tangible negative impact on the rights of refugees in Europe. If that’s not reason enough to resist, then just look at their impact on the rule of law and democracy. ECRE’s campaign “Your Vote. Our Future” continues.
 

Editorial: Catherine Woollard, Secretary General for the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE)

 


OP-ED

Detention, Insecurity, Rights Deprivation - The Legal Crackdown on Asylum Seekers in Germany

By Karl Kopp, Director of European Affairs at Pro Asyl.

On 17 April 2019 the German Government pushed ahead with the deprivation of rights of refugees with two laws – the so-called “Orderly Return Bill” and an amendment to the social welfare law for asylum seekers. The highly controversial “Orderly Return Bill” promoted by the Ministry of the Interior has now been passed by the cabinet meeting of the Government and will be discussed in parliament. The draft law is part of a recent wave of legal measures that represent a crackdown on asylum seekers. It provides for far-reaching changes which have been sharply criticised by civil society associations as they include the deprivation of rights, expansion of the use of detention, and withdrawal of social benefits. It also makes the status of recognised refugees more precarious, introduces a downgraded version of the “Duldung” (toleration) status, and targets people and organisations involved in refugee support.


Facilitate Deportations by Increasing Detention

The law proposed by Interior Minister Horst Seehofer lowers the threshold for the use of detention making it easier for the government to detain people before deportation. While previously the law required the government to provide the reasons why it considered a person at risk of absconding, the new law shifts the burden of proof from the government to the person affected. The person presumed at risk of absconding has to prove the non-existence of this risk while they are held in detention and without being provided with a legal representative.

In addition, everyday circumstances will serve as an indicator of a risk of absconding, such as the fact that a person has paid a certain amount of money to come to Germany (to whom does this not apply?) or that they made false statements at some point, even if these have later been corrected. This is a blatant shift to the disadvantage of those affected and also contradicts the principle that detention should only be used as a last resort.

The German government also wants to introduce a new form of detention (“Mitwirkungshaft”) for use in the event that persons obliged to leave the country do not appear for an interview at the representative office of their country of origin and do not provide an excuse for their non-appearance. These appointments serve primarily to clarify the identity of the persons concerned. According to an explanatory memorandum attached to the proposed law, a detention period of up to 14 days will “exert pressure on the foreigner with the aim of increasing his willingness to cooperate” and thus enable their deportation.

A particularly controversial part of the legislation allows federal states to place people awaiting deportation in regular prisons as long as they are physically separated from other prisoners. This temporary measure is intended to buy time for the federal states to expand their migrant detention capacities by mid-2022. The lifting of the ban on separation from the general prison system enshrined in Art. 16 of the EU Return Directive, constitutes a flagrant violation of European law.


Reducing “Pull Factors” – Increasing Precariousness

Changes to the social welfare law for asylum seekers jeopardize constitutional guarantees. For refugees recognised as such in other EU Member States, benefits are to be completely cancelled. They will only receive a “bridging benefit” for a maximum of two weeks. In other words, return to countries like Italy, Greece and Bulgaria where recognized refugees often live in miserable conditions, is enforced with hunger and homelessness.  Persons flagged by EURODAC as eligible for return to other EU countries under the Dublin III Regulation would receive only limited benefits. This even applies to the period during which a court is examining an applicant’s appeal against the Dublin transfer decision. The Federal Constitutional Court has ruled that the fact that a policy is aimed at reducing migration does not justify people’s exclusion from benefits. The reduction of benefits below subsistence minimum clearly violates the cornerstone of the German constitution, which guarantees a life in dignity for all people in Germany (Article 1.1).


More Statuses – Less Security

In addition, Seehofer’s new law introduces a downgraded version of the “Duldung” (“Toleration”) status, a legal status in German law for people whose deportation is suspended on administrative or humanitarian grounds. This status of “Dulding light” will apply to “persons with unclarified identity” and restricts the rights of people believed to bear responsibility for obstacles to their deportation. For example, not having papers, missing appointments with authorities, and not following the arguably ineffective steps to obtain papers, allows German authorities to downgrade status and restrict access to social benefits and the labour market.

