Weekly editorial: Europe's not so-merry-go-round: Premature reinstatement of Dublin transfers to Greece
In just over a month, Dublin transfers to Greece will be resumed. In December, the European Commission recommended a gradual resumption starting 15 March and a number of Member States, including Germany, Austria and Belgium are taking steps to begin the process of retuning people. But is Greece ready?
The problems in the country are evident and well documented. Let us remember that 60,000 refugees are stranded there in an ongoing humanitarian crisis. It is the main reason for the creation of an EU humanitarian assistance programme FOR Europe. Some of those stuck in Greece face conditions which resemble those they would have encountered in North Lebanon or South Jordan. This week the hunger strike of inhabitants of Ellinko, demonstrating against degrading conditions and the visit of Migration Minister Mouzalas to their camp, made the headlines, while the dire conditions and number of deaths dominated reports on Greece at the beginning of the month.
Adding an influx of asylum seekers from the rest of Europe transferred under Dublin can only exacerbate the problems. And the proposal for reform of the Dublin Regulation does not fundamentally address the flaws in the system, including the disproportionate burden placed on countries of first arrival.
In addition, an absurd situation is developing whereby Greece becomes a migration transportation hub, as one group of vulnerable people is transferred back to Greece from other Member States (under the Dublin Regulation). Another group of people is sent from Greece to Turkey under the EU-Turkey deal; some seeking to reunite with family members are also returned to Turkey to apply there (as outlined in the Joint Action Plan) rather than from Greece (under the Dublin Regulation). Another group is gradually being sent from Greece to other Member States under the relocation scheme; and a final group is at risk of return from Greece to their countries of origin. All of this at great expense.
Although many political initiatives are designed to avoid responsibility for refugees at European and national levels – externalisation of migration control, push backs, closure of borders – there are also attempts to find solutions which we must support and encourage. These include relocation, which should not be abandoned; resettlement, which must be expanded; provision of humanitarian visas, which should continue; and humanitarian assistance, which unfortunately remains a necessity.
While we are bashing Donald Trump for his attempt to ban access to the US based on nationality and religion we should also take a long hard look at the situation in Europe and attempt to remove some of the contradictions and dysfunctionalities.
Catherine Woollard, Secretary General of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE)
EU and Italy take steps towards cooperation in migration control with Libya, amid heavy criticism
The European Union has taken steps to strengthen its cooperation in migration control with Libya, with Council Conclusions reached this Monday, amid heavy criticism. Italy has supported these efforts by concluding a bilateral Agreement with Libya.
The Council Conclusions, reiterates the efforts laid down in the Commission recommendations of January 25th and the Malta Declaration reached on an informal meeting of EU Heads of States and Government on Malta in the end of last Week. They lay down steps to curtail migration from Libya to the EU as well as improve migration control at Libya’s borders with other African states. In order to do so it foresees closer cooperation with Libyan Coastguards and Navy as well as a possible mission in the field of police, rule of law and border management.
On 2 February, one day before the Malta Declaration, Italy and Libya reached an Agreement The agreement states, that both actors will work together to “combat illegal migration, human trafficking” and reinforce border security. According to the agreement Italy will offer Libya training to personnel working in the detention centres as well as funding of these centres and technical and technologic support to the Libyan border and coast guard.
Multilateral and bilateral efforts to strengthen migration control have been criticised widely. While IOM and UNHCR appealed to European state to adopt an approach focused on capacity building especially in regard to reception centres, ECRE member ASGI stated that with their approach towards Libya the EU and Italy agreement “de facto violate the principle of non-refoulement, as it requires third countries to forcibly block the passage of people in clear need of international protection.” Inhumane and degrading conditions of migrants and refugees in Libya are widespreadd.
For further information:
- Aditus, An absolute no to exploring legal ways of returning refugees, February 3, 2017
- ASGI, Italy-Libya agreement: the Memorandum text, February 2, 2017
- ECRE, Wilful denial: ignoring consequences of outsourcing protection, January 27, 2017
- ECRE, Report of Libyan Coast Guards attacking migrants raises concerns over continued cooperation within Operation Sophia, November 4, 2016
Destitution and inhuman conditions endemic to UK asylum accommodation
Degrading reception conditions for asylum seekers have been denounced by a report of the UK House of Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs, published on 31 January 2017.
