March 2016 highlights

Report covers period 1 - 29 February 2016.

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New arrivals

As weather conditions are improving, the number of new arrivals in Greece is increasing. Some 56,000 people arrived in February, 30 % of whom were children.

Restrictions imposed at borders along the Balkan route lead to an escalation of the humanitarian situation at the northern Greek border, creating serious fundamental rights concerns.

A women and a teenage girl died of hypothermia after crossing a river in southeastern Bulgaria, near the Turkish border; and 11 children and two men were also hospitalised due to hypothermia.

Fewer people are reaching Croatia but more people are arriving in Hungary. An increasing proportion of those arriving in Croatia are children.

Many people who are refused entry at the Slovenian-Croatian and Austrian- Slovenian borders report difficulties in accessing asylum procedures.

Criminal proceedings

In Italy, people who are steering the boats are identified as migrant smugglers even though many may have been forced to do so.

Taxi drivers transporting people from Denmark to Sweden face criminal charges and are told to check passengers’ passports in case of doubt.

Initial registration and processing

In Greece, registration backlogs persist in Lesvos and Chios due to the high number of new arrivals.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Italy report that police officers use force to convince people to cooperate during registration and fingerprinting.

Police from Austria, Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) agree on a common method of profiling and registration, allowing only persons arriving from war-torn countries to continue their journey. Croatia only allows entry to Syrians and Iraqis.

In Slovenia, asylum applications increase significantly, with one third of the applicants being children. The country has therefore established additional reception facilities. NGOs and UNHCR, however, have limited or no access to people returned from Austria.

The Italian Senate reports that people who are told to leave the country are not adequately informed about their right to appeal and apply for asylum. In Hungary, asylum seekers only get limited information on the right to appeal a negative asylum decision received at the border.

In Italy and Slovenia, the use of inadequate forms for registration and the posing of misleading questions to new arrivals put refugees at a high risk of being refused entry if they fail to highlight their motivation to escape from war and/or indicate a wish to work or study.

Syrians are reportedly refused entry into Croatia based on an assessment of their affiliation to rebel groups.

Weaknesses in identifying vulnerable people at first reception facilities persist in most of the EU Member States covered in the monthly reporting. In Sweden, vulnerabilities are rarely detected early on in the asylum process.

In Croatia, sick people are eager to continue their journey and do not want to seek medical help despite open wounds on their legs, frostbite, flu and acute pneumonia.

As regards asylum applications, Germany still faces a significant backlog with some 370,000 applications pending a decision and a similar number pending registration. Newly recruited decision makers are not yet sufficiently qualified or experienced, which affects the quality of initial interviews and asylum decisions.

In Sweden, estimates indicate that new arrivals will have to wait almost two years before receiving an asylum decision. In Tyrol, Austria, asylum seekers are waiting more than six months for their asylum procedure to start.

For the first time this year, people are seeking asylum in the Hungarian transit zones at the border with Serbia. Some 51 persons have been admitted to the Tompa transit zone, including pregnant women and children. Their claims, however, were rejected on the safe country of origin principle.

Reception conditions

Mainland reception capacity in Greece for registered asylum seekers is 593 beds in total, which is far less than is needed. A great number of requests for accommodation is pending and cannot be addressed due to a capacity lack.

More than 8,000 people are stranded in overcrowded temporary shelters in Idomeni (Greece) as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) closes its borders to Afghan nationals and accepts only between 100 and 200 people a day.

In Italy, inadequate conditions result in the closure of seven reception centres in Campania and healthcare inspections in Sardinia.

Persons returned from Slovenia to Croatia, including a child, are being held in closed sectors at Slavonski Brod camp without a clear legal reason for more than a week. They can only see a doctor if the police brings them to the medical station. Medical consultations are done in front of the police officer, who can follow the discussion.

Facilities for people returned from Austria to Slovenia are in poor condition and are inappropriate for children who are accommodated there.

People in migrant detention in Hungary have been waiting to be expelled for months, leading to frequent tensions in the facilities.

Reception conditions have slightly improved in Austria and Germany due to fewer new arrivals. The conditions in German mass reception facilities, however, remain very poor; in some cases, asylum seekers have to share one toilet with hundreds of others or have to walk more than one kilometre to reach sanitary containers.

Child protection

Families arriving in Austria are sometimes separated at registration and rely on assistance from NGOs to reunite.

Missing unaccompanied children remain a major concern in many EU Member States: in Hungary, children disappear at an estimated rate of 90-95 %; in Slovenia, about 80 % of children went missing; and in Sweden about seven to 10 children are reported missing each week. However, Greece recorded a decrease in the absconding rate of children.

In Italy, more than 135 unaccompanied children stay at facilities in Lampedusa despite poor conditions. In Greece, mainland reception capacity for unaccompanied children does not meet the actual need, leaving many of them in detention facilities or in police custody. Furthermore, the procedure to appoint a guardian slows down their transfer to child protection facilities.

In Bulgaria, authorities do not wait for the appointment of a guardian and start the asylum procedure without a guardian’s presence.

Basic care facilities for unaccompanied children in Austria are generally adequate and sufficiently available. However, many children have to stay for long periods in initial reception centres (e.g. Traiskirchen), where conditions are inappropriate for them.

In Sweden, there are reports of children staying in the same facilities as adults.

Unaccompanied children travelling with other relatives are not taken into care in Germany but accommodated in reception centres without verification of their relationship. This exposes them to increased risks and may prevent the identification of human trafficking.

Children in Germany sometimes wait for months before being able to attend school.

Lack of trained and competent staff in Sweden does not allow for a proper assessment of children’s needs, nor the identification of psychological and mental health problems.

Legal, social and policy responses

Greece adopts a new law to extend primary and secondary healthcare to all migrants in vulnerable situations, such as pregnant women, children and people suffering from chronic diseases. Greece is also in the process of revising the guardianship system for unaccompanied children and has issued a Ministerial Decision on the age assessment of children seeking asylum.

Austria sets daily quota for new arrivals and announces a possible further lowering of the daily limit of asylum applications, while the set limit has not yet been reached.

The public perception in Austria of the overall situation is increasingly negative. About 20 demonstrations organised by right-wing groups took place with some counter-demonstrations.

Social responses in Slovenia as well as in Italy remain positive overall, including volunteer work, several pro-refugee rallies and support initiatives.

As of 3 March 2016, 660 persons were scheduled to be relocated from Italy and Greece to 16 other EU Member States, including one unaccompanied child.

Sweden discusses a new law that would limit family reunification for people with temporary residence permits, as well as introduce stricter economic requirements for family reunification and limit residence permits.

Hate speech

The number of hate crime incidents continue to be high in Austria and Germany.

Around one thousand local residents protested against the setting up of a new migrant hotspot centre on the island of Kos and clashed with the police.