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Refugee crisis: latest news from across Europe
10-16.3.20

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

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EU: Little new on migration in Commission's plan for a "comprehensive strategy with Africa"

Last week the European Commission published a communication setting out a plan for a "comprehensive strategy with Africa", which includes "migration and mobility" amongst its five key themes. The document is intended to frame talks between the EU and the AU as they move towards a summit in October this year.

Xenophobia and racism are killing people on the Greek-Turkish border! The European Union is also! (Gisti, link):

"Over the past few days, people have been killed on the Greek-Turkish border! This is a direct consequence of political decisions by European leaders who would like to seal off European Union borders at all costs, notably by subcontracting the examination of asylum applications to non-European States and the encampment of undesirables. Everyday brings new unbearable images showing asylum seekers being pushed out or deliberately put in danger.

(...)

A recently established coalition of organisations against border violence has announced that complaints will be lodged against Greece and the EU for violating the rights of people fleeing Turkey. States and the EU decision-makers behind them must not be allowed to commit such abuses with impunity.

We support this initiative and call for protest rallies wherever possible. A demonstration is planned at Place de la République in Paris on 18 March at 6:30 p.m. Videos denouncing the border violence are to be shown. "

The European Parliament must intervene to stop violence, the use of force and human rights violations at the EU-Turkey border (change.org, link):

"We call on the European Parliament and the political groups representing the EU citizens to stop violence and the use of force against defenseless people at the EU-Turkey border and to restore legality and respect for human rights, firstly the right of asylum.

What is happening is the result of wrong choices made with the aim of externalizing borders and preventing people fleeing from wars and persecutions from arriving in Europe to seek protection.
"

Report ‘Follow the Money III’ - Solidarity: The use of AMIF funds to Incentivise Resettlement and Relocation in the EU (ECRE, link):

"The third ‘Follow the Money’ report maps and assesses the use of financial incentives (lump sums) allocated under the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) to EU Member States (MS) participating in refugee resettlement and intra-EU relocation. The four case studies, France, Italy Portugal and Slovenia provide a range of national contexts and practices within the role and impact of EU funding is explored. The research draws on the first two ‘Follow the Money’ studies published by ECRE and UNHCR in 2017 and 2018 tracking the use of AMIF for asylum, integration and return.

Member States resettled 76,205 persons during 2014-18, via both EU schemes and national programmes with uneven participation among MS. The study finds that the funding under the lump sum modality, €6,000 per resettled person, increasing to €10,000 when the resettled person falls into one of the categories included under common Union resettlement priorities, is an effective mechanism to provide EU funding. The reduction or removal would most likely lead to reductions in resettlement numbers and/or programmes that offer less support to resettled persons."

ECRE on the situation for refugees in Greece: Weekly Editorial: About Time Too (link):

"At the EU-Turkey border the situation remains alarming, and ECRE continued to speak out against the actions of the Greek government and the apparent support from the EU’s political leadership, and to promote the alternative response set out in our statement and urged by Greek NGOs. It is a relief though to see some signs of a change in approach.

On Thursday, Commissioner Johansson gave an interview to the Guardian which contained a warning to Greece on the need to respect the right to asylum; this was – hopefully – followed by a presentation of these warnings in person during her visit to the country.

Separately, the Commission announced a plan to relocate to other Member States 1600 children from the Greek islands, a very welcome initiative, and one that ECRE and others have supported for years... All these developments are though just the first steps towards a positive and rights-based approach from Europe; following through on it will require the following."

See also: EU to take in some child migrants stuck in Greece (BBC News, link): "Five EU countries [Finland, France, Germany, Luxembourg and Portugal] have agreed to take in some migrant children who are stuck in Greece, amid continuing tension on the Greek-Turkish border."

Turkey Steps Back From Confrontation at Greek Border (New York Times, link):

"BRUSSELS — Turkey has signaled that it is winding down its two-week operation to aid the movement of tens of thousands of people toward Europe, following a tough on-the-ground response from Greek border guards and a tepid diplomatic reaction from European politicians.

Migrants at the Greek-Turkish land border began to be transported back to Istanbul by bus this week, witnesses at the border said, de-escalating a standoff that initially set off fears of another European migration crisis. Greek officials said the number of attempted border crossings had dwindled from thousands a day to a few hundred, and none were successful on Friday, even as sporadic exchanges of tear-gas with Turkish security forces continued.

Also Friday, Turkish officials announced that three human smugglers had each been sentenced to 125 years in prison for their roles in the death of a Syrian toddler, Alan Kurdi, whose drowning came to epitomize an earlier migration crisis, in 2015.

That announcement and the week’s other developments were interpreted by experts and European politicians as signals to Europe that the Turkish authorities were once again willing to police their borders and quell a second wave of migration."

Migrants on Greek islands to be offered €2,000 to go home (The Guardian, link):

"Migrants on the Greek islands are to be offered €2,000 (£1,764) per person to go home under a voluntary scheme launched by the European Union in an attempt to ease desperate conditions in camps.

