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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 2020

The dismal UK Home Office response to coronavirus: the wider picture (Migration Mobilities Bristol, link):

"We’ve learned that closeness does not mean contact, so I hope that this can count as a ‘Letter from Afar’ even if ‘afar’ seems a strangely 19th-century way of talking about the distance between Newport and Bristol. I wanted to share with you some of my reflections on the UK Home Office’s response to coronavirus and what it means for migrants and asylum seekers."

CYPRUS: Syrian refugees in Cyprus pushed back to Turkey (EuroMed Rights, link):

"On 15 May 2020, the administration of the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) forcibly sent 100 Syrian refugees, including unaccompanied children, to Mersin, Turkey. They have been transferred to Kilis, near the Syrian border, where they are now. Most of the 100 Syrian refugees – 56 – are children and women and girls are in the majority."

GREECE: Tents at Sea: How Greek Officials Use Rescue Equipment for Illegal Deportations (Just Security, link):

"In at least 11 incidents since March 23, migrants have been found drifting in orange, tent-like inflatable life rafts without motors or propellants and that cannot be steered. Members of the Turkish Coast Guard reported these apparitions, but Greek authorities neither explained nor documented them. Images of these life rafts, fluorescent triangular structures afloat between black sea and dark sky, looked strange enough to seem superimposed. Relying on testimony and footage we obtained from multiple sources, including asylum seekers in the area, our investigation verifies this latest show of violence at the Greek-Turkish maritime border.

Far from Australia’s flashier orange vessels from five years back, these are more modest structures. Importantly, the Greek life rafts have appeared in a very different maritime environment: compared to the oceans surrounding Australia, the Aegean Sea is a relatively placid and narrow body of water. Yet like the Australian vessels, these too have been put in place by State authorities, in an organized way, violating fundamental rules of international law. The two sets of deportation craft share visible similarities and are each used in dangerous ways, shedding light on the legal and moral risks that states are now willing to take, just to keep out unwanted populations."

HUNGARY: No more transit zones, now asylum seekers will have to apply abroad (Hungarian Spectrum, link):

"People were stunned this morning when Gergely Gulyás, head of the Prime Minister’s Office, announced that the government had decided to shut down the much criticized transit zones at the Serbian-Hungarian border where about 300 refugees had been waiting, some for over a year, for a decision on their asylum status.

...Later in the day, Gergely Gulyás announced the unexpected news during his Thursday government press conference, which was promptly reported on by all the foreign correspondents. He also announced that, from here on, those seeking asylum from the Hungarian government will have to present their requests at one of the Hungarian diplomatic missions abroad.

Gulyás made it clear that “the government does not agree with the court’s decision,” but, “as a member of the European Union, we are naturally obliged to comply with every court decision.” "

See: European Court declares authorities broke EU law by detaining asylum-seekers in transit zone (AI, link)

EU-TURKEY: 369 Syrians deported to Turkey through EU fund for refugees

At the end of April the European Commission slipped out the 'Fourth Annual Report on the Facility for Refugees in Turkey', which summarises how the €6 billion committed by the EU and the member states to projects in Turkey, as part of the March 2016 EU-Turkey deal, has been used. Amongst other things, the funds have paid for the deportation of 369 Syrians from the EU to Turkey.

EU: Border externalisation: European Parliament gives green light to Frontex operations in Serbia and Montenegro

The European Parliament has voted to approve two agreements allowing Frontex operations outside the EU: one between the EU and Serbia, and the other between the EU and Montenegro.

'A bloody method of control': the struggle to take down Europe's razor wire walls (The Guardian, link):

"Razor wire is cut from galvanised steel, and unlike barbed wire, which was devised to tangle and impede movement, it is designed to maim.

It is one of the most visible symbols of the fortification of the EU’s borders. Thousands of migrants have already paid with their lives while attempting to get around those borders: by crawling through pipes, suffocating in the back of lorries, or drowning in the Mediterranean.

In September 2005, a Senegalese man reportedly bled to death from wounds inflicted by deadly razor wire coils topping the fence in Ceuta, one of Spain’s two exclaves on the north African coast."

EU court censures Hungary over migrant detentions (BBC News, link):

"The EU's top court has ruled that Hungary's arbitrary detention of asylum seekers in border zones is illegal.

...The BBC's Nick Thorpe in Budapest says the EU Court of Justice ruling paves the way for those asylum seekers - nearly half of them children - to be released, as the ECJ ruling means Hungary must devise new asylum rules.

Two families - from Afghanistan and Iran - sued the nationalist Hungarian government at the ECJ, and they will have to be released, our correspondent says.

Of those detained in the two transit zones, 120 have spent more than a year there."

See: CJEU press release (pdf), judgment (CJEU, link, currently available in French and Hungarian) and: Németh: Govt to Do its Utmost to Keep Transit Zones (Hungary Today, link): "Hungary’s government and the ruling Fidesz-KDNP alliance will do its utmost to maintain the fence and military-police surveillance along the country’s southern border, and guarantee the continued operation of the transit zones, state secretary of defence Szilárd Németh told public media at the transit zone in Röszke on Sunday."

ITALY: Thousands of undocumented migrants to get Italian work permits (Al Jazeera, link):

"Bilongo said the regularisation could also help improve conditions for up to 180,000 people living in shantytowns at a time when the public health emergency is "far from over". Activists have long warned that the informal settlements housing irregular workers lacked access to running water and sanitation and risked becoming coronavirus hotspots.

Yet, human rights groups decried the temporary nature of the amnesty.

"A time-limited amnesty is just a patch, an absurdity which gives priority to production over dignity," said Cesare Fermi, director of migration programmes for INTERSOS, an NGO.

Calling the measure "a lost chance", Fermi added: "How will the workers' conditions change once the permit is over?""

