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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: January 2019


Refugee crisis: latest news from across Europe (22-28.1.19) including:
- Forced evictions of centre for refugees and asylum-seekers in Italy
- UK-France action plan on small boats crossing the Channel
- Council of the EU discussion documents on Frontex, Returns Directive, and Qualification and Resettlement Regulations

Forced Evictions Underway, Italy’s Closure of Refugee Centre Meets Widespread Criticism (ECRE, link):

"Evictions from Italy’s second- largest centre for refugees and asylum seekers began abruptly on Wednesday. The move comes as part of Interior Minister Matteo Salvini’s Immigration Decree which was approved in November – critics are saying the action will only amplify social problems.

Evictions began with 30 people removed from the Castelnuovo di Porto reception centre near Rome on Tuesday, followed by 75 on Wednesday, with some 500 people expected to have been forcibly removed by January 31. The centre was currently hosting about 540 people, but had supported at least 8000 over the last 8 years."

Germany pulls out of Mediterranean migrant mission Sophia (Deutsche Welle, link):

"Germany will not be sending any more ships to take part in the anti-people smuggling operation Sophia in the Mediterranean Sea, according to a senior military officer.

The decision means frigate Augsburg, currently stationed off the coast of Libya, will not be replaced early next month, Bundeswehr Inspector General Eberhard Zorn told members of the defense and foreign affairs committees in the German parliament.

The 10 German soldiers currently working at the operation's headquarters will, however, remain until at least the end of March."

GREECE: On the edge of a collective trauma: the forgotten hotspot of Moria (Pressenza, link):

"The hotspot of Moria, on the island of Lesbos. A year has passed since I was on Lesbos – a beautiful island, but a paradise that disguises a hell. With the support of Doctors without Borders, I was there to document the living conditions of the migrants who had arrived on this small strip of land opposite Turkey.

The hell on the island is the Moria refugee camp. A former military base, it has been converted into a reception and identification centre for the migrants who arrive here, on the northern shores of Lesbos, with dinghies and rafts from the Turkish coast. Around 6,000 people currently live in the camp, of which approximately 2,000 are minors."

UK-France: Action plan on small boats crossing the Channel published: more information-sharing, €3.6 million for new security equipment, joint return operations

The interior ministers of the UK and France have declared their determination "to stop this trend of illegal migrants seeking to cross the Channel in small boats", with a new action plan setting out a series of measures.

Turkey Planning Safe Zone in Syria to Help Return of Refugees: Erdogan (Bas News, link):

"ERBIL — Turkey is planning to create a safe zone in northern Syria so to allow millions of Syrian refugees’ return, Turkish President Recep President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday.

The creation of a safe zone in northern Syria was first put forward by US President Donald Trump, but the sides involved in the project remains a controversial topic between Turkey, US, the Syrian regime and the Syrian Kurdish forces who are in control of the region.

Erdogan said that over 4 million Syrian refugees are remaining in Turkey and Ankara hopes the creation of a safe zone would encourage them to return to their home country while protected against any possible threat."

EU: Frontex proposal: Presidency attempts to "accommodate Member States' concerns" over "standing corps" and executive powers

The Council of the EU is pressing ahead with negotiations on the new Frontex proposals, which were announced by the Commission last September. Recent Council documents show that the proposal to introduce a "standing corps" of 10,000 border guards at the disposal of Frontex (now formally known as the European Border and Coast Guard Agency) has caused some consternation amongst Member States, as have proposals to provide Frontex staff and members of "teams" with executive powers.

EU: Returns Directive: latest Council Presidency compromise proposal

"Delegations will find attached a revised Presidency compromise proposal as regards the draft Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on common standards and procedures in Member States for returning illegally staying third-country nationals (recast), prepared taking into account delegations' comments provided at and after the IMEX meeting on 3 December and JHA counsellors' meeting on 12 December 2018."

GREECE: Protests on Samos: demands for rights, freedom and healthcare (Pressenza, link):

"In the context of the ongoing humanitarian crisis surrounding refugee populations Samos is the Aegean island that people often forget. It exists in the shadow of Lesvos, people are familiar with the name Moria and the images it evokes. Yet until very recently the Vathy Reception Centre on Samos has been under discussed and under reported. Yet over the past 6 months the refugee population on the island has grown and over the final months of 2018 and the first few weeks of January 2019 has fluctuated between 4000 and 5000 people. The Reception Centre has an official capacity below 700 and as a result the majority of people now live outside of the centres fences within an area referred to as ‘the jungle’."

