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Refugee crisis: latest news from across Europe
21.4-11.5.20

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

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EU: 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 MeriÁ, 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)

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