Refugee crisis: latest news from across Europe 22.2.16


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 Austrian restrictions trigger domino effect across Balkan refugee route (EurActiv, link): "Afghan asylum seekers seeking to travel through the Balkans to northern Europe were barred from entering Macedonia yesterday (21 February), after Austria introduced a similar restriction, creating a domino effect along the so-called Balkan migrant route.


“We were warned this morning that Macedonian authorities would no longer let Afghans pass,” a Greek police official told AFP, adding that Macedonia justified its move by claiming that Serbia had made a similar decision.

The development came after Austria on Friday (19 February) introduced a daily limit on refugees entering and registering in the country, triggering EU fears of a domino effect along the so-called Balkan ‘migrant’ route.

Report from ECRE: Over 200 refugees, including SIA, rejected on the Slovenian border (ECRE, link): "In the early hours of Wednesday 17 February, 217 asylum seekers were returned from Slovenia, through Croatia and finally to Serbia. The group, as stated by UNHCR Serbia, includes a significant number of refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria (SIA), were rejected on the Slovenian border after “failing” the nationality test."

And: Austria plans Western Balkan meeting on migrant caps (EUobserver, link): "Austria is asking Western Balkan nations and Bulgaria to meet to discuss the migrant crisis, ahead of a gathering of EU interior ministers in Brussels."

There are already agreements between the EU and Western Balkans countries on a common approach to the refugee crisis. The most recent update on implementing the agreements was issued by the European Commission on 10 February. See: Follow up to Western Balkans Leaders' Meeting - State of Play report (pdf)

 EU: Europol launches European Migrant Smuggling Centre

"Dimitris Avramopoulos, Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, will launch today Europol's new European Migrant Smuggling Centre (EMSC) in The Hague. The EMSC, as envisioned in the European Agenda on Migration in May 2015 and called for by the Council of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers in November 2015, will proactively support EU Member States in dismantling criminal networks involved in organised migrant smuggling. The Centre will focus on areas with high levels of criminal activity, and will build a better capability across the European Union to fight people smuggling networks. Ahead of the launch, Commissioner Avramopoulos said: "The fight against migrant smuggling is a key priority for the European Union in addressing the refugee crisis. In order to step up and coordinate efforts across Member States, the European Commission announced the creation of a European Migrant Smuggling Centre within Europol in its European Agenda on Migration. The launch of this Centre will reinforce cooperation with Member States, international organisations, national stakeholders and European agencies, with a responsibility to fight migrant smuggling." The EMSC will help implement the EU's Action Plan against migrant smuggling presented in May 2015. By the end of 2016, the Commission will present proposals to improve the existing EU legal framework to tackle migrant smuggling." Source: European Commission - Daily News 22/02/2016 (link)

And see: Europol launches the European Migrant Smuggling Centre (press release, pdf): "In March 2015 Europol launched the Joint Operational Team Mare (JOT MARE). JOT MARE, hosted at Europol’s headquarters, is a specialised team of experts whose aim is to combat people smuggling via the Mediterranean and their subsequent secondary movements to destination countries. The strengthening of JOT Mare, making it an essential part of the new EMSC, and the upgrading of all of Europol activities in this field, underpin the creation of the new European Migrant Smuggling Centre. It also builds on Europol’s work over the last ten years or more in combating organised migrant smuggling in Europe, during which almost 40,000 suspected smugglers have been identified and 1,551 cross-border investigations have been supported in 2015 alone."

 Number of migrants arriving in Greece down 40% in January (Frontex, link): "The number of migrants arriving in Greece in January fell to 68 000, down nearly 40% in comparison with December 2015, due in large part to poor weather conditions around the Aegean islands.

The rough seas also led to a significant increase in fatalities in the waters between Turkey and Greece.

Despite the drop in migrant arrivals from the previous month, the figure for January 2016 was 38 times higher than the number recorded in January 2015. Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis continued to account for the largest share of the migrants detected in Greece."

 News (22.2.16)

EU: Enhancing return monitoring capacities in EU Member States (EU Fundamental Rights Agency, link): "FRA is stepping up its efforts to assist Member States in monitoring forced returns by air by hosting a 1-week training course from 22-26 February.