GREECE-TURKEY: During and After Crisis: Evros Border Monitoring Report (HumanRights360, link)

"HumanRights360 documents the recent developments in the European land border of Evros as a result of the ongoing policy of externalization and militarization of border security of the EU member States. The report analyses the current state of play, in conjunction with the constant amendments of the Greek legislation amid the discussions pertaining to the reform of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) and the Return Directive."

Greek Council for Refugees denounces rights violation from the new law on the asylum, meanwhile the law has already been voted at the Greek Parlement (link):

"The Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) expresses its deeep concern over the new draft law that inter alia amends asylum legislation[1], which was submitted for public consultation amidst a public health crisis, at a time when the main concern is the protection of asylum seekers and the entire population from the risks and effects of the pandemic, and while concerns for asylum seekers who remain in overcrowded sites and/or in administrative detention in the midst of the pandemic are increasing."

Refugee crisis: latest news from across Europe (21.4-11.5.20) including:

EU: Council considers action on "non-removable" irregular migrants

The Croatian Presidency of the Council has raised the prospect of EU measures to deal with "non-removable" irregular migrants - people who for a variety of reasons "end up in a situation of prolonged illegal stay, which can last for a number of years."

GREECE: Analysis: Rights denied during Greek asylum procedure suspension (RSA, link):

"The Decree ceased to produce legal effects at the end of March 2020. However, it has had highly damaging effects on a significant number of people in need of protection. According to UNHCR statistics, 2,927 persons entered Greece via land and sea in the course of that month.[6] These persons were automatically and arbitrarily placed in detention under abhorrent conditions and continue to remain in closed facilities without effective judicial protection, despite ultimately being allowed to express the intention to lodge an asylum application with the Asylum Service. Asylum applications have not yet been registered, however. Harm from inhuman detention conditions is compounded by serious, even life-threatening, health risks stemming from the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic which have regrettably not led to a reconsideration of detention policy in Greece.

In this Legal Note, Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) examines the administrative treatment and policy of detention applied to persons falling within the scope of the Decree, the conditions in which they have been detained and the response adopted thus far from the different fora approached by individuals in search of judicial redress at domestic and European level."

Migrants sue German state over mobile phone searches (InfoMigrants, link):

"In Germany, three migrants from Syria, Afghanistan and Cameroon are suing the state for accessing personal data on their mobile phones. A civil rights group taking part in the action says the phone searches are a serious invasion of privacy.

...Under a law passed in 2017, German authorities can examine the mobile phones of asylum seekers who are unable to present a valid passport on arrival, in order to verify information provided regarding identity. But the GFF, which filed the lawsuits together with the three refugees, says this represents "a particularly serious and extensive encroachment on the privacy of those affected.""

Council of Europe: Commissioner urges Malta to meet its obligations to save lives at sea, ensure prompt and safe disembarkation, and investigate allegations of delay or non-response to situations of distress (link):

"Noting that Libya cannot be considered a place of safety, the Commissioner calls on Malta’s government to refrain from any action that would result in the return to and disembarkation in Libya of persons rescued or intercepted at sea. This also includes refraining from issuing instructions to private vessels to disembark rescued persons in Libya, and not handing over responsibility to the Libyan Coast Guard or related entities when the foreseeable consequence of this would be disembarkation in Libya. In addition, she urges the government to ensure full accountability for situations in which action by the Maltese authorities has directly or indirectly led to such returns."

See: Reply from Robert Abela, Maltese prime minister (pdf) and background: Mediterranean: As the fiction of a Libyan search and rescue zone begins to crumble, EU states use the coronavirus pandemic to declare themselves unsafe (pdf)

Fund but disregard: the EU’s relationship to academic research on mobility (Crisis, link):

"The European Union funds extensive academic research with the potential to inform humane and effective border policies. Yet evidence-based immigration policy is undermined by the EU’s increasingly repressive border regime. How do we make sense of this contradiction? And which transformations are needed to address it?"

GREECE-ISRAEL: Greece and Israel deal spotlight leasing model for military UAVs (Defense News, link):

"Greece’s Hellenic Ministry of National Defense will lease unmanned aerial vehicles from Israel, in a deal that offers up an alternative to pricey acquisitions amid budgetary constraints.

The Heron long endurance drones, manufactured by IAI, will be used for border defense under a leasing model that IAI said may grow more appealing with the new pandemic dynamics that countries face.

Executive vice president and general manager of AIA’s Military Aircraft Group, Moshe Levy, praised the new deal with Greece as "yet another example of the successful leasing model promoted by IAI in many parts of the world.”

Greece will have an option to purchase the Herons after the lease term ends in three years."

EU: Weekly Editorial: A Pact for an Inclusive Recovery? (ECRE, link):

"There is pressure on the EU from some political parties and Member States to publish the pending Pact on asylum and migration. But it is hard to see how the Pact can go ahead without integrating COVID-related developments, and that could take some time. If it is published without significant reference to the health emergency it will be panned. The Commission is also reluctant to repeat the tortuous process of launching proposals when there are fundamental disagreements among the Member States and despite the background negotiations and joint letters, it is not clear that conflicts on the key issues have been overcome...

...Holding off and adapting the Pact to the new COVID world, is not the worst idea. It will only be worth it, though, if the updated version, builds on these small positive responses to the crisis and if it acknowledges the need to have effective policies in Europe rather than outsourcing responsibilities and people. Above all, it needs to embody a positive vision of asylum and migration AND back that up with the necessary legal provisions, policies and funding decisions. Otherwise, a positive narrative will be coated onto the same restrictive practices that leave displaced people vulnerable to health crises and much else besides."

Press briefing note on Migrant rescues in the Mediterranean (UNHCR, link):

"We are deeply concerned about recent reports of failure to assist and coordinated pushbacks of migrant boats in the central Mediterranean, which continues to be one of the deadliest migration routes in the world. Reports that Maltese authorities requested commercial ships to push boats with migrants in distress back to the high seas are of particular concern."