The new measures also concern refugees recognised as such years ago. For those recognised between 2015 and 2017, the period during which the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) can revoke or withdraw refugee status will be extended from three to five years. These procedures concern around 600,000 refugees primarily from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Eritrea. The situation in these countries has not fundamentally improved, which would be the reason to revoke recognition. However, the continuous insecurity that comes with this change will hamper the integration process of those affected.


Criminalising Civil Society

Finally, changes to the original draft bill in the course of the coalition negotiations have not eliminated the threat to civil society and those working in refugee support. By declaring the entire process of deportation, including Embassy and doctor appointments, a state secret, those providing counselling to asylum seekers could be accused of “aiding or abetting” in the “betrayal of secrets”, an offence punishable with up to five years in prison. The mere possibility of indictment will lead to great uncertainty among those committed to the support of people seeking protection.


Legal Crackdown on Asylum Seekers without Justification

Despite the low number of asylum seekers arriving in Germany and good structures for their reception, the current draft legislation is being negotiated as if Germany were in a state of emergency. It comes as part of a new wave of laws that reduce the conditions for asylum seekers and refugees. In fact, since autumn 2015 more than 20 legislative amendments have been passed by parliament, the impact of which has not yet been evaluated. And there are currently over ten draft laws on asylum and migration being negotiated in parallel and in extremely short timeframes.

Pro Asyl also criticises the public relations work of the Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI), which suggests that 235,000 rejected asylum seekers in Germany should be deported. It is true that, according to the Central Register of Foreigners (AZR), 235,000 persons are obliged to leave the country. However, first, almost one half of them have never applied for asylum! Second, most of them have the status of “Duldung”, meaning that they cannot be deported, for example due to health problems or family reasons. The inflated figure also includes almost 30,000 people from Afghanistan and Iraq who cannot be deported because the situation in their country of origin is too dangerous. Finally, a large number of people registered in the AZR have already left Germany.

The strategy of using statistical tricks to stir up sentiments against people seeking protection and bulldoze through an outrageous legislative package is unacceptable.

ECRE publishes op-eds by commentators with relevant experience and expertise in the field who want to contribute to the debate on refugee rights in Europe. The views expressed are those of the author and does not necessarily reflect ECRE positions.

 


EUROPEAN DEVELOPMENTS

European Commission Publishes Latest Report on Turkey Refugee Facility

The European Commission has published the third annual report on the EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey, which provides assistance to applicants for international protection and temporary protection beneficiaries mainly in urban areas. This is done through support in areas including education, health care, registration, and cash assistance programmes such as the Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN) and the Conditional Cash Transfer for Education (CCTE).

According to the Turkish Red Crescent (Türk Kızılay), one of the main actors managing funds under the Facility, ESSN was disbursed to 1,545,674 beneficiaries and CCTE to 487,089 as of February 2019. 88% of beneficiaries of cash assistance were Syrian temporary protection holders. However, in the final report of the audit of the Facility published in November 2018, the European Court of Auditors concluded that it has not been possible to trace the full extent of use of Facility funding in the ESSN and CCTE.

Under a “protection heading”, the Commission’s report on the Facility mentions that the Directorate General for Migration Management (DGMM) was able to verify the data of 2.6 million refugees in Turkey with support from the Facility. While the data verification process carried out in collaboration with UNHCR led to 96% of the verification target being met in 2018, stakeholders report that, in large cities such as Istanbul, Şanlıurfa and Hatay, only 50 to 60% of Syrian refugees were covered according to their estimates of numbers of people present there.

At the same time, the latest AIDA Turkey report has documented serious challenges in the registration of those seeking protection. In 2018, large provinces such as Istanbul, Hatay and Mardin have de facto stopped registering and granting documents to newly arriving Syrian refugees, with the exception of vulnerable cases. Non-Syrian asylum seekers face even more severe obstacles to access to the procedure after UNHCR terminated its registration activities in September 2018.

Another contribution of the Facility, not cited in the report, has been a legal aid project implemented by the Union of Bar Associations in Turkey in collaboration with UNHCR, to provide free legal assistance to asylum seekers in 18 pilot provinces at all stages of the international protection procedure, detention, as well as civil law matters. A total of 653 legal aid applications have been submitted to bar associations participating in the scheme as of February 2019. The project has also supported the establishment of the first Refugee Law Clinic in Turkey, located in Şanlıurfa.

