Refugee crisis: latest news from across Europe 30-31.1.16

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UPDATED: Refugee crisis: Refugee crisis: 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


The Council of the European Union is preparing plans to equate the concept of migrant "smuggling" with migrant "trafficking" and potentially criminalise or marginalise NGOs, local people and volunteers who for months have been welcoming and helping refugees and migrants arriving in the EU.

See: The Draft Council conclusions on migrant smuggling (LIMITE doc no 5481-rev-2-15, pdf)

Steve Peers, Professor of Law, University of Essex, comments:

"'This document fails to acknowledge the crucial role played by Greek islanders and volunteers in rescuing and caring for migrants who cross the Mediterranean in unsafe vessels. The EU should amend its anti-smuggling laws as soon as possible to confirm that no-one giving such vital humanitarian assistance should ever be penalised for it'.

Tony Bunyan, Statewatch Director, comments:

"The Council proposals would criminalise NGOs, local people and volunteers who have worked heroically to welcome refugees when the EU institutions did nothing, while other plans would incorporate NGOs and volunteers who will have to "register" with the police and work within state structures. In a humane and caring EU it should not be necessary to "register" to offer help and care to people who have suffered so much already.

Civil society, volunteers and all those throughout the EU who are seeking to help refugees as they arrive having fled from war, persecution and poverty should unite to oppose the Council's plans. Criminalising NGOs and volunteers working to help refugees has no place in a democracy worthy of the name."

LESVOS, GREECE: On the ground in Lesvos NGOs and volunteer groups - who have been working to help refugees from this time last year - are facing increasing hostility from reactionary local forces on the island and in some instances from large IGOs seeking to take over their role of helping refugees on the landing beaches and giving immediate help and aid. Yesterday the following message was posted on Facebook from a local group::

"The medical station at Eftalou has been attacked for the third time (post Philippa Kempson 30 January 2016). Will the people who did this be punished? Or just those offering humanitarian help on the beaches?" and a second post: "Last night the medical tent in Eftalou was attacked for the third time this week but this time they finished the job and burnt it to the ground!!!!!!" and see: Decency And Respect! 30/01/2016 (Eric Kempson. link): On the Hope Centre, the attack, and the EU's shameful role.

 HUNGARY CASE IN CJEU AGAINST THE RELOCATION OF REFUGEES IN THE EU MEASURE: Council of the European Union: Case before the Court of Justice Case C-647/15 (Hungary v Council of the European Union) (LIMITE doc no 5490-15, pdf): "By application lodged with the Court on 3 December 2015 and notified to the Council on 8 December 2015, Hungary brought before the Court of Justice of the European Union an action for annulment of Council Decision (EU) 2015/1601 of 22 September 2015 establishing provisional measures in the area of international protection for the benefit of Italy and Greece."

Steve Peers, Professor of Law, University of Essex coments:

'Some of Hungary's legal arguments can only be described as chutzpah. One argument Is that relocation of asylum-seekers is disproportionate for Hungary. But the EU Decision - at Hungary's own request - neither moves asylum-seekers to Hungary nor takes them away from that country. Secondly, Hungary complains that the text was amended after the European Parliament voted. But these were mainly amendments to take account of Hungary's own demands.

Finally, Hungary - having built fences against refugees, and criminalised and expelled them - criticizes the EU for breaching the UN (Geneva) Convention on Refugees. This is surely the most hypocritical legal argument in the EU's history.'

 Greeks worry threatened closure of EU border ‘would be the definition of dystopia’ (The Observer, link):

"For hundreds of thousands of refugees Greece was seen as just a transit point. Now, as walls go up across Europe they risk being trapped there...

The prospect of migrants being trapped in a member state that financially is also Europe’s most fragile may once have seemed extreme, even absurd. Its economy ravaged by six years of internationally mandated austerity and record levels of unemployment, Greece’s coping strategies are markedly strained. But as EU policymakers seek ever more desperate ways to deal with what has become the largest mass movement of people since the second world war, it is an action plan being actively worked on by mandarins at the highest level. Like so much else in the great existential crisis facing Europe, a proposed policy that was once seen as bizarre now looks like it could become real.....

“It would place a timebomb under the foundations of Greece,” says Aliki Mouriki, a prominent sociologist at the National Centre of Social Research. “Hundreds of thousands of refugees trapped in a country that is bankrupt, that has serious administrative and organisational weaknesses, with a state that is unable to provide for their basic needs?” The question hangs in the air while she searches for the right word. “What we would witness,” she adds, “would be the definition of dystopia.”

 EU: The EU must reassert humane control over chaos around the Mediterranean (The Observer, link) by Peter Sutherland:

"The idea of expelling Greece from the Schengen area violates EU principles... The EU is hurtling towards disintegration, not due to some insurmountable challenge or outside force. It is instead succumbing to a self-induced panic that has paralysed its common sense. It is time to end the nightmare.!

