Refugee crisis: latest news from across Europe (21.3.16): reactions to and consequences of the EU-Turkey deal

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  • Relocation out, "one-for-one" in; Frontex calls for 1,500 more police officers in Greece
  • Arson attack on French lawyers in Calais
  • SPAIN: EU-Turkey deal: opposition party to file criminal charges against government
  • GREECE: UNHCR halts transportation of people to Moria hotspot, now being transformed into a "closed facility"
  • Austria to cut state aid to charities based on public donations for refugees
  • Greece struggling to implement EU-Turkey deal
  • Registering Humanity: The EU’s Plan to Halt Citizen-led Response to the Migration Crisis
  • New EU task force to impose common asylum standards
  • Reforming the "Facilitation Directive": Consultation on "Tackling migrant smuggling: is the EU legislation fit for purpose?"
  • Joint press release: International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination Attacks against refugees, asylum seekers and migrants are unacceptable, say heads of European human rights institutions
  • Other news stories (21.3.16)

    - Relocation out, "one-for-one" in; Frontex calls for 1,500 more police officers in Greece

    EC press release: Commission makes immediate proposal to implement EU-Turkey agreement: 54,000 places allocated for resettlement of Syrians from Turkey (pdf)

    The title of the Commission's press release should say 54,000 places reallocated, as: "54,000 places which were foreseen for relocations will now be available for the purpose of resettling Syrians from Turkey to the EU," under the "one-for-one" scheme.

    In September 2015 Member States agreed to relocate 160,000 people in need of international protection from Greece and Italy to other Member States, based on two Council Decisions, one for 40,000 people and one for 120,000 people (EUR-Lex, links).

    Under that scheme as of 18 March, 97,725 "places" had been formally made available. 937 people had been relocated (368 from Italy and 569 from Greece). See the statistics: European Commission, Member States' Support to Emergency Relocation Mechanism (pdf)

    Under a Commission proposal published today, 54,000 of the "places" that were promised and never materialised will now be transferred to the "one-for-one" scheme. See the: Proposal for a COUNCIL DECISION amending 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 (COM(2016) 171 final, pdf)

    This makes up a significant proportion of the 72,000 total supposed to be given entry to the EU under the heavily-criticised scheme:

    "Syrians waiting in Turkey will be resettled in the EU every time someone is sent back from Greece, with priority given to children and people who have not already tried to make the journey on their own. The EU will take up to 72,000 people on this basis. But if irregular migration to Greece continues, there will be a review, and the swap will be ended once returns reach 72,000.

    This part of the deal has been particularly controversial, since it appears to create a form of trade in human suffering. Resettlement of refugees is not controversial in itself but it is usually carried out on a humanitarian basis, not according to some sort of quid pro quo."
    (A law professor assesses the EU plan to send asylum seekers back to Turkey, The Conversation, link)

    Whether the EU Member States will make any more effort with this scheme than with relocation remains to be seen.

    Meanwhile, efforts to implement the EU-Turkey deal in Greece are ongoing. The Commission has appointed an official to oversee "operational implementation" (pdf) and the coordination of the "case workers, interpreters, judges return officers and security officers" that will be required.

    Today it was reported that 20 Member States will apparently send "asylum experts, return and readmission experts and police officers" to Greece (EUobserver, link), and EU border agency Frontex is looking to do its part:

    "Frontex has asked EU Member States and Schengen Associated Countries to provide 1 500 police officers and 50 return and readmission experts to support Greece in returning migrants to Turkey. Several Member States have already committed to providing additional officers."

    The ongoing Frontex operation in Greece, "Poseidon Rapid Intervention" has been extended until 31 May 2016:

    "Frontex currently deploys 734 personnel as part of the operation, which was launched on 28 December 2015. This includes the crews of 13 vessels and two helicopters supporting Greece in patrolling its five most affected islands." (Frontex seeks 1 500 police officers, 50 readmission officers for Greece, Frontex, link)

    - Arson attack on French lawyers in Calais (Free Movement, link): "Today, March 17th 2016, just prior to 6 p.m., an arson attack was committed against the wooden cabin occupied by the Calais Appeal Legal Centre. This wooden cabin, built by Carpenters Without Borders through crowd funding, was entirely burnt down.

