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.

7 November 2014

European Commission urged to intervene to stop violations of EU law in Ceuta and Melilla

ECRE, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Rights International Spain, have written to the EU Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs Dimitris Avramopoulos to intervene with the Spanish government regarding proposed changes to Spanish immigration law that would formalize the documented practice of summary expulsions to Morocco from Spain’s enclaves in North Africa, Ceuta & Melilla.

The organisations urged the Commissioner to intensify the scrutiny of the situation at Spain and Europe’s borders in North Africa, to address a communication to the Government of Spain making clear that the proposed amendment is contrary to Spain’s obligations under EU law, and to launch an infringement procedure against Spain for documented summary expulsions from Ceuta and Melilla in violation of EU law, building on the recent steps taken by the previous Commissioner.

On 24 October, the then-Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström addressed a letter to Spain’s Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz expressing concern over this proposed amendment to formalize summary expulsions as well as over the use of excessive force at the enclaves’ borders.
The organisations argue that summary expulsions to Morocco and the proposed amendment violate Spain’s obligations under international human rights law as well as EU law, in particular the Asylum Procedures Directive, the Schengen Borders Code, the Returns Directive and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

On 4 November, 11 human rights organizations, including ECRE member organisation the Spanish Commission for Refugee Aid (CEAR), sent letters to all political parties represented in the Spanish Congress calling on them to reject the proposed legislative change that would facilitate summary returns of migrants and asylum seekers from Ceuta and Melilla.

The amendment, tabled by the Popular Party (PP) parliamentary group on 22 October, is now under examination in the Home Affairs Committee of Congress (Spain’s lower house of parliament).
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ECtHR rules against return of asylum-seeking family to Italy without reception guarantees

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held this week that returning the Tarakhel family from Switzerland to Italy without guarantees that they would benefit from appropriate conditions would violate their human rights as enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights.

The Tarakhel family, an Afghan family with young children, made their way to Switzerland from Italy and claimed asylum there. The Court ruled that returning the family to Italy would breach Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) which prohibits inhuman and degrading treatment, if Switzerland did not first obtain specific individual guarantees that the Italian authorities would take charge of the applicants in a manner adapted to the age of the children and that the family would be kept together.

The Court stated that, in the present case, in view of the current situation of the reception system for asylum seekers in Italy, the possibility that a significant number of asylum seekers removed to that country may be left without housing or accommodated in overcrowded facilities without any privacy, or even in insalubrious or violent conditions, is not unfounded.

The ECtHR reiterated that before returning people under the Dublin Regulation, States have to obtain individual guarantees that the fundamental rights of asylum seekers will be respected. It ruled that safety in another European Member State cannot be assumed.

The AIRE Centre (Advice on Individual Rights in Europe), ECRE and Amnesty International welcomed the judgment on the case in which the organisations had jointly intervened with the assistance of lawyers from across Europe in February 2014. The NGOs noted: “Yesterday’s decision is a definite step forward as it reiterates asylum seekers cannot be automatically returned to another EU country on the assumption that all EU Member States respect fundamental rights. The Court clarifies that where there are substantial grounds for believing that the individuals face a real risk of ill-treatment, the authorities must conduct a thorough examination of the individuals’ particular situation before returning anyone under the Dublin Regulation to ensure that their fundamental rights will be respected. Guarantees specific to any particularly vulnerable individuals - such as families with young children - must be obtained so as to ensure those individuals will personally benefit from appropriate material conditions. This duty goes beyond assessing the general situation.”

The European Court of Human Rights and the EU Court of Justice had already held in 2011 in the M.S.S. case, that the inadequate conditions in Greece precluded returning asylum seekers to Greece.

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UNHCR launches the “I Belong” campaign to end statelessness within 10 years

On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the 1954 UN Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, UNHCR launched this week the “I Belong” campaign aimed at ending statelessness within 10 years. Statelessness is a limbo for more than 10 million people around the world who lack any nationality and the basic human rights attached to it. 

The last few years have seen a significant rise in the number of states acceding to the 1954 and 1961 statelessness conventions: just three years ago, less than 100 States were parties to them, while today the number of accessions stands at 144. In 2014 alone, Gambia, Mozambique, Paraguay, and Peru acceded to the 1954 Convention, while Belgium, Colombia, Gambia, Georgia, Guinea, Mozambique acceded to the to the 1961 Convention on the reduction of Statelessness.

As part of the campaign, UNHCR also released a Special Report on Statelessness which highlights the impact on people of having no nationality, and contains an action plan to end statelessness which aims at resolving major situations of statelessness through law and policy reforms; ensuring that no child is born stateless; preventing the deprivation of nationality on the basis of discrimination; removing gender discrimination in nationality laws so that men and women can equally pass on their nationality to children; granting protection status to stateless migrants and issuing nationality identification documentation to those entitled to it.

“It’s tragic that today millions of people are living without nationality. Unlike many armed conflicts, it is wholly within the power of every concerned government to resolve statelessness. We have the opportunity, as never before, to tackle this injustice” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres.

For ideas on how to take action to support the campaign in Europe see this European Network on Statelessness guest blog by UNHCR Europe Bureau Director Vincent Cochetel.

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Italian legal system needs reforms to ensure access to justice for undocumented migrants, says ICJ

In its report, “Undocumented” Justice for Migrants in Italy,  on the possibilities of challenging expulsion and detention decisions issued to undocumented migrants in Italy, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) highlights the shortcomings of the Italian system in securing access to justice and substantive and procedural rights to migrants.