Frontex expects fresh move of migrants toward Greek border, German report says (DW, link):

"rontex expects a fresh wave of migrants seeking to cross the Turkish border into the European Union via Greece after Ankara lifts restrictions imposed to stop the spread of coronavirus, German newspaper Die Welt reported Friday citing an internal report of the bloc’s border agency.

According to the Frontex document, the easing of restrictions in the provinces of Canakkale, Istanbul and Izmir is expected to trigger large movements of migrants toward the Evros border, Die Welt said."

Time to Change: Coronavirus and Refugees on Samos Island (Samos Chronicles, link):

"The global coronavirus pandemic is affecting every aspect of human life on earth. The challenge is awesome in its scale and scope.

To date we have no cases of the virus on Samos. But still its impact on life here is huge with businesses and schools closed, the tourist industry completely stalled, and deeply engrained social activities such as drinking coffee and church going prohibited. All this is further compounded for as common with much of Greece, Samos has not come through the social and economic crisis that has crippled so many here for the past 12 years.

It is only access to gardens and land on the island with islanders growing and producing food for themselves and their families and neighbours that has kept hunger at bay for many here. (Not all are so fortunate). The loss of any income, however small, is a disaster."

Two new incidents of shots at Evros border reported (ekathimerini.com,link):

"Greek authorities have reported two new incidents in less than 24 hours of shots being fired in the air by Turkish guards on the Evros River border with Greece, in the northeast."

EASO publishes the COI report "Syria - Security situation" (EASO, link):

"Today, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) published the 2020 update to the Country of Origin Information (COI) report "Syria - Security situation". This report is part of a series of Syria reports produced in 2019-2020. These reports cover actors of protection, internal mobility, key socio-economic indicators, and targeting of individuals. The reports provide information relevant for international protection status determination for Syrian applicants for international protection, and will be used in the development of a country guidance note on Syria."

Refugees and European human rights law: Expelled from Humanity (Verfassungsblog, link):

"The decision of the European Court of Human Rights in M.N. and Others v. Belgium will undoubtedly further propel the debate on the scope of extraterritorial state jurisdiction. More importantly, however, it reveals the necessity of addressing the systemic exclusion of refugees from the international legal order.

...the Court’s choice to not ‘shake up the European asylum system’ does not come as a surprise.. [but it] gives new impetus to a conversation around the significance of the concept of jurisdiction and its interrelationship with the international political order.

...with its decision to disallow the application of the Convention to visa procedures, the Court not only disappointed those who see it as an unwavering defender of human rights. More importantly, it laid bare the naivety of believing in the universality of human rights in a world of disintegrating nation-states – in 1939 as well as in 2020. Let us thus take the Court’s decision as an opportunity to advance a conversation about overcoming the systemic exclusion of refugees from the international order."

ECtHR press release: The European Convention on Human Rights does not apply to visa applications submitted to embassies and consulates (pdf) and: Judgment (pdf)

In lockdown: Migrants in France up against pandemic, police abuse (DW, link):

"For many migrants still camped out in Calais and Dunkirk, the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated an already dire situation. Supermarkets are reportedly turning them away and the police are removing their tents."

UK: Covid-19 and immigration detention: Home Office tries to lean on judges deciding immigration bail cases (Free Movement, link):

"The Home Office tried to put pressure on judges to stop releasing migrants from immigration detention, it has emerged.

An official letter from the department to a top immigration judge said that the Home Office was “somewhat surprised” that judges had agreed to release so many people on immigration bail during the coronavirus crisis.

The astonishing attempt to interfere with the independence of the judiciary was rebuffed by First-tier President Michael Clements, who replied “we decide bail applications in accordance with the law”."

GREECE: Documented Pushbacks from Centres on the Greek Mainland

In response to the recent spike in pushbacks from Greece to Turkey, the Border Violence Monitoring Network, with members Mobile Info Team and Wave Thessaloniki , are releasing first hand testimony and photographic evidence indicating the existence of violent collective expulsions. In the space of six weeks, the teams received reports of 194 people removed and pushed back into Turkey from the refugee camp in Diavata and the Drama Paranesti Pre-removal Detention Centre.

Statewatch Analysis: Mediterranean: As the fiction of a Libyan search and rescue zone begins to crumble, EU states use the coronavirus pandemic to declare themselves unsafe (pdf) :

Events in the last fortnight provide further confirmation of the dishonesty and opportunism with which EU immigration policy is being advanced at both the national and EU levels, raising the need to pay close attention to state efforts to use a public health emergency to assert pre-existing strategies to subordinate human rights and the rule of law to strategic policy goals.

Fatnassia camp is a time-bomb that threatens whole of North Africa (euractiv, link):

"The ongoing armed conflict in Libya is going to push thousands of people, now asylum-seekers in Libyan camps, to escape towards the Southern border regions of Tunisia, Medenine and Tataouine, writes Mourad Teyeb."

Greece transfers nearly 400 migrants from Lesbos island to mainland (New Europe, link):

"Nearly 37,000 people are currently hosted in camps on the Greek islands, while Lesbos alone accommodates almost 19,000 people in a space designed for about 3,000."

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Security Minister Plans to Deport Thousands of People Amid Corona Crisis (ECRE, link):

"On April 23, the security minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) proposed to forcibly deport migrants out of the country in the midst of the Coronavirus outbreak. The initiative follows a decision on April 16 by the Council of Ministers of BiH on the Restriction of Movement and Stay of Foreigners challenged by the Legal Aid Network Vaša prava BiH."

EU shores up Libyan coast guard amid Covid-19 scare (EUobserver, link):

"The European Union is reshuffling budgets to further shore up Libya's coast guard and the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

The money talks, held among EU foreign ministers earlier this week, comes amid a sharp spike in violence in the country.