 Greece calls Commission’s Schengen report 'politicised' (euractiv, link): "A high ranking Greek government source told EurActiv that the process that had been followed raised “both political and legal” issues. The source added that the first version of the report was on 9 December, and the Greek side had the opportunity to comment on the findings, which was not the case for the second version.

“The second and final version of 12 January (that) was discussed in the College of Commissioners on Wednesday (27 January) had not been formally notified to the Greek side, but only after the College meeting.” “Between the two texts, which are based on the same evaluation report, there are changes in phraseology,” the source emphasised."

and see: EU migration commissioner plays down threat of Schengen exit (, link): "The Commission has given Athens three months to rectify the failures in the screening of migrants and refugees.Earlier on Friday, Alternate Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas said he believes there is a real possibility of Greece being excluded from Schengen.... “

"The exit of a country from the Schengen zone has not been requested, nor discussed,” said Avramopoulos at a gala dinner in Athens organized by the Economist." when accordingto the story above this has been discussed in the Commission.

 Berlin leads plan to ferry migrants from Greece into Turkey (The Times, link):

"Every migrant entering Greece across the Aegean Sea would be returned to Turkey under plans being drawn up by European countries. In exchange, the EU would accept up to 250,000 documented asylum seekers each year from Turkish camps.

If the German-led resettlement programme can be agreed, ferries would begin returning to Turkey all migrants, including refugees, from the Greek islands of Lesbos, Chios and Kos. A coalition of countries supporting the plans — including Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Netherlands, Spain and Sweden..." in return for accepting 200,000 Syrians direct from camps in Turkey.

Tony Bunyan, Statewatch Director, comments: "In desperation 12 EU Member States are considering a plan to simply send back all the refugees arriving in Greece. According to the UNHCR 78% of those who have arrived this year are from Syria (48%), Afghanistan (21%) and Iraq (9%). The EU recognises that refugees from these three countries, where there are ongoing conflicts, should be considered in need of international protection and "relocation" within the EU. All refugees, under international law, have the right to ask for asylum - such a plan would constitute mass refoulement."

 HUMAN RIGHTS AT SEA: Dedicated News Site: Migrants Die After Confusion over SAR Laws (, link): "The International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF) has raised concerns over reports that some would-be rescuers may have been deterred from helping people in distress by concerns about territorial waters."

News (30-31.1.16)

Greece football protest: Players sit on the pitch after kick-off (BBC News, link): "Footballers in Greece staged a sit-in protest at the start of a game over the death toll of migrants trying to reach the country by sea.AEL Larissa and Acharnaikos players observed two minutes' silence after kick-off in Friday's second-tier game. In the latest incident, at least 39 migrants drowned trying to cross the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece. "It is in memory of the hundreds of children losing their lives every day," said a AEL Larissa statement."

EU: La Unión Europea contempla criminalizar la asistencia personal humanitaria a los refugiados, según ONG (, link) [The European Union planing to criminalize humanitarian assistance to refugees, according to NGOs]

German vice chancellor: Monitor AfD after call to shoot at refugees (DW, link):"Sigmar Gabriel has called for the right-leaning Alternative for Germany party to be watched by intelligence services. AfD's leader Frauke Petry said police should have the right to shoot at migrants."

Sweden: Masked marchers beat immigrants in Stockholm (The, link): "A gang of up to a hundred black-clad masked men marched in central Stockholm on Friday evening, singling out and beating up immigrants, and handing out leaflets threatening further violent attacks against unaccompanied refugee youth".

Germany: Report: Five times more attacks on refugee homes in Germany in 2015 (DW, link): "German press and local governments have reported that violent acts targeting asylum-seeker housing increased by five times last year. The news came on the heels of a grenade attack in the south of the country."

Germany ‘pays African states to take asylum rejects’ (The, link): "If Germany can’t deport a refugee back to the country they claim to be from, it gives financial incentives to other countries to take them in, a refugee organization claims."

Danes in 'historic' flight from Social Democrats over asylum (The, link): "The reason for the drop in support was clear. Voters rejected the party’s hard lurch to the right on immigration and asylum policies."

Almost 40 dead after migrant boat sinks off Turkey (Reuters, link): "Almost 40 people drowned and 75 were rescued after a boat carrying migrants to Greece sank off Turkey's western coast on Saturday, according to local officials and the Turkish Dogan news agency..... The Turkish coast guard was continuing search and rescue efforts where the 17-metre boat carrying at least 120 people sank off the coast of Ayvacik, a town across from the Greek island of Lesvos"

British Volunteer Ends Up Burying Refugees on Greek Island of Lesbos (Greek Reporter, link): "The refugee crisis has become a significant issue over the last few months. The volunteers who travel to Greece all have their own stories to tell about the situations they faced during their service."

Germany's Merkel says refugees must return home once war over (, link)

Analysis - Wanted: a grand bargain to rescue EU from 'polycrisis' (Reuters, link)

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