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Many Member States fail the migrant victims of torture and trauma by not having systems in place to recognise the ordeals they have suffered and support them on arrival. Such trauma if left untreated can scar them and their families for life, and may lead to suicide.
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See also the February 2017 focus section on torture, trauma and its possible impact on drug use >>
FRA’s monthly reports highlight key developments in 14 Member States: Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Spain and Sweden. They are published alongside a focus section on a particular topic. Starting in January 2017, extended Member State information will be published in addition to the highlights every third month. No focus section will be published with these reports.
Arrivals to Italy and Greece continued to decrease: 4,504 people arrived in Italy by sea (almost 50 % fewer than in December 2016) and 1,493 in Greece. For Greece, this was a 27.5 % drop in arrivals compared to December 2016.
Hundreds of people died in a shipwreck in the Central Mediterranean.
Fewer people entered Hungary than in the preceding month. The police prevented 1,616 persons from climbing over the fence at the Hungarian border – fewer than in December 2016. 287 people entered Hungary irregularly, including 47 children, and were apprehended beyond 8 km from the southern land border. The police also returned 1,367 persons apprehended within 8 km of the border to Serbia, where they have to wait to apply for asylum in one of the Hungarian transit zones (this number was almost the same as in December 2016). Reports continued to emerge about multiple cases of brutality and violence by the police and local vigilante groups.
Arrivals to Bulgaria further decreased to 208 persons (down from 440 persons in December 2016), who were apprehended at the border and within Bulgarian territory.
In the Straits of Gibraltar, a small rudderless boat full of migrants sank; only seven bodies have been found so far, including that of a 4-year-old boy. At the time of the incident, Spanish search and rescue operations has been suspended because Moroccan authorities had agreed to take charge of such operations. In Slovakia, authorities apprehended 128 persons, the majority of whom were from the Ukraine; other main countries of origin included Afghanistan, Iraq and Serbia.
Sweden received about 1,960 asylum seekers, including 780 women and 700 children, 110 of whom were unaccompanied. These figures do not differ significantly from previous months; since March 2016, the number of persons seeking asylum in Sweden has remained below 2,500 a month.
Arrivals in Austria continued to decrease slightly, to 2,460 persons in January, mainly coming from Afghanistan, Algeria, Morocco, Nigeria and Pakistan.
Hungarian authorities register and fingerprint all new arrivals, and reported that most people do not object to this procedure. In a few cases, some people raised concerns, but these were resolved by explaining the purpose of the procedure to them, without resorting to the use of force.
Meanwhile, dozens of people continued to sleep outside of the transit zones located at the Hungarian-Serbian border for several days in icy weather conditions. Admission to the transit zones remained restricted to 10 persons a day and per transit zone (operating with limited opening hours and only on weekdays). As a result, every day, around 30 persons waited for admission to one of the transit zones at the southern border. Families wait from four to six months before admission. Inside the transit zones, only the United Nations (UN) refugee agency UNHCR and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) provide applicants for international protection with information and counselling.
In Greece, the capacity at the Registration and Identification Centre (RIC) in Evros remained strained (the capacity was reduced due to a construction project). Transfers of new detainees from the police station to RIC were reportedly slow, with families and vulnerable persons prioritised.
UNHCR identified persons with specific reception needs, and also provided counselling on registration and identification procedures. UNHCR and NGOs reported that asylum seekers who apply for international protection at the borders are often placed in detention in Poland. Detention is frequently prolonged by courts for as long as 60 days – including for families with children and victims of torture – on the basis of repeated refusals of entry at the border, risk of absconding and the lack of a permanent address.
In Germany, asylum applications continued to decrease to some 20,500 applications in December 2016 – a 22 % decrease compared with November 2016. Most applicants were from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq and Syria. The lack of standardised procedures to recognise specific needs of vulnerable asylum applicants remained an issue.
About 8,700 applicants for international protection had been relocated from Greece by 31 January 2017; the majority of them were relocated to France, Germany, the Netherlands and Portugal.