And see: a marche des réfugiés africaine à samos (You Tube, link)

UK: Far-right groups could exploit Brexit tensions - police (BBC News, link):

"The "febrile" atmosphere around Brexit could be exploited by far-right extremists, the UK's most senior counter-terrorism officer has warned.

Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu said 18 terror plots were foiled in Britain since 2017, four of them far-right.

He said a "far-right drift into extreme right-wing terrorism" was a concern but officers were working to ensure groups did not gain a "foothold".

Mr Basu added leaving the EU with no deal would be "very bad" for policing."

European Parliament Study: Fit for purpose? The Facilitation Directive and the criminalisation of humanitarian assistance to irregular migrants: 2018 Update (pdf):

"It takes stock of and examines the latest developments that have taken place since 2016, specifically the legislative and policy changes, along with various forms and cases of criminalisation of humanitarian actors, migrants’ family members and basic service providers.

The study uses the notion of ‘policing humanitarianism’ to describe not only cases of formal prosecution and sentencing in criminal justice procedures, but also wider dynamics of suspicion, intimidation, harassment and disciplining in five selected Member States – Belgium, France, Greece, Hungary and Italy.

Policing humanitarianism negatively affects EU citizens’ rights – such as the freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and freedom of conscience. When civil society is effectively (self-)silenced and its accountability role undermined, policies to combat migrant smuggling may be overused and give rise to serious breaches of the EU’s founding values, notably the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights. Moreover, policing humanitarianism negatively affects wider societal trust and diverts the limited resources of law enforcement from investigating more serious crimes."

Council of the European Union: Common European Asylum System: Qualifications & Resettlement Regulations - latest

Qualifications: Proposal for a Regulation on standards for the qualification of third-country nationals or stateless persons as beneficiaries of international protection, for a uniform status for refugees or for persons eligible for subsidiary protection and for the content of the protection granted and amending Council Directive 2003/109/EC of 25 November 2003 concerning the status of third-country nationals who are long-term residents (First reading) - State of play and guidance for further work (LIMITE doc no 5456-19, pdf):

"These limited changes received wide support at the meeting of JHA Counsellors on 16 July 2018 and were also presented to the European Parliament both at technical and political level. At the meetings on 17 July and 26 September 2018, the Parliament informed the Presidency that, in principle, in view of the provisional agreement reached in the June trilogue meeting, it
stands by the agreement reached therein and does not intend to continue the negotiations for the time being.
(...)

Against this background, and with a view to possible upcoming discussions with the European Parliament, COREPER is invited to confirm whether it can support the changes set out in the Annex to this note, merely in order to continue discussions with the European Parliament."

• Resettlement: Proposal for a Regulation establishing a Union Resettlement Framework and amending Regulation (EU) No 516/2014 of the European Parliament and the Council (First reading) - State of play and guidance for further work (LIMITE doc no 5164, pdf):

"In the context of ongoing negotiations with the European Parliament on some outstanding technical and drafting issues, the Presidency has the intention to address also the issues set out in the Annex.(...)

Against this background, and with a view to possible upcoming discussions with the European Parliament, COREPER is invited to confirm whether it can support the changes set out in this note."

France summons Italian envoy over Di Maio Africa comments (euractiv, link):

"France has summoned Italy’s ambassador to protest against comments by Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio, who accused Paris of continuing to colonise Africa and causing people to migrate from the continent, a government source told AFP. (...)

“The EU should sanction France and all countries like France that impoverish Africa and make these people leave, because Africans should be in Africa, not at the bottom of the Mediterranean,” Di Maio said."

Germany looks into ultrasound age tests on unaccompanied minor refugees (DW, link)

"Calls for mandatory X-ray age tests on unaccompanied minor refugees were rejected last year by German doctors. As an alternative, the Health Ministry is now launching a €1-million study into ultrasound testing."

Another 170 migrants disappear in shipwrecks: UN call for an end to Mediterranean tragedy (modern diplomacy, link):

"The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, stated on Saturday that “no effort should be spared” in saving lives at sea, following reports of two new shipwrecks on the Mediterranean Sea, in which some 170 people either died or went missing.

“The tragedy of the Mediterranean cannot be allowed to continue,” said Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees."


Refugee crisis: latest news from across Europe (10-21.1.19) including:
- Libya: Nightmarish Detention for Migrants, Asylum Seekers
- Germany deports record number of refugees to other EU states
- 'About 170 migrants dead' in Mediterranean shipwrecks
- EU: Council: Values of the Union - Hungary - Article 7 (1)

Launch of New Atlas of Migration (EU Joint Research Centre, link):

"Launched on the occasion of International Migrants Day, a new Atlas from the Knowledge Centre on Migration and Demography provides insights on migration for all EU Member States and 44 non-EU countries.

