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The refugee crisis in the Med and inside the EU: a humanitarian emergency

This Observatory covers the arrival of refugees and migrants, the reactions and failures within the EU (both governmental and within communities).

Edited by Tony Bunyan. See: "We are ashamed": Statement on Mediterranean: "The EU is behaving shamefully"

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Archives: September 2018


Refugee crisis: latest news from across Europe (15-24.9.18)
EU: A majority of Europeans favor taking in refugees, but most disapprove of EU’s handling of the issue (Pew Research Center, link):

"Three years after a record 1.3 million migrants sought asylum in Europe, a majority of people in several European countries say they support taking in refugees who are fleeing violence and war, according to a Pew Research Center survey. However, most people in these countries disapprove of the way the European Union has dealt with the refugee issue."

EU: Missing at the Borders: the website for the project dedicated to the families of migrants deceased, missing or victims of enforced disappearances

"People not numbers". This is the fundamental principle that guides Missing at the Borders, the project aimed at giving voice to the victims of enforced disappearances and the families of migrants who have become deceased or missing while attempting to reach Europe.

The self-financed initiative is promoted by a network of organizations that works on both sides of the Mediterranean to combine forces with the families of migrants.

Hungary upholds 'terrorism' conviction against Syrian refugee (Al Jazeera, link):

"A Hungarian court rejected the appeal of a Syrian refugee and upheld his 2016 conviction for "terrorism", but reduced his seven-year sentence, in what a rights group called an abuse of anti-terrorism laws.

The appeals court handed down the decision on Thursday in the southern city of Szeged to uphold the conviction while reducing Ahmed H's sentence to five years.

Eda Seyhan, Amnesty International's counterterrorism campaigner who was in the courtroom, said in a statement to Al Jazeera, "this judgement comes as a blow for Ahmed, his wife and his two young daughters.""

Italy acquits Tunisian 'migrant smuggling' fishermen (BBC News, link):

"Six Tunisian fishermen arrested earlier this month by Italian authorities for "aiding illegal migrants" have been cleared.

One of the men's lawyers and their fishermen's association confirmed the acquittal to the BBC.

The arrests outraged Tunisian fishermen and activists who demanded their release.

Supporters of the fishermen, from the south-east coastal town of Zarzis, said the men were aiding a boat in distress."

For in-depth background and context to the case and the role of Tunisian fishermen in carrying out rescues at sea, see: When rescue at sea becomes a crime: who the Tunisian fishermen arrested in Italy really are (OpenDemocracy, link)

Trump urged Spain to build Sahara wall to stop migrants (euobserver, link):

"Spanish foreign minister Josep Borrell told attendees at a lunch in Madrid this week that US president Donald Trump seriously suggested the Spanish government build a wall across the Sahara desert to stop migration to Europe."

Morocco plays cat and mouse with Africans headed to Europe (euractiv, link):

"African emigrants are defying a campaign by Morocco to keep them away from land and sea crossings to Spain, which has become the main entry point to Europe for migrants and refugees following crackdowns elsewhere."

Greece to move asylum-seekers from overcrowded Lesbos camp (euobserver, link):

"Greece is planning to move some 2,000 asylum-seekers from the overcrowded Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos by the end of September, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos announced - ahead of migration talks at an informal EU summit in Austria. The Moria camp currently houses 9,000 people in a facility built for 3,100. Those being moved will be sent to the mainland to have their asylum claims examined."

Comment: There are currently 10,956 refguees on Lesvos (Ministry figure 19.9.18). The largest numbers are in the Moria detention centre and the "Olive Grove" adjacent to it.

Misery Deepens for Trapped Asylum Seekers in Greece - EU should stop backing policy that confines people to Aegean island (HRW, link):

"Boat migration to Greece is no longer in the headlines but the crisis for asylum seekers on the Greek islands continues.

More than 18,000 asylum seekers remain trapped in overcrowded camps on the Aegean islands. The largest, Moria camp on Lesbos, now holds more than 9,000 people, triple its capacity. Children don’t have access to schools and vulnerable asylum seekers, including pregnant women and people with disabilities, cannot access critical services."