The amount is more than five times the usual sum offered to migrants to help them rebuild their lives in their country of origin, under voluntary returns programmes run by the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The offer will last one month, as the commission fears an open-ended scheme would attract more migrants to Europe. It will not apply to refugees who have no homes to return to, but is intended to incentivise migrants seeking better living standards to leave the islands."

Returned to War and Torture: Malta and Frontex coordinate push-back to Libya (Alarm Phone, link):

"On Saturday, 14 March 2020, RCC Malta coordinated a push-back operation from the Maltese Search and Rescue (SAR) zone to Libya in cooperation with the EU border agency Frontex and the so-called Libyan coastguards. Similar to the events we documented on 18 October 2019, the Maltese authorities instructed the so-called Libyan coastguards to enter a European SAR zone in order to abduct about 49 people and force them back to Libya. Instead of complying with refugee and human rights conventions, the Maltese authorities coordinated a grave violation of international law and of the principle of non-refoulment, as the rescued must be disembarked in a safe harbour. Clearly, Libya is not a safe harbour but a place of war and systemic human rights abuses. Every week, the Alarm Phone receives testimonies of torture, rape and other forms of violence against migrants detained in Libyan camps and prisons."

New EU migration pact must dust off fundamental rights (EUobserver, link):

"The EU's new Pact on Migration and Asylum is an opportunity to take a different approach. To take a breath, to remember the values that the European project was founded upon, and to dust off the good old fundamental rights and put them to use.

Not merely for the benefit of the European citizens, but also for those fleeing conflict and violence and seeking protection in Europe.

While the scale of global displacement is high and the challenges related to irregular migration are real in Europe and beyond, the situation remains manageable.

It requires the political leadership to insist on facts, instead of contributing to instilling unnecessary fear and insecurity in the European public by supporting unhelpful narratives of unmanageable movements and unprecedented crisis."

Frontex launches new operations in Greece (link): by Matthias Monroy:

"In two RABIT missions, the EU Border Agency is sending 100 additional officials to the Greek-Turkish land and sea border. Frontex currently have around 600 operational forces stationed in Greece.

Fontex has started two new missions in Greece. Following a decision by Director Fabrice Leggeri, the EU Border Agency is sending border guards with technical assets to the Aegean Sea. A further mission has been launched today to reinforce police and military units for border surveillance on the land border with Turkey. This follows a request by the government in Athens."

Revealed: the great European refugee scandal (Guardian, link):

"Evidence obtained by the Guardian exposes a coordinated and unlawful EU assault on the rights of desperate people trying to cross the Mediterranean by Daniel Howden, Apostolis Fotiadis and Zach Campbell. (...)

As night fell on 26 March 2019, two small boats made their way north across the Mediterranean. The rubber crafts were flimsy; it would be nearly impossible for those onboard to make it to Europe without help. From the north, a twin-propeller aeroplane from the European Union naval force approached. From the south, the coastguard from the country they had just fled, Libya, was coming. (...)

Seagull 75 circled overhead. The flight crew was part of Operation Sophia, an EU naval mission that has patrolled the south-central Mediterranean since 2015. After participating in thousands of rescues in its first four years, Sophia withdrew its sea vessels from March 2019, leaving only aircraft in the rescue zone. It came to be known as the naval mission without any ships.(...)"

Coronavirus: How are Middle East refugee camps prepared? (DW, link):

"With the Syrian health care system "on its knees," according to the World Health Organization, refugee camps across the region are also facing the potential threat of COVID-19. So far, no cases have been found."

Erdogan says border will stay open until EU meets his demands (New Europe, link):

"Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said Wednesday he would keep the border open for migrants until the European Union had met all his demands.

“Until all Turkey’s expectations, including free movement, updating of the customs union and financial assistance, are tangibly met, we will continue the practice on our borders”, he said."

Greece denies report of secret ‘black site’ for migrants near Turkish border (Euractiv, link):

"The Greek government dismissed on Wednesday (11 March) a report in The New York Times that it was holding illegal migrants who cross the border from Turkey at a secret “black site” where they are denied access to lawyers and cannot file asylum claims".

EU: Justice & Home Affairs Council 14 March 2020 : Background Note (pdf)

"In the morning, home affairs ministers will exchange views on the strategic guidelines for justice and home affairs, with a view to their endorsement ahead of the March European Council meeting.Theywill then come back to the situation at the EU's external borderswith Turkey. The Council will further develop the EU's response to needs expressed by Greece.

Over lunch, ministers responsible for civil protection issues will discuss the coronavirus outbreak.

Representatives of the Schengen associated countriesIceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland will also be present for the point on the situation at the EU's external borders"

See: Greece warned by EU it must uphold the right to asylum (Guardian, link)

EU: Border externalisation: Agreements on Frontex operations in Serbia and Montenegro heading for parliamentary approval

On 29 January the civil liberties committee of the European Parliament (LIBE) approved the conclusion of status agreements on the actions on the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) on the territory of two neighbouring non-EU states - Serbia and Montenegro.

Frontex border operation in Greece 'lacks legal basis' after Greece suspends asylum law (euronews, link):

"Experts have questioned the legality of EU border agency Frontex sending officers to the Greek-Turkish border.