Although figures are still being finalised, an EU official familiar with the talks provided a basic and partial breakdown of what is set to be around €100m."

See also: Commission, experts call for code of conduct on migrant sea rescues (EurActiv, link) and: Stop cooperation with and funding to the Libyan coastguard, MEPs ask (European Parliament, link)

Asylum seeker wins right to leave German centre over coronavirus rules (Reuters, link):

"A German court has ruled that an asylum seeker should be allowed to leave the holding centre where he was staying after he argued it was too crowded to respect coronavirus distancing rules, a decision refugee campaigners called “ground-breaking”.

The man, who was not named by the court, said he had to share a room of four square metres (43 square feet) with another person and had to share toilets, showers and a kitchen with 49 other residents.

This made it impossible for him to keep the required distance of 1.5 metres, he told the court in the eastern German city of Leipzig in Saxony."

EU Member States Face Criticism and Legal Action for Compromising Rights of Asylum Seekers Through COVID-19 Measures (ECRE, link):

"The limitation of rights of asylum seekers in the context of measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic raises concern among international lawyers and civil society organisations.

International lawyers have expressed their concern over a decree by the Austrian Ministry of the Interior that limits the right to asylum by requiring every asylum seeker to provide a health certificate... While suspending Dublin procedures due to Corona-related risks, a measure welcomed by ECRE, Germany has come under criticism for suspending the Dublin transfer period... ECRE has compiled a non-exhaustive list of measures related to asylum and migration introduced in response to the COVID-19 health crisis in Europe."

Latest Tactic to Push Migrants From Europe? A Private, Clandestine Fleet (New York Times, link):

"With the onset of the coronavirus, Malta announced that it was too overwhelmed to rescue migrants making the precarious crossing of the Mediterranean Sea, where the tiny island nation has been on the front line of the maritime migration route over the past decade.

In secret, however, the Maltese authorities have worked hard to make sure no migrants actually reach the island.

It dispatched a small fleet of private merchant vessels in April to intercept migrants at sea and return them by force to a war zone in Libya, according to information provided by the captain of one of the boats, a senior commander in the Libyan Coast Guard, and a former Maltese official involved in the episode."

ITALY: Ports closed to rescue ships: appeal to the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe

Object: To notify [the Commissioner] of the decree of 7 April 2020 issued by the Infrastructures and Transport Minister in concertation with the Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister, the Interior Affairs Minister and the Health minister concerning denial of a place of safety (POS) to vessels that do not fly an Italian flag due to the Covid-19 emergency.

April 2020

EU: Leaving people behind - Proposals for the reorganisation of the Common European Asylum System (Equal Rights Beyond Borders, link):

"The truth is that both proposals - sometimes more (letter), sometimes less (non-paper) – depend on border procedures to work. However, what border procedures lead to can be observed on the Greek islands. Border procedures lead to inhuman conditions and zones of lawlessness. The EU-Turkey deal alone is the reason why people have to 'live' in the camps, because since it came into force it has prohibited people from travelling to mainland Greece.

The rule of law requires that administrative decisions can be reviewed. People must not simply be imprisoned. Nor must people be sent back without a formal procedure; they must have access to legal remedies. Border procedures contribute to making legal protection structurally difficult and often a matter of resources. Border procedures encourage human rights violations.

As long as a political proposal relies on procedures that systematically disregard European and human rights law and result in the inhumane treatment of people, the EU will betray itself."

See: Seven member states call for mandatory relocation in revamped asylum system

EU: Monitoring being pitched to fight Covid-19 was tested on refugees - The pandemic has given a boost to controversial data-driven initiatives to track population movements (TBIJ, link):

"In Italy, social media monitoring companies have been scouring Instagram to see who's breaking the nationwide lockdown. In Israel, the government has made plans to “sift through geolocation data” collected by the Shin Bet intelligence agency and text people who have been in contact with an infected person. And in the UK, the government has asked mobile operators to share phone users’ aggregate location data to “help to predict broadly how the virus might move”.

These efforts are just the most visible tip of a rapidly evolving industry combining the exploitation of data from the internet and mobile phones and the increasing number of sensors embedded on Earth and in space. Data scientists are intrigued by the new possibilities for behavioural prediction that such data offers. But they are also coming to terms with the complexity of actually using these data sets, and the ethical and practical problems that lurk within them."

Stop cooperation with and funding to the Libyan coastguard, MEPs ask (European Parliament, link):

"The EU should stop channeling funds to Libya to manage migration and to train its coastguard, as the violation of human rights of migrants and asylum-seekers continues.

In a debate in the Civil Liberties Committee with representatives of the Commission, Frontex, UNHCR, the Council of Europe and NGOs, a majority of MEPs insisted that Libya is not a “safe country” for disembarkation of people rescued at sea and demanded that the cooperation with the Libyan coastguard stops.

Most of the speakers acknowledged the challenges faced by front line countries receiving most of the migrants and asylum-seekers fleeing Libya, namely Italy and Malta, and underlined that the European common asylum system needs to be reshuffled, with a focus on solidarity among member states and respect of international legislation. Others made clear that member states are entitled to protect their borders, especially in the middle of a health crisis such as the current one. Some instead criticised the closure of ports due to the COVID-19 pandemic and stressed that letting people drown cannot be a solution."

IRELAND: Special Report: How accommodating asylum seekers turned into a billion-euro industry (Irish Examiner, link):

"The housing and accommodation of asylum seekers in Ireland has become a billion-euro industry.

Government records, available up until 2017, show that, since the first contracts were signed in 2000, the total bill for the 17 years amounts to €1.1bn, with one family business receiving almost €140m from the State.

Ireland’s direct provision system is mired in controversy, criticised by human rights organisations, politicians of all persuasions, and has been labelled the “next mother and baby home scandal”.

