Report covers period 1-31 August 2017.
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See also the September 2017 focus section on oversight of receiption facilities >>
Since November 2016, FRA’s monthly reports have highlighted key developments in 14 Member States: Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Spain and Sweden. This month’s highlights are published alongside a focus section on oversight of reception facilities.
The Greek Asylum Service recorded some 5,000 asylum applicants (approximately 3500 men and 1500 women, mostly coming from Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan). This number represents a small increase since July.
According to Frontex, around 2,300 asylum seekers arrived in Spain this July, more than four times as many as in July 2016. Some 14,200 persons applied for asylum in the first half of 2017, mainly from Venezuela, Syria and Ukraine, nearly double as many as in 2016. Decisions remained pending for 28,200 applicants at the end of August.
In Bulgaria, some 310 persons applied for asylum in July, including 200 men (around 80 boys) and around 110 women (approximately 30 were girls), according to the State Agency for Refugees. In Hungary, 211 persons applied for asylum, which is a slight decrease compared to July (238). In both Member States, applicants predominantly originate from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
The number of asylum applications is decreasing in Poland: some 3800 persons applied for asylum in the first eight months of 2017, which is around one third of all asylum seekers in 2016, as reported by the Office for Foreigners. The main countries of origin remained Russia and Ukraine.
Austria received its first (14) relocated asylum seekers in August 2017.
EASO regularly provides monthly overviews of the latest asylum trends in the EU.
According to the NGO Watch the Med, in the area of Kastelorizo, the Hellenic Coast Guard pushed back a boat carrying 26 asylum seekers, including a child with a disability, an eighth-month old baby and a pregnant woman. Turkish authorities later rescued them.
In line with amendments to the Italian asylum law, 26 specialised divisions were established at ordinary courts of the Appeal Courts to deal with asylum and migration proceedings.
At Barajas Airport in Madrid, asylum applications quadrupled this year compared to 2016. Following several complaints about the increasing number of asylum seekers held at the airport asylum room, the Spanish Ombudsman carried out an unannounced visit. While noting that there were improvements in how the police process and receive asylum applicants, the Ombudsman pushed for urgent change. The Asylum and Refugee Office of the Spanish Ministry of the Interior and the Sub-Directorate for Immigrant Integration at the Ministry of Employment and Social Security are to improve their coordination with the police in identifying and referring persons with specific protection needs and to clarify the responsibilities of each body.
Throughout the first half of 2017, UNHCR continued to receive reports on automatic refoulement at EU borders, including by Spanish authorities. Police cameras recorded the use of severe force by the Spanish border guards and police hitting and kicking persons trying to enter the border irregularly at El Tarajal/Ceuta.
In August, the Hungarian police escorted 1,229 people apprehended within the country to the Serbian side of the border fence where they have to wait to apply for asylum in one of the Hungarian transit zones. The Hungarian NGOs MigSzol and Hungarian Association for Migrants reported on complaints concerning the brutality and violence used by the police against people crossing the Serbian-Hungarian border. Non-governmental organisations continued to criticise the limited access to asylum, which is the result of several measures. Such measures include: the further tightened border policy; the restriction of registering asylum applications in the transit zones, where opening hours and admissions are limited (10 persons per day, weekends excluded); the consideration of Serbia as a safe third country; lengthy procedures (some applicants waiting in the transit zones for four months); and the low recognition rate (15% of all applications during the first seven months in 2017, with only 22% of Syrian asylum seekers receiving international protection).
Access to asylum also remained restricted in Poland. According to NGOs following the situation at the border, border guards continued to disregard the interim measures of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), according to which Poland should cease to refuse entry to asylum seekers at the Terespol and Medyka border crossing point. In the case of a Chechen family seeking asylum, the UN Human Rights Committee requested the Polish authorities not to refuse the asylum application submitted at the borders and not to push people back until the Committee has heard their complaints.
In France, NGOs continue to note delays to access the asylum procedure. For instance, France Terre d’Asile reported that in Paris asylum seekers wait on average 8 days to access a reception centre and 39 days before obtaining an appointment at the Prefecture. The NGOs La Cimade and Roya citizen continue to report difficulties in submitting asylum applications at the French-Italian border. Asylum seekers sometimes have to wait for more than a week before lodging their application. In Calais, following a decision of the Council of State, asylum applicants staying in the region will be directed to other centres in France, which should speed up the registration of their asylum application.