Under the “migration management” heading, the Commission’s report states that the Facility has provided “logistical equipment and works for facilities for 750 people”. The nature of the “facilities” supported is not clear. Based on the size of the facilities, it seems likely that the Facility funding was used for the construction of pre-removal detention centres. As detailed in the AIDA Turkey report, detention capacity has almost doubled in the last year, with 24 active pre-removal centres totalling 16,116 detention places, and another 11 centres under construction.

The report also refers to Facility support for return operations covering 212 operations for deportation to Syria and 1,076 operations for non-Syrians, and states that “119,173 migrants received Facility-funded assistance in this way”. Returns to Syria, which have become a prominent issue in the temporary protection system in 2018, are usually preceded by a panel interview with DGMM and UNHCR to establish whether return is voluntary. However, such an assessment is not made for the many Syrians and non-Syrians detained in Removal Centres, who are reportedly under pressure from authorities to sign voluntary return documents.

In July 2018, the Member States and the European Commission agreed to mobilise another €3 billion for the Refugee Facility.

For further information:

 


Refugees Caught in the Crossfire of Latest Clashes in Libya

The escalating conflict in Libya between rival governments is deteriorating the situation for refugees and migrants in the country. As General Khalifa Haftar advances on Tripoli, many have been trapped in detention centres and caught in the crossfire of the latest clashes, while some are fleeing to neighbouring countries.

Approximately 2700 refugees and migrants are held in detention centres in or near Tripoli, which is at the centre of the current fighting. The recent battles have resulted in an effective siege on the detention centres causing a deterioration of already inhumane conditions and making access to aid agencies increasingly difficult.

UNHCR has relocated 300 people from Ain Zara and Abu Selim detention centres in the south of Tripoli.  Due to the escalating conflict, they have been unable to access other detention centres. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) also reported difficulties in access and ensuring the safety of refugees and migrants.

Some groups are reportedly fleeing to neighbouring countries. An increasing number have crossed the border to the northern province of Agadez, Niger. In Tunisia, authorities are threatening to close a migrant shelter due to overcrowding.

Fayez al-Sarraj, the Prime Minister of the UN-recognized government in Libya, warned that the current conflict would cause an increase in attempts to cross the Mediterranean. The EU’s response to the recent conflict has thus far not been clear, with France backing Haftar and Italy maintaining its support of Fayez al-Sarraj’s government.

A UN report in December found that Migrants and refugees are being subjected to "unimaginable horrors" in Libya. In January, a report by Human Rights Watch found that EU policies, such as cooperation with Libyan Coast Guards, contribute to severe abuse of migrants and refugees in Libya.

For further information:

 


Continued Stand Off over Rescued Migrants Unfolds in European Waters

After being denied access to Italian ports and left at sea for ten days 62 migrants aboard the search and rescue vessel Alan Kurdi were allowed to disembark in Malta. The access was granted only upon promises from other European member states to receive those recued.

The ten day stand-off over the 62 stranded migrants sparked by Italian refusal to allow access to the port in Lampedusa ended when Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat accepted their disembarkation in Malta upon confirmation that they would be received by Germany, France, Luxembourg and Portugal. The crew of the vessel were denied access to disembark in Malta and have suspended search and rescue operations to seek permission to land in Spain diminishing the already limited rescue capacity on the Med where 356 people have died or gone missing this year, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Meanwhile, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini currently under heavy critique from the Italian military officials for overstepping his mandate by denying disembarkation of migrants has reportedly signed a third directive to prevent NGO rescue ships from entering Italian waters and ports. Ships rescuing people without permission of the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) will accordingly be denied access. The NGO Mediterranea warns that the directive is in breach of national and international law.

After up to four month of waiting aid vessels have been allowed by Spanish authorities to depart for Greek Islands but under threat of sanctions if they enter search and rescue areas of the Central Mediterranean without permission.  

Based on information from witnesses and GPS data the rescue NGO Alarm Phone reports that the Greek Coast Guard led a boat carrying 35 people in distress in Greek waters back into Turkish waters rather than conducting a rescue operation.