A litany of complaints about health, hygiene, and civil and human rights abuses has cast the system in a dim light, with critics making a comparison with the privatised prison system in America."

And see: Ombudsman says direct provision complaints show accommodation system is unsustainable (Ombudsman, link)

Malta asks the EU to recognise Libya as a safe port (Avvenire, link):

"The follow-up and reactions to the massacre of 12 migrants in the waters between Malta and Libya in the days just after Easter continue to offer surprises. In addition to the phantom fleet of Libyan-Maltese fishing boats used by Valletta to illegally repel the shipwrecked migrants to Libyan prison camps, there is a deliberate plan to obtain money from the EU and have Libya declared a "safe port"."

See also: Malta, the ghost fleet against migrants. Frontex blames the countries (Alarm Phone, link):

"A ghost fleet of Libyan ships manoeuvred by Malta to push migrants back. This time, the confirmation comes straight from Valletta, which, after facing NGOs’ complaints and the Avvenire’s enquiries taken up by the Maltese press, and after the open investigation against PM Robert Abela for the death of 12 migrants, has replied speaking of “cooperation with Libyan fishermen to make sea rescue more widespread”. This cooperation has been active for months and had never been revealed before."

EU financial complicity in Libyan migrant abuses (GLAN, link):

"The EU is financially supporting Libyan and Italian authorities, who are responsible for grave violations of migrant rights, with some 90 million euros. In a complaint submitted to the European Court of Auditors, GLAN and our partners at ASGI and ARCI demonstrate that this support enables Libyan authorities to intercept and return migrant boats to Libyan territory, contrary to fundamental rules of refugee law; and that it is often funnelled into one of the world’s most notorious detention systems where migrants are held in deplorable conditions and subjected to extreme violence and in some cases, sold into slavery."

See: Joint statement (pdf) and: Complaint to the European Court of Auditors Concerning the Mismanagement of EU Funds by the EUTrust Fund for Africa’s ‘Support to Integrated Border and Migration Management in Libya’ (IBM) Programme (pdf)

Historic UK-Greece migration action plan signed: The UK and Greece have committed to deepen cooperation on irregular migration in the Eastern Mediterranean (Home Office press release, link):

"The joint action plan has been signed by Immigration Minister, Chris Philp, and Greece’s Alternate Migration and Asylum Minister, Giorgos Koumoutsakos, today signalling a firm commitment from both governments to increase cooperation as illegal migration into Europe via Greece remains high.

...Greece is one of the first countries migrants will visit on their route through Europe, and is used by a significant proportion of migrants seeking to reach the UK illegally.

...It will ensure asylum and returns processes are as efficient as possible, enhance the already excellent cooperation between UK and Hellenic law enforcement authorities to dismantle migrant smuggling networks and tackle organised immigration crime, and renew cooperation on search and rescue in the Aegean through the UK’s renewed deployment of a Border Force cutter.

The new plan will come into force immediately."

  GREECE-BULGARIA: Weaponizing a River (e-flux, link) by Ifor Duncan and Stefanos Levidis:

"On the 10th of March, news reports emerged suggesting that Bulgaria had released water downstream from the Ivaylovgrad Dam on the Ardas, a tributary of the Evros (also Meriç, and Maritsa), and flooded the river border at the request of the Greek government. This intentional flooding of the border was subsequently denounced as fake news by the Bulgarian authorities and remains unverified. Yet due to the increasing severity of spring floods, including as recently as 2018, the release of water from Bulgarian dams has been a subject of friction between Greece, Turkey, and their upstream riparian neighbor. On the 27th of February, Turkey decided to effectively suspend the 2016 EU-Turkey deal and in doing so directed thousands of asylum seekers to the border with Greece. In the context of Greece’s military response, the recent reports have revealed a hidden violence designed into the environment of the Evros river. In the weeks since, there have been two confirmed casualties from the use of either live or rubber rounds—Muhammad al Arab and Muhammad Gulzar. The alleged opening of the dam and these shootings are not distinct but are in continuity with the long-term, albeit previously low intensity, weaponization of the river. These exceptional events prove the more insidious use of the Evros as an ecological border infrastructure extending to its entire floodplain."

EU: Seven member states call for mandatory relocation in revamped asylum system

Seven EU member states are in favour of a mandatory relocation procedure as part of a revamped 'Common European Asylum System', according to two recent documents obtained by Statewatch - the first, a letter to the European Commission from the Italian, Spanish, French and German governments and the second, a 'non-paper' drafted by Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Spain and Malta.

EU commission keeps asylum report on Greece secret (EUobserver, link):

"The European Commission is refusing to release a preliminary legal assessment into Greece's decision to temporarily shelve asylum applications.

Greece froze applications for a month in early March, following Turkey's failed bid to use migrants as political leverage after sending thousands to its side of its shared border with Greece.

...The commission insisted it first needed to study the measure - a position it continues to maintain almost three weeks after Greece lifted the suspension on 1 April and in light of the current pandemic."

Germany extends internal border controls due to coronavirus and "reasons of migration and security policy": Letter from Horst Seehofer to EU (pdf):

"I find myself obliged to extend the temporary border control at internal land and air borders with Austria, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, Denmark, Italy and Spain, as well as the sea border with Denmark, effective from 15 April 2020 for an additional period of 20 days...

Apart from this, for reasons of migration and security policy, it would be too early to end the temporary internal border checks along the German-Austrian land border already on 11 May 2020. The decline in the number of illegal entries at the German- Austrian land border must not obscure the highly fragile situation at the Turkish- Greek border and the ongoing considerable potential for illegal migration along the Balkan route. On the basis of Articles 25 to 27 of the Schengen Borders Code, I have therefore ordered the temporary reintroduction of internal border control at the German-Austrian land border for a six-month period beginning 12 May 2020."

