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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.

     
10 May 2019
  
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EUROPEAN DEVELOPMENTS

NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS

REPORTS & NGO ACTIONS

BEYOND EUROPE

INTERVIEW
  

EUROPEAN DEVELOPMENTS

Interception and Return of 170 Refugees to Libya

Last week the Libyan coastguard reportedly intercepted two boats with 170 people fleeing the conflict in Libya. The NGO Mediterranea denounces Maltase authorities for allegedly leading the coastguard to one of the boats and facilitating their return to detention camps in conflict-ridden Libya, where human rights violations continue.

Within 24h, the second boat carrying refugees heading for Lampedusa was intercepted ca. 15 nautical miles away from Malta’s maritime search and rescue zone. According to the civil society organisation Mediterranea, Italian authorities refused the intervention of its rescue vessel Mare Jonio, saying that the Libyan authorities were to deal with the operation. According to the ship’s captain, a Maltese military aircraft guided the Libyan coastguard to the boat carrying some 100 asylum seekers.

Beppe Caccia, head of mission on Mare Jonio accused the Maltese authorities of “repatriating” those intercepted to a detention centre at a port in Libya where they are likely to face human rights abuses: “We denounce this repatriation to an unsafe port, where human rights are not respected… this was a grave violation of human rights and international conventions.” Last week UNHCR stressed that Libya is not a safe port and that arbitrary detention must end.

The Mare Jonio left the Italian port of Marsala on Tuesday with a permission to sail as long as it does not engage in rescue operations. After a court ruled that Dutch authorities wrongfully prevented the rescue vessel Sea Watch 3 from sailing, the NGO Sea Watch is preparing to resume their rescue mission in the Mediterranean.

For further information:

 


NATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS

Sweden: Case against the State on Medical Age Assessment Before Chancellor of Justice

On May 6, ECRE member Swedish Refugee Advice Centre and Civil Rights Defenders have brought a case on wrongful age assessment of an unaccompanied child before the Chancellor of Justice (Justitiekanslern). The controversial medical age assessment methods used by Swedish asylum authorities has been heavily criticized by medical experts and civil society for lacking reliability and accuracy.

The case concerns the violation of the rights of an unaccompanied child who applied for asylum in Sweden in 2015 and was rejected as the result of an age assessment conducted by the National Board of Forensic Medicine (Rättsmedicinalverket, RMV). While the RMV medical examination of his wisdom teeth established that he was likely a minor the result of the examination of his knee joints established that he was likely above 18 years old. A second opinion from private medical experts as well as several personal documents supported the boy’s claim of being a minor.

As outlined in recently released country update on Sweden from the Asylum Information Database (AIDA) managed by ECRE: “The methods of age assessment have been heavily criticised by the medical community and even by those obliged to carry out the tests. Some experts have resigned in protest at the unproven methods and the fact that it is not the dentists or the X-ray specialists who sign the official report but rather persons employed by the RMV…”

According to RMV 10.000 unaccompanied children have undergone medical age assessment since it was introduced in March 2017 and since then experts and researchers have warned that one third of the cases are wrongfully assessed.

 


German Pilots Prevent 506 Deportations Amid Concerns over Rights Violations in Removal Procedures

German pilots prevented 506 deportations in 2018 as they refused to carry rejected asylum seekers due to health and security risks. Along with a report by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) the growing resistance by pilots raises concerns over the toughening of removal procedures.

The number of cases in which pilots refused to carry out deportations steadily increased from 139 cases in 2016 and 314 cases in 2017 to 506 in 2018. The data was revealed by the Head of the Federal Police Dieter Romann, who expressed concern that the refusal of pilots to take off “undermines the sovereignty of the German authorities”. However, the head of PRO ASYL, Günter Burkhardt stressed that the pilots’ resistance to carrying out deportation flights illustrates that in many cases people are put onto airplanes for removal though they are not eligible for deportations. The responsible authorities often ignore medical certificates and many pilots cancelled deportation flights because they were concerned about the health of their passengers. The pilots refusal is positive sign of civil courage, Burkhardt commented.

In a recent report, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) urges Germany to ensure better treatment of foreign nationals being removed by air. When monitoring a return flight of Afghan nationals from Munich to Kabul (Afghanistan) the CPT documented the ill-treatment of a returnee on board the aircraft who resisted his removal.

In January, MPs had raised concern over the toughening of deportation procedures after reports documented the use police brutality, physical restraints, separation of families, humiliating treatment and the use of sedative medication. The government did not conduct further investigations on the alleged human rights violations.

Efforts to up-scale deportations comes with a “legal crackdown” on asylum seekers in Germany, which includes a law facilitating deportations through increased use of detention and cutting social benefits.

For more information see:

 


Spain: Human Rights Violations in the Detention Centre of Aluche

A group of 101 people held in a detention centre (CIE) in Madrid have submitted a letter of complaint to the local court and the Spanish Ombudsman against human rights violations being committed in the centre.