The number of asylum applications exceeded 6,340, mainly lodged by citizens of Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
In total, Spain received over 1,000 applicants for international protection through relocation and resettlement between September 2015 and the end of the reporting period, while 136 asylum applicants arrived through relocation in January 2017 (Eritreans, Iraqis and Syrians).
Asylum applications further decreased to 421 in Bulgaria, and included more than 110 applications from children. The vast majority of them were submitted by Afghans, Iraqis, Pakistanis and Syrians.
Access to the asylum procedure remained restricted in Poland, as UNHCR and NGOs reported. At some border crossing points, border guards systematically refused entry to people wishing to apply for international protection (many of them families with children).
Slovakia registered only 26 new asylum seekers in January. Although Slovakia was obliged to relocate 100 people from Greece and Italy by the end of January 2017, only nine persons were relocated to the country.
In the Netherlands, NGOs raised concerns over the use of non-certified interpreters in asylum procedures. The Dutch authorities maintain thatthe speed of relocation is in line with the agreements but notes that it does not benefit persons in the worst situations on the islands, as they do not qualify for relocation.
In Denmark, 193 persons applied for asylum (mainly coming from Afghanistan, Morocco and Syria) – significantly fewer than during the same month in 2015 and 2016. Unaccompanied children continued to represent a large proportion of all asylum seekers.
According to the Finnish Immigration Service, 266 asylum applications were lodged in Finland, including 75 by children.
In Austria, 500 to 600 persons a week applied for asylum during the reporting period.
The Hungarian authorities returned some 60 persons in January 2017. This figure does not include the number of applicants rejected in the transit zones.
The IOM Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration Programme registered 550 returnees in Greece, and 420 persons actually returned, mainly nationals of Algeria, Bangladesh, Iraq and Pakistan.
In Germany, NGOs, UNHCR and some federal states repeatedly expressed concerns about returns to Afghanistan; the federal states decided not to participate in joint return operations. An NGO also reported complaints by two returnees to Mali about inhuman and degrading treatment on the deportation flight. Moreover, in Berlin, NGOs reported that unaccompanied children who do not apply for asylum are issued return decisions, without the authorities identifying any institutions or persons in the destination countries as being authorised, capable and willing to accommodate them.
UNHCR asked Spain to stop the so-called ‘hot returns’ (devoluciones en caliente) in Ceuta and Melilla, which entail an immediate return of persons who climb over the fence, without initiating any official procedure and without assessing people’s need for international protection.
NGOs in the Netherlands raised concerns about possible fundamental rights violations in the context of removal of failed asylum applicants to third countries that are defined as ‘safe’. They also highlighted that the Security and Justice Inspectorate, which is responsible for monitoring forced returns, is not independent and that the monitoring does not cover the returnees’ situation in the countries of origin.
The Italian government announced its intention to boost forced returns, especially to Libya and Tunisia.
Freezing temperatures and heavy snow affected the Aegean islands in Greece, exacerbating the already overcrowded and sub-standard conditions in Reception and Identification Centres, causing further health and safety risks.
Six persons died at the centres of Moria (Lesvos) and in Samos (the cause of death is yet unknown); and three persons attempted suicide at the centre in Samos.
On the islands of Lesvos, Chios and Samos, the Hotel Owners Association and tour operators opposed UNHCR’s practice of renting rooms to refugees.
Icy weather conditions affected sites in northern Greece (Nea Kavala and Vasilika), aggravating the already poor living conditions; for example, water pipes froze, interrupting running water availability for several days. In addition to providing infrastructure support, UNHCR coordinated evacuations from unsuitable sites and provided transportation, in cooperation with the Ministry of Migration Policy, for the transfer of people to ‘winter-proof’ sites.
The Hungarian authorities ordered immigration detention in almost 90 cases; 69 applicants for international protection were placed in asylum-detention, including women and children with families. In January, there were more people in asylum detention than persons accommodated in open refugee camps.