See: Temporary Reintroduction of Border Control (EC, link)

Refugee crisis: latest news from across Europe (24.3.20-20.4.20) including:

Webinar, 21 April 2020: Under surveillance: Monitoring at the border (Greens/EFA, link):

"Who is controlling the border control?

On the 21st of April from 16:00-17:45, Tineke Strik and Apostolis Fotiadis will host an online panel discussion on the human rights monitoring of the EU external border controls. During this webinar, Apostolis Fotiadis will present the findings of his research titled: "Persistent and novel challenges for FRONTEX's monitoring system".

The discussions will focus on both the role of FRONTEX and human rights monitoring bodies. To what extent is the current system functional and does it effectively monitor human rights violations? And what could the future of an effective EU border monitoring system look like, would an independent body be a solution to overcome current problems?"

Med: 12 Left to Die and 182 Stranded as EU States Refuse Rescue (ECRE, link):

"Twelve people have died after a series of acts of non-assistance by EU and national authorities. Over 50 people have been pushed back to Libya and 182 remain stranded on civilian rescue vessels. The Council of Europe stresses that states should ensure rescue at sea and allow safe disembarkation during the COVID-19 crisis.

According to the Libya Office of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) 51 people have been returned to Libyan detention centres and up to twelve have died after being left in distress at sea for several days without assistance. EU and Member States authorities reportedly failed to initiate a rescue despite being repeatedly alerted by the NGO Alarm Phone. According to the NGO, the distress case has been known to the European authorities for six days, upon aerial sighting by a Frontex asset on April 10. The boat was finally picked up by a merchant vessel in the Maltese Search & Rescue (SAR) Zone and returned to Libya by a fishing vessel. The survivors were handed over to Libyan authorities and put into Tarik Al Sikka detention centre in Tripoli, known for its inhuman conditions. Maltese authorities reportedly coordinated the push-back."

European Commission: COVID-19: Guidance on the implementation of relevant EU provisions in the area of asylum and return procedures and on resettlement (COM 2516, 2020, pdf);

"The pandemic has direct consequences on the way EU asylum and return rules are being implemented by Member States and a disruptive effect on resettlement. The Commission fully acknowledges the difficulties that in the current context Member States face when implementing relevant EU rules in this regard. Any measure taken in the area of asylum, resettlement and return should also take full account of the health protection measures introduced by the Member States on their territories to prevent and contain the spread of COVID-19."

Greece to move migrants out of congested island camps (euractiv, link):

"Greece will this month begin moving hundreds of elderly and ailing asylum seekers out of congested island camps to protect them from the coronavirus, the migration ministry said on Thursday (16 April).

The ministry said 2,380 “vulnerable persons” will be moved out of camps on Aegean islands to apartments, hotels and other camps on the mainland.

Authorities said the operation will begin on 19 April and take about two weeks. Details will be announced at a later date."

The situation in the Greek islands four years after the EU-Turkey statement (Border Criminologies, link):

"In March 2016, EU leaders and Turkey issued a joint statement declaring that migrants travelling from Turkey to any Greek island would be returned back to Turkey. Following this, Greek authorities imposed a restriction of stay on all new arrivals, under which no-one could leave the islands, thus leaving thousands stranded. The number of asylum seekers soon exceeded the capacity of the Reception and Identification Centers (also known as hot-spots).

With no space in these centers, the living conditions inside them quickly deteriorated. Additionally, countless asylum seekers had to live in deplorable conditions outside. Thus, thousands of asylum seekers—who were already in a precarious status to begin with—were forced to live in conditions violating their dignity in formal and makeshift camps at the edge or near the islands’ capitals."

Greece: Free Unaccompanied Migrant Children: New Campaign to Shelter Children, End Detention Amid COVID-19 (HRW, link):

" Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis should free hundreds of unaccompanied migrant children detained in unhygienic police cells and detention centers in Greece, Human Rights Watch said today in opening a campaign to free the children. Their release from abusive detention conditions would better protect them from infection amid the coronavirus pandemic."

Greeks fear Erdogan readies another migration wave by sea (euractiv, link):

"Turkey is gathering a high number of migrants at its western coasts and urging them to sail across the sea border to neighbouring Greece, several Greek media reported over the weekend.

They quoted high-ranking government officials in Athens as saying these migrants, who completed their 14-day quarantine due to coronavirus, have been transferred in buses from migration camps to seaside towns just opposite the Greek island of Lesvos, which is already packed with migrants and refugees."

Rescue group, EU officials dispute fate of 85 sea migrants (euractiv, link):

"Europe’s coast guards and rescue agencies were at loggerheads Monday (13 April) about the fate of four dinghies and up to 85 migrants potentially lost at sea after setting off from Libya.Germany’s Sea-Watch International reported that the little rubber boats had been carrying 258 people."

See also: UNHCR alarm over dozens of missing migrants in Mediterranean (euractiv, link)

'We are dying' migrants adrift in Maltese waters - Archbishop calls for rescue (Times of Malta, link):

"A migrant boat adrift in Malta’s search and rescue zone is taking in water with those on board in dire need of help, according to an NGO.

Alarm Phone on Sunday tweeted that a boat of 47 migrants in distress had run out of fuel and been drifting in Malta’s SAR zone for more than two days.

“The people in distress told us: 'We are so tired, the situation is like hell. The boat lost so much air, water is coming inside. We are dying. No water, no food. Some people lost consciousness. Come save us please. We are close to death.’,”the NGO tweeted. "

Italy to move 'Alan Kurdi' migrants to another ship (DW, link)

"Italy will transfer migrants from crowded rescue ship "Alan Kurdi" to another vessel where they would be kept in quarantine over coronavirus concerns, officials said. The privately owned ship has been stranded for days."

