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Statewatch Observatory
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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May 2019


Refugee crisis: latest news from across Europe (14-20.5.19) including:
- Hundreds of Europeans arrested for solidarity with refugees
- Ill-treatment and detention: investigation of the Lampedusa centre
- Germany: anti-torture committee calls on authorities to ensure better treatment of foreign nationals being removed by air

Hundreds of Europeans including firefighters and priests arrested for ‘solidarity’ with refugees, data shows (The Indepdendent, link):

"Firefighters, priests and elderly women are among hundreds of Europeans who have been arrested or investigated for demonstrating “solidarity” with refugees and asylum seekers over the past five years – with such cases rising sharply in the last 18 months, new research shows.

A database collated by global news website openDemocracy reveals 250 people across Europe have been arrested or criminalised in other ways for providing food, shelter and transport and other “basic acts of human kindness” to migrants.

The number of cases increased dramatically in 2018, with more than 100 cases recorded last year – twice as many as in 2017. The majority of the cases in 2018 were arrests and charges for providing food, transport or other support to migrants without legal papers."

See: Hundreds of Europeans ‘criminalised’ for helping migrants – as far right aims to win big in European elections (OpenDemocracy, link) and: European governments’ targeting of migrant solidarity activists for prosecution must stop, says IRR (IRR, link)

ITALY: Ill-treatment and detention: investigation of the Lampedusa centre

Long periods of detention, ill-treatment, abuses of law in the treatment of migrant children and unaccompanied minors. The handling of foreigners in Lampedusa resulted in allegations framed in very strong terms by the judge for preliminary investigations [gip] in Rome, who asked for the investigation into events at the Sicilian detention centre to remain open: "There is an evident need," states the order dated 2 May 2019 "to carry out territorial inquiries".

European Commission: EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey: solid progress in supporting refugees (press release, pdf):

"The Commission reported today good progress in the implementation and programming of €6 billion of the EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey. More than 80 projects are currently up and running delivering tangible results to refugees and host communities in particular on education and health. Out of the €6 billion, some €4.2 billion has been allocated, of which €3.45 billion has been contracted and €2.22 billion disbursed to date."

Salvini fumes at EU court ruling on refugee returns (euractiv, link):

"Italy’s hardline deputy prime minister reiterated his call to change the EU in reaction to a ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) that refugees cannot be deported if their life or freedom is at risk in their home countries."

Migrants Trying to Reach Europe Are Trapped in Libya - Between Militias and the Sea (The Intercept, link):

"The lives of hundreds of migrants and refugees are under threat in Libya as the conflict there nears detention centers, according to a release yesterday from Amnesty International."

GREECE: Immediate abolition of the use of unsuitable detention facilities (Press release, pdf):

"The non-governmental organization AITHMA, along with 15 other Greek and foreign actors from civil society and academia, is addressing an open letter to the leadership of the Ministry of Citizen Protection and the head of the Greek Police regarding the continued detention of irregular immigrants and asylum seekers in inappropriate facilities in violation of Greek, Euro-pean and international law."

And Open Letter (pdf):

"Problems relating to the administrative detention of irregular migrants and asylum seekers – Immediate abolition of the use of unsuitable detention facilities. We are writing to express our deep concern at the continued detention of irregular migrants and asylum seekers in unsuitable detention facilities."

Are You Syrious Extensive report:

"Report on illegal practice of collective expulsion on Slovene-Croatian border. Processed under the readmission agreement, many people were denied their right to asylum procedure by the Slovenian police, still conducting systematic expulsions to Croatia under the guise of the readmission. This is a report written by Slovenian activists documenting the continuing unlawful police practice at the border between Croatia and Slovenia."

Illegal push-backs and border violence reports - Balkan Region - April 2019 (pdf):

"The methodological process for these reports leverages the close social contact that we have as independent volunteers with refugees and migrants to monitor push-backs in the Western Balkans. When individuals return with significant injuries or stories of abuse, one of our violence reporting volunteers will sit down with the individuals to collect their testimonies."

