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, find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

13 January 2017
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Malta prioritises migration as it takes over Presidency of the Council of the EU

On the first of January Malta took over the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union from Slovakia. The Republic of Malta set out its priorities and migration is a key priority.
Malta has set out to ensure that migration remains at the top of the political agenda and introduces concrete objectives including strengthening and streamlining of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS), revising the Dublin Regulation, transforming the European Asylum Support Office, effectively implementing the relocation system and adopting a holistic approach to the internal and external aspect of migration.

This holistic approach will according to the Maltese Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat,  resemble the EU-Turkey deal. The questionable legality of the EU-Turkey deal has previously been commented by ECRE. Maltese Members of European Parliament (MEPs) have confirmed this approach. Even though implementing the relocation system is one of the concrete objectives mentioned by the presidency, Malta’s Ambassador to Poland, Natasha Meli Daudey, hinted that some countries would not have to participate in the relocation system if they contribute in a different way.
(ECRE intends to work closely with the Maltese presidency on the reform of CEAS and has recently published comments on the proposals.)
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Italy: security checks by Irish police blocks relocation of refugees

The Italian authorities decided not to allow security assessments of applicants for relocation to Ireland on Italian soil by Irish police officers. According to the Irish Department of Justice the direct consequence is the stalling of the Irish government’s commitment to receive at least 623 refugees in clear need of international protection from Italy by the end of 2017.

On 10 September 2015, the Irish government established the Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP) and agreed to accept approximately 4,000 persons under resettlement and relocation programmes. 2,662 asylum seekers were to be relocated from hotspots into Ireland on a gradual basis before the end of 2017 - 623 from Italy, 1,089 from Greece and the remaining 910 still to be decided.

Up until now, no asylum seekers have been relocated from Italy to Ireland because of the decision by the Italian authorities. There has been several attempts to solve the problem and the Irish Immigration Minister David Stanton remains hopeful that a solution can be found.

At the request of the Italian authorities, a meeting of Member States’ Liaison Officers in November 2016 agreed to authorise Europol to conduct exceptional additional security interviews in cases where security screening by Italian police would be deemed insufficient prior to relocation. Several Member States such as Portugal have relocated asylum seekers from Italy and Greece without conducting security interviews on their territories.

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Germany: suspension of Dublin procedures to Greece set to end on 15 March 2017

Dublin procedures involving transfers to Greece have been formally suspended by the German Ministry of Interior since January 2011. However, with the latest decision of the Ministry of 30 December 2016 the suspension of Dublin procedures to Greece is set to end on 15 March 2017.
This is the date presented by the European Commission as the starting point for the reinstatement of Dublin procedures vis-à-vis Greece in its latest Recommendation. In accordance with the guidance of the Commission, Germany has clarified that vulnerable asylum seekers, including unaccompanied children, will not be subject to such procedures at the moment.
The decision to reinstate transfers comes at a time when the Greek authorities face substantial challenges in ensuring an adequate reception system, resulting in unprecedentedly dire living conditions for refugees. On the islands, severe overcrowding and low winter temperatures have exposed people to health risks and suffering, while UNHCR has urged the authorities to rapidly transfer people out of the islands. On the mainland, despite ongoing winterisation efforts, living conditions in most camps remain dire, services very limited and of low quality and no Standard Operating Procedures or management accountability system is in place, as recalled by a joint letter by the Greek Council for Refugees, Aitima, SolidarityNow and ECRE.
Germany remains by far the largest operator of the Dublin system. It issued a total 44,288 requests to other countries in 2015 and 24,029 in the first half of 2016. Other Member States such as Belgium have also voiced support for a reinstatement of transfers to Greece, while Hungary has already initiated procedures to return asylum seekers thereto. In several cases, interim measures were successfully obtained by the European Court of Human Rights to halt transfers.
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Italy: large-scale expansion of detention centres for tougher migration control

Following Italy’s change of government, a Circular outlining a stricter policy on migration control by the Head of the Italian Police was distributed to police authorities across Italy. One of the measures was large-scale use of detention to control irregular migration and promote returns to third countries.

The Circular echoes the latest position of the Ministry of Interior, which has committed to an expansion of detention centres (CIE) with reference to a target of one CIE in every Italian region. At the end of 2015, 7 CIE were operational across the country according to the Roadmap on Relocation.

ASGI has sharply criticised the proposal for yet again encouraging the reopening of detention centres despite the widely acknowledged failure of such policies in the past. High costs, degrading conditions and limited impact on returns have been highlighted by various political bodies, including the Senate, and have led previous governments to dramatically reduce the number of CIE in the country. On the other hand, the “hotspot” approach has reinvigorated systematic resort to detention, leading to critical violations of human rights against refugees and migrants entering Italy.
Italy was the main country of first arrival in the EU last year, reporting a total 181,436 arrivals by sea.
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Ireland: new International Protection Act commenced - A single procedure and restricted family reunification

The Minister for Justice and Equality in Ireland has signed regulations commencing the International Protection Act 2015, signed into law on 30 December 2015. Thereby introducing fundamental changes to Irish asylum law:
Firstly, a single procedure has been created. Ireland was the last remaining EU Member State not to assess claims for refugee status and subsidiary protection in one procedure. Under the new procedure, the independent Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner will be abolished and first instance decisions will now be made by International Protection Officers in the Department of Justice. A right of appeal will exist to the International Protection Appeals Tribunal, which replaces the Refugee Appeals Tribunal - remaining an independent entity. 
Secondly, Ireland has changed family reunification rights. Before, there were two categories: an automatic right to reunion with children and spouses, once identity was established and a discretionary category for other family members such as elderly parents or siblings where dependency on the person in Ireland could be established. This discretionary category has now been abolished. In addition, the right now only exists for 12 months following from a declaration of refugee status or subsidiary protection. 
Thirdly, there is no mention of reception conditions in the new legislation. Ireland has opted out of both the Reception Conditions Directive and its recast, instead opting to regulate the issue of the reception of asylum seekers by ministerial order rather than legislation. 

Additionally, while the legislation refers to the best interests of the child in numerous sections, there is no overarching provision upholding the principle; something the Irish Refugee Council advocated for before enactment.
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Coalition of 85 Spanish NGOs demand clarification of potential push backs of over thousand people at Spanish- Moroccan border

A coalition of 85 Spanish NGOs, including ECRE Member CEAR, wrote an open letter to Juan Ignacio Zoido, Spanish Minister of the Interior this week. In the letter the coalition demands clarification over the potential push backs of over 1000 people at the Spanish-Moroccan land border Ceuta in the beginning of this year and the orders given to the Spanish Border Guards.

Following media reports, an estimated 1,100 people tried to climb over the border fence between the Spanish enclave Ceuta and Morocco at 4am at New Year’s Day. From the total amount of people only two persons entered Spanish territory, being severely injured and treated in the hospital. The remaining people were returned to Morocco.

Spain reformed its Aliens Law March 2015, allowing authorities to reject third-country nationals that are found crossing the country’s borders irregularly. The law was passed amid heavy criticism by the Council of Europe and UNHCR, who warned that the reform would infringe on the right of an individual to seek asylum safeguarded by European and International Law. This criticism equally formed the subject of N.D. and N.T. v. Spain, a case against Spain currently pending before the European Court of Human Rights.

Esteban Beltran, Director of Amnesty International commented on the last incident of push-backs: "Spain has the dubious honor of being placed in a group of countries such as Bulgaria, Hungary and Turkey, which carry out hot expulsions, violating international law and preventing people fleeing war and persecution from accessing international protection to which they have the right."

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