    We, the Calais’ Appeal Legal Centre, express our indignation towards this attack against the only legal one stop shop available to migrants within the Calais Jungle. After the burning down of their homes, the dismantlement of the theatre and the forced relocation of the Women and Children’s Centre, today our Legal Centre, resisting dismantlement up to now, is burning as well. The team, however, is determined to pursue its mission within the Jungle, with or without a cabin. Consisting in European Lawyers and Jurists, this centre represents a formidable call for unity in defending the migrants access to their fundamental rights within the Calais Jungle."

    - SPAIN: EU-Turkey deal: opposition party to file criminal charges against government

    Opposition party Izquierda Unida (IU, United Left) have announced are to next week present to the Spanish supreme court a criminal complaint against prime minister Mariano Rajoy and his cabinet, after Rajoy's Popular Party caretaker government signed Friday's agreement between the EU and Turkey. The complaint argues that the EU-Turkey pact contains elements "constitutive of crime".

    Gonzalo Boye, a lawyer who presented the complaint along with IU's parliamentary spokesperson Alberto Garzón and MEP Mariana Albiol, said that the agreement between the EU and Turkey means recourse to deportations and the forced return of people that merit "special protection" for fleeing from armed conflict, in violation of the Spanish penal code and international law.

    The majority of deputies in the Spanish congress were opposed to the deal (El País, link) and the government's own foreign minister said on 14 March that a draft of the deal was "unacceptable and contrary to international law," saying that

    "Spain will only accept … an agreement that is coherent, compatible to the international law, and that is extraordinarily respectful towards the human rights of the persons that need to flee from their home country." (Spain slams ‘unacceptable’ EU-Turkey deal, Politico, link)

    A spokesperson for the Popular Party said in a televison interview for the channel La Sexta that the IU was playing politics at a time when Spanish political parties are negotiating to form a new government, which must be done before 2 May or new elections will take place.

    Sources: IU presentará una querella contra Rajoy en el Supremo por el acuerdo sobre los refugiados (El Mundo) and IU presentará una querella contra Rajoy por el acuerdo de la UE y Turquía sobre los refugiados (El Diario, link)

    - GREECE: UNHCR halts transportation of people to Moria hotspot, now being transformed into a "closed facility"

    From the UNHCR in Greece: "Dear colleagues, please be informed that as of 20 March, UNHCR has discontinued its transport of refugees and migrants from the shores and ports to the Moria detention facility. The government's decision to transform the Moria hotspot that allowed for freedom of movement into a closed facility has led UNHCR to take this principled decision. The authorities are aware of UNHCR's decision and are responsible for the transport of people arriving on their territory. UNHCR will, however, together with partners and volunteers (& the ambulance service) transport individuals in need of urgent medical attention to the hospital. We will also continue to work alongside NGOs and volunteers on providing life-saving assistance on the shores and in the ports. Thank you for your continued support and cooperation in this difficult and rapidly-changing situation."

    - Austria to cut state aid to charities based on public donations for refugees: the government has sent letters to 12 charities demanding that they declare how much money they have received from the public for helping refugees. The government will subtract then amount from public funding provided to the groups.

    See: Flüchtlingshilfe: Bund will Spenden abkassieren [Refugee aid: government wants to cash in donations] (Der Standard, link)

    - Greece struggling to implement EU-Turkey deal

    Greece Under Strain As Migrant Deal Takes Effect (Yahoo! News, link): "Authorities in Greece are struggling to put in place infrastructure to implement the deal signed by EU leaders and Turkey in Brussels to stem the flow of migrants.

    From today, all "irregular migrants" who arrive in Greece will be sent back to Turkey.

    However the process of the 'turn-backs', as they are known, will not actually begin for several weeks at least.

    Speaking to Sky News, an official from the Greek government's crisis management office said the challenges were huge.

    "If we had to do it today, we wouldn't be able to do it. There are things that have to be done before we are ready to implement a deal like this," Giorgos Kyritsis said.

    "We are talking days in terms of the legal procedures. We have to make many legislation arrangements and then we have to make the infrastructure and that is a matter of weeks, not months.""