The course will guide monitors step-by-step through the phases of forced returns by air. Case studies, role plays and simulation exercises will aid monitors in analysing and reflecting about the fundamental rights dimension of their work. The course covers: principles such as proportionality and necessity; coercive measures; early warning indicators for monitors; access to information of returnees; treatment of and communication with returnees; vulnerable people; monitoring and reporting."

FRANCE: Migrants: towards Calais clearance, 'humanitarian operation' (ANSAmed, link): "What will take place by Wednesday morning in the southern portion of the so-called Calais migrant 'Jungle' will be a ''humanitarian' clearance: said French Minister of the Interior, Bernard Cazeneuve, interviewed by La Voix du Nord. On Friday several associations and Ngos lodged a plea at the Lille Tribunal to postpone the clearance."

French courts postpone Calais ‘Jungle’ eviction (New Europe, link): "The French government has suspended plans to evict thousands of refugees living in the ramshackle “Jungle” camp on the outskirts of Calais. This is the vicinity of Calais, France, where migrants live while they attempt to enter the United Kingdom.

As reported by The Independent, the eviction was postponed by French courts after a census carried out by the charity Help Refugees discovered many more refugees were living in the area than authorities had initially calculated.

The charity said there were 3,455 people living in the southern stretch of the Jungle scheduled to be demolished. It is more than three times France’s estimates of between 800 and 1,000. That figure includes 445 children, of whom 315 were living without their parents – that is not to say they are orphans. The youngest child found was a 10-year-old boy from Afghanistan."

GREECE: Despite Aegean Rescuers' Best Efforts, Not All Migrants Are Saved (NPR, link): "It's just before midnight on a February night when the crew of the Responder gets word from the Greek coast guard that a boat with migrants aboard is nearby. It's in trouble somewhere in Greek territorial waters in the Aegean Sea.

"There's a light, a flash," says Eugenio Miuccio, a 38-year-old Italian doctor, pointing to a flicker in the pitch-black sea. He and an Italian nurse, 27-year-old Roberto Pantaleo, pull on red life jackets as the ship heads toward the light."

HUNGARY-EU: Spokesperson: Hungary did not sign on to quota deal (Budapest Business Journal, link): "Despite what Hungarian opposition parties say, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán did not sign a measure supporting the quota system on Friday at a European Union summit, government spokesperson Zoltán Kovács told Hungarian news agency MTI yesterday."

Italy wants to revise the Dublin regulation (New Europe, link): "Italian Minister of Internal Affairs Angelino Alfano said that the Dublin Regulation should be revised. He emphasized that at present, the document does not reflect reality and called the requirement of asking for asylum in migrants’ country of entrance a “complete absurdity.”

At the sidelines of the European People Party’s summit in Brussels, Alfano said that both Italy and Greece can no longer pay the price for the “constant flow” of refugeess across Europe. If the situation is not changed, Europe will face even greater problems, added the minister."

Portugal wants more refugees to help revive dwindling population (EurActiv, link): "Traditionally a country of emigration, Portugal has offered to take up to 10,000 migrants from countries struggling to cope with the influx, to help maintain its own population.

Portugal’s Socialist premier, Antonio Costa, last week sent letters to Austria, Greece, Italy and Sweden — countries that have seen refugees arrive in large numbers — offering to welcome up to 5,800 more refugees in addition to the 4,500 they already agreed to take as part of the European Union’s refugee quota system.

Costa recently told Brussels that Portugal should “set an example”, adding that he was against “a Europe that closes its borders to block access to refugees”."

TURKEY: Injured Syrians fleeing Aleppo onslaught among thousands denied entry to Turkey (Amnesty International, link): "The Turkish authorities have denied entry to injured Syrian civilians in need of immediate medical care, after fleeing the intense bombardment of the northern Aleppo countryside in the past two weeks, said Amnesty International from the Öncüpinar/Bab al-Salam border crossing.

The organization has also documented how Turkish security forces have shot and injured civilians, including children, who out of desperation have attempted to cross the border unofficially with the help of smugglers."

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