In the Netherlands, the District Court in The Hague heard a case against the Dutch state concerning Afghan asylum seekers suspected of having committed war crimes in the 1980s and 1990s during their alleged employment with the Afghan secret service. Their asylum requests have been denied, leaving the persons concerned in limbo, as they are unable to return due to security reasons. The complainants have argued that the Dutch Council of State had violated EU legislation by not conducting an individual investigation into the personal situation of persons excluded from international protection.
The Dutch State Secretary designated specific categories of asylum seekers from Iran (journalists, members of the opposition, members of human rights organisations who have criticised the Iranian government, followers of Yarsanism and apostates of Islam) and Russia (political activists and other persons who criticised the Russian government) as “groups at risk” who only need to produce limited indications to prove their risk of persecution.
According to Caritas and the Jesuit Refugee Service, asylum applicants in Germany do not have access to independent and early counselling to the extent necessary.
Administrative courts in Germany have experienced a significant increase in appeals against asylum decisions, putting pressure on courts, judges and non-judicial staff; there were approx. 250,000 appeals pending in April 2017. In Baden Württemberg alone, some 25,500 appeals were launched in the first half of 2017 and the share of successful appeals almost tripled compared to 2016. The federal administrative court could clarify recurrent questions, for example concerning Syrian refugees whose circumstances are assessed differently by the 15 administrative courts. NGOs have considered the increase of appeals indicative of the poor quality of asylum decisions, whereas the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) has explained the increase of appeals by the increasing number of decisions.
Germany has suspended Dublin transfers to Hungary due to systematic detentions, pushbacks and the lack of integration opportunities.
The Austrian Ombudsman Board received 2,000 complaints regarding the duration of asylum procedures since the beginning of 2017, compared to 1,500 such complaints in the entire year 2016. The Minister of Interior expects an acceleration of asylum procedures as soon as the Regional Directorate of the Federal Office for Immigration and Asylum is moved from Traiskirchen to Wiener Neustadt, where a branch office has already been operating.
In Denmark, asylum applications from Iraqi citizens from Mosul (approx. 30 persons), put on hold since December 2016, were resumed, according to the Refugees Appeals Board. According to NGOs, it has been questioned whether this suspension also included applicants who would most likely be granted a Refugee Convention status, rendering the general situation in Mosul irrelevant for assessing the application. The Danish Red Cross reported on frustrations among these asylum seekers concerning the delays and unclear reasons for putting the procedures on hold.
The Ministry of Justice in Finland announced that there would be an assessment of legal aid services offered to asylum seekers, which NGOs have criticised for restricted access, cost ceilings and deteriorating quality. There have been improvements in the quality of asylum decisions claimed by the Finnish Immigration Office, achieved through training and guidelines within the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF)-funded Flow project. Nonetheless, NGOs and legal activists have continued to criticise the quality of decisions and available legal support services. In Vantaa, Finland, some 20 asylum seekers protested against the Finnish asylum policy.
Arrivals to Italy dropped drastically, with fewer than 11,200 in July, which presumably indicates the impact of the new agreement with Libya.
NGOs deploying rescue vessels in the Central Mediterranean continued to be subject to pressure and subsequently suspended their search and rescue support activities despite concerns that this will result in increasing deaths at sea. NGOs in Italy have remained divided over the signature of a code of conduct. The NGO ‘Sos Méditerranée’ signed the code only after certain clauses were included, specifying that the code is not legally binding, and that the presence of police staff on board shall be justified by national or international law and cannot hamper rescue operations. The ship of the German NGO ‘Jugend Rettet’ was seized under the suspicion of aiding illegal migration from Libya. The Libyan coast guard shot at the ship of the NGO ‘Open Arms’ under unclear circumstances. A few days later, the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) sent the ship to rescue a small boat, but it had to remain in international waters for 70 hours since the Maltese authorities did not authorise the ship to enter port. The ship eventually moored at the Italian port of Pozzallo (Sicily). Libyan authorities announced the establishment of a broad search and rescue zone, where NGOs are not allowed to perform search and rescue operations, and MRCC warned the NGOs about security risks in that area.
