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.

24 April 2015

EU’s response to situation in Mediterranean fails refugees and migrants, say NGOs

Days after what appears to be the deadliest incident in the Mediterranean, where over 800 migrants and refugees died, EU leaders gathered in an emergency summit in Brussels to decide on immediate steps to put an end to the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean. ECRE, together with other NGOs, has expressed concern over the European Council’s response as it predominantly aims at preventing migrants and refugees from reaching Europe and externalising restrictive border control policies to countries of transit and origin.

According to the Council’s conclusions, the EU intends to “strengthen [its] presence at sea, to fight the traffickers, to prevent illegal migration flows and to reinforce internal solidarity and responsibility”.

"If one looks at the nationalities of the people who are [arriving by boat] they are Syrians and Eritreans – these are people that are fleeing for their life. They are fleeing conflicts and dictatorships and they will leave no matter what. If [the EU] tries to address smuggling and trafficking only, it is only addressing the symptoms. But if you want to put smugglers out of business you need to create the opportunity for people to come legally,” stated Aspasia Papadopoulou, ECRE’s Senior Policy Officer.

In terms of safe and legal access to Europe, EU Heads of State have only agreed on setting up a voluntary pilot project on resettlement across the EU.

“We need substantial increases in the use of resettlement, family reunification, humanitarian visas and the temporary lifting of visa requirements if we are to stem the illegal smuggling. It is the lack of protection and access to regular migration channels which fuels smuggling," stated Peter Balleis SJ, Director of JRS International Director.

In contrast, EU leaders have committed to triple the financial resources for Frontex Operation Triton in the least, allowing to increase the search and rescue capacity in the Mediterranean.  This will make Triton’s budget to a size equivalent to the one of the Mare Nostrum operation, which has saved the lives of over 100,000 people.

“The only result of the Council is the increase of the budget of Triton. It has been brought to €9 million. The mandate of Triton has not been revised and its focus remains the control of borders and its range of action circumscribed within 30 miles from Italian coasts. Not search and rescue,” stated the Italian Council for Refugees.

Earlier this week, in response to a Ten point action plan on migration put forward by the European Commission –  which included actions such as the establishment of a new programme for rapid return of irregular migrants and the deployment of the immigration liaison officers in key third countries –  ECRE published its Ten-point plan to prevent deaths at sea. The use of legal channels for persons in need of international protection, the launch of a European Search and Rescue Operation, as well as building protection capacity in regions of origin and ensuring true solidarity between EU Member States must be at the forefront of the EU’s response, ECRE stated.

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UNHCR calls on countries not to forcibly return people to South Sudan

On 14 April 2015, UNHCR published a new position paper on returns to South Sudan urging States to suspend forcible returns of nationals or habitual residents of South Sudan to the country in light of the continued deterioration of the security situation, the rule of law and of human rights.

Ongoing fighting between government and opposition forces in South Sudan has led to the internal displacement of some 1.5 million people, while over 500,000 individuals have crossed the borders to seek refuge in Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda. Food insecurity since January 2015 is affecting more than 2.5 million people in the country, an estimated 2.3 million people need shelter materials and basic household items, and systematic and widespread human rights violations have been widely reported.

The UNHCR guidelines note that in such a context, many of the persons fleeing from South Sudan are likely to meet the criteria for refugee status under the 1951 Refugee Convention. Furthermore, the security, rule of law and human rights situation stands in the way of a safe and dignified return for any person originating from South Sudan irrespective of whether or not the individual has been granted refugee status. UNHCR notes that this bar on forcible returns serves as a minimum standard that should remain in place until the situation in South Sudan has improved sufficiently to permit a safe and dignified return of those determined not to be in need of international protection.
ECtHR: Russia prohibited from extraditing Kyrgyz national of Uzbek origin to Kyrgyzstan

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found that extraditing a Kyrgyz national of Uzbek ethnic origin from Russia to Kyrgyzstan would give rise to inhumane and degrading treatment prohibited by Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The Kyrgyz authorities had charged the applicant, Mr. Khamrakulov, in his absence of participating in the mass disorder and ethnic clashes that took place in the country in June 2010.

Despite assurances from the Kyrgyz authorities to Russia that the applicant would not be subjected to degrading treatment, the Court observed that the current human rights situation in Kyrgyzstan remains problematic with numerous allegations of torture, ill-treatment, arbitrary detention and excessive use of force against Uzbeks. Belonging to this vulnerable ethnic group, the Court concluded that the applicant should not be extradited.

It was further found that the repeated delays by the Russian authorities in hearing the applicant’s appeals against his detention in Russia constituted a violation of his right to a speedy judicial decision on the lawfulness of his detention.