Germany: anti-torture committee calls on authorities to ensure better treatment of foreign nationals being removed by air (CoE, link):

"The monitoring of a return flight of Afghan nationals from Munich to Kabul (Afghanistan) on 14 August 2018 is the subject of a new report published today by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) (See the executive summary).

Austrian state plans 'Ten Commandments' for refugees (DW, link):

"Refugees in Lower Austria are to be issued with "Ten Commandments of Immigration" by regional authorities. Included in the edicts is a requirement for migrants to show gratitude to the country."


Refugee crisis: latest news from across Europe (30.4-13.5.19) including:
- Hungary's coerced removal of Afghan families deeply shocking
- EU research funds go to project developing swarms of AI border drones
- Report on collective expulsions at Slovenia-Croatia border
- Common European Asylum System: Member States oppose mandatory "border procedures"
- Masked men at Evros river push back Turkish asylum-seekers

Hungary’s coerced removal of https://www.dw.com/en/austrian-state-plans-ten-commandments-for-refugees/a-48712265Afghan families deeply shocking – UNHCR (UNHCR, link):

"Hungary’s actions overnight to force two asylum-seeking Afghan families to leave the country under duress is deeply shocking and a flagrant violation of international and EU law, the UN Refugee Agency said today.

The two families, four adults and seven children, who had been detained since January in a transit zone on the Hungarian-Serbian border, were escorted to a border gate with Serbia at night on 7 May. They were presented with a choice of entering Serbia or being flown back to Afghanistan on a flight organized by Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency.

...UNHCR has advised the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex, to refrain from supporting Hungary in the enforcement of return decisions which are not in line with International and EU law."

Mediterranea defiant as Italy impounds refugee rescue ship (Al Jazeera, link):

"Rome, Italy - The Italian rescue ship Mare Jonio was 64km off the Libyan coast on Thursday evening, when its crew sighted a raft in distress. The five-metre rubber dinghy was crammed with 30 people, and its engine was broken.

"It was so small that [navy] radars probably could not detect it," said Maso Notarianni, a rescuer on board the Mare Jonio. "The first thing those on board told us was: 'We come from hell'."

The Mare Jonio, operated by the Italian charity, Mediterranea, immediately alerted the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre, but were told to contact the Libyan coastguard instead."

EU: Swarms of Drones, Piloted by Artificial Intelligence, May Soon Patrol Europe’s Borders (The Intercept, link):

"This is not science fiction. The European Union is financing a project to develop drones piloted by artificial intelligence and designed to autonomously patrol Europe’s borders. The drones will operate in swarms, coordinating and corroborating information among fleets of quadcopters, small fixed-wing airplanes, ground vehicles, submarines, and boats. Developers of the project, known as Roborder, say the robots will be able to identify humans and independently decide whether they represent a threat. If they determine that you may have committed a crime, they will notify border police."

The Lack of Transparency Surrounding EUROPOL and the Hotspots (Caught You Red-Handed, link)

"The 2015 European Agenda on Migration envisaged a significant role for FRONTEX, EASO, and EUROPOL, the function to operationally implement the Agenda and closely cooperate in the management of the hotspots established in Italy and Greece...

Despite EUROPOL’s operational role, in the recently adopted Regulation of EUROPOL there is not a single mention of this agency’s operational powers in the hotspots, unlike in the EBCG [European Border and Coast Guard] and the future EUAA [European Agency for Asylum] Regulations. Hence, the total secrecy surrounding the operational support of EUROPOL in the hotspots and the lack of any legal reference to the activities of the agency on the ground prevent the general public from assessing the actual implications, meaning, and extent of EUROPOL’s operational support.

... on 10 May 2019, the Ombudsman agreed with Europol’s explanation that the disclosure (full and partial) of documents regarding the agency’s operational activities in the Greek and Italian hotspots “would risk prejudicing the effectiveness and the outcome of the ongoing, but also future, operations in the hotspots”.That is, while Europol is undertaking operational activities in the hotspots, citizens cannot have access to what the agency does in practice and to what extent it operationally assists the national authorities in illegal migrant smuggling investigations. This lack of transparency is clearly problematic in order to effectively hold the agency accountable."