African Union 'dismayed' at Salvini, says 'migrants aren't slaves' - Body asks interior minister to retract statement (ANSA, link):

"The African Union expressed "dismay" on Wednesday after Italian Interior Minister and Deputy Premier Matteo Salvini reportedly compared migrants to slaves. "The African Union Commission expresses dismay at the comments made by the Italian Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Matteo Salvini, at a recent conference in Vienna at which he likened African immigrants to slaves," the AU said in a statement. "It is the view of the African Union that name-calling will not resolve the migration challenges facing Africa and Europe"."

EU: Fixing the Refugee Crisis: Holding the Commission Accountable (Verfassungsblog, link) by Cathryn Costello and Elspeth Guild:

"Whatever its rhetoric, the Commission’s room for manoeuvre as a political norm entrepreneur on hot issues is constrained. Nonetheless, it could still have worked better, and seized the opportunity to make a success of relocation, and abandon Dublin decisively. However, it failed to shine as technical coordinator, to maintain its integrity as guardian of EU legality, or even stealthily act to maintain EU scrutiny before the CJEU. The ‘political Commission’ appears to have been politicized, in the sense of creating space for ad hoc governmental power over asylum, with all the deep divisions and disagreements that entailed. Much has been lost in that process."

EUCAP Sahel Niger: Council extends the mission for two years (Council of the EU, link):

"On 18 September 2018, the Council extended the mandate of EUCAP Sahel Niger until 30 September 2020 and agreed on a budget of €63.4 million for the period 1 October 2018 to 30 September 2020.

The Council also updated the mission's mandate. EUCAP Sahel Niger provides advice and training to support the Nigerien authorities in strengthening their security capabilities since its launch in 2012. The mission supports the capacity building of the Nigerien security actors to fight terrorism and organised crime. Since 2016, the mission has also assisted the Nigerien central and local authorities, as well as security forces, in developing the procedures and techniques to better control and address irregular migration.

EUCAP Sahel Niger contributes to the development of an integrated, multidisciplinary, coherent, sustainable, and human rights-based approach among the various Nigerien security actors."

German government seeks greater cooperation with Algeria on deportations

The German government wants to classify Algeria as a safe country of origin in terms of asylum law, as it has already done with Tunisia and Morocco. Rejected asylum seekers could be deported more quickly.

CoE: Hungary: anti-torture Committee observed decent conditions in transit zones but criticises treatment of irregular migrants when ‘pushed back’ to Serbia (link):

"The report highlights that in the context of ‘push-backs’, there was no procedure which would assess the risk of ill-treatment following the forcible removal, and the CPT recommends that the Hungarian authorities put an end to the practice of ‘push-backs’ to the Serbian side of the border.

The CPT expresses its misgivings about the fact that all foreign nationals seeking international protection, including families with children and unaccompanied minors (14 to 18 years of age), are compelled to stay in the transit zones at Röszke and Tompa while their asylum claims are being processed."

See: Report (pdf)

Lesvos, Greece: Moria is in a state of emergency (MSF, link):

"I have worked for 14 years as a clinical psychiatrist in the Mental Health department of Trieste in Italy. I’m considered an expert on psychiatric emergencies and I work with people who have addiction and psychiatric comorbidities. I treat people who have been victims of human trafficking, I provide mental health support for refugees and people in prison, and advise on protection and social recovery programmes. Over the course of my career, I have gained significant clinical and professional experience in difficult contexts and crisis situations.

In all of my years of medical practice, I have never witnessed such overwhelming numbers of people suffering from serious mental health conditions, as I am witnessing now amongst refugees on the island of Lesbos."

UN rules against expulsion of victim of torture from Switzerland to Italy (ECRE, link):

"The United Nations Committee against Torture (CAT) has ruled that the expulsion of a torture victim from Switzerland to Italy under the Dublin Regulation violates the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, by depriving him of the conditions conducive to recovery and rehabilitation."