NGOs have criticised the cooperation with Libya for the likely violation of fundamental rights of people on the move. In response to an Associated Press article, the Italian Foreign Ministry firmly denied supporting a deal allegedly struck between the Libyan government and the Libyan militias aimed at stopping migrants from crossing the central Mediterranean Sea.
A second coordination meeting of interior ministries from Italy, Chad, Libya, Mali, and Niger took place, aimed at strengthening cooperation in border management and the fight against human smuggling and terrorism.
The Hungarian police started training the next contingent of so-called “border-hunters”. Currently, 352 “border-hunters” are enrolled in the programme, and altogether 3000 new officials will be recruited. The programme aims to train volunteers on how to assist the police and the army in guarding the southern borders of Hungary. The police in Hungary launched criminal proceedings against 59 persons suspected of using forged public documents to try to enter the country.
In Sweden authorities recruited 100 new border guards, who will start working at the Southern borders over the autumn.
Arrivals in Spain increased by 92 % (9,500 persons) in the first half of 2017, compared to 2016 (4,936 persons), according to UNHCR. In Ceuta, 67 people managed to jump over the fence on 1 August; almost 200 people ran through the border crossing point on 7 August. In addition, several arrivals by small boats were reported, which required the rescue of 600 people on 17 August.
Some 86 detainees at the Aliens Detention Centres (CIE) of Aluche in Madrid protested against their return. These detainees had been transferred to the Aluche CIE ahead of their return from the CIE in Algeciras.
As in previous months, forced returns from France to Afghanistan continued, according to the NGO La Cimade. The NGO National Association of Border Assistance for Foreigners (ANAFÉ) reported that in the “waiting area” at the airport of Roissy-Charles de Gaulle, a Gabonese woman suffered from violent abuse when she was denied entry to France because her travel document was not in order. At the same airport, the association reported that an Iraqi woman and her two small children were bound and immobilised with ties as they were deported to Baghdad. Two similar cases were reported at the Toulouse airport by the same NGO.
Bulgaria returned 157 people. The majority of them left the country under assisted voluntary return programmes, while some 20 people were removed forcibly, as reported by the Ministry of the Interior. Most returnees came from Afghanistan and Iraq, which were the corresponding countries for return as well as Turkey. IOM Bulgaria launched an information campaign in five languages (Arabic, Kurdish, Dari, Pashto and English) on assisted voluntary return and reintegration programmes, to target reception centres for asylum seekers and pre-removal detention facilities.
During the first half of 2017, some 40 people, primarily from Georgia, Russia and Vietnam, were subject to forced removal from Slovakia (in application of readmission agreements), whereas 25 people returned voluntarily in the same period.
The Netherlands returned an Armenian woman to Armenia, where she had never lived before. Her 11- and 12-year old children went into hiding and remained in the Netherlands. The Ombudsman for Children and civil society organisations strongly criticised the decision. The guardianship institution Nidos managed to make contact with both children and assumed guardianship. The Ministry of Security and Justice defended the return, attributing responsibility to the mother for leaving her children behind.
Amnesty International criticised several aspects of the Dutch return system: safe country of origin considerations as a basis for return, non-transparent procedures and problems occurring upon return, ranging from loss of luggage and/or identity papers to incidents of detention, prosecution, abuse, extortion and lack of medical care; the report also criticised the limited scope of return monitoring which stops immediately upon arrival, also in case of vulnerable persons such as children, sick persons or pregnant women.
Germany returned some 12,500 persons in the first half of 2017; in addition, around 5,930 persons were refused entry and some 19,390 were returned at the border. In July, the German federal state of Baden Württemberg returned 216 persons, mainly to Kosovo, Albania and FYROM; Hamburg returned 90 persons and Saxony Anhalt returned 60.
Since May 2017 there have been no removals from Germany to Afghanistan. In the first half of 2017, 261 persons were forcibly returned to Afghanistan, fewer than 800 returned “voluntarily”. Due to a new security assessment of Afghanistan, Germany decided to return persons only in certain cases, primarily rejected asylum seekers who are considered “dangerous” or persons who allegedly refused to cooperate to clarify their identities.