4 Portugal police arrested over assaults of immigrants (Daily Sabah, link):

"Portuguese detectives have arrested four police officers suspected of assaulting Nepalese immigrant workers in the country's latest allegations of police misconduct.

The Policia Judiciaria, which investigates serious crimes, says Wednesday the four arrested men belong to the Guarda Nacional Civil, a paramilitary police force which has jurisdiction in rural areas.

They are accused of assault in what local media reported was a dispute with the Nepalese workers."

Spain says 52 migrants force entry into its African enclave (Daily Sabah, link):

"Spanish authorities say 52 migrants have climbed a guarded fence to gain entry into Spain's North African enclave of Melilla from Morocco.

An official with the Spanish Interior Ministry in Melilla says four police officers and one migrant sustained light injuries as the group scaled the high fence around dawn Sunday.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity, in line with government rules."

When witnesses won’t be silenced: citizens’ solidarity and criminalisation (IRR News, link):

"When witnesses won’t be silenced: citizens’ solidarity and criminalisation is a free downloadable briefing paper that looks at the dramatic increase in prosecutions from European states on humanitarian activists for their acts of solidarity with and assistance of displaced people. "

Download report here (link)

PRESS RELEASE: Mytilene, Greece: Peaceful demonstration and the human right to freedom of assembly prevails

10 May 2019

"Yesterday, 9 April 2019, in the Misdemeanours Court of Mytilene, the 110 on trial for resistance against authorities, rioting, and illegal occupation of public property were found not-guilty of all charges against them.

The charges were brought last year, after a peaceful sit-in of approximately 180 refugees took place in a small part of Sappho Square in the centre of Mytilene, Lesvos, between April 17- 23, 2018, in protest against poor living conditions in Moria Camp, lack of medical care and access to health services, imprisonment on the island and the long delay in their asylum process. The trigger of the mobilisation was the hospitalisation and death of an Afghan asylum seeker with serious health problems."

Report on illegal practice of collective expulsion on Slovene-Croatian border by InfoKolpa (pdf):

"This report is the result of a civil society initiative InfoKolpa, which started in the spring of 2018. The civil initiative was a response to an alarming number of reported illegal actions through which Slovenian police started systematically denying people the right to seek asylum in Slovenia. The number of people who were denied asylum procedure and were collectively pushbacked to Croatia under the guise of a readmission agreement increased drastically after May last year."

Hungary stems migrant flow, but issue remains big in EU vote (AP, link):

"Hundreds of migrants a day streamed through the Hungarian village of Asotthalom on their way to Western Europe in 2015. Today there are almost none. So one might think the political discourse has moved on.

Think again."

ITALY: Warehousing Asylum Seekers: Salvini’s Attempt to Dismantle the Italian Reception System (Border Criminologies, link):

"On 1st December 2018, the Italian Parliament converted into law the controversial decree no. 113/2018 on security and immigration (so-called ‘Salvini decree’). The new legislative act, Law no. 132, amends substantially national asylum policies, by introducing several restrictive changes that pertain to residence permits, the reception system, detention, cessation of protection, safe country of origin, manifestly unfounded asylum claims and subsequent asylum applications. This raft of measures is in line with the political strategy of the current Minister of Interior, Matteo Salvini, who based most of his electoral campaign on the fight against migrants."

UK-ITALY: Firefighters protest prison for rescuing refugees (Fire Brigades Union, link):

"UK firefighters will protest outside the Italian embassy in London today, on Europe Day, in support of a Spanish firefighter facing prison for rescuing refugees. Fire Brigades Union (FBU) activists will call on the Italian government to drop its investigation and end its anti-migrant crusade.

Spanish firefighter Miguel Roldan faces 20 years in prison for helping to rescue drowning refugees in the Mediterranean. Italian authorities have accused him of aiding illegal immigration and working with human traffickers, amidst pressure from far-right politician Matteo Salvini."