Signed on the 28 April, the letter presents a long list of grievances, including racist treatment, physical abuse and threats from authorities, as well as lack of access to medical assistance, detaining of individuals with serious mental health illnesses, use of solitary confinement, and suicide attempts by those detained as a result of the grave treatment. The group also denounce the authorities’ failure to inform them about when deportations will happen as well as the lack of access to the asylum system.

The group is supported by a coalition of seven Spanish NGOs, who stated “It is essential to avoid arbitrariness and impunity, to guarantee the human rights of inmates, and to comply with the regulations, court orders and recommendations of the Ombudsman.”

This letter comes as the latest condemnation of the system of detention centres in Spain, where violations of human rights have been consistently condemned by NGOs, activists and in the courts.

For further information:

 


Hungary Gives Afghan Families ‘an Offer You Can’t Refuse’

According to the ECRE member Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HCC) 11 Afghan nationals residing in the controversial Hungarian transit zone were faced with a choice of either returning to Kabul or cross the border to Serbia. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) calls the action "a flagrant violation of international and EU law".  

The Afghan families including seven children had reportedly been detained in the transit zone on the Hungarian border with Serbia since January. The group was escorted to the border and faced the choice of either entering Serbia or being deported to Afghanistan in a joint operation between the Hungarian Immigration and Asylum Office (IAO) and the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex).

The UNHCR urges Frontex to refrain from supporting Hungary in the enforcement of return decisions which are not in line with international and EU law. Further the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi stated: “The treatment of these families, including their removal from Hungarian territory with no serious effort to look at their claims to refugee status, is deeply regrettable.”

The HHC managed to get the deportation of an additional family of five suspended through an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. According to HHC the family will remain in the transit zone while the case is pending.

For further information:

 


REPORTS & NGO ACTIONS

PRO ASYL Makes Recommendations for Improving Decision-Making and Asylum Procedures

In a comment on the Green Party’s proposal for the improvement of asylum procedures in Germany ECRE member PRO ASYL made recommendations for improving the quality of decision-making in asylum procedures and adjusting asylum procedural law to ensure that individual circumstances are taken into account on a case-by-case basis and guarantee access to legal remedies.

Decision-making practices in the German Federal Office for Asylum (BAMF) have come under increased scrutiny as data revealed that in 2018 31.4% of negative asylum decisions were overturned upon appeal (without cases not proceeded to judgment); for applicants from Afghanistan the rate is as high as 58%. As 310,000 appeals regarding asylum decisions are pending at the end of 2018 PRO ASYL is concerned that political pressure leading to the acceleration and truncation of asylum procedures, e.g. in AnkER Centres, is affecting the quality of decision-making, shifts a disproportionate burden on administrative courts and lawyers and effectively limits asylum seekers’ access to rights.

PRO ASYL advises against the Green’s proposal allowing the Federal Administrative Court (BVerwG) to rule on “questions of abstract facts” detached from individual cases and against a similar proposal by the Ministry for the Interior, which would have the BVerwG rule on questions about facts (abstract and individually) only based on given information, without taking evidence by its own. PRO ASYL insists that, as stressed by the Federal Constitutional Court, questions on matters of asylum require individualised and up-to-date decisions, which for example can take into account the changing situation in countries of origin. Moreover, PRO ASYL underlines that it is the gist of asylum law to consider the specific circumstances of each individual case. Instead of truncating asylum procedural law, PRO ASYL recommends aligning it with the standards of general administrative procedural law, which allows for a broader range of legal remedies such as the remedy in case of manifestly wrong decisions.

To prevent further pressure on administrative courts, PRO ASYL advises, the BAMF should review and - if appropriate - correct negative decisions before they go on trial, particularly in cases, for which an appeal has been submitted. However, the NGO states that, overall, improving the quality of BAMF decision-making is key to relieving the courts and ensuring that those in need of protection will not be exposed to human rights violations. Apart from careful and individual scrutiny of each case, PRO ASYL stresses the need for access to comprehensive and independent legal counselling for asylum seekers, which the BAMF is not able to provide given its role in the decision-making process.

As ECRE underlines in a recent report on AnkER Centres, provision of information on asylum procedures by the BAMF “is problematic in particular where it is not complemented by systematic information provision and counselling by organisations independent from asylum authorities, which appears to be the case in the AnkER centres”. Moreover, information provided to groups does not seem to comply with the requirement under Article 19(1) of the recast Asylum Procedures Directive for such information to be provided“ in the light of the individual’s particular circumstances”. Regarding effective access to legal assistance, ECRE finds that even for those who can financially afford legal services, the ability to reach a lawyer in the AnkER centres and Dependancen centres is questionable given infrastructural constraints and lack of contact information.

PRO ASYL urged the German government to consider the results of a 2017 BAMF pilot project in three reception facilities, which showed that the provision of free, independent and individual counselling for asylum seekers leads to higher efficiency and quality in asylum procedures. In a hearing in the German parliament concerning the Green’s proposal on Monday the majority of experts consulted raised the same concerns and demands as PRO ASYL.