See the ruling: Decision adopted by the Committee under article 22 of the Convention, concerning communication No. 742/2016 (pdf)

EU: Official evaluation of the European Border Surveillance System (Eurosur)

The European Commission has published an evaluation of the European Border Surveillance System (EUROSUR), which recommends that the system be expanded for the "systematic inclusion" of all border crossing points; the monitoring of "secondary movements" of migrants within the EU; and to develop new services and better cooperate with "third parties", for example through "big data analysis" of EU databases such as the Schengen Information System, the Visa Information System and Europol's computer systems.

EU: Frontex tests drones for border surveillance: €6.5m for Leonardo and Israel Aerospace Industries

Frontex has recently signed two contracts for tests on border surveillance drones with the companies Leonardo (formerly Finmeccanica) and Israel Aerospace Industries, worth €1.7 million and €4.75 million respectively.

GREECE: 19 organizations demand decongestion of the islands and immediate improvement of refugee reception conditions

Athens, September 13, 2018 - Over 17,000 people remain crammed in Greek island reception centers with a total capacity for only 6,000, living in desperate conditions which do not meet humanitarian standards. This, despite public assurances from the Greek Minister of Migration Policy, Dimitris Vitsas, that the islands would be decongested by September and that thousands of new places would be created on the Greek mainland. As conditions continue to deteriorate, 19 civil society organisations once again urge authorities to engage in the creation of sustainable solutions for the decongestion of the islands and to immediately improve reception conditions for refugees. It is nothing short of shameful that people are expected to endure such horrific conditions on European soil.

Greece: Number of refugees on islands rising: Official figures show that the total numbers on the islands (13.9.18) have risen to 19,711 with the numbers on Lesvos rising to 10.599. The Hope Project on Lesvos reports: "Over just this weekend 10 boats arrived in Lesvos! 519 people! Many children!."

Mytilini harbour on Lesvos has five Frontex and UK boats (The Vailant and Seeker) in constant use to patrol and "search & rescue".

GREECE: FreeHumanitarians (link):

"Nassos Karakitsos, Seán Binder & Sarah Mardini are three humanitarian workers who have been arrested and detained by Greek Authorities.

They have been accused among others for assisting illegally refugees to enter Greece,being a member of a criminal organization, and espionage."

See also: Help is no crime: stand with volunteers against the criminalisation of solidarity (JRS, ;onk)

As the World Abandons Refugees, UNHCR’s Constraints Are Exposed (Refguees Deeply, link):

"The U.N. refugee agency lacks the funding, political clout and independence to protect refugees in the way that it is supposed to, says former UNHCR official and refugee policy expert Jeff Crisp."

Migrant rescue ship Aquarius back in troubled waters (euobserver, link):

"The Aquarius, a rescue ship operated by French charities SOS Mediterranee and Medicins sans Frontieres, sailed back to international waters off Libya this weekend to resume work despite an EU dispute with Italy and Malta on who should take in the people it picks up at sea. No charity ships have worked in the region since late August, when Italy refused to let people on board the Aquarius to disembark."

Germany and Austria back tougher EU external border (euobserver, link):

"German chancellor Angela Merkel and Austrian leader Sebastian Kurz agreed Sunday to back the creation of a 10,000-man EU border force and cooperate with African states to stem migration flows. "There can be no open borders within Europe without proper protection of external EU borders," Kurz said. Morocco, which stopped 65,000 people from coming to the EU last year, is to get €236m in EU aid to stop others."


Refugee crisis: latest news from across Europe (8-14.9.18)
EU: Rule of law in Hungary: Parliament calls on the EU to act

Parliament has asked EU member states to determine, in accordance with Treaty Article 7, whether Hungary is at risk of breaching the EU´s founding values.

The request was approved by 448 votes to 197, with 48 abstentions. To be adopted, the proposal required an absolute majority of members (376) and two thirds of the votes cast - excluding the abstentions.

UK: The "deport first, appeal later" policy: Afghan father who sought refuge in UK 'shot dead by Taliban' after being deported by Home Office (The Independent, link):

"An Afghan man who sought refuge from the Taliban in the UK has been shot dead in his home town after being deported by the British government.