In Italy, the authority responsible for protecting people who are detained or deprived of their liberty monitors all hotspots and the four operating immigration detention centres (CIEs), which have an overall capacity of 359 people. The authority found that reception conditions differ significantly from one centre to another. Some infrastructures need urgent renovation to guarantee adequate conditions. The situation of unaccompanied children temporarily hosted in hotspots is particularly critical.
In Spain, the supervisory judge of the immigration detention centre (CIE) in Aluche (Madrid) ordered authorities to take appropriate measures to maintain an adequate temperature in the rooms and to ensure hot water in the showers.
The pre-removal facilities in Bulgaria were no longer overcrowded, reaching an occupancy rate of 86 % at the end of the reporting period.
Since the dismantling of the Calais camp in France, more than 7,000 immigrants are being hosted in orientation reception centres. Some evidence from an NGO suggests that the authorities tend to ‘convert’ these centres into places where asylum applicants from the former Calais camp can be placed under house arrest before being deported.
In Italy, several demonstrations or actions criticising reception conditions took place. Dozens of asylum seekers in the Verona reception centre sent a letter to the authorities about inadequate reception conditions (lack of pocket money, absence of any activities or training courses or inadequate heating and living conditions within the facility). One person died of a lung embolism in a reception centre in Cona (Veneto), and another applicant died in a fire that destroyed a reception centre in Florence. All this stirred criticism and triggered protests about reception conditions in the country, including an urgent complaint to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) by an adult and three children, who reported inhumane reception conditions.
The Italian government started to provide additional financial benefits to the municipalities involved in the reception system, amounting to € 500 per person hosted in local reception centres.
In Hungary, the Körmend open refugee camp (tent camp) continued operating, even though it is not designed to accommodate people during winter. Given the extremely cold weather, the only option for asylum seekers to keep tents warm is to install wood-burning fireplaces inside the tents, which poses a serious health hazard and may be the source of fire incidents.
In Spain, UNHCR highlighted that the receptions centres (CETIs) are overcrowded, reaching twice their normal capacity. They are unsuitable for an adequate reception of asylum seekers, as well as for the swift identification and referral of vulnerable persons.
Living conditions in reception centres in Bulgaria did not improve in January. Overcrowding, however, was no longer a problem due to fewer arrivals and a continuing trend of persons voluntarily leaving the centres; the occupancy rate of the centres fell to 73 %. In Harmanli, a fire destroyed one of the buildings of the reception centre, including the newly opened Afghan school, which accommodated asylum applicants from Afghanistan (no personal injury or death occurred). The preliminary investigation indicated that a self-made heating device to counter harsh winter conditions most probably caused the fire.
Austria is now running 31 accommodation centres at the federal level that provide basic care to asylum seekers, which met current demands. Sufficient places were also available in the 11 specialised care centres for persons with health problems and unaccompanied children. NGOs reported that the number of people in basic care facilities further declined in the region of Styria; as a result, the region can select more rigorously the care providers according to quality criteria.
Slovakia continued to provide accommodation for Austrian asylum applicants in its reception centre in Gabčíkovo. The Austrian authorities processed their claims and, if recognised or rejected, the asylum applicants were transferred to Austria.
Only some federal states in Germany (Berlin, Hamburg, Saarland and Schleswig-Holstein) provide the right to compulsory education for children placed in reception centres, and this is often not granted in practice. In other federal states, compulsory schooling starts after certain time limits, ranging between three and six months, or is linked to allocating the children to a municipality, which can take several months. The German Institute of Human Rights created a new service in form of an interactive online map, providing information about access to education.
In Greece, overcrowding in reception centres and the lack of serious preparation for the winter caused health and safety risks for the people living there. On the islands, the majority of people examined by psychologists in recent months mentioned the poor living conditions either as a cause or as an aggravating factor of the psychological difficulties faced.
Education of refugee children in Slovakia continued to be an overarching problem due to language barriers. Schools are unprepared for educating children with different linguistic and cultural backgrounds.