Without mentioning search and rescue objectives, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini urged European countries to send naval ships back to the Mediterranean. She underlines the need to fight trafficking and the arms and oil smuggling that fuels the conflict in Libya. The mandate of Operation Sophia was extended in March 2019 but naval patrols were suspended. The operation has rescued 45,000 people on the Med since its launch in 2015.

For further information:

 


NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS

AIDA 2018 Update: Germany

The updated Country Report on Germany provides a detailed overview of developments in the asylum procedure, reception conditions and detention, as well as content of international protection. The political agreement of 12 March 2018 between German federal coalition partners CDU, CSU and SPD announced plans for a restructuring of the asylum procedure in March 2018. According to the coalition agreement, all asylum seekers should spend the first phase of their procedures in so-called “Arrival, Decision and Return” (AnkER) centres. However, most Federal States refused to implement the concept, claiming that existing institutions (especially the “arrival centres”) already fulfilled the purposes that had been set out in the coalition agreement. At the end of 2018, only three Federal States (Bavaria, Saxony and Saarland) had agreed to establish AnkER centres, in most cases just by renaming their existing facilities. Asylum seekers may be required to stay for up to 24 months in AnkER centres if their applications are rejected as manifestly unfounded or inadmissible, with limitations on freedom of movement and no access to the labour market. AnKER centres are drawing important criticism from refugee associations, NGO’s and other local actors. 

Applications and decisions: The number of first asylum applications dropped to 161,931 from 198,317 in 2017. In particular, fewer applicants were registered for several of the most important countries of origin of asylum seekers, such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Eritrea. About 35% of decisions resulted in a protection status for applicants, but an exceptionally high number of asylum procedures were abandoned without an examination of the substance of the case (either because the application was considered “inadmissibile” or because the procedure was discontinued for other reasons). If only those procedures in which a decision on the substance of the asylum claim took place are taken into account, the overall recognition rate was at 50.2% in 2018.
 

Asylum procedure

Information for asylum seekers: With the start of operation of AnkER centres on 1 August 2018, a new practice of “independent counselling” for asylum seekers was initiated. However, these counselling services are now provided by dedicated BAMF officials. This raises concerns with regard to the independence of the counselling services. In practice, counselling by the BAMF consists of group sessions providing general information on obligations and rights in the asylum procedure.

Dublin: The BAMF issued 54,910 outgoing Dublin requests and implemented 9,209 transfers, most of which to Italy. As of early 2019 in certain reception centres, the applicant is informed of the date of the transfer and required to be in his or her room during a specificed time pick-up by the police in view of the transfer. If the applicant fails to be present for that appointment, the BAMF extends the transfer deadline from 6 to 18 months on grounds of “absconding”, and material reception conditions can be reduced.

Deportations after refusal of entry: In 2018 a new procedure was introduced which enables the Federal Police to refuse entry at the Austrian-German land border. The aim of the new approach is to facilitate the immediate removal of “Dublin cases” to the Southern European countries. However, these returns are taking place without a Dublin procedure, as they are not based on the Dublin Regulation but on refusal of entry implemented through administrative arrangements with other EU Member States. At the beginning of 2019, only two of these agreements had been concluded with Spain and Greece and only 11 forced returns had taken place on the basis of the new approach, 9 to Greece and 2 to Spain.
 

Reception conditions

Detention capacity: Different Federal States have increased the number of pre-removal detention places. Bavaria has set up two new pre-removal centres, one in Erding and one at Munich Airport (“Hangar 3”), with 35 and 30 places respectively.
 

Content of international protection

Withdrawal: Following several “scandals” surrounding decision-making processes at the BAMF, mass re-examinations of asylum decisions from former years took place. In 2018, the BAMF initiated more than 192,500 “revocation examination procedures” in 2018 for decisions in which a protection status had been granted, especially in cases which had been decided under a written procedure. It concluded 85,502 of these procedures and found in almost 99% of cases that the status should be upheld. Only in 1.2% of cases was status revoked or withdrawn.

