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Continuing concerns as governments adopt tough stance on migration issues

© miklyxa, Adobe Stock, 2018
Developments in the EU continue to be of concern as some governments adopt a tough stance on migration issues, according to the FRA’s latest periodic report on migration-related fundamental rights issues. Conditions in the reception centres in the hotspots remained problematic and various border issues also persist.

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Austria, whose Presidency of the Council of the European Union started on 1 July, declared migration to be one of the key priorities. Under the theme ‘A Europe that protects’, the focus will be on the creation of a resilient and strict asylum and migration system to prevent uncontrolled migration. According to a press release from the Ministry of the Interior, this includes considerations relating to return centres in third countries. In his speech at the “Europa Forum Wachau”, the Austrian Chancellor called for more financial means for Frontex border guards and a wider mandate. Suggestions include allowing Frontex to negotiate with and operate in third countries, particularly in northern Africa, to stop people embarking on journeys to Europe. The UNHCR urged the Austrian Presidency to ensure access to territory for protection seekers and uphold the right to asylum.

Italy’s new government changed its approach to permitting the disembarkation of migrants rescued at sea. In line with this new approach, several boats were not allowed to dock. For example, on 10 June, the government refused to allow the Aquarius rescue boat carrying more than 600 migrants to dock. On 20 June, a Danish container ship involved in a rescue operation by the Italian Coast Guard, the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre, was held outside the port of Pozzallo for four days, before being authorised to dock. On 27 June, after Italy refused passengers to disembark from the Lifeline, the German NGO rescue boat was eventually allowed to dock in Malta on 27 June upon a commitment by eight countries to host the 234 migrants rescued. On 30 June, Italy refused access to the Spanish NGO ship Open Arms, which rescued 59 migrants as they tried to cross the Mediterranean Sea from Libya, the media reported. The Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration (ASGI) has taken a stand against the Italian government’s decision, claiming that it breaches international obligations.

The Minister of the Interior of Germany announced a migration masterplan including “measures to order, control and limit immigration”. For example, the plan reiterates the importance of so-called ‘anchor centres’ (AnKER Centres – zentrale Aufnahme-, Entscheidungs- und Rückführungseinrichtungen). These are planned centres where asylum seekers will be registered, have their cases assessed and potentially be returned from. The plan also envisages increased EU border protection and “disembarkation platforms" in North Africa. The plan calls for transit centres at the German-Austrian border, as well as the refusal of Dublin returnees at the border – a position that was not supported by the rest of the government’s coalition. NGOs condemned the plan for focusing on rules and sanctions. The German President criticised the government’s migration policy dispute as “excessively harsh”.

In Greece, migration hotspots reception centres on the islands of Lesvos, Samos and Chios remained severely overcrowded. This is despite falling number of arrivals.

The Hungarian Parliament adopted the Seventh Amendment to the Fundamental Law and a legislative package called “Stop Soros”, amending the Aliens, Asylum and Police Acts as well as the Criminal Code. The new rules prohibit the settlement of non-European immigrants into Hungary; further restrict the right to asylum; and introduce immigration restraining orders, a new legal institution entailing prohibition of entry and stay in a designated area of the country. Furthermore, it criminalises “aiding and supporting illegal migration”. Any form of assistance to migrants who have entered Hungary in an irregular manner constitutes a criminal office, which is punished by custodial arrest or, in aggravated circumstances, imprisonment up to one year (e.g. in case of material support to irregular migrants, organisations or individuals operating within the 8 km zone near the border; or providing assistance on a regular basis). The Council of Europe’s Venice Commission criticised key provisions of the legislation as it seriously impairs legitimate NGO work.

The Agency collects data about the fundamental rights situation of people arriving in Member States particularly affected by large migration movements. This report covers 14 Member States: Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Sweden.

FRA has published its migration overviews since September 2015.