AIDA Update: France debates asylum reform and prompts more robust procedural guarantees
The new AIDA report on France comes amidst parliamentary debates on a draft law on asylum, transposing the recast Asylum Procedures Directive and the Reception Conditions Directive. The main reforms proposed aim to inter alia introduce suspensive effect for all appeals before the National Court of Asylum (Cour Nationale du Droit d’Asile), which would enable asylum seekers to remain on French territory while their appeal is pending; including persons whose applications were examined in accelerated procedures. Other reforms include a more restrictive definition of ‘safe country of origin’; detailed rules on special procedural guarantees for vulnerable applicants; equal rights of residence for all asylum seekers with claims processed in France and a new framework for reception.
The draft law on asylum includes an amendment which specifies that asylum applications from persons originating from countries considered to be safe shall not be automatically processed under accelerated procedures. The Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (OFPRA) will decide on the formal requests by asylum seekers to have their claims examined through regular procedures due to their personal situation in their country of origin.
In October 2014, the French Council of State (Conseil d’Etat) removed Kosovo from the list of safe countries of origin, less than a year following its addition by OFPRA. However, Georgia and Albania, added under the same decision as Kosovo, are still considered safe countries.  
Moreover, the first evaluation conducted under the Quality Control Initiative agreed by OFPRA and UNHCR has revealed serious shortcomings in around 15 to 25% asylum decisions, namely relating to dubious conclusions on applicants’ lack of credibility and often insufficient legal analysis of the applications by OFPRA personnel. According to the evaluation, OFPRA officers also tend to underestimate applicants’ well-founded fear of persecution upon return.
The report also documents recent developments in relation to claims lodged in detention. While previously it was not possible for detainees to lodge an asylum application after their fifth day in detention, the Conseil d’Etat held in July 2014 that detainees may apply for asylum following the five-day deadline. Although it constitutes a real improvement to guarantee the right to asylum in detention, the procedure still does not allow asylum seekers who have submitted a claim within the five-day deadline to submit new facts and circumstances after the deadline has passed. French law does not allow detaining asylum seekers solely for applying for asylum. A recent information note by the Minister of Interior calls on OFPRA to undertake an individual assessment of each person who applies for asylum in detention to determine whether they should be released from detention and granted a temporary residence permit.
Moreover, amendments adopted in 2014 have now brought the French Labour Code in line with the recast Reception Conditions Directive and the Cimade & GISTI ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union, by clarifying that asylum seekers awaiting return to another Member State under the Dublin system are entitled to a temporary financial allowance. The same applies for persons whose asylum applications are examined under accelerated procedures. Nevertheless, the AIDA update indicates that these material reception conditions are yet to be delivered in practice.
The AIDA update also bears special focus on recent developments in the situation of asylum in Mayotte, a French island off the South East African coast. Mayotte’s newly established status of ‘ultra-peripheral’ French region as of 1 January 2014 has made it necessary to transpose the EU Directives relating to asylum and return. Nevertheless, the French government has retained a number of problematic exemptions in the area of procedures, reception and detention, all of which may adversely affect asylum seekers in Mayotte. The ambiguous asylum regime in Mayotte raises questions around the scope of application of the CEAS Directives and could trigger future litigation.
A draft law on the stay and removal of foreign nationals has been introduced in July 2014 as well but is still to be discussed at legislative level.
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Amnesty International investigates gap in EU search and rescue since the end of Mare Nostrum

In a new report Europe’s Sinking Shame. The Failure to Save Refugees and Migrants at Sea’, Amnesty International analyses the gap in search and rescue operations in the central Mediterranean following the end of Italy’s search and rescue operation Mare Nostrum.
Amnesty’s investigation on three accidents occurred between January and March 2015, including testimonies of shipwreck survivors, reveals that in two cases, more lives could have been saved if vessels had been patrolling the sea further south, closer to Libya and meaning people could have been assisted earlier. In addition, according to the organisation, in the third accident, professional rescuers could have prevented one of the boats from capsizing.
The report shows that fewer and small vessels, such as coastal patrols deployed under Frontex operation Triton, as well as merchant vessels, are not well equipped for search and rescue and their crew are inadequately trained to assist people who face serious health and safety concerns in distress.
Amnesty also underlines the increased pressure on commercial ships to rescue refugees and migrants following the end of Mare Nostrum. According to the International Chamber of Shipping, in 2015, as of the beginning of April, 111 merchant ships were diverted to search and rescue calls in the central Mediterranean. 41 of these rescued 3,809 people.
Amnesty International urges European governments to deploy a European humanitarian operation to save the lives of refugees and migrants at sea, of a size corresponding with the magnitude of the need for search and rescue.
Moreover, Amnesty International urges European governments to provide safe and legal access to the EU by increasing the number of resettlement places, humanitarian admissions and visas for people in need of international protection.
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