Following new legislation entering into force in December 2018, beneficiaries of protection are now obliged to cooperate fully with authorities in revocation and withdrawal procedures. Before December 2018, refugees were only given an opportunity to submit a written reply. The new law now authorises the BAMF to place on refugees obligations which are almost identical with obligations applicable during the asylum procedure. This includes: the obligation to attend an interview, the obligation to cooperate with authorities in clarifying identity, including the obligation to hand over identity documents or other certificates; the obligation to undergo other identification measures to clarify their identities, especially photographs and fingerprints.

Family reunification: Entitlement to family reunification has been abolished for beneficiaries of subsidiary protection as of August 2018. Instead, 1,000 family members of beneficiaries of subsidiary protection shall be granted a visa to enter Germany each month, according to the new law.

*This information was first published by AIDA managed by ECRE.

 


AIDA 2018 Update: Italy

The updated Country Report on Italy provides a detailed analysis of legislative developments introduced by Decree Law 113/2018, implemented by L 132/2018, as well as practice relating to asylum procedures, reception conditions, detention and content of protection.

Among other elements, the 2018 reform has codified the concept of internal protection alternative for the first time in Italian law. In addition, the humanitarian protection status, frequently granted before the 2018 law reform, has been abolished. The Territorial Commissions may only refer the applicant to the Ministry of Interior for certain national statuses.

Asylum procedure: The 2018 reform has established a border procedure applicable at border areas and in transit zones, which applies to persons apprehended after evading or attempting to evade border controls and to persons coming from a safe country of origin. Several elements of the procedure appear to be incompatible with the recast Asylum Procedures Directive.

It has also introduced an “immediate procedure” for persons under criminal investigation where grounds for detention apply, or for persons subject to a non-definitive conviction for crimes involving acts which may trigger exclusion from international protection. During appeals in the immediate procedure, suspensive effect is not granted, nor can it be requested. Therefore the procedure appears to be incompatible with the recast Asylum Procedures Directive.

Moreover, the 2018 reform has removed the possibility to obtain suspensive effect in appeals against the rejection of subsequent applications. It has also introduced the possibility of automatically declaring inadmissible a subsequent application made “during the execution phase of a removal procedure”. This has led to subsequent applications being automatically dismissed by Territorial Commissions but also directly by Questure.

In practice, obstacles to access to the asylum procedure continued to be reported in 2018. Different Questure prevented people from registering an application for reasons such as: limited opening days or hours; unlawful requirement of a domicile; proof of family links with children through documents or DNA tests. Several Civil Court rulings in 2018 have found such obstacles unlawful and have ordered Questure to allow the registration of applications.

The procedure for notification of Territorial Commission interview appointments and decisions, introduced by L 46/2017 but suspended by a CNDA Circular, is implemented in practice as of 25 October 2018. The procedure enables notification to be carried out by managers of reception and detention centres, and alternatively by the transmission of the act to the Questura. This has created problems, with persons moved between reception centres only finding out about their interview appointment after the date of the interview. 

Reception conditions: The reform has deeply reformed the reception system, drastically separating the reception paths of asylum seekers from those of protection holders and preventing asylum seekers from accessing second-line reception in the former SPRAR system, now renamed SIPROIMI. Asylum seekers, including Dublin returnees, can be now accommodated only in first reception centres and in CAS.

The services provided in these centres, already “essential” or “basic” according to previous legislation, are now almost eliminated by the tender specifications scheme adopted by the Ministry of Interior under the latest tender specifications scheme (Capitolato) on 21 November 2018. The 2018 Capitolato also considerably lowers the fee paid to managing bodies, de factoforcing the closure of small structures and encouraging the reception of asylum seekers in large facilities.

With regard to Dublin returnees, the Dublin Unit issued a Circular to other Member States’ Dublin Units on 8 January 2019, informing them that families with minor children are no longer subject to specific reception arrangements, and are to be accommodated similar to all other asylum seekers.

In 2018, different Prefectures continued to withdraw reception conditions on the basis of violations of house rules without adequate justification or proportionality, including in several cases against asylum seekers who participated in protests against the conditions in reception centres. Several appeals before the Administrative Courts have been successful. On 26 September 2018, the Administrative Court of Tuscany asked the CJEU to ascertain whether violations of general rules of the domestic legal system, not specifically laid down in the house rules of the reception centres, can constitute serious violations of the house rules for the purpose of withdrawing reception conditions.