Zainadin Fazlie had lived in London with his wife, who had refugee status, and their four British-born children. But after committing a number of minor offences, the 47-year-old was sent back to Afghanistan after 16 years in Britain, despite threats to his life.

Last Friday, his wife Samira Fazlie found out he had been shot by Taliban forces after seeing an image of his dead body on Facebook."

EU: Security and migration proposals dominate Juncker's 'State of the Union' announcements - full documentation

A reinforced Frontex, a new European Asylum Agency, more measures against online terrorist content, a strengthened European Public Prosecutor's Office, lowering the standards in the Returns Directive and changes to decision-making in foreign policy were just some of the security and migration-related proposals announced in the 'State of the Union' speech given by European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, on 12 September.

GREECE: Update on Moria: mainland travel permitted for some; concerns over growing EASO role in asylum procedure; deportations without due process

Lesvos Legal Centre reports that on Friday 7th September the Greek government began lifting the geographical restrictions for individuals classified as vulnerable who are attempting to claim asylum in Lesvos.

This is supposed to enable around 5,000 people to leave the Moria detention centre/hotspot and travel to the mainland.

This 'solution' to the overcrowding in Moria will not, however, be sufficient to address the needs of the estimated 11,000 people trapped on Lesvos.

EU: Engagement-based Alternatives to Detention in Europe (EPIM, link):

"EPIM has commissioned a first independent evaluation report on the three Alternatives to Detention pilot projects it funds in Bulgaria, Cyprus and Poland. These pilot projects provide holistic case management as engagement-based alternatives to confinement-focused migration control measures such as immigration detention. The work is supported by the European Alternatives to Detention Network.

In the context of increased pressure across Europe to detain migrants, the evaluation provides evidence that engagement-based case management can be effective in helping migrants to work towards resolving their cases in the community:

The report also provides insight into how, practically, a case management pilot project can be set up, and the challenges faced, which can support further pilots for evidence-building."

See: Briefing paper (pdf) and full report: Alternatives to detention from theory to practice: Evaluation of three engagement-based alternative to immigration detention pillot projects in Bulgaria, Cyprus and Poland (link to pdf)

Why we need to protect refugees from the ‘big ideas’ designed to save them (The Independent, link) by Heaven Crawley:

"As the so-called “refugee crisis” continues to dominate European political and media debate, I’ve become increasingly concerned about the way in which some academics are responding to “solve” the issue.

...Ideas on how to solve the so-called refugee crisis are heavily skewed towards the global north: its interests shape dominant research themes and produce a disproportionate focus on Europe and North America, often leading to the “out of sight, out of mind” solutions. An echo chamber has developed, which constrains the capacity of many of the poorest countries to analyse migration and other issues on their own terms.

Relinquishing control won’t be an easy process. There are huge vested interests in maintaining the status quo, on all sides. All too often I’ve sat in events and been told that while it’s important to listen to the voices of refugees and to “give them agency”, academics and policy makers are ultimately the experts and know what’s best."

Refugee Libya shipwreck survivors condemned to drown at sea or face arbitrary detention (MSF, link):

"More than a hundred people have reportedly died in a shipwreck off the Libyan coast one week ago, survivors told Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams working in Libya. A group of 276 people, among them survivors of the shipwreck, were brought from the sea to the port city of Khoms (120 kilometres east of Tripoli) by the Libyan coast guard on Sunday 2 September. MSF has been providing urgent medical assistance following disembarkation.

...Upon disembarkation, the group was transferred to a detention centre under the control of the Libyan authorities. It is common for people returned to Libya from unseaworthy boats to be sent back into a harmful system of arbitrary detention. Between January and August 2018, the EU-supported Libyan Coast Guard had returned 13, 185 refugees and migrants to Libya.

Among those detained, MSF has met asylum seekers and refugees who have been registered or recognised by UNHCR in Libya or another country. Their prospects appear particularly bleak: UNHCR-led mechanisms to evacuate them from Libya to Niger and resettle them in a third country, launched in 2017 in the aftermath of the global outrage sparked by CNN footage, have remained at a standstill for several months."