    More: Greece struggles to launch EU-Turkey plan (EUobserver, link): "Would-be asylum seekers have continued to arrive on the Greek islands from Turkey as the EU promises to support Greece in its efforts to send them back.

    About 875 of mostly Syrians and Iraqis arrived on four Greek Aegean islands over the weekend with Turkey stopping another 3,000."
    And see: EU-Turkey deal fails to stem refugee flight to Greece (Reuters, link) and Greece Struggles to Enforce Migrant Accord on First Day (The New York Times, link)

    More detail on the situation in Greece as it was in December 2015 can be found in a recent European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) report on Greece (link). The EESC undertook fact-finding missions to see how civil society and other organisations were responding to the situation of refugees and migrants in various locations in Greece, concluding with the following points:

  • Lack of efficient coordination in locations that need it most;
  • The relocation scheme is still not very popular;
  • Lack of humanitarian services to respond to the refugee crisis;
  • Discrimination towards refugees on the grounds of nationality;
  • The Frontex presence is limited;
  • No clear and strategic plan regarding those not entitled to protection;
  • Children's rights at stake;
  • No registration and follow-up of persons who cross the borders to the west;
  • Refugees face abuse and exploitation;
  • The refugee flows will continue.

    The deal with Turkey (pdf), of course, is supposed to significantly diminish the number of people arriving in Greece. Apart from this, it is not clear how, if at all, the actions outlined in the EU-Turkey plan will contribute to alleviating the problems outlined in the EESC report.

    - Registering Humanity: The EU’s Plan to Halt Citizen-led Response to the Migration Crisis (University of Oxford Faculty of Law, link): "Civil society has always been the first responder to humanitarian emergencies. For decades, fishermen, lawyers, and people living in the southern European coast have been rescuing and supporting migrants, replacing the often non-existing government structure.

    While those in the frontline of the refugee crisis on the Greek island of Lesvos are being honored with a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize, the EU and its member states are moving in the opposite direction, placing a strain on civil society. The Draft Council Conclusions of 26 January 2016, drawing on the policy guidelines of the EU Agenda on Migration, place the emphasis on migrant smuggling and call for higher penalties and the intensification of law enforcement, close surveillance of social media, and the participation of NGOs in investigations into migrant smuggling."

    - New EU task force to impose common asylum standards (Free Movement, link): "An interesting set of draft Council conclusions on convergence in asylum decision practices obtained by Statewatch sets out a roadmap towards greater consistency in asylum decision making. There is a lot of work to do on this front, as shown by IRIN in their excellent and infographic heavy piece Playing the EU asylum lottery...

    The senior level policy network will interpret these reports and deliver guidance notes to Member States for making “case-by-case assessments of applications for international protection.” The network will also propose “modifications to the terms of reference for future COI reports on countries of origin.” Afghanistan has been selected to pilot this new approach."

    See the document in question: Draft Council conclusions on convergence in asylum decision practices - Adoption (LIMITE doc no: 7255-16, pdf)

    - Reforming the "Facilitation Directive": Consultation on "Tackling migrant smuggling: is the EU legislation fit for purpose?" (European Commission, link): "The aim of this consultation is to collect opinions to underpin the on-going evaluation and impact assessment of the EU legislation on migrant smuggling, and to gather views on what improvements could be made to this legislation."

    Deadline for responses: 4 April 2016.

    - Joint press release: International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination Attacks against refugees, asylum seekers and migrants are unacceptable, say heads of European human rights institutions (pdf)

    From the EU Agency for Fundmental Rights (FRA), the Council of Europe's European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights:

    "Vienna/Strasbourg/Warsaw, 21 March 2016 – On the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the heads of Europe’s main intergovernmental human rights institutions call for a strong response to xenophobic attacks against migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, and call on governments and state authorities to uphold their international obligations in this regard.

    With the drownings in the Mediterranean persisting as refugees, asylum seekers and migrants continue to risk their lives to reach safety, this is the time to strengthen our commitment to the right to life and to dignity, said Michael O’Flaherty, Director of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), Michael Georg Link, Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), and Christian Ahlund, Chair of the Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI)."