In Sweden, lengthy asylum procedures affect the health and well-being of asylum-seeking children. NGOs also raised concerns about unaccompanied children’s possibilities to receive mental healthcare. A number of unaccompanied children committed suicide in the specifically assigned accommodation centres. This can cause secondary trauma for other children, interfering with their rehabilitation.
Vulnerable persons lack access to proper physical and psychological care in reception centres in the Netherlands. Coupled with limited awareness of such healthcare facilities among asylum seekers, their use is limited.
In Hungary, authorities reported granting priority access to families and vulnerable people (typically, unaccompanied children) in the transit zones along the Serbian border. NGOs, however, noted that it can take up to six months until these groups are finally admitted. UNHCR and NGOs urged people to report their disabilities, pregnancies and their young age to the authorities and to support these allegations with documents, if available.
According to NGO findings, asylum seekers and refugees with disabilities are not properly identified and do not enjoy equal access to services in reception centres in Greece. Asylum seekers and other migrants with disabilities face particular difficulties accessing basic services such as shelter, sanitation and medical care, including mental healthcare.
In Germany, no standardised procedures are in place for the recognition of specific needs of vulnerable asylum applicants.
Similarly, according to UNHCR, special needs of vulnerable asylum seekers are not recognised at an early stage in Poland, and are therefore often not taken into account in the asylum procedure.
In Germany, between January and December 2016, some 36 % of all asylum applicants were children, and 11 % of all asylum seekers were under the age of four. German authorities in some federal states tended not to accept the Afghan identity document (Tazkhira) to assess children’s age.
The estimated number of unaccompanied children currently staying in Greece is 2,200.
In Italy, new legislation on age assessments of unaccompanied children entered into force in January 2017, implementing a multidimensional approach to such assessments and the respect of the child’s best interests. If a child’s age cannot be assessed with sufficient certainty, minority is presumed.
Some 700 asylum-seeking children arrived in Sweden during the reporting period, 130 of them unaccompanied; the latter represents an increase compared with the two previous months.
The number of unaccompanied children applying for asylum in the Netherlands slightly decreased (182 persons in December 2016). The majority of them came from Eritrea.
In Poland, almost 50 % of newly arrived applicants for international protection were children.
Likewise, unaccompanied children still represented a large share of the total number of asylum seekers in Denmark. NGOs reported that a large proportion of these children belong to the group with so-called “street-oriented behaviour”. This group of children has been subject to media coverage.
The Hungarian government announced the closure of the children’s centre in Fót by 2019. It is planned that instead of accommodating and educating children in institutions located in remote places, they will be placed in ‘home-like’ accommodation in the heart of cities. Many aspects of the new plan remained unclear.
In Germany, both legal guardians of unaccompanied children and employees of youth services and care institutions lack information on asylum law and recent reforms, according to NGOs.
Although mechanisms exist for providing care for children in France, unaccompanied children not wishing to go or to stay in the orientation and reception centres for unaccompanied children (CAOMI) remained in Calais, in the cold and without accommodation or sanitary facilities, since the old camp no longer exists. As NGOs reported, the police destroys or confiscates the tents, as well as blankets, shoes and mobile phones. The issue of family reunification of unaccompanied children who are staying in CAOMIs and have parents in the United Kingdom was not resolved either. In addition, according to NGOs, around 40 unaccompanied children are held each month at French borders in the ‘waiting areas’ set up for foreigners to whom admission is refused.
In Italy, the representative of the Ministry of the Interior responsible for the reception of unaccompanied children was heard before relevant parliamentary inquiry commissions. It was highlighted that 21 projects aiming to improve reception conditions were implemented between the end of 2015 and 2016, partly with EU financial support.
According to reports from the authorities, sufficient places are now available in specialised care centres for persons with health problems and for unaccompanied children in Austria.
NGOs in Sweden raised concerns regarding unaccompanied children’s possibilities to receive mental health care. There appeared to be a lack of clarity about which institution is responsible for the treatment of these children.