GREECE: Update on Moria: travel to the mainland permitted; concerns over growing EASO role in asylum procedure; deportations without due process

Lesvos Legal Centre reports that on Friday 7th September the Greek government lifted the geographical restrictions for individuals attempting to claim asylum in Lesvos.

The effect of this is thought to be intended to enable around 5,000 people to leave the Moria detention centre/hotspot and travel to the mainland.

FRANCE-UK: The Jungle ‘Performance’: Recreating a Refugee Camp on the Fly (Refugees Deeply, link):

"In early 2017, just three months after the demolition of the Jungle, asylum seekers started to return to Calais. For the past year, there have been 400–700 migrants living informally in the area at any given time. Yet the Jungle has not reappeared.

There is no physical camp in Calais. Newcomers play an absurd game of cat and mouse with authorities, building makeshift shelters that are then destroyed by police. In response, volunteer humanitarians reclaim the camp in the only way they can: They publicly “perform” a recreation of the protective space that the Jungle provided for asylum seekers, challenging the police’s attempts to criminalize everybody involved."

And see: French police clear 500 migrants from Dunkirk camp (The Local, link): "Police moved in to clear 500 migrants from a camp near the French port city of Dunkirk, along the English Channel where many gather hoping to stow away on trucks or ferries heading to Britain, officials said Thursday."

MOROCCO: Relentless crackdown on thousands of sub-Saharan migrants and refugees is unlawful (Amnesty, link):

"The Moroccan authorities’ large-scale crackdown on thousands of sub-Saharan migrants, asylum seekers and refugees without due process is cruel and unlawful, Amnesty International said amid ongoing intensive government raids in the north of the country.

Since the end of July, the Moroccan police together with the Royal Gendarmerie and the Auxiliary Forces have carried out major raids on the neighbourhoods where refugees and migrants live in several cities, with particular intensity in the northern provinces of Tangiers, Nador and Tetuan, which neighbour the Spanish borders.

...An estimated 5,000 people have been swept up in the raids since July, piled on to buses and abandoned in remote areas close to the Algerian border or in the south of the country, according to the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH). The group monitored the number of buses that left from Tangiers, Tetuan and Nador and calculated an estimate for the number of people seized.

...“Efforts to control irregular migration from Morocco to Spain are frequently praised by the Spanish authorities, who keep cooperating with Morocco to stop the arrival of migrants and refugees without conditioning such cooperation upon the respect of the rights of all people on the move. Spain and the EU in general should refocus their cooperation with Morocco, prioritizing the protection of human rights and the creation of an asylum system in the country, as required under international law.”"

GREECE: Lesvos: Moria camp "dangerous to public health" and majority of detainees "never feel safe"

The notorious Moria "hotspot" camp on the Greek island of Lesvos must be cleaned up within 30 days or otherwise closed down. Inspectors declared the camp "dangerous for public health and the environment," after finding "broken sewage pipes, overflowing garbage bins, and stagnant water and flies in the toilets," according to a report in the The Independent. Meanwhile, a recent investigation has found that over 65% of people living in the camp "never feel safe" there.

EU: Forced into The Arms of Smugglers (OCCRP, link):

"...with no legal way for migrants and refugees to get in through the Balkans, honest and innocent people are forced into the welcoming arms of organized crime.

“We all failed this test, and organized crime took the route over from us,” Bosnian Security Minister Dragan Mektic told TV1 in June.

“No country should have let that happen."

Seeing no other option, migrants and refugees are paying thousands to go on dangerous journeys with smugglers. Most are left stranded and penniless. Meanwhile, the European smuggling networks are earning an estimated US$ 5-6 billion per year, according to Europol.

Salma’s family alone paid smugglers $30,500 in an attempt to reach Austria after receiving threats from the Taliban and Daesh.

But two years later, they are stuck in this small room in the Salakovac refugee camp in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with no fan, no regular access to medical care, and no idea what comes next."

 


Refugee crisis: latest news from across Europe (29.8-7.9.18)
Council of Europe: Despite challenges in managing mixed migration Spain should guarantee effective access to asylum also in Melilla and Ceuta

Strasbourg, 06.09.2018 - ”Every person arriving in Spain, including those jumping the border fences in Melilla and Ceuta, should be protected against refoulement and collective expulsions with a real possibility to have access to an effective and fair asylum procedure”, says the Secretary General’s Special Representative on migration and refugees Ambassador Tomáš Bocek in a report published today.