    And see: Migration and refugees – a moment of truth for community relations in Europe (humanrightseurope on YouTube, link): "In this video, Eva Smith Rasmussen, the former chair of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), discusses the impact of the refugee and migration crisis on community relations in Europe."

    - News (21.3.16)

    Austrian MP compares refugees to Neanderthals (New Europe, link): "Austrian lawmaker Robert Lugar compared refugees to “Neanderthals who trample underfoot the rights of women” during a speech in parliament last week. The country’s Green Party responded, calling for his resignation.

    As reported by the Reuters news agency, Lugar also said most refugees and migrants arriving in Austria were “uneducated, religiously blinded, fanatical [and] impossible to integrate”."

    EU-AFRICA: "The migratory pressure from Africa to Europe won’t stop anytime soon", says expert (RFI, link): "Since January, more than 12,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean from Libya to reach Europe, which is 2,000 more than this time last year, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

    While the European Union is holding meetings today with Turkey aimed at stopping the thousands of people crossing the Aegean Sea to Greece, experts say that the flow of people attempting to cross from Libya has far from dried up.

    The Italian coastguard reported Wednesday that more than 2,400 people have been rescued from smugglers’ boats since Tuesday. This represents a pickup in the number of people hoping to reach Italy via Libya, after a lull during the winter months."

    Germany has taken a u-turn in refugee crisis, says Merkel ally (New Europe, link): "Germany has rolled up the welcome mat for refugees. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has reportedly done an about-turn on its refugee policy and has gradually shifted away from its welcoming culture, the leader of her Bavarian allies told a newspaper.

    “The federal government has completely changed its refugee policy, even if it does not admit that,” Horst Seehofer, leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), told Bild am Sonntag."

    HUNGARY: Democratic Coalition calls on Orbán to drop migration quota referendum (, link): "The Democratic Coalition (DK) partyhas called on Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to drop plans of holding a referendum aimed against the European Union’s mandatory migrant quotas. DK leader Ferenc Gyurcsány said in a statement that Friday’s European Union – Turkey agreement removed any basis for the “treacherous” initiative, leaving “nothing for Orbán to incite hatred against”.The EU has made a good decision, the statement said, adding that “Orbán’s policy promoting individual solutions by member states” has failed. In future the prime minister will not be in a position to cover up the failure of his government, the collapse of health care and education, through creating hysterics around migrants, it said."

    Italy rescues hundreds of migrants at sea, recovers body (Reuters, link): "Italian ships picked up some 600 migrants and recovered one body on Friday, as European leaders met in Brussels to try to stem the flow of migrants to the continent.

    Italy's coastguard and navy tweeted that they had picked up the migrants from several different vessels. Rescue operations were continuing and the number was likely to rise, a coastguard spokesman said.

    "Despite some bad weather and choppy sea conditions, the boats are coming," the coastguard spokesman said."

    Lebanon: We need more EU funds to host migrants (Vieuws, link): "Lebanon’s Ambassador to the EU, Rami Mortada, tells viEUws the refugee crisis is placing a “huge burden” on his country. Holding the record for housing the highest number of refugees per capita and per square kilometre, Lebanon is struggling to build enough housing, schools and roads for an estimated 1.5 million people fleeing war in Syria. Mortada calls on the international community to provide more direct funding to Lebanon’s economy so that the country can improve its infrastructure. Currently, the majority of funds are channeled through refugee agencies and spent on emergency provision, rather than longer-term projects."

    More than one million refugees travel to Greece since 2015 (UNHCR, link): "The UN Refugee Agency said today that more than one million people, mostly refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, have now crossed into Greece since the start of 2015.

    UNHCR called the milestone an urgent reminder of the need for a more coordinated approach to managing the influx and protecting people who are fleeing war and persecution.

    The agency has repeatedly appealed to European governments, and the European Union, for strong leadership and a vision to address what Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said was "as much a crisis of European solidarity as it is a refugee crisis."

    UNHCR said latest figures showed that up to March 14 more than 143,634 people had travelled to Greece from Turkey this year, taking the total of land and sea arrivals into Greece since January 1, 2015 to 1,000,357."

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