September 2016 highlights

Report covers period 1 - 31 August 2016.

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New arrivals

Arrivals in Italy remain at a high level, with some 17,400 people arriving by sea.

Arrivals on the Greek islands steadily increase, particularly affecting facilities at Moria and Kara Tepe on Lesvos and facilities in Chios.

Only 114 people, including some 40 children, arrive in Hungary – significantly fewer than in July (844). Some 1,770 people are returned to Serbia without access to asylum procedures after being apprehended within 8 km of the border.

Arrivals in Bulgaria increase by more than 50 % compared with July, with more than 3,270 apprehensions.

Arrivals in Austria further decrease but remain substantial (some 3,800 persons), with most entering from Italy.

Some 2,440 persons arrive in Sweden.

Criminal proceedings

Several proceedings against smugglers are launched in Austria (12), Bulgaria (54), Hungary (25), Italy (many) and Germany (161). In Italy, this includes a French activist, with some sources indicating that he/she may not have acted for financial gain.

Transfers by private cars from Denmark to Sweden continue, with passengers getting dropped off in the middle of the bridge and continuing by foot. All such transfers are considered to constitute smuggling. 

Initial registration and processing

Authorities in Hungary continue to admit only 15 asylum seekers per day in each of the two transit zone facilities, primarily based on the date of arrival; selected refugees reportedly advise the authorities on others’ dates of arrival. Only one person per day is admitted to the transit zone. Minor forms of disobedience or resistance against fingerprinting occur during registration.

Authorities in Rome, Italy apprehend 80 people – including many children – in a large-scale identification operation at the dismantled Baobab centre, where people have been living on the street. Plans to set up a reception centre near the railway station are being discussed.

In line with a bilateral police agreement, Italy apprehends some 50 Sudanese persons, including from Darfur, near the French border and returns them directly to Sudan. It appears that none of them had applied for asylum in Italy. A parliamentary question concerning the legitimacy of the bilateral agreement with Sudan is still pending.

Germany reports having refused entry to more than 10,600 persons at the Austrian border, mostly from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

Police violence and pushbacks into Serbia are increasingly reported from Hungary, including beatings of people in handcuffs before they are returned to Serbia. The police has initiated criminal proceedings regarding four of the reported cases so far.

In Bulgaria, return decisions are rarely assessed individually and migrants in immigration detention rarely get relevant information about their detention.

The share of asylum applicants, including Syrians, receiving subsidiary protection instead of refugee status increases in Germany.

Germany applies accelerated procedures to asylum applicants from presumed safe countries in its newly established arrival centres, which have been questioned in parliament in terms of quality. Human rights organisations criticise a reliance on administrative courts to correct asylum decisions.

Appeals against negative asylum decisions in Hungary are successful, resulting in a re-examination and suspension of the ‘safe third-country rule’ in about one fifth of cases.

Asylum decisions in Sweden decrease by more than 2,000 compared with July and June. The average processing time is 324 days.

Reception conditions

Occupancy at reception centres in Bulgaria more than doubles, reaching almost 80 %. Conditions deteriorate, leading to violent incidents among inhabitants. In response, the Ministry of Interior plans to set up closed centres and separate asylum seekers by nationality. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) report that many asylum seekers are leaving Bulgaria for Serbia due to poor conditions in Bulgaria.

The number of people waiting to enter the transit zone at the Hungarian-Serbian border drops from 1,200 persons at the beginning of the month to some 450 persons by mid-August, due to improved reception conditions in Serbia. Almost half of them (some 40 %) are children. By mid-August, NGOs install basic sanitary facilities for people waiting to enter the transit zone. Medical assistance is only available from volunteers. The transit zone facilities along the Croatian border did not host any refugees.

Italy starts to distribute and relocate asylum seekers to local reception centres throughout the country. Asylum seekers apprehended in Ventimiglia, near the French border, are transferred to Sardinia or southern Italy.

A detention centre in Brindisi, Italy is set on fire in protest against detention conditions and supported by a solidarity demonstration outside the centre. The regional National Preventive Mechanism criticises the immigration detention centre in Ponte Galeria, Rome as having inadequate living conditions. Reception facilities for children in Lampedusa are set on fire, presumably due to the facilities’ inhabitants’ frustrations with reception conditions. The public prosecutor launches an inquiry into reception centres in Florence due to complaints about poor conditions.

New reception facilities open in Italy, including a temporary tent camp in Frosinone and a reception centre in Pordenone. The mayors of Capalbio and Genoa refuse to make available empty buildings due to the expected negative impact on tourism and trade.

Five regions in Italy, including areas strongly affected by human trafficking, will not receive financial resources under the national Action Plan against Human Trafficking, which could lead to the suspension of many ongoing assistance programmes in these regions.