In Finland, the placement of unaccompanied children granted international protection in municipalities has not been resolved. The number of places allocated to municipalities is insufficient, with some municipalities having no such places available. Problems with placements include, for example, placement far away from services required by unaccompanied children, which are feared to have a negative impact on their integration. Moreover, similar worries in terms of integration were voiced regarding relocated unaccompanied children after cut-backs in the number of reception centres due to the decreasing numbers of arrivals (currently 43 such units operate).
Public opinion focused on how authorities conduct age assessments of asylum seekers in Denmark. Age assessments currently consist of an X-ray examination of the body and teeth, and a physical examination. Civil society organisations raised concerns that the uncertainty of such a physical examination is not sufficiently taken into account and that age assessments do not include a mental assessment.
Draft amendments to the asylum law were discussed in the Austrian parliament. The proposal foresees that a procedure to withdraw refugee status is triggered if a refugee is accused of a crime or caught in the act of committing a crime. The withdrawal procedure is foreseen to be a fast-track procedure (one month from the final judgment in criminal proceedings).
In Poland, new amendments to the asylum act were presented with a view to introducing border procedures for asylum. The new procedure would be carried out within 28 days, and no suspensive effect is foreseen in case of appeal. The proposal envisages detention of all asylum seekers during the border procedure, which could be prolonged up to 12 months. Furthermore, the Refugee Board would be substituted by the Board for Foreigners, a quasi-judicial body with more competence.
In Slovakia, the Supreme Court submitted a preliminary reference to the EU Court of Justice, asking for an interpretation of the Asylum Procedures Directive (2013/32/EU) regarding the right to effective legal remedy. In particular, the Supreme Court asked whether national courts performing judicial review are entitled to grant international protection even if national legislation does not give them such competence; and if so, whether such competence applies to courts of appeal (i.e. the Supreme Court), as well.
The Supreme Court of Denmark ruled that the duty (under the current rules) for a person on tolerated stay to reside in a designated facility for three years and 11 months after having been released from a prison sentence was disproportionate and violated the ECHR and its Protocol No. 4. The Supreme Court found that the authorities at this point in time had no reason to believe that the person would try to abscond and that there was no reasonable prospect of removal to the migrant’s country of origin, either, due to the risk of this constituting refoulement.
In Denmark, a draft bill sought to establish an “emergency brake” mechanism into Danish law, under which authorities would not apply the Dublin procedure any longer, instead turning back persons at the borders directly to other “Dublin countries”. NGOs expressed particular concerns about this strict non-admission scheme for its potential to undermine responsibility with respect to the Dublin system.
The Tarajal case was reopened in Spain. It concerns the investigation of the death of 15 migrants shot at with rubber bullets and smoke canisters near the waters bordering Ceuta in 2015. The Cadiz Provincial Court’s decision to reopen the case concluded that the investigations were closed without reaching the minimum level of sufficiency and effectiveness.
The Finnish Chancellor of Justice of the Government challenged an internal order of the Finnish immigration service, which stipulated not to process asylum applications of individuals who may be entitled to protection on humanitarian grounds. The Chancellor of Justice found the order problematic in terms of the equal treatment of asylum applicants, and emphasised that applicable law must be followed when decisions on asylum applications are made.
In Greece, the Supreme Court ruled against the extradition of the eight Turkish army soldiers who fled Turkey in the aftermath of the July 2016 coup attempt, on the ground of possible human rights violations if they were sent back (e.g. absence of fair trial).
The first unit of graduates of the “Border Hunting Programme” was on duty in Hungary. The programme aims to make an increased number of people available to guard the fences at the country’s southern borders. (Applicants to the Border Hunting Programme have to be over 18 years old, and are entitled to use weapons after a six-month training period). The government also stressed that Hungary needs to urgently reintroduce immigration detention. While the exact meaning of this statement was unclear, NGOs emphasised that detention already exists in the Hungarian immigration and asylum system.
Italy carried out negotiations with Libya and Tunisia with a view to establishing cooperation on border management, the fight against terrorism, smuggling, and human trafficking, as well as the implementation of faster readmission procedures.