The UK Parliament has described some of the asylum accommodation places managed by private contractors a “disgrace” and the policy of hosting vulnerable people in such conditions “shameful”. The Committee has reported evidence of vermin and infestation of mice, rats and bedbugs as a major problem in dispersal accommodation, in addition to overall unsanitary conditions. At the same time, vulnerable asylum seekers lack adequate support in these facilities; women in the late stages of pregnancy have reportedly been accommodated with other residents or placed in rooms up several flights of stairs.
The Parliament has also criticised the UK dispersal scheme as dysfunctional, given that asylum seekers are concentrated in a small number of areas and most local authorities end up not participating in their reception.
Yet substandard conditions have also been witnessed in centrally managed initial accommodation centres, where asylum seekers are first hosted before being dispersed across the country. As reported by the Asylum Information Database (AIDA), the UK’s initial accommodation centres hosted a total 1,985 people at the end of 2015, though their capacity does not exceed 1,200 places.
At the same time, destitution is increasingly frequent among asylum seekers and recognised refugees. The latter are only given 28 days to find means to support themselves before asylum support is ended, and in practice are at high risk of becoming destitute, confirms 2016 research by the Refugee Council and by the British Red Cross. The Red Cross has provided assistance to 14,909 people left destitute throughout 2016.
For further information:
Poland to follow Slovenia in closing borders for refugees
The President of Slovenia has signed into law legislative amendments to the Slovenian Aliens Act, entrusting the Parliament with the power to “close the borders” due to a serious threat to public order and security caused by migrations. In Poland draft amendments to the Polish law on the protection for foreigners resembling the Slovenian initiative have been introduced by Interior Minister Mariusz Błaszczak.
The Slovenian amendments were signed into law despite critique from central national and international organisations like the Slovenian legal-informational centre for NGOs (PIC) and UNHCR. Nevertheless, Poland is introducing similar measures.
The Polish draft amendments contain some substantial changes, including new provisions on border proceedings and the possibility of detention without alternatives, provisions on safe countries of origin and safe third countries, and provisions on the change of the Refugee Board into the Foreigners' Board. The Minister said that “the main concern is security, followed by sealing the borders, and thirdly the introduction of procedures facilitating the expulsion of people entering – or trying to enter – Poland illegally”.
The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFHR) has already expressed its concerns with regard to the proposed amendments, saying that some provisions of the new draft amendments are contrary to EU law and the European Convention on Human Rights. “We are afraid that almost every refugee who comes to Poland may be subjected to the border proceedings. According to the draft amendments refugees subjected to these proceedings are automatically detained and may be deported without a right to effective remedy. Decisions issued in border proceedings may be immediately enforced even before appeal is lodged,” Jacek Białas of HFHR says.
For further information:
REPORTS & NGO ACTIONS
AIDA reports: Restricted access and chain of refoulement in Hungary and Serbia
The newly released country reports on Serbia and Hungary from ECRE’s Asylum Information Database (AIDA) reveal problematic policies and practices on both sides of the border.
Serbia and Hungary are illustrative examples of some of the most problematic policies and practices across Europe. At the same time, the country reports reveal a cross-border perspective of interlinked problems.
Developments of concern in Hungary include further limitations on entry through the transit zones, automatic rejection of applications on the basis of the safe third country concept, and systematic use of detention. Dublin returns to Hungary continue from a number of EU Member States despite evidence human rights violations in the country.
Serbia like Hungary continues to automatically use the safe third country concept to reject applications, meaning that asylum is only granted to a handful of refugees. Other issues of concern include push backs and destitution in the streets of Belgrade or in makeshift camps.
For further information:
AIDA report: Bulgaria changing for the worse
The new AIDA country report on Bulgaria documents recent legislative reforms and developments in relation to the asylum procedure, reception and detention, as well as integration.
Beyond a persisting practice of detention upon arrival, the new legal framework has led to increased detention of asylum seekers during the procedure. At the same time, 2016 was the third consecutive “zero integration” year in Bulgaria, despite the formal adoption of an integration policy at the very end of the year.
In total Bulgaria registered 19,418 asylum applications last year, mainly from Afghan, Syrians and Iraqi nationals. Yet Afghans have overwhelmingly seen their claims rejected, as they have been treated as a “manifestly unfounded” nationality by the State Agency for Refugees (SAR) in 2016. Only 2.5% of Afghan asylum seekers received a positive decision in Bulgaria.