Around 100 Afghan asylum seekers and some supporters held a four-day demonstration against removals to Afghanistan in a park in Vienna, Austria. According to Caritas Vienna, some 500 to 600 Afghan asylum seekers received a negative decision in 2017; appeal courts generally grant subsidiary protection despite a court expert opinion suggesting that the situation in Kabul is sufficiently safe for returns.
Some reception centres in Tyrol, Styria and Carinthia will be turned into open pre-removal facilities as of 1 November 2017.
In Austria, 70 soldiers have started to support police checks on trains and in focus areas in Tyrol.
According to the Ministry of Justice, the Danish National Police returned more than 70 persons, including four to Afghanistan. The Danish Red Cross found that the police has carried out returns without prior consultation on voluntary departure. The Danish Red Cross finds this particularly problematic in cases involving children.
The Danish government allocated 125 million Danish kroner (approximately 17 million Euros) for returns to be implemented in 2017 and 2018.
Some 586 people, including 129 children, returned voluntarily from Sweden. The main countries of destination were Iraq, Afghanistan and Albania. There were also 191 forced returns, primarily to Albania, Serbia and Georgia. The figures for removals to Afghanistan include approximately 90 voluntary departures and fewer than a dozen forced removals. The Swedish Red Cross raised human rights concerns in returning rejected asylum seekers to Afghanistan because of the security situation in the country.
In Sweden, the police apprehended undocumented asylum-seeking families during a day camp hosted by the Swedish Church close to Malmö. The Swedish Church condemned the action, stating that the church should be a safe haven for all.
Returns continued to create tensions inside and outside of reception centres in Finland as the police intensified their efforts to carry out removals.
The police in Finland returned some 2,100 persons in the first half of 2017; returns have become more complicated due to an increasing number of returns involving long distances. Additionally, the police remains responsible for persons who are reluctant to return, including those who received a return decision based on a criminal offence. In August, the Finnish Immigration Service issued 80 return decisions and twelve based on criminal conviction, mainly concerning persons from Iraq, Russia and Afghanistan.
By the end of August, some 27,400 people had been relocated from Greece, mainly Syrians, Iraqis and Eritreans, according to the Greek Asylum Service. Some 8,220 asylum applicants had been removed from Italy while transfer was pending in 1,072 approved cases; approval by other Member States was pending in 1,389 cases; and, in 1,073 cases, applications had been processed while the destination Member State was still being identified.
The Greek Reception and Identification Centres (RIC) in the Aegean islands remained overcrowded (with 13,460 people hosted on the islands). There are serious challenges to face regarding the services provided. The increased number of new arrivals in August added further pressure on already overstretched resources. Doctors without Borders Greece expressed their concern about the conditions on the island of Samos, which was hosting double its population capacity. In August, some newcomers were forced to sleep rough in the woods close to the RIC of Samos. In Kos, health services were only provided by the local hospital, while in Lesvos and Chios only the emergency personnel of the National Centre for Disease Control and Prevention was present in August.
In mainland Greece, Doctors of the World started implementing a programme for support and care for asylum seekers and refugees seeking medical, psychiatric and psychosocial services in the wider area of Attica.
The police in Rome evacuated a building occupied by almost 800 migrants, predominantly protection status holders, including many Eritrean and Ethiopian families with children and pregnant women. The migrants claimed that they had not been informed about the evacuation, nor were they given the possibility to voluntarily leave and take their belongings with them. Four migrants were arrested for obstruction and violence against police officers. As migrants subsequently camped on a square outside the building, the media recorded a police officer ordering his colleagues to evacuate everybody from the square and to “break their legs” should they refuse to leave. The Chief of the Italian police strongly criticised the statement. ASGI criticised the conduct of police during the evacuation, as well as the decision itself of evacuating the building without providing an alternative accommodation to the people living there. A demonstration in Rome showed solidarity with the evacuated migrants and asylum seekers and protested against the conduct of the police. According to the Public Prosecutor of Rome, some of the former residents were illegally subletting and demanding payment from migrants and asylum seekers; police have started investigations.
An Afghan asylum seeker staying in a reception centre in Milan (Lombardy) committed suicide. This is the third suicide of an asylum applicant in a Milan-based reception centre in 2017. Asylum seekers in reception centres in Turin and Florence, Italy, protested against reception conditions and the internal house rules. In Florence, one of the demonstrators was expelled from the centre, whereas a further five were transferred to another facility.