For further information:

 


BEYOND EUROPE

Displacement and Ebola Outbreak in the Conflict Ridden North Kivu Province of Congo

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) fighting and targeting of civilians have forced more than 100,000 people into displacement in North Eastern DR Congo during April. Further, the violence is threatening efforts to contain the outbreak of Ebola in the region with the death toll passing 1000 and Ebola treatment centres under direct attack.

The conflict adds to an already grave situation in a region with more than one million displaced where UNHCR has scaled up its operations since August 2018 but is facing a severe funding gap. According to the Agency it has received just 6.2 million USD of a total need of 47 million USD for its response to internal displacement in DR Congo in 2019.

Agency spokesperson Babar Baloch stated on the current violence and displacement: “As attacks continue to terrorize the population, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is extremely worried about the safety of civilians. The displaced are in a desperate situation, and access to them is being hampered by the volatile situation”.

The attacks further complicates the efforts to contain a severe Ebola outbreak. The Ministry of Health warns that the fighting is a grave threat to containing the disease – in some areas fighting have resulted in containment efforts to be put on hold. The World Health Organisation (WHO) have revised strategies to vaccinate a wider segment of the exposed population but warns of potential shortage of vaccine if the outbreak expands.

 


INTERVIEW

The European Summit of Refugees and Migrants: “We Thought that Europeans Should Hear from Us”

An Interview with Ula Al-Khateeb from Syria, an Education specialist and member of Diaspora Network Alliances (DNA) who migrated to Spain. She participated in the European Summit of Refugees and Migrants as a co-facilitator of the education group.

On 4-6 May, over 60 refugee and migrant representatives from the 28 EU Member States gathered in Brussels for the first European Summit of Refugees and Migrants. After two days of working together to develop policy proposals, they were joined by over 40 delegates from INGOs, private sector, academia, EU institutions, UNHCR and foundations to discuss and exchange views on key issues including civic engagement, health & wellbeing, education, protection, agency & participation.

The European Summit of Refugees and Migrants in Brussels was designed to ensure the inclusion of the experience and perspectives of the people most directly affected by the asylum and migration policies at EU and member state level in the debate – people with a refugee background. Could you tell us how you see the current representation of people with refugee background in the political debate?

While refugees and migration policy is such a hot topic in the EU parliamentary Election, refugees and migrants are missing from the discussions. We thought that Europeans should hear from us, the most affected ones - the refugees and migrants. That’s why the Diaspora Networks Alliances (DNA) and partners took the initiative to organize the first-ever European Summit of Refugees and Migrants by Refugees and Migrants. In this historic event, we were able to work, collaborate, and come up with concrete policy recommendations so that we make sure that our voices are heard in the coming election and beyond.

The Summit brought together a diverse group of advocates, organisations and stake-holders – could you give us your impression on the challenge and potential of finding a consensus and mutual understanding? 

As a co-facilitator of the education group, we were able to compile a comprehensive list of the educational obstacles from all the EU countries represented. We heard the same major obstacles repeated across many countries regarding the laws or processes related to education that hinder the integration and access to higher education, homologation of certificates from home countries, or lack of right information at the right time. Add to this many comments about the orientation services provided for refugees, i.e. many participants commented they have a sense that refugees and asylum seekers are being pushed to take the route of vocational training and quick courses instead of university degrees.

With regard to potential solutions, we developed some solutions and approaches that worked out in some countries, and it would be of benefit to duplicate in other countries. We developed also some innovative ideas to enhance access to education and later we discussed these recommendations with the stakeholders such as NGOs, universities, and the private sector.

What kind of conclusions were reached at the summit in terms of work-plan, strategy and structure of your cooperation and where do you go from here?

Our team outlined a work plan to overcome each obstacle and specified the pledges and commitments we need from stakeholders to have our small dreams fulfilled. The stakeholders and experts gave us their feedback and enriched the conversations, and we are aspiring to put words into actions. Moreover, during the summit, we elected four migrant/refugee advocates to represent the recently launched European Coalition for advocacy in the coming two years. We have shaped some collective pledges with the different stakeholders to improve the refugee response. These pledges will feed into the Global Refugee Forum that will be organized later this year in Geneva by UNHCR.

Who were the people and organisations involved in the summit?

The European Summit of Refugees and Migrants was convened and organized by representatives of five refugee-led and migrant-led organizations, including the Global Refugee-Led Network (GRN), New Women Connectors, the Syrian Volunteers in the Netherlands (SYVNL), the Diaspora Networks Alliances (DNA) and the G-100 Initiative. Support was provided by a coalition of partners including the NGO Independent Diplomat (ID), the Dutch Refugee Council, the Danish Refugee Council, Oxfam, the Open Society Foundations (OSF) and the European Programme on Integration and Migration (EPIM).

 


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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