GREECE: Trial of Sapfous 122 – Today in Mytilene (Legal Centre Lesvos, link):

"Today 122 people are on trial in Mytilene, Lesvos, after being arrested in the early morning of 23 April 2018. They are charged with resisting arrest, rioting, and illegal occupation of public property. If convicted they could be imprisoned for two years. In the days prior to their arrest last year, 100-200 refugees and migrants who had been living in the notorious Moria Refugee Camp in Lesvos, gathered in Sapfous Square, the main square in town, to protest lack of access to medical care, horrible conditions, and delayed asylum procedures that kept them prisoners on the island.

After less than a week of their peaceful protest, on the night of 22 April 2018, they were attacked by a far-right mob. In this organized violent attack, roughly 200 fascists attacked the refugees and migrants, as well as those standing in solidarity with them, with projectiles. While 26 people are now facing criminal charges related to the attack against the migrants, during the night not a single attacker was arrested. Only the 122 people facing trial today were arrested, after facing a night of racially motivated violence against them, which left many people, including migrants, journalists, and children injured."

GREECE: Refugee, volunteer, prisoner: Sarah Mardini and Europe's hardening line on migration (The New Humanitarian, link):

"On the balcony, Mardini, 23, was enjoying a rare moment of respite from long days spent working in the squalid Moria refugee camp. For the first time in a long time, she was looking forward to the future. After years spent between Lesvos and Berlin, she had decided to return to her university studies in Germany.

But when she went to the airport to leave, shortly after The New Humanitarian visited her, Mardini was arrested. Along with several other volunteers from Emergency Response Centre International, or ERCI, the Greek non-profit where she volunteered, Mardini was charged with belonging to a criminal organisation, people smuggling, money laundering, and espionage."

Libyan Prime Minister brings message of migration increase to Europe (Euronews, link):

"Hundreds of thousands of refugees could flee the fighting caused by Libyan Army chief Khalifa Haftar’s attempt to seize Tripoli – that is according to Fayez al-Sarraj, Libya's Prime Minister, who leads the country’s UN-recognised government."

Are You Syrious (6.5.19, link):

GREECE

"Greece struggling to examine the 62,418 asylum applications lodged between 2015 and 2019, while 5,500 new applications are submitted every year on average by the newly arrived people.

In the same time bracket, Greece granted asylum or subsidiary protection to 36,683 applicants, according to Ekathimerini.

The bulk of asylum applications are made at the service’s offices the eastern Aegean islands of Lesvos, Samos and Chios, as well as in Attica and Thessaloniki, with the latter also responsible for arrivals through the Evros border. One asylum-seeker who recently turned up at the Thessaloniki bureau was given an interview date for December 2023.

Just in 2019 (up until the end of April), 10,892 people arrived to Greece either by sea or land states UNHCR, mainly from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria."

EU-TURKEY: A shameful bureaucratic development in 2016 (pressenza.com, link):

"In May and June of 2016, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) carried out a survey in Turkey for people from Syria and other third countries who were seeking international protection.(...)

Tens of thousands of people became trapped in unsuitable conditions, often affecting their mental health, with a lack of unrestricted access to basic health services and constant exposure to physical dangers.

The allegedly successful transfer to Turkey of responsibility for migration flows, in exchange for major financial gains, constituted a blueprint for the aggressive policy the EU has been pursuing since then as part of its foreign affairs."

Greece: Lesvos: Thermi: Lest we forget: Memorial for the Dead of the European Borders, Thermi/Lesvos 25th of October 2017 (w2eu.ne, link). In 2018 the memorial was destroyed by local fascists.

See: "Destroying the memorial cannot erase the memory!" (pdf)

Libya coast guard detains 113 migrants during lull in fighting (euractiv, link):

"The Libyan coast guard stopped two boats on Tuesday and one on Wednesday, carrying 113 migrants in all, and returned them to two western towns away from the Tripoli frontline, where they were put into detention centers, UN migration agency IOM said."