Detention of asylum seekers: The 2018 reform has introduced a new detention ground for persons held in hotspots and first reception centres for the purposes of establishing or verifying identity or nationality, which is potentially applicable to most, if not all, asylum seekers.

Content of international protection: The 2018 reform has also introduced an additional requirement for obtaining nationality. Naturalisation is conditional upon proof of good knowledge of the Italian language of at least B1 level, attested through specific certifications or through the qualification in an educational institution recognised by the Ministry of Education. The amended Citizenship Act has also extended the non-binding deadline for completing the naturalisation procedure to 48 months.

The list of offences resulting in exclusion or revocation of international protection has been extended.

*This information was first published by AIDA managed by ECRE.

 


France: Nearly 90% of Calls to Paris Phone Registration Platform Missed

The registration of asylum applications in France continues to face severe obstacles, as illustrated by recent statistics on the operation of the telephone registration platform set up by the Office for Immigration and Integration (OFII) in the Ile-de-France region.

Since its launch on 2 May 2018 and until 31 December 2018, the telephone platform answered 61,957 calls and granted 46,139 appointments for registration. The telephone appointment with OFII does not substitute the existing procedural stage prior to registration with Prefectures in France, whereby asylum seekers obtain an appointment with an orientation platform (plateforme d’accueil de demandeurs d’asile, PADA), which then gives them an appointment to appear before the “single desk” (guichet unique de demandeur d’asile, GUDA) at the Prefecture to register their claim.

However, figures (“chiffres noirs”) recently made available by the Prefecture of Ile-de-France reveal much higher numbers of calls made to the platform. The number of “eligible calls” received by the telephone service was as high as 571,115 during this period. Numbers of calls increased particularly during the last months of the year: 91,772 in October, 100,713 in November and 84,844 in December.

According to La Cimade, these figures indicate that nearly 90% of calls made to the OFII telephone service until the end of 2018 were unsuccessful. In an order issued in February 2019, the Administrative Court of Paris warned about the risks of “virtual queues” of asylum seekers being created due to the insufficient capacity of the authorities to promptly register their claims.

For further information:

 


BEYOND EUROPE

Costa Rica Struggles with over 60,000 Fleeing from Nicaragua

Around 62,000 people have fled from Nicaragua since the political and social crisis started a year ago, most of them sought asylum in Costa Rica. The Nicaraguan government says that it will implement a program to guarantee the safety of returnees.

According to the Costa Rican Migration Authorities, around 29,500 Nicaraguans lodged asylum applications, as of March 2019. 26,000 others are waiting to have their claims formalized. Among those seeking asylum are students, opposition figures, journalists, doctors, human rights defenders and farmers. Many are in need of health care, psychological support, shelter, food and legal assistance.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is supporting the Costa Rican government to enhance reception conditions and reduce the period of time to process new arrivals. Together with other UN partners they are developing an inter-agency humanitarian response plan to support the Government in addressing the immediate needs of asylum-seekers and host communities.

The Nicaraguan foreign affairs ministry stated that anyone who fled in the past year and does not have an open court case or formal accusation against them will be eligible to return with the technical support of the International Organization for Migration (IOM). IOM informed that it first needs to study the Government’s plan. The Nicaraguan opposition dismissed the Government’s proposal.

Both the UN Human Rights Office and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) have expressed concern over the deterioration of the situation in Nicaragua, reporting serious human rights violations against those who participated in anti-government protests and those who helped them. UNHCR has highlighted that without a political solution to the crisis in Nicaragua, people are likely to continue fleeing and is asking for funds to strengthen UNHCR’s humanitarian response.

According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, at least 325 people have been killed during the past year.

For further information:

 


FEATURED CAMPAIGNS

ECRE European Parliament Campaign: Your Vote Our Future! It is time to oppose the far-right populists and fight for a Europe respecting human dignity and fundamental rights – the European Parliament elections provide this opportunity. Every vote counts!

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.

The Power of the Vote: Against the rise of populist anti-migrant rhetoric, we, at the Jesuit Refugee Service, believe that the most fundamental resource in Europe today is our vote. Therefore, we wish to appeal to all people to stand up for the future of the EU and especially for the fundamental rights of asylum seekers in Europe. 


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