With graphs, charts and maps, the Atlas of Migration provides a snapshot of migration in 2017, providing a knowledge base for policy makers, stakeholders, businesses, researchers and the general public.

The publication presents the available data on a range of migration-related fields in a format that is both easy to access and to understand."

See: Atlas of Migration 2018 (JRC, link)

Libya: Nightmarish Detention for Migrants, Asylum Seekers (Human Rights Watch, link):

"(Brussels) – European Union policies contribute to a cycle of extreme abuse against migrants in Libya, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The EU and Italy’s support for the Libyan Coast Guard contributes significantly to the interception of migrants and asylum seekers and their subsequent detention in arbitrary, abusive detention in Libya.

The 70-page report, “‘No Escape from Hell’: EU Policies Contribute to Abuse of Migrants in Libya,” documents severe overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, malnutrition, and lack of adequate health care. Human Rights Watch found violent abuse by guards in four official detention centers in western Libya, including beatings and whippings. Human Rights Watch witnessed large numbers of children, including newborns, detained in grossly unsuitable conditions in three out of the four detention centers. Almost 20 percent of those who reached Europe by sea from Libya in 2018 were children."

Germany deports record number of refugees to other EU states (Deutsche Welle, link):

"In 2018, more refugees were transferred from Germany to other EU member states than ever before, according to an Interior Ministry report obtained by German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung. The report was a response to a parliamentary inquiry by the Left Party.

Some 8,658 asylum-seekers who were required to leave Germany did so between January and the end of November 2018. The previous year, 7,102 were deported to other states.

As such, the proportion of completed transfers from Germany to other EU countries saw a rise from 15.1 percent in 2017 to 24.5 percent in 2018.

The deportations follow the EU's Dublin III rule, which states that the country where a refugee first entered Europe is responsible for handling his or her application."

'About 170 migrants dead' in Mediterranean shipwrecks (BBC News, link):

"About 170 people are feared to have died in two separate Mediterranean shipwrecks, the UNHCR says.

The Italian navy reports a ship sank off the coast of Libya with 117 people on board, while Moroccan and Spanish authorities have tried to find a lost boat in the western Mediterranean.

The UN's refugee agency could not independently verify the death tolls.

More than 2,200 people lost their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean in 2018."

And see: Merchant ship rescues migrants from sinking boat, NGO fears it would return them to Libya 'hell' (Times of Malta, link)

GREECE: Samos Island Notes January 2019 (Samos Chronicles, link):

"The past few weeks have seen Samos island drenched by days of winter rain storms. Most of the farmers are happy. Winter soaking keeps Samos a green island and is essential if the fruits, vegetables, olives and vines are going to flourish in the hot summers. But for thousands of refugees both in the camp and in their tents and shacks in the olive groves around the camp, it is nightmare time."

EU: Leaders Stoke Fear, Ignore Rights - Defense of Shared Values Vital to Curb Negative Trends (HRW, link):

"(Berlin) – Influential leaders in European Union states used migration to stoke fear, justify abusive policies, and block meaningful reform in 2018, even as arrivals at borders decreased, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2019. But during 2018, EU institutions, with backing from some EU states, demonstrated a greater commitment to address attacks on democratic institutions and the rule of law in Hungary and Poland.(...)

“We saw populist leaders in EU states stoking fear and jettisoning rights during 2018 with little regard for the consequences,” said Benjamin Ward, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Thankfully, we have some EU institutions and states willing to stand up to the populists’ dangerous disregard for Europe’s core values.”"

Amnesty Slams EU Policy as Migrant Boats Barred From Ports (voanews.com/, link):

"Human rights group Amnesty International has described as shameful the decision by several European states to block NGO migrant rescue ships from docking in their ports. The group says Europe's migrant policy is putting lives in danger, both at sea and in Libya, where most of the asylum seekers set out to try to reach Europe. Henry Ridgwell reports from London."

LIBYA: Rescued at sea, locked up, then sold to smugglers (The Irish Times, link):

"The Souq al Khamis detention centre in Khoms, Libya, is so close to the sea that migrants and refugees can hear waves crashing on the shore. Its detainees – hundreds of men, women and children – were among 15,000 people caught trying to cross the Mediterranean in flimsy boats in 2018, after attempting to reach Italy and the safety of Europe.

They’re now locked in rooms covered in graffiti, including warnings that refugees may be sold to smugglers by the guards that watch them.

This detention centre is run by the UN-backed Libyan government’s department for combatting illegal migration (DCIM). Events here over the last few weeks show how a hardening of European migration policy is leaving desperate refugees with little room to escape from networks ready to exploit them."