European Border And Coast Guard – First agreement with a non EU country on border co-operation becomes operational (EU Reporter, link):

"On 1 May, the agreement on border co-operation between the European Border and Coast Guard and Albania became operational. This is the first agreement on operational cooperation to be signed with a neighbouring non-EU country, and also the first such agreement with an EU partner from the Western Balkans, to enter force since the launch of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency".

EU: The human rights monitoring ship Mare Liberum is being prevented from leaving port

Germany’s Federal Ministry of Transportation (Bundesverkehrsministeriums) sent an order of suspension for the ship Mare Liberum to the German association of traffic and transportation (Berufsgenossenschaft Verkehr)--which handles the registration, licenses and flags for ships--to further scrutinize civil rescue vessels in the Mediterranean Sea.

ITALY: Digital Identity in the Migration & Refugee Context (Data & Society, link):

"For migrants and refugees in Italy, identity data collection processes can “exacerbate existing biases, discrimination, or power imbalances.” Digital Identity in the Migration & Refugee Context analyzes the challenges arising from this digital ecosystem and identifies three major areas of concern: bureaucratic bias in identity systems; privacy and mistrusted systems; and organizational data responsibility. The report is co-authored by Mark Latonero (Principal Investigator), Keith Hiatt, Antonella Napolitano, Giulia Clericetti, and Melanie Penagos.

One key struggle is obtaining meaningful consent. Often, biometric data is collected as soon as migrants and refugees arrive in a new country, at a moment when they are vulnerable and overwhelmed. Language barriers exacerbate the issue, making it difficult to provide adequate context around rights to privacy. Identity data is collected inconsistently by different organizations, all of whose data protection and privacy practices vary widely."

April 2019

EU: Common European Asylum System: deadlock in the Council as "frontline" Member States oppose mandatory "border procedures"

Council discussions on controversial proposals for dealing with asylum applications at the external borders of the EU hit a wall recently, with "a large majority" of Member States who favour tougher measures facing opposition from those on the "frontline". Member States' diplomatic representatives were called upon to try to reach a resolution, but the Council is remaining tight-lipped on the outcome of those discussions.

Turkish asylum seekers attacked by masked men, pushed back from Evros shore (Keep talking Greece, link):

"A group of Turkish asylum seekers claimed that following an attempt to cross the Turkish border via the Evros River in northeastern Greece on Friday evening, they were pushed back to the Turkish side after being beaten by masked men with batons, the IPA news agency reported.

Tugba Özkan, a journalist in the group, told IPA News on the phone that the group of 15 people fleeing persecution in Turkey crossed the Turkish-Greek border on Friday at 9 p.m. near the town of Soufli.

When they set foot on Greek soil, however, she said a group of masked men beat them and pushed them back across the river to the Turkish side, where a post-coup crackdown targeting Gülen movement followers has led to the prosecution of over half a million people."

Are You Syrious (29.4.19, link)

Border Violence Monitoring reports

"A group of people was apprehended by the Bosnian police near Trebinje, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and, under the pretext of being brought to the official camp in Sarajevo, they were held in detention for 16 hours in the Klobuk border crossing point - the one that is known for holding people in cage-like detention cells. In the morning, they were loaded into two white vans and brought to the border with Montenegro."

Rescue Ship Stopped by German Government

"The search and rescue ship Mare Liberum has been blocked from leaving Lesvos by the German Federal Ministry for Transportation. “The ministry of transportation, led by the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) politician Andreas Scheuer, apparently wants to perfidiously prevent any civil presence in the Mediterranean Sea to document human rights violations and the effects of the European Union’s deadly border policy. We are urging for an accelerated response to repeal the decision,” said a spokesperson for the NGO. You can read their entire press release (EN) here)."

Increase in Boat Interceptions by the Turkish Coast Guard

"There has been an increase in the number of refugee boats being intercepted by the Turkish Coast Guard (TCG), according to numbers released by Turkish authorities. Aegean Boat Report stated, “Last week 52 boats were stopped, and 1,501 people were arrested. This is the highest number of boats stopped in one single week for over a year. Is Greece prepared for what would happen if Turkey should look the other way, and again let boats flow towards the Greek Aegean Islands…”


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

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