Council of the European Union: Labour migration as a basis for partnerships with third countries ? Presidency discussion paper (iImite,doc no: 5672.- 20, pdf):

"Migration is a human and global phenomenon that will continue to be one of the central topics on the political agenda in the EU since the geopolitical circumstances in its closer and wider neighbourhood are becoming ever more complex"

Migration minister confirms migrants gathering along Turkish coast (ekathimerini.com, link):

"Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis said on Monday that, although migrants have started gathering along the Turkish coastline opposite the islands of the eastern Aegean, there are no indications that they are infected with coronavirus, as some media reports had suggested over the weekend."

Is the ‘war on Covid-19’ morphing into a war on the poor? (IRR News, link):

"The pandemic is revealing the ways in which global health outcomes are shaped by race, class and indigeneity.(...)

History teaches us that inhumane police practices are quick to establish but hard to dismantle with long-term consequences for policing by consent within a democratic order."

Refugees left behind in coronavirus crisis, aid groups warn (euractiv, link):

"With restrictive measures imposed across Europe, authorities are struggling to provide food and shelter for migrants and asylum seekers sleeping outdoors, aid organisations have warned.

In France, hundreds of refugees living outdoors without proper sanitation or shelter now face food shortages as well, according to charity ‘Refugee Info Bus’.

Grassroots aid groups that have served daily hot meals to migrants and refugees in Northern France have been forced to suspend their activities due to COVID-19."

'Coronavirus doesn't respect barbed wire': concern mounts for Greek camps - Calls grow for EU countries to accept refugees as outbreaks fuel fears that virus could rampage through overcrowded facilities (Guardian, ,link):

"In Aegean islands on the frontline of the crisis, health carers speak of days gained, not won.

But an outbreak of the disease in two facilities near Athens has intensified concerns over the estimated 36,000 men, women and children stranded on remote isles opposite the Turkish coast.

Installations on Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Leros and Kos – at six times over capacity, sprawling, wretched and congested – where social distancing, and other precautionary measures are an impossible privilege, offer fertile ground for Covid-19."

Second Greek migrant camp under coronavirus lockdown - Camp in Malakasa under 'full sanitary isolation' for 14 days after a 53-year-old asylum seeker tests positive (Al Jazeera, link):

"Officials in Greece have placed a second migrant camp near Athens under lockdown after an Afghan resident tested positive for the coronavirus, the migration ministry said.

Officials said the camp in Malakasa, some 38 kilometres (24 miles) northeast of Athens, was placed under "full sanitary isolation" for 14 days, with no one allowed to enter or leave."

And see: Greece quarantines camp after migrants test coronavirus positive (Reuters, link)

Greece/Turkey: Asylum-seekers and migrants killed and abused at borders (Amnesty, link):

"In the midst of violence at the Greek-Turkish border, at least two men were killed and a woman remains missing after Greek border forces reportedly fired live ammunition and tear gas against asylum-seekers and migrants. This occurred after Turkish authorities recklessly encouraged them to travel to Greece under false pretences, new research by Amnesty International has revealed.

From 27 February onwards, thousands of people headed to the Greek border after Turkish authorities encouraged and facilitated their movement there. Some asylum seekers and their families living in Turkey even gave up their accommodation and spent all their money to make the journey. However, Greek authorities repressed the movement of people attempting to cross by bolstering border control, sending in police and army forces who used tear gas, water cannons, plastic bullets and live ammunition."

SAMOS, GREECE: My open letter to the new manager of the Samos Hotspot (Samos Voice, link): by Professor Chris Jones.

From the « war against the virus » to the war against exiles : security responses to Covid-19 exacerbate violence at borders (migreurop, link)

"The Greek hotspots in which exiles are crammed without any protection of their rights or from the pandemic are an example of the precarization of their trajectories by the security policies of States. Migreurop denounces the violence inflicted onto exiles in the name of the “war against the virus”, their unequal treatment with regard to the pandemic, and demands the immediate closure of all spaces of migrant detention in order to ensure their right to be protected."


March 2020

Coronavirus: Urgent appeal for evacuation of Greek refugee camps (DW, link):

"Europe's biggest asylum seeker camp of Moria, on the Greek island of Lesbos, was designed for 3,000 refugees but houses 20,000. Given the coronavirus, evacuating it is paramount, says migration expert Gerald Knaus."

AEGEAN Boat Report (link): 33 - 30 March, 2020.

‘Are we in Greece?’: Migrants seize their chance in Europe quest (EUractiv, limk):

"Some attempt to cut through a barbed wire fence while others hunt for wood and rocks to throw at police. The thousands of migrants at the Kastanies border town between Turkey and Greece are desperate to reach Europe and furious with Greeks who “won’t open the gates”.

Hundreds of Greek soldiers and armed police have fired tear gas in an attempt to hold back what they fear could become a flood of people trying to cross the border."

Portugal to treat migrants as residents during coronavirus crisis (Reuters, link):

"All foreigners in Portugal with pending applications will be treated as permanent residents from Monday until at least July 1, authorities said on Saturday, to ensure migrants have access to public services during the coronavirus outbreak.

Applicants including asylum seekers need only provide evidence of an ongoing request to qualify - granting them access to the national health service, welfare benefits, bank accounts, and work and rental contracts."

Greece: Nearly 2,000 New Arrivals Detained in Overcrowded, Mainland Camps - Citing COVID-19, Authorities Arbitrarily Detain New Arrivals (HRW, link):

"Greek authorities are arbitrarily detaining nearly 2,000 migrants and asylum seekers in unacceptable conditions, and denying them the right to lodge asylum claims, in two recently established detention sites on mainland Greece, Human Rights Watch said today. Authorities claim they are holding the new arrivals, including children, persons with disabilities, older people, and pregnant women, in quarantine due to COVID-19, but the absence of even basic health precautions is likely to help the virus spread."

  Return to borderless Europe after COVID-19 will be difficult but not impossible. (EUractiv, link):

"If we do not start creating conditions for the return to a border-free Schengen zone now, the temporary measures introduced to control the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic risk becoming permanent, writes Alena Kudzko."