EU: Remarks by Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos on the solution found with regards to the disembarkation of NGO vessels and progress under the European Agenda on Migration (9 January 2019, pdf):

"With these events, it has become very clear again that all actors, including NGOs, have to respect the rules and act responsibly in order not to perpetuate the business model used by traffickers to exploit human misery.

In June, the European Council was unanimous on this point, underlining in particular that all vessels operating in the Mediterranean must respect the applicable laws.

Moreover, the European Union cannot continue to rely on unorganised, ad-hoc solutions when it comes to disembarkation."

EU: Council: Values of the Union - Hungary - Article 7 (1) (14022/18, 8 November 2018, pdf)

"Delegations will find in the Annex a Commission non-paper providing factual information on the values-related infringement proceedings in relation to Hungary."

Ongoing proceedings include: NGO law, Higher Education Law, Asylum, Relocation, New legislation criminalising activities in support of asylum and residence applications, Roma.


Refugee crisis: latest news from across Europe (3-9.1.19) including:
- Sea Watch and Sea Eye allowed to disembark in Malta
- Man dies in Moria camp on Lesvos, Greece and Oxfam condemns conditions
- Italian mayors oppose Salvini's migration decree
- UN report on conditions faced by migrants and refugees in Libya

UNHCR welcomes Malta disembarkation of Sea Watch and Sea Eye passengers, calls for better, predictable approach (UNCHR, link):

"UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, welcomes today’s news that 49 rescued refugees and migrants on board the Sea Watch 3 and Albrecht Penck NGO vessels have been safely disembarked in Malta. We commend the Maltese authorities for having provided safe port and the decision of the eight European States to receive them. We also commend the European Commission for their role in coordinating the response from Member States.

UNHCR is nonetheless very concerned that the search for a solution to the plight of people rescued at sea and so obviously in distress has taken so long – more than 18 days in the case of the Sea Watch 3, despite the fact that those on board included women and children. This is unacceptable."

And see: “Dangerous and unseemly spectacle” must spur action to save lives at sea (Amnesty, link)

Migrant Found Dead at Lesvos Refugee Camp (Greek Reporter, link):

"A 24-year-old man from Cameroon was found dead inside the Moria migrant camp on the eastern Aegean island of Lesvos early Tuesday morning.

According to the Athens Macedonian News Agency the migrant was found by his friends at 2 AM local time.

His body was transferred to the hospital in Mytilene, where doctors confirmed his death.

A coroner is investigating the causes of death. No further details were provided on the incident."

Letter to citizens of the EU from the “periphery”: Politics of the closed borders are bringing us closer to fascist rules (Are You Syrious?, link):

"We, the human rights defenders and citizens from the countries relegated to the “periphery” of the European Union (EU) and the Schengen space, want to express our deepest concern for the current situation in which we can see the rise of fascism and a deterioration in basic human rights, such as freedom of movement and the right to seek asylum.

The leniency towards and acceptance of the rise of the far-right in European countries is worsening living conditions for people on the move and increasingly endangering their lives. The claim that the EU’s fundamental values are respect for human dignity and human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law has been in question for several years now. However, in 2018 this claim lost any remaining standing."

UK: New contracts in asylum accommodation scheme criticised for "squalid, unsafe slum conditions"

The UK government has announced the signing of £4 billion of new contracts in an accommodation scheme that in its previous incarnation was criticised for leaving asylum seekers living in "squalid, unsafe slum conditions".

Italian mayors oppose far-right Salvini’s xenophobic law (EurActiv, link):

"The mayors of three large Italian cities are refusing to obey a controversial anti-immigration law penned by far-right deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, condemning it as unconstitutional.

Salvini, also interior minister, on 4 January demanded the resignations of the rebellious leaders of Florence, Palermo and Naples, with the last escalating the row by also offering to take in migrants stranded at sea that Italy has turned away.

“This (law) incites criminality, rather than fighting or preventing it,” Palermo mayor Leoluca Orlando said."

UK: Stansted 15 launch appeal against 'disproportionate' convictions (The Guardian, link):

"The 15 immigration activists found guilty of a terror offence for blocking the takeoff of a deportation charter flight from Stansted airport have launched an appeal against their convictions.

...On Monday, lawyers representing all 15 defendants lodged submissions amounting to around 100 pages at the court of appeal in London. They are arguing that the judge was biased in his summing up of the case, that he should have allowed the defendants to make the defence of necessity, and that he got the law wrong about what the offence means.

They also claim that the court did not properly check that the attorney general had properly given consent for the terror charge to be levied against peaceful protesters, and that the judge should have ordered disclosure of the materials sent to the attorney general when deciding whether to sign it off."