UK’s asylum dispersal system close to 'catastrophic failure' (The Guardian, link):

"Britain’s asylum dispersal system is on the brink of collapse, according to a number of “unprecedented” warning letters written by council leaders and politicians to the Home Office.

Joint letters have been written by 14 leaders of councils across Yorkshire, Middlesbrough, Newcastle and Sunderland, the Welsh and Scottish governments as well as by Susan Aitken, leader of Glasgow council, the only local authority in Scotland to take asylum seekers.

They warn the government the voluntary system that provides accommodation in local authorities for those seeking refugee status is on the verge of “catastrophic failure”. There were 26,350 asylum applications in 2017."

Background: The Corporate Greed of Strangers (IRR, link): "John Grayson reveals the spread of corporate involvement in the provision of asylum housing in the UK and northern Europe, and how outsourcing and private companies are tarnishing Europe’s ‘welcome’ to refugees."

Anti-migrant militias spring up in central Europe (EUobserver, link):

"Czech and Slovenian authorities have voiced alarm over the emergence of armed anti-migrant militias in the two central European countries.

The concerns come after revelations of a paramilitary base, with tanks and armoured personnel carriers, used by a biker gang with Kremlin ties in Slovakia.

The Czech intelligence service, the BIS, voiced its worries about a group that calls itself the National Home Guard in a classified report seen by Czech daily Mlada Fronta Dnes.

...The home guard groups, which have up to 2,500 members in 90 national branches, patrol the streets of some small Czech towns, such as Nymburk, 50km west of Prague, looking for irregular migrants.

They appear to have links with local police and have political support from National Democracy, a fringe far-right party."

MEDITERRANEAN: Defending humanity at sea: are dedicated and proactive search and rescue operations at sea a "pull factor" for migration and do they deteriorate maritime safety in the Central Mediterranean? (Médecins sans Frontières, pdf):

"What are the main conclusions?

• The accusations levelled against the humanitarian vessels are not substantiated by evidence. There was no major increase in attempted sea crossings during the period of involvement of the humanitarian vessels (as would be expected by the pull factor hypothesis).
• Importantly, the involvement of humanitarian vessels was associated with a significant improvement in maritime safety compared to other periods. Without these boats, the counts of dead and missing at sea would likely have been considerably higher. The proactive search and rescue by humanitarian vessels have thus played a crucial and life-saving role."

Impasse on migration clouds EU-Africa relations (euractiv, link):

"The issue of how to control migration from Africa may have exorcised European leaders in recent years, but it could also derail the EU’s main political agreement with the continent.

Eighteen months of talks on a new agreement to replace the 2000 Cotonou accord with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries will begin in the coming weeks, with EU and African leaders far apart on how to tackle migration policy."

UNHCR: Desparate Journeys January – August 2018: Refugees and migrants arriving in Europe and at Europe's borders (pdf): "The risk of death at sea for people crossing the Mediterranean continues to increase as the EU and member states attempt to stamp out refugee flows from Libya." And see Commentary in story below.

GREECE: Enough! Please No More Reports Telling us the Bleeding Obvious! (Samos Chronicles, link):

"This week another damning report from UNHCR on the atrocious conditions and treatment of refugees on the Greek islands. A few days earlier another about Lesvos. My computer is full of reports about refugees in Greece and on Samos. There seems no end to the flow.

We have some simple questions to ask of all those organisations and individuals who write and research these reports."

SPAIN: Research on the situation at the Spanish southern border: Spanish Southern Border: Human Rights Violations by Private Companies (link):

"The militarization of European Union's migration policies, responds to a global securitization process that began after the 9/11 attacks in the United States. This process has resulted in an increase of military and defense spending, both at EU level and at member states level. Private actors working in the sector of defense and security have played a leading role in the creation and design of those policies."


The refugee crisis in the Med and inside the EU: a humanitarian emergency

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