The ICJ identifies the need for substantial legal and policy reforms, criticizing especially the existence of ‘deferred push-backs’ (i.e. ‘push-back by accompaniment to the border’ which happens when a migrant is returned without having the opportunity to submit an asylum claim either upon apprehension when entering irregularly or immediately thereafter or , or when an irregular migrant is found at the border and admitted provisionally in the national territory for reasons of emergency healthcare assistance), which can potentially be used to exclude migrants from the procedural guarantees linked to the ordinary expulsion procedure. In particular, the ICJ expresses concern that the legislation does not provide for a judicial review of the measures used to carry out deferred push-backs, namely forced accompaniment to the border and detention.

In addition, the report highlights that persons who receive an expulsion order risk being returned due to the lack of automatic suspensive effect of the appeal against the execution of such a decision and the practical difficulties of lodging an appeal as the procedure does not allow sufficient time to contact a lawyer, or even an interpreter.

In highlighting the risk that current practices violate the human rights of migrants, the report calls on the authorities to eliminate the practice of deferred push backs and to introduce an automatic suspensive effect for all appeals claiming a violation of the principle of non-refoulement. ICJ underlines the need for the courts to interpret existing legislation in line with Italy’s international obligations with the aim of ensuring compliance with international human rights law, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (in particular Art. 47 on the Right to an Effective Remedy), the European Convention on Human Rights and the Returns Directive.

Finally, the report notes that Italian legislation does not prioritise voluntary return over forced return, and that legislation is not interpreted as to give priority to alternatives to detention, noting that detention should only be applied as a measure of last resort, where necessary and proportionate.


New report analyses access to the EU territory following ECtHR condemnation of pushbacks in high seas

In a new report, ‘Access to Protection: Bridges Not Walls’, the Italian Council for Refugees (CIR) analyses the impact of the case of Hirsi Jamaa and others v. Italy and argues that the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has established access to territory as a human right for those under the effective control of State authorities and when the refusal of access to the territory would result in refoulement. The report documents severe shortcomings as regards certain States’ respect of the principles reiterated in the Hirsi judgment, most notably that of non-refoulement, in particular at the Greek-Turkish border, the Bulgarian-Turkish border and the Spanish enclaves in North Africa, Ceuta and Melilla.

In its ruling condemning Italy for violating the European Convention on Human Rights by pushing migrants back to Libya, the Court elaborates on the scope and application of the principle of non-refoulement and clarifies the prohibition of collective expulsion of persons on the high seas. The Court finds that the authorities are under obligation to know whether those refused access to the territory would be exposed to treatment violating their human rights upon return. According to CIR, the Court’s decision also places legal obligation on States to make information and interpreters available for all migrants at any type of border or when they come under the effective control of State authorities. Moreover, States must ensure effective access to asylum procedures and an effective remedy against deportation. Without these remedies, the authorities cannot successfully establish whether deportation may violate a person rights under the European Convention Human Rights as interpreted in the Hirsi Jamaa case. In addition, CIR furthers that States are obliged to ensure the training of border guards so that they are aware of the rights of those who come under their control.

CIR urges the EU to use start infringement procedures against those Member States that persist in returning migrants and asylum seekers to third-countries where they may face persecution or serious harm or where they are at risk of being deported to their country of origin. Furthermore, CIR recommends the EU and Member States suspend the implementation of readmission procedures where there is a persistent and serious risk of violation of human rights of the readmitted persons. CIR also calls on Frontex to suspend all operations when there are serious allegations of collective expulsions and ill-treatment carried out by Member States. In such cases, Frontex should monitor that the allegations are promptly, effectively and independently investigated by the authorities of the Member States concerned. Frontex should also not engage in any operational cooperation with third countries for which independent reports indicate that they do not respect the fundamental rights of migrants and refugees.



UNHCR: Registration of Syrian refugees drops in Lebanon due to restrictions on border-crossings 

The UNHCR representative in Lebanon Ninette Kelley informed last week that the number of Syrian refugees registered by UNHCR offices in Lebanon had drastically decreased in the last few weeks. According to Kelley, this phenomenon is the result of the restrictions imposed at the border by the Lebanese government.

On 21 October, Lebanese Minister for Social Affairs, Rashid Derbas, announced that Lebanon would not accept any more refugees from Syria. He said that the border would remain open to ‘emergency cases’ and Syrian nationals travelling for purposes other than seeking refuge. Derbas stated that “any Syrian national is welcome, but not as a refugee” and that “stopping the refugees is final, because Lebanon is no longer able to host any more.” He also maintains that there were many border areas on the Syrian side that were free of clashes and could host refugees.

As of 4 November 2014, UNHCR reports that there are 1,124,896 registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon. However, the Lebanese government estimates that the number of Syrian refugees in the country is likely to be closer to 1.6 million. Furthermore, with winter approaching, the UN Refugee Agency warns that there is a lack of funding to ensure the basic needs of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon to face the cold temperatures.  

The UN refugee agency has repeatedly asked the international community to help Syria’s neighbouring countries – namely Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon – that currently host 96% of the Syrian refugee population. Increasing resettlement places, facilitating family reunification and temporary protection programmes have been identified by UNHCR as possible actions that States could undertake to assist Syria’s neighbouring countries in responding to the refugee crisis. In line with these appeals, UNHCR will host a ministerial pledging conference for resettlement and admission places for Syrian refugees in early December.
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