In December 2016, the Human Rights Committee ruled against the readmission of a Syrian family from Denmark to Bulgaria, on the ground that their residence permit would not protect them from obstacles to accessing health care, or risks of destitution and hardship. At the same time, courts in countries including Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, France and Switzerland, as well as the Human Rights Committee, have halted Dublin transfers to Bulgaria between January and November 2016.
For further information:
Clingendael report: EU external migration policies misaligned with reality
On the February 1, Dutch think tank Clingendael released a report on the relationship between irregular migration and conflict and stability in Mali, Niger and Libya. The report’s main finding is that current EU policies are misaligned with the reality of trans-Saharan migration.
The report argues that European external migration policies fail to take into account the diverse socio-political dynamics of intra-African migration. EU policies focus on stemming migration flows through securitised measures as a means to stop human smuggling. However, it disregards local actors such as transportation companies facilitating irregular movements, local security forces gaining income by bribery and road taxes, political elites facilitating irregular migration in exchange for money and local population offering to sell food and lodging to earn a living. Ignoring such essential local dynamics prevents the establishment of effective migration management policies. A worrying mistake given the EU’s increased focus on the external dimension of migration in the context of the Partnership Framework.
The report encourages the EU to focus on peace building processes and invest in both conflict- and politically sensitive state building as well as regional cooperation.
For further information:
- IRIN News, EU Migrant Policy in Europe build on incorrect Niger data, January 31, 2017
- Statewatch, Viewpoint Theodore Baird: Migration, EU cooperation and authoritarianism, December 2016
- ECRE, EU signs deal with Mali as part of Partnership Framework, December 16, 2016
- Politico, Welcome to Agadez, smuggling capital of Africa, October 2016
New project seeks solutions to inadequate family care for unaccompanied children
Research shows that children who grow up in institutions fall behind in their development compared to children who grow up in families. The ALFACA- project aims to improve family care for unaccompanied minors in Europe by increasing the basic knowledge among professionals working with reception families.
“The majority of unaccompanied children in Europe are placed in institutional reception facilities and therefor it is vital to increase the knowledge of family care. We are offering a substantial package of trainings and guidelines to ensure that the quality of family care improves and that a larger number of unaccompanied minors will be able to benefit from it,” says Liedewij de Ruijter de Wildt.
Project Manager at Nidos, the national Dutch Guardianship Institution for Unaccompanied Children.
The training consists of e-learning and a manual that provides general knowledge on working with unaccompanied minors and knowledge on recruitment, screening, matching and guidance of the reception families. The training materials have specifically been developed for social workers, reception professionals and guardians who are responsible for counseling reception families that take care of unaccompanied children.
The EU co-funded ALFACA-project partners include Nidos (the Netherlands) in cooperation with Minor-Ndako (Belgium), Jugendhilfe Süd-Niedersachsen (Germany), OPU (Czech Republic) and the Danish Red Cross.
- February 11, 2017, Germany, National Day of Action: Against Summary Deportations to Afghanistan, Diverse
- February 11, 2017, Berlin: Workshop: Die Kehrseiten des Wohstands/Fluchtursachen, Solar e.V.
- February 14,2017, Brussels, Public Hearing: The situation of refugees and migrants with disabilities, European Economic and Social Committee
- February 18, 2017, London, Organising Summit: Stand up to Trump, Stand Up to Racism
- February 20, 2017, United Kingdom, National Day of Action: One Day without us, One Day without us
- February 28, Berlin: Book launch: Der Lange Sommer der Migration, Kritnet
- March 6, 2017, Brussels, Car Convoy: Let’s bring them here, Let’sBring them Here
- March 7,2017, London, Panel Debate: Beyond Borders, London College of Communication
- July 2017, Warsaw, Summer School : Solidarity Beyond Borders, Transsol
- Seawatch, Office Manager, Deadline: February 15, 2017
- Freedom from Torture, Legal Adviser, Deadline: February 19, 2017
- Pro Asyl, Mitarbeiter*In fur Beratungsteam, Deadline: February 17, 2017
- Tell MAMA, Senior Researcher, Deadline: February 23, 2017
- Refugee Council, National Development Manager, February 13, 2017
- Euromed Rights, Advocacy Internship, Deadline: February 19, 2017