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MEP asks the Commission to clarify the legal position of NGOs and volunteers who give humanitarian assistance to refugees

Jean Lambert MEP (Green/EFA Group) has put down a written question to the European Commission concerning: Legal clarity for NGOs and volunteers providing humanitarian assistance (pdf):

"Particularly over the past year, NGOs and volunteers have been providing crucial assistance to asylum seekers and refugees to fill a void in a coordinated humanitarian response from Member State Governments and the EU.... The Greek Government has responded by setting up a committee to register, classify and co-ordinate the NGOs operating on Lesvos.

Could the Commission clarify the intentions behind its push for the increased coordination of NGOs and volunteers working on the ground as concerns have been raised about the appropriateness of the information required?

Given that current EU law does not provide legal certainly for NGOs and volunteers providing humanitarian assistance to those seeking protection in the EU, will the Commission clarify the legal situation in its upcoming review of Directive 2002/90/EC defining the facilitation of unauthorised entry, transit and residence?"

See also: Council proposals on migrant smuggling would criminalise humanitarian assistance by civil society, local people and volunteers - Greece: NGOs and volunteers have to "register" with the police and be vetted and: NGOs and volunteers helping refugees in Greece to be placed under state control

Excellent article: The NATO pushbacks in the Aegean and international law (link) by Thomas Spijkerboer, Professor of Migration Law:

"On 23 February, NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg stated in the European parliament: “When we rescue those people, what we agreed with Turkey at a ministerial level, we agreed that if those people came from Turkey then we can return them to Turkey.” Stoltenberg repeated this on 24 February. Is this compatible with international law?....

The most directly applicable case is the 2012 Hirsi Jamaa judgment, in which the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights passed judgment on the Italian pushbacks, which consisted of transferring migrants from vessels onto Italian navy vessels and returning to Libya without any procedure. The Court held that a state exercises de jure jurisdiction over vessels flying its flag, and therefore the migrants were under Italian jurisdiction. It added that Italy could not evade the exercise of jurisdiction by arguing that its activities constitute a search and rescue action – just like NATO is doing at present....

The conclusion has to be that the NATO actions are in violation of international law; and that the relevant parts of international law are binding on NATO states because they exercise jurisdiction over migrants. Returning migrants to Turkey as envisioned violates the prohibition of refoulement, also when it happens in the form of search and rescue." [emphasis added]

A summary of the state of affairs: European nations slap new restrictions on migrants (AFP, link): "Brussels (AFP) - European nations have adopted a raft of restrictive measures since the beginning of the year as they seek to stem an influx of asylum seekers."

Greece: 2 refugees hang themselves in central Athens to draw attention to their situation (, link): "Two refugee men hanged themselves from a tree in central Victoria Square in Athens, an informal staging point for refugees arriving from the Aegean Sea islands, where about 300 people were gathered Thursday. Police said the men, who were rushed to hospital, one unconscious, had tried to draw attention to their predicament."

Mediterranean Migrant, Refugee Arrivals in Europe Top 120,000 (IOM, link): 120.065 arrvials in 2016: 111.099 to Greece, 8,966 to Italy. 418 dead/missing.

Greece-Austria deadlock:

Greek migration minister: Austria will soon recognise its ‘enormous’ mistake (euractiv, link)

"Austria will soon come to realise that its behaviour during the refugee crisis has been an enormous mistake, Greek Minister of Immigration Policy Ioannis Mouzalas said in an exclusive interview with EurActiv Greece.... Our conclusion was that we need to implement what was decided during the last summit and that five police officers cannot abolish a decision taken by prime ministers."

Greece-Austria spat adds to pressure as EU seeks refugee response (, link): "“In the next 10 days, we need tangible and clear results on the ground. Otherwise there is a danger, there is a risk that the whole system will completely break down,” the EU’s migration commissioner said. His warning came as talks between the bloc’s justice and home affairs ministers in Brussels aimed at putting together a unified response to the crisis descended into acrimony as Austria refused to take back its unilateral measures.

These measures, which effectively trap a growing number of migrants and refugees on Greek territory, prompted Athens to recall its ambassador from Austria, Chryssoula Aliferi."

Netherlands: The expanding list of safe countries of origin (AIDA, link)

"Ghana, India, Mongolia, Jamaica, Senegal and Morocco have been designated as "safe countries of origin" by the Dutch Minister for Immigration, according to a letter addressed to the Parliament on 12 February 2016. The letter clarifies that Morocco and Senegal are designated as safe for all persons except LGBTI individuals, while the same assessment concluded that Egypt cannot be included in the list.

News (26.2.16)

Greece: Reports on the islands by the Greek Council for Refugees (AIDA, link): "The Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) has published two reports of recent field missions to the islands of Lesvos, Rhodes and Kastelorizo."

Ten days to save EU migration system, Commission warns (euractiv, link): The EU has ten days to curb the number of migrants coming to Europe or else the bloc’s migration system could “completely break down”, Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said on Thursday (25 February)...7 March is the date of an EU-Turkey summit that will assess the progress of a €3 billion deal signed with Ankara in November ..." [7 March is also the day that the NATO operation starts]

Greece temporarily suspends ferries transporting migrants from the islands (,link) "Greece has temporarily suspended all ferries transporting migrants and refugees from the islands to ease congestion on the mainland, Merchant Marine Minister Theodoros Dritsas has said. “We do not want to create an unmanageable situation on the islands. This is a totally temporary measure,” Dritsas told Mega TV on Friday."

EU ministers call for coordinated approach to refugee crisis as 'anarchy' looms (DW, link): "European ministers have met in Brussels to discuss solutions to the ongoing migrant crisis. Some officials have warned that the EU could be on the verge of crumbling if it doesn't get a handle on the refugee crisis."

With No Unified Refugee Strategy, Europeans Fall Back on Old Alliances (NYT, link): "The problem is that the leaders are not always adhering to European rules, possibly not sticking to international law and not acting with the unity envisioned by Mr. Tusk. In some cases, they instead seem to be reverting to historical alliances rather than maintaining the European Union’s mantra of solidarity."

Germany: More than 130,000 asylum seekers disappeared in 2015 (The, link): "More than 130,000 asylum seekers went missing after initially being registered in Germany, new government figures reveal.... Officials admitted in response that 13 percent of people who were registered as asylum seekers in 2015 didn’t arrive at the shelter they were assigned to."

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