The Ministry of Interior presented a proposal to reform Italian migration and asylum law, which includes three main strategic measures: establishing a repatriation facility in each region of Italy; introducing the obligation for asylum applicants to carry out unpaid work activities during the procedure; and reforming the asylum system to speed up procedures and to reduce courts’ huge backlogs.
The Italian Senate Special Commission for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights published an update to its report on Italian immigration detention facilities (CIE).The commission outlined several recommendations for improving living conditions within the centres (e.g. periodic monitoring of living conditions; implementing protocols with local healthcare providers; and promoting voluntary return). In addition, the Ministry of Defence proposed involving the army in the supervision of CIEs when they represent a danger for public security.
The Austrian government adopted a new strategic program for the period 2017-2018, which includes several measures on “Security and Integration” that could affect the migration situation in Austria.
The EU Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs visited the Reception and Identification Centre in Moria (Lesvos, Greece). Commissioner Avramopoulos urged EU Member States to continue to increase their relocation pledges and offer safe haven to refugees. He also announced that vulnerable persons will be transferred to Northern Greece and people who are not entitled to international protection will be returned to Turkey. Human rights NGOs also issued press releases calling for the immediate transfer of people living in outdoor settings to appropriate accommodation shelters.
The Swiss Embassy to Greece developed a lexicon in six languages to facilitate communication between asylum applicants and site management staff in all open sites on mainland Greece. 15,000 copies were distributed to sites throughout the country.
At the local level, mayors of the five Aegean islands on which hotspots operate – Lesvos, Kos, Leros, Samos and Chios – held a joint press conference. The mayors called on the government to improve refugees’ and migrants’ living conditions on the islands and opposed giving permission to build additional structures for accommodation.
In Italy, Amnesty International addressed two public pleas to the government, calling for a halt to bilateral readmission agreements with third countries, and for the creation of safe and legal humanitarian corridors for asylum seekers willing to come to Europe. Another local NGO presented a project aimed at monitoring migrants’ living conditions in the Brenner area. Other associations expressed serious concerns about the planned legislative reforms, with some of them also tabling action plans specifying concrete measures to reform Italian migration and asylum legislation.
A Hungarian NGO organised a protest in Budapest to demonstrate against the authorities’ ongoing use of violence against asylum seekers at the Hungarian-Serbian border. Amnesty International Hungary launched a petition, entitled “Free Ahmed H.”, referring to an individual who was convicted of committing a terrorist act during the infamous “Röszke Battle” in September 2015. The petition stressed that Ahmed H.’s actions did not constitute a terrorist act and called on the Hungarian authorities to stop connecting migration to terrorism.
Some Spanish opposition members of the parliament launched a political initiative aimed at ensuring that the government fulfils its EU obligations concerning relocation and resettlement.
In Germany, NGOs recorded five violent attacks directed against asylum seekers, four arson attacks against reception and accommodation centres and five “other attacks” against reception and accommodation centres (such as damage of property). In addition, two hostile demonstrations were organised against refugees during the reporting period.
There were no public manifestations of anti-migrant sentiment in Bulgaria during the reporting period. Public attention was instead focused on new political developments, including the inauguration of the new president and the resignation of the government.
Pervasive hate speech persisted, and the number of violent crimes motivated by prejudice increased in Poland, as reported by UNHCR and NGOs – for example, Ukrainian students were attacked upon returning to a dormitory; a Pakistani individual was attacked due to his religion; and a kebab stand in Lublin was destroyed because the aggressor thought it was run by Muslims.
A large number of French associations and trade unions highlighted an increase in acts of intimidation and repression by the police against actions supporting migrants, through arrests and detention in police custody.
In Perama Attiki, Greece, a group of Golden Dawn members entered the grounds of a school and quarrelled with parents and teachers ahead of a parents’ association meeting, which was expected to decide whether or not to allow child refugees to attend the school. The mayor of Perama, teachers and parents attended this meeting. The Greek Ministry of Education issued a press release condemning this aggressive act.