GREECE: Pregnant women, children and survivors of torture abandoned in Greek camps as screening system breaks down (Oxfam International, link):

"Hundreds of pregnant women, unaccompanied children and survivors of torture are being abandoned in refugee camps on the Greek islands, an Oxfam report revealed today. It details how the system to identify and protect the most vulnerable people has broken down due to chronic understaffing and flawed processes.

...Oxfam is calling for the Greek government and EU member states to deploy more expert staff, including doctors and psychologists, and to fix the screening system on the Greek islands. It said that more people seeking asylum should be transferred to mainland Greece on a regular basis – particularly the vulnerable. Oxfam is also calling on EU member states to share responsibility for receiving asylum seekers with Greece more fairly by reforming the ‘Dublin Regulation’ in line with the position of the European Parliament."

See the report: Vulnerable and abandoned: How the Greek reception system is failing to protect the most vulnerable people seeking asylum (pdf)

Who rescues migrants in the Channel? (BBC News, link):

"The number of migrants crossing the English Channel by boat is small - it pales in comparison to those making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean - but there has been a small spike in crossings in recent months.

In 2018, the Home Office says 539 people attempted to travel to the UK on small boats. Of these, 434 (around 80%) made their attempts in the last three months of the year.

Of the 539, 227 (42%) were intercepted by the French before they made it to the UK.

Now, a Royal Navy patrol ship has been sent to deter them - but when people do cross, who is responsible for rescuing them?"

EU: New Schengen Information System rules in force: deportation decisions to be included, new types of police check permitted

At the end of December three new Regulations governing the Schengen Information System II (SIS II), the EU's largest database and information system for law enforcement and migration purposes, came into force.

Open access e-book: Asylum Determination in Europe (SpringerLink, link):

"Drawing on new research material from ten European countries, Asylum Determination in Europe: Ethnographic Perspectives brings together a range of detailed accounts of the legal and bureaucratic processes by which asylum claims are decided.The book includes a legal overview of European asylum determination procedures, followed by sections on the diverse actors involved, the means by which they communicate, and the ways in which they make life and death decisions on a daily basis. It offers a contextually rich account that moves beyond doctrinal law to uncover the gaps and variances between formal policy and legislation, and law as actually practiced.

The contributors employ a variety of disciplinary perspectives – sociological, anthropological, geographical and linguistic – but are united in their use of an ethnographic methodological approach. Through this lens, the book captures the confusion, improvisation, inconsistency, complexity and emotional turmoil inherent to the process of claiming asylum in Europe."

UN report sheds light on ‘unimaginable horrors’ faced by migrants and refugees in Libya, and beyond (UN News, link):

"From unlawful killings, arbitrary detention and torture, to gang rape, slavery, and human trafficking, the report covers a 20-month period up to August 2018, and details a terrible litany of violations and abuses committed by a range of State officials, armed groups, smugglers and traffickers against migrants and refugees.

The findings are based on 1,300 first-hand accounts gathered by UN human rights staff in Libya itself, as well from migrants who have returned to Nigeria, or managed to reach Italy, tracing the entire journey of migrants and refugees from Libya’s southern border, across the desert to the northern coast."

See the report: Desperate and Dangerous: Report on the human rights situation of migrants and refugees in Libya (pdf)

GERMANY: Deportation laws in Germany — what you need to know (DW, link):

"Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has said he would send proposals to the government aimed at changing German deportation laws in an effort to make it easier to send criminal foreigners back to their home countries.

The leader of the conservative CSU, the Bavarian sister-party of Angela Merkel's CDU, has suggested such changes before. The trigger for this most recent call was an attack in the Bavarian town of Amberg in which four suspects aged 17 to 19 — asylum-seekers from Syria, Afghanistan and Iran — harassed and beat passers-by on December 29, 2018, while under the influence of alcohol. Twelve people were injured, though the injuries were mostly minor.

There are no data on how many people were deported after committing criminal offenses, but in general, the number of deportations fell last year. During the first half of 2018, roughly 12,300 people were deported from Germany. Compared to the same time period in 2017, that number is down by around 2 percent."

AYS SPECIAL: Detention and Deportation - The UK’s Hostile Environment (link):

"Earlier this year a group of activists known as the Stanstead 15 were charged under terror related law for peacefully stopping a deportation flight in March 2017. They were convicted under the Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990 of “endangering an aerodrome” by locking themselves around a Titan Airways plane that was deporting people back to Ghana and Nigeria. Since the flight was stopped several of the people who were being deported have been given leave to remain in the UK."


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

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