Thousands have massed on the frontier after Ankara said it could no longer stop refugees in Turkey from heading to Europe.

Frontex, which manages the European Union's external borders, is deploying reinforcements to Evros from 11 March.

But experts have told Euronews this move "lacks proper legal basis".

This is because Greece - already with a huge backlog - suspended the reception of asylum applications for a month on 1 March."

Are You Syrious? Daily Digest 06/03/20 — MEP Joins Far-Right Vigilantes in Greece (Medium, link):

"Feature: Golden Dawn MEP Among Fascist Vigilantes Attacking People in Greece

Ioannis Lagos, a longtime member of the far-right Golden Dawn party, was spotted at the Greek-Turkish border in Evros. He was photographed with members of local so-called “protection” groups and at least two police officers.

A far-right website published his activities, saying he was “actively participating in patrols organized by locals, to locate & turn over to the authorities the illegal immigrants-jihadists, that are crossing the borders by the thousands.” Clearly, he is an active participant in the violence being perpetrated against vulnerable people at the border and is making no effort to hide his presence.

This is not the first violent action that Lagos has participated in."

Greek-Turkish border: MEPs reject Turkey’s pressure, demand common asylum rules (EP, link):

"The EU must help Greece manage its border with Turkey, while ensuring the right to asylum for those who need it, several MEPs said on Tuesday.

In a debate with Commissioner Johansson and the Croatian Presidency of the Council, a majority of speakers criticised Turkish President Erdogan for using people’s suffering for political purposes. Many also underlined that the 2015 refugee crisis should not be repeated and insisted that the EU needs to update its common rules on asylum.

Some political group leaders called for a revision of the deal with Turkey, which was hammered out in 2016 to stem the flow of migrants and asylum-seekers in exchange for EU financial aid. Others showed deep concern about the deteriorating humanitarian situation both at the border with Turkey and on the Greek islands, where thousands of asylum-seekers, many of them unaccompanied minors, are stranded."

See also: Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson: European Parliament Plenary - Opening statement to debate on situation at Greek-Turkish border (pdf)

Bulgaria is not changing its push-back policy at its border to Turkey (Bordermonitoring Bulgaria, link):

"Media reported that FRONTEX installed 60 additional staff members to the already existing 50 ones at the Bulgarian-Turkish border. This raises the question of whether FRONTEX will only watch the Bulgarian authorities while they go on with their push-back practice in the upcoming days. Until now, the number of crossing incidents around the Turkish-Bulgarian border near Kapikule/Kapitan Andreevo seem much lower in comparison to the Greek-Turkish border around Pazarkule/Kastanies – both border crossings are only about 10 km away from each other."

HRW denounces Greece over migrants held on warship (Yahoo! News, link):

"Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Tuesday called on Greece to reverse its "draconian policy" towards over 450 migrants detained on a navy ship docked in Mytilene port in Lesbos.

The men, women and children were among those picked up by the Greek Coast Guard since March 1, when Turkey decided to open its borders and let make the crossing.

Since Turkey's February 28 decision, more than 1,700 people have arrived on the Greek islands in the Aegean off the Turkish coast."

Fire breaks out at refugee centre on Greek island of Lesbos (The Guardian, link):

"A fire at a refugee centre on the Greek island of Lesbos has caused considerable damage to a warehouse but no injuries, Greece’s fire service said.

It was the second fire at an installation built for migrants, after unknown perpetrators burned down a reception centre last Monday. The warehouse, which contained furniture and electrical appliances, was completely destroyed, a fire service spokesman said."

Bulgaria Floods Evros River to Prevent Migrants Storming Greek Borders (Greek Reporter, link):

"At the request of Greece, Bulgaria opened an Evros River dam located on its territory on Monday in order to cause intentional flooding and make it more difficult for migrants amassed at the Greek-Turkish border to cross the river.

The opening of the Ivaylovgrad Dam accordingly resulted in rising levels of the Evros River, Star TV reported.

As the standoff between thousands of migrants and refugees on the Turkish side of the Evros and Greek security forces continues, PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis met his German counterpart Angela Merkel in Berlin and stressed that Greece and Europe cannot be blackmailed."

Statewatch Analysis: Frontex launches "game-changing" recruitment drive for standing corps of border guards (pdf) by Jane Kilpatrick:

On 4 January 2020 the Management Board of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) adopted a decision on the profiles of the staff required for the new “standing corps”, which is ultimately supposed to be staffed by 10,000 officials. The decision ushers in a new wave of recruitment for the agency. Applicants will be put through six months of training before deployment, after rigorous medical testing..

Aegean Boat Report

"Arrival number from 01.03.2020, 902 people and all arrivals in week 10, 816 People has not been added to the population number by greek government, reason unknown but can be related to lates Development on the greek islands where new arrivals are denied to seek asylum."

Amid migrant crisis, Greece-Turkey conflict plays out on social media (euractiv, link):

"Greeks and Turks are waging a proxy war on social media with photos, video and commentary purporting to show the other side behaving badly in a migrant crisis that has seriously strained already tense relations between Athens and Ankara."

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