EU/Greece/Turkey: Crisis not averted: security policies cannot solve a humanitarian problem, now or in the long-term (pdf)

At the end of February, the Turkish government announced it would allow refugees to travel onwards to Greece and Bulgaria, in the hope of extracting from the EU further financial support as well as backing for its military operations in Syria. It has now taken up its role as Europe's border guard again, but the manufactured crisis induced by the Turkish decision and the EU response highlight the long-term failings of the EU's asylum and migration model.

Books for refugees in Greece: Help ECHO buy a new library van! (Chuffed, link):

"There are currently 115,000 refugees in Greece. Many are trapped in an asylum system that puts lives into a state of paralyzing insecurity and deep boredom. Isolated by a government that describes them as ‘dirt’, ‘dust’, and ‘parasites’, most are forced to live in peripheral camps far from the towns and city centres.

In five of the locations our library visits, it is the only source of education for adults. Meanwhile, less than 50% of school age children in these locations are in school. In these deplorable and ostracising conditions, both hope and relief can be hard to come by.

The ECHO mobile library travels 250km to 11 locations in and around Athens each week. We have; books in 13 languages, learning resources, lessons, whiteboards, rugs, tea and structured children’s activities.

Our faithful old library van is on the edge of collapse. It is twenty years old and has seen more than 200,000km on the road. Breakdowns have cost us three days of library sessions in two months - and we’ve been told that the next will probably be its last... With your help we can get our library back on the road. All donations, no matter how small, help us get closer. "

See: Good deeds: the mobile library reaching refugees' hearts and minds (The Guardian, link)

EU: MEPs, migration policy experts call for urgent action to uphold refugee rights

Over 100 MEPs from four political groups in the European Parliament have called on the European Commission to take action so that "fundamental rights and the right to asylum" are upheld in Greece. Their calls have been echoed by dozens of migration policy experts working on EU-funded projects.

Migration: tales of brutality along Europe’s borders (Financial Times, link):

"Violence, increasingly routine at the doorstep of the EU, is hardening into what asylum-seekers and rights groups see as brutal, if unofficial, policy.

Interviews with 25 migrants and several aid organisations suggest beatings and “pushbacks” — the forcing of asylum seekers out of a country before their applications can be reviewed — are now systemic, despite violating EU law. The normalisation of violence grows as migrants seek new routes. Initial criticism focused on Hungary, before allegations rose in Bulgaria and Greece. In recent months, as more migrants try Balkan routes passing through Croatia and Romania, accusations of violence along these borders have soared."

MALTA: Free the #ElHiblu3 (Alarm Phone, link):

"One year ago, a rubber boat with over 100 people on board left the coast of Libya to reach safety in Europe. Although they were found and rescued by the merchant vessel El Hiblu 1, its crew was ordered by European authorities to return the rescued to Libya. Through a collective protest on board, the 108 rescued people averted a push-back and prompted the crew to steer toward Malta. During the protest, nobody was injured and nothing was damaged. In public, they were described as ‘pirates’ and ‘terrorists’ but when the Maltese military stormed the vessel, they only met humans who were looking for protection.

...Our international solidarity campaign – Free the El Hiblu Three! – launches today. Passengers of the El Hiblu 1, sea-rescue organisations, international lawyers, researchers, activists, human rights organisations in Malta and beyond have come together to call for the immediate dismissal of the trial. Instead of being prosecuted, the El Hiblu Three should be celebrated for preventing an illegal push-back to Libya."

See: Free El Hiblu 3 (link) and: The Rescue: A flimsy raft, more than 100 souls, and three teenage heroes—or are they pirates? (The Atavist, link)

MEDITERRANEAN: Privatized Pushbacks: How Merchant Ships Guard Europe (New York Times, link):

"The Panther, a German-owned merchant ship, is not in the business of sea rescues. But one day a few months ago the Libyan Coast Guard ordered it to divert course, rescue 68 migrants in distress in the Mediterranean and return them to Libya, which is embroiled in civil war.

The request, which the Panther was required to honor, was at least the third time that day, Jan. 11, that the Libyans had called on a merchant ship to assist migrants.

The Libyans could easily have alerted a nearby rescue ship run by a Spanish charity. The reason they did not goes to the core of how the European authorities have found a new way to thwart desperate African migrants trying to reach their shores from across the Mediterranean.

And some maritime lawyers think the new tactic is unlawful.

...“We call them privatized pushbacks,” said Charles Heller, the director of Forensic Oceanography, a research group that investigates migrant rights abuses in the Mediterranean. “They occur when merchant ships are used to rescue and bring back migrants to a country in which their lives are at risk — such as Libya.”"

See: PRIVATISED PUSH-BACK OF THE NIVIN (Forensic Architecture, link)

EU asks Greece to move migrants most at risk from coronavirus out of crowded camps (ekathimerini, link):

"The European Union has asked Greece to move migrants most at risk of contracting the coronavirus from overcrowded camps on its islands, the EU's top migration official told Reuters on Tuesday.

Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said Athens had opposed moving the migrants to the Greek mainland, citing the absence of coronavirus cases in the camps while the disease is spreading elsewhere in Greece."

And see: Greece: Move Asylum Seekers, Migrants to Safety: Immediate Hotspot Decongestion Needed to Address COVID-19 (Human Rights Watch, link) and: COVID-19 PAVES WAY FOR MASS DETENTION OF MIGRANTS (Lesvos Legal Centre, link)

Senior MEP calls for EU action to stop coronavirus spreading to Greek migrant camps (Politico, link):

"There is no chance of isolation or social distancing,’ in overcrowded camps, says head of civil liberties committee.

The EU must come up with an “immediate" response to the problem of coronavirus spreading in Greece's overcrowded migrant camps, where social distancing is almost impossible, according to the head of the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee."


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


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