Reception conditions in Greece remain very poor and give rise to tensions and security concerns. More than 11,300 people are accommodated on the islands, even though they only have the capacity for 7,450 people.

Human rights infringements by refugee home operators in Germany prompt the termination of several contracts. Investigations are ongoing against security staff accused of criminal attacks, including the alleged drugging and rape of a female asylum seeker.

Many rejected asylum seekers in Sweden turn to the church for assistance as they try to stay in Sweden despite the suspension of all assistance.

Material conditions at detention facilities in Hungary are very poor, leading to frustration, tensions and suicide attempts among detainees. Information concerning the asylum system is very limited.

Child protection

More than 1,500 unaccompanied children in Greece continue to wait for suitable shelter. More than 350 of them are housed in closed facilities. The processing of children’s asylum applications is delayed. The lack of paediatricians in Kos delays age assessments and subsequent referrals of unaccompanied children.

Increasing arrivals in Bulgaria undermine efforts to create, and improve conditions in, separate accommodation for children. The Ombudsman in Bulgaria highlights the risk of unaccompanied children being subjected to trafficking and smuggling, problems with appointing children’s representatives, and the lack of efforts to organise protected spaces.

Providers of child accommodation facilities further diversify in Austria, including NGOs and private persons.

Ministry of Interior officials consider the lack of fingerprinting of children below the age of 14 years to be an obstacle to identifying and tracing children in Austria in case they go missing.

Youth welfare offices are often not present in arrival and reception centres in Germany. Unaccompanied children are often subjected to several transfers due to the distribution among federal states according to quotas. Delays in appointing guardians persist. Some children are accommodated in inadequate facilities. Children living with noncustodial relatives forfeit child and youth benefits.

German police identified 1,725 unaccompanied children at its borders between April and June, significantly fewer than for the period between January and March (some 3,650 un accompanied children). Of the 1,725 children, 1,568 were referred to youth offices, 458 were refused entry at the border, and 10 were expelled pursuant to Paragraph 57 of the Residence Act.

Some 900 unaccompanied children apply for asylum in Sweden, mainly from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Unaccompanied children who were transferred to other municipalities in the past due to lack of space are being returned to the original municipalities. 

Legal, social and policy responses

Hungary announces plans to reinforce the fences at its southern borders. In preparation for the referendum on the EU relocation system – scheduled for 2 October 2016– the authorities continue to portray the migration situation as a threat to national security.

Legislation to reform the asylum system in Italy is being prepared. In an effort to speed up asylum procedures, the proposed law limits appeal possibilities against negative asylum decisions by the territorial commissions and allows appeals to be decided without hearing applicants in person.

Greece passes a law providing reception classes for school-aged refugee children to prepare them for integration into the Greek education system.

A law that has been passed in Italy allows accommodating unaccompanied children in extraordinary and temporary facilities established by the local prefectures, if the capacity of the regular specialised reception centres for children is insufficient. Standards for these new types of facilities have not yet been set, and NGOs fear that they will not adequately protect children.

The Swedish government presents a new action plan for the protection of children exposed to human trafficking, exploitation and sexual abuse, focusing on the disappearance of unaccompanied children.

Sweden postpones the introduction of a new state compensation system that would decrease state support for municipalities that receive unaccompanied children to increase incentives for finding cost-effective ways to accommodate them.

Cases of severe mistreatment and poor conditions continue to be reported from accommodation centres for unaccompanied children in Sweden.

As a result of temporary restrictions on obtaining residence permits introduced in July, several unaccompanied children in the south of Sweden who unwittingly crossed into Denmark had to reapply for asylum upon returning to Sweden under the new Act, which only allows temporary residence permits to be granted.

According to media reports, in Lower Saxony, a father of six children who had 10 days to leave the country and regularly reported to social services was detained based on a risk of absconding. The case was referred to the State’s Interior Ministry in Germany, which overturned the detention decision.

Hate speech

Local vigilante groups in Hungary violently return migrants to Serbia. The mayor of a border town applauds these efforts, referring to the villagers’ better knowledge of the territory compared to the police.

Many anti-refugee incidents and events take place in Austria and Germany. In Austria, these include several personal threats to aid workers and service providers. At least every three days, an accommodation facility is subject to an arson attack in Germany. Victims are afraid to report to the police and/or are concerned that this would negatively affect their pending status procedures.

In Italy, the mayor of Abetone requests separate bus lines for school students and local asylum seekers. In Sicily, four children are violently attacked by locals and hospitalised, one being in a serious condition.

An informal refugee housing settlement in Greece is attacked with gas-bottle bombs.

Bulgarian social media users’ hostility towards refugees intensifies.