The Italian Ministry of the Interior has planned a decree to identify empty public facilities and buildings for housing asylum applicants.
Asylum seekers in Spain cannot access the reception system before they have registered their asylum application with the Asylum and Refugee Office. They are sent to services for persons lacking resources, even if they have an appointment to register their application, as in the case of a Salvadoran asylum seeker who had to live on the street for ten days until his appointment took place.
During his unannounced visit at Barajas Airport, the Spanish Ombudsperson found the capacity of the airport asylum room insufficient and conditions inadequate, particularly for children –given that persons are held there for more than 72 hours pending a decision on their application, the room has no natural light and the food is inadequate.
The overall capacity of reception centres in Bulgaria was 5,190 places, with 25 % of the centres occupied (with 1,315 asylum seekers staying there). Some additional 430 asylum seekers continued to live outside the centres, at so-called ‘external addresses’, according to the Ministry of the Interior. The open reception centre in Pastrogor, with a capacity of 300 places, was transformed into a closed facility by the end of August, which will become fully operational over the autumn. This centre aims to accommodate asylum seekers who have violated the internal rules during their stay in open reception centres, as reported by the State Agency for Refugees.
The Hungarian transit zones along the Serbian border mainly received families from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria in the reporting period. When entering the transit zones, these groups receive priority over single men. Some 158 asylum seekers stayed in the Tompa transit zone (with a capacity of 250 beds) and 258 stayed in the transit zone in Röszke, which was extended to accommodate 450 persons. Civil society organisations and UNHCR reported that the conditions remained inhumane: people are still living in shipping containers, the quality of food is poor, and asylum seekers have very limited opportunities to maintain contact with the outside world. After banning the Hungarian Helsinki Committee from these facilities in July, only a handful of organisations (e.g. UNHCR, Catholic Caritas) are allowed to enter the transit zones to assist the asylum seekers. Additionally, civil society organisations complained about the lack of interpreters. After multiple complaints on the lack of shade and air conditioning in the transit facilities, authorities set up umbrellas in the yards, and installed fans in the dining container. The open refugee centres in Vámosszabadi and Fót can accommodate 480 persons; but only 95 beneficiaries of international protection were accommodated therein (mostly families and unaccompanied children below 14 years of age).
The Slovak Humanitarian Council reported that asylum seekers continued to face difficulties in accessing health care, in particular specialised care. For instance, some doctors refuse to consult with asylum seekers, because they allege to be operating at full capacity. On average, asylum seekers have to wait for an appointment for three months. According to the same NGO, asylum seekers cannot open bank accounts because they lack the identity documents required by banks (typically a valid passport).
Reception capacity in France was at 70,000 to 80,000 places, according to La Cimade, whereas close to 110,000 people were still in need of accommodation. There are no reception centres in the department of Alpes-Maritimes as pointed out by the NGO Roya Citizen. The government plans to create 7,500 additional places in 2018-2019. Living conditions in informal camps in the north of France (Calais) and in the southwest (Menton) remained problematic. After the Council of State decision of July 2017, water points and portable toilets have been installed in the Calais area, as reported by Service Centre for Migrants in Calais. This NGO claims that these measures are inadequate (e.g. the absence of showers causes a major hygiene problem). In Paris, informal camps that had developed near the initial reception centre were evacuated, with more than 2,000 people forced to leave. Many such sites are later rebuilt with the same problematic living conditions.
Occupancy of initial reception facilities in Germany has ranged between 13 % (Thuringia) and 73 % (Saxony Anhalt) based on figures available from authorities in ten federal states. Some 200 asylum applicants in Hamburg stayed in two provisional shelters (a former construction market and a commercial hall) while two reception centres were closed, according to regional authorities.
In Austria, transfers from initial reception facilities at federal level to basic care facilities at regional level further decreased, according to Caritas Styria, despite constant numbers of asylum applications.
The Danish Immigration Service announced the closure of four Red Cross run accommodation centres due to the relatively low number of asylum seekers.
The continuous closing and opening of reception facilities in Finland has caused anxiety and tension among asylum seekers, who have to constantly move and adapt to changing environments; mental health services are not at an adequate level, according to the Immigration Service. Cases of violence, including within families, have been reported to the police.
In Hungary, children in families and unaccompanied children above the age of 14 continued to be accommodated in the transit zones rather than being placed in other facilities with child-specific services. Only unaccompanied children under the age of 14 are transferred to the children’s home in Fót, where they enjoy access to proper child-friendly amenities and child protection services. Older children have to stay in the transit zones until their asylum claim is processed.
According to NGOs, reception facilities in Spain have been overcrowded, so that asylum seekers had to be accommodated in hostels, shelters or centres for homeless people. This has made their access to support services and the identification of vulnerabilities and special needs difficult.
In Poland, according to NGOs, asylum seekers who have been victims of violence are often placed in detention because identification and referral procedures do not work properly. As reported by the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, there are instances of victims of torture not being released from detention, even though border guards are aware that they were subject to violence.
In Greece, some 1,270 unaccompanied children continued to wait for accommodation in specialised facilities. The total number of available places remained at 1,228 (in 52 transit and long-term shelters). In total, some 2,400 unaccompanied children were estimated to be residing in the country according to the National Centre for Social Solidarity.
UNICEF visited the hotspot in Trapani (Sicily), where approximately 7,430 persons were received between 1 January and 23 August 2017, including 785 unaccompanied children in specialised facilities.
According to the Department of Equality and Social Welfare of the Regional Government of Andalusia, the autonomous community has accommodated 2,000 unaccompanied children in 2017 until mid-July, a 60 % increase compared to 2015, and constituting 60 % of the total of unaccompanied children identified (3,374 children) in Spain during the first half of 2017.
Asylum applicants in Germany are generally young, with around 76 % under the age of 30. Nearly 42 % of all asylum applicants were children, and 23 % of applicants were below the age of four. Some 35,000 unaccompanied children have been protected by the youth welfare offices by the end of July, as well as some 23,600 young adults, according to the Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth. Around 5 % of all asylum applicants in 2017 were unaccompanied children, according to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees.
In the Netherlands, 115 children, mainly from Eritrea, Syria and Guinea, were registered as unaccompanied in July, almost 30 % more than in June (82 children).
The Hungarian authorities continue to assign guardians only to unaccompanied children under the age of 14, who are placed in childcare institutions.
In Poland, appointing a guardian for unaccompanied children is very lengthy. For instance, UNHCR Poland reported a case where it took 9 months. This is partly due to the lack of an official list of guardians and in absence of funding, NGOs are not able to represent separated children, as pointed out by the Association for Legal Intervention.
According to NGO reports to the Prefecture of Imperia (Liguria), an Italian border region with France, many unaccompanied children in the area live in the street or have to stay in adult facilities; a specialised centre for children is needed.
A lawyer from the Association for Legal Studies on Immigration (ASGI) referred to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) the case of 80 unaccompanied children allegedly unlawfully detained in the hotspot in Taranto (Apulia) between 22 May 2017 and the end of July 2017 without any possibility to get in touch with their families.
Following several complaints by the Spanish Refugee Aid Commission, the Spanish Ombudsman urged the State Prosecutor's Office to apply the presumption of minority to all applicants for international protection at the airports, when there are doubts about their age. The Commission had found that the presumption of minority is not applied at the airport in cases when asylum seekers claim to be children after travelling with adult documents, even if they produce certified copies of or original birth certificates.
Despite the regional government of Andalusia making an investment of € 1.4 million, official juvenile centres have remained increasingly overcrowded, according to the Federation of Public Services of the General Workers Union, which has reported staff shortages and the use of classrooms as dormitories.
In Spain, upon the arrival of many children in August, including some 40 at Valdevaqueros and several more in Cadiz, the parking area of the campground at the beach of Valdevaqueros was used for accommodating more than 60 children in four tents with bunk beds. According to the Regional Government of Andalusia, the children receive “the same services as in a centre”, including Spanish classes, which are taught on the porch of a nearby restaurant. NGOs referred to this emergency as “an inappropriate remedy”.
Following his announced visit to the Aliens Detention Centre of Aluche on 1 August, the Ombudsperson submitted a complaint to the Spanish Public Prosecutor's Office concerning the unlawful detention 13 children aged 16 in this CIE.
Ahead of the new school year, the Bulgarian State Agency for Refugees launched a public procurement for transporting asylum seeking children accommodated in the reception centres in Sofia to school. Over the summer, several voluntary activities, including donations, recreational and educational activities as well as language courses, for asylum-seeking children were organised by civil society organisations in Bulgaria.
In France, the Department of Isère has suspended the reception of unaccompanied children since July 2017 due to budgetary reasons.
The Dutch Council for Refugees urged the next government to be more lenient in applying children’s amnesty. Children may qualify for amnesty if they lived in the Netherlands for more than five years, have been supervised by an official organisation, are below the age of 18 and their families have cooperated for their return. The current government additionally required families to have reported voluntarily and regularly to the Repatriation and Departure Service, which the Council considers unnecessary as the registration by municipalities and schools offers sufficient opportunities for the authorities to supervise the families.
According to Unicef, in The Netherlands, unaccompanied children are often accommodated at adult reception facilities lacking child-specific support rather than specialised facilities. This concerns children over 15 and children younger than 15 for whom no foster families could be found.
Depending on the federal state in Germany, children and young adults may not be allowed to work, despite employers’ offers of apprenticeships; Bavaria has particularly implemented such restrictions.
According to the Danish Red Cross, operators of accommodation centres no longer have to provide two rooms to families with children, despite decreasing numbers of asylum seekers. The Red Cross also reported difficulties in providing adequate schooling and leisure activities at the Centre of Gribskov.
In Sweden, most unaccompanied children turning 18 are transferred from municipalities to accommodation run by the Swedish Migration Agency, since municipalities receive significantly lower financial support from the government in the case of hosting adults. Some municipalities, including Stockholm, decided to keep children turning 18, arguing that their transfer is detrimental to their wellbeing and education.
In Finland, 15 units for unaccompanied children were operational accommodating 120 persons by the end of August. Several units will be closed in the coming months.
Austria entered nearly 700 non-EU children as missing in SIS II in 2017.
The Danish Immigration Service found that 50 asylum-seeking children went missing. According to the Danish Red Cross, children go missing at the beginning of the asylum procedure or during the final stage, due to the fear of being returned to their country of origin. Unaccompanied children living on the street are at particularly high risk to go missing during the asylum procedure.
Family reunification transfers from Greece to Germany under the Dublin Regulation continued to be an issue of concern. Due to an informal agreement between Greece and Germany, there is a set quota of 70 people per month. This means that between 2,000 and 2,500 asylum seekers eligible for family reunification will remain in Greece for up to three more years. The German Ministry of the Interior is considering further suspending family reunifications of persons with subsidiary protection status.
In practice, applications for family reunification from Afghanistan are difficult and delayed, as the German embassy in Kabul remains closed. Instead, applicants are required to travel to New Delhi or Islamabad.
In Greece, 117 unaccompanied children were detained under the police protective custody regime, while awaiting placement in appropriate accommodation, as reported by Human Rights Watch.
In Italy, the Ordinary Court of Bari (Apulia) ordered the state to pay € 30,000 in compensation for the inhumane and degrading treatment of migrants in the former detention centre in Bari. UNHCR has continued to report on the deficiencies at the Aliens Detention Centres in Spain. The Spanish Ombudsman carried out an unannounced visit of the Aluche Aliens Detention Centre in Madrid, only a day after 86 detainees had protested at the centre. The Ombudsman met privately with the detainees, assisted by an interpreter and with staff from the centre. The Ombudsman found the facilities overall to be inadequate and noted with concern the limited availability of healthcare and social support offered by non-police staff, as reforms in the Aliens Detention Centres Operating Regulation of 2014 were not implemented. Moreover, the authorities did not identify unaccompanied children, which led to several complaints to the public prosecutor by detainees claiming to be children.
Women in Aliens Detention Centres face worse conditions than men. For example, women stay in smaller quarters, have fewer open spaces and less time for recreation in the CIE courtyard. Common spaces are in worse condition in CIEs in Algeciras and Gran Canary. Pregnant women do not receive adequate medical follow-up. Women receive fewer toiletry articles and changes of clothes. Women have to ask the predominantly male staff for hygiene articles.
As reported by the Bulgarian Ombudsman, detention conditions are unsatisfactory in the pre-removal facilities in Bulgaria. Despite some facelift renovations, the buildings are worn-out and in a poor state of repair and are not adequately equipped for hosting children. Nonetheless, health services are available around-the-clock and are provided by medical professionals.
In Bulgaria, the Migration Directorate of the Ministry of the Interior and UNHCR Bulgaria signed a memorandum of understanding on mutual co-operation. It frames their future co-operation, in particular focusing on the implementation of European immigration detention standards and reducing the detention of migrant and asylum seeking children.
In Hungary, 20 persons were held in asylum detention at the end of August (besides the transit zones) and altogether almost 130 people remained in detention pending at the end of the month.
A total of 484 persons were accommodated in pre-removal detention facilities in Bulgaria (with an occupancy rate of about 51 %), according to the Ministry of the Interior. The majority of these persons arrived from Afghanistan (about 22 %), Pakistan (about 20 %) and Syria (about 19 %).
In France, the NGOs ANAFÉ and La Cimade reported violent incidents concerning detained children. In addition, when persons are refused entry at the border, they are increasingly held in closed “waiting areas”, at international airports, ports and railway stations. People can be detained in these short-term holding facilities for up to 20 days.
In Sweden, 380 persons were in detention at the end of the reporting period, including 22 asylum seekers. The Swedish Red Cross raised concerns about the increasing detention of rejected asylum seekers, who are placed in detention at an earlier stage of the return procedure than before.
At the end of August, the Bulgarian government submitted a set of draft amendments to the Foreigners in the Republic of Bulgaria Act to parliament. These include increasing the authority of the Social Assistance Directorate (SAD) in all proceedings involving unaccompanied children who have not applied for international protection, although the SAD opposed the proposal.
In Slovakia, the Act on the Protection and Support of Victims of Crimes, which regulates victims’ rights, was adopted by the government and sent to parliament for discussion. It only applies to nationals, beneficiaries of international protection and regular migrants with residence permits, meaning that asylum seekers cannot benefit from such rights.
A draft amendment of the Danish Aliens Act proposes that third country nationals who concealed information concerning their identity may never be granted permanent residence. The public consultation of the draft ends in September.
In Greece, 25 NGOs submitted a joint report to inform the responsible authorities on the persisting problems associated with granting social security numbers, tax registration numbers and unemployment cards to applicants for international protection. As a reaction, the General Secretariat for Immigration Policy issued an information note providing guidance to the relevant services.
Several mayors in Lombardy have enacted so-called ‘extraordinary emergency orders’ (ordinanze contingibili e urgenti), requiring citizens hosting asylum seekers to notify municipal authorities through certified email; persons failing to do so, will be fined.
In Denmark, the Danish Red Cross stated that it continues to wait for information from the Ministry of Immigration and Integration on how the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in the case of Paposhvili v. Belgium from December 2016 will be implemented, particularly in view of the practice of granting humanitarian residence permits. The Court found that the return of a Georgian citizen who suffered several serious diseases violated Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Belgian authorities had not conducted an independent assessment of the applicant’s opportunities to receive proper, vital medical treatment in his country of origin.
Initial responses by the authorities to the knife attack in Turku, Finland, managed to keep the public response generally calm and peaceful. Many migrants expressed fear of increasing hostility and racist actions. The situation was tense at the Pansio reception centre outside Turku, where the suspect had been staying. In response to the incident, some government representatives called for accelerating legislation granting the security police and military intelligence wide powers for electronic surveillance. NGOs and constitutional law experts repeated their criticism, fearing that the proposed changes would allow for mass surveillance. The Chief of the Police Board stressed the need to grant the police better possibilities to use intelligence information while balancing security needs and respect for constitutional rights.
After the publication of the 2018 budget proposal, which increased police and court resources in response to the Turku attack, a minister representing the Blue party announced that the government would review the Criminal Code to punish individuals hiding asylum seekers who received a negative decision. Opposition parties, NGOs and church organisations expressed concerns about the risk of criminalising humanitarian aid.
In Italy, a public campaign named ‘I would rather not’ (Io preferirei di no) has protested against the externalisation of border control, stressing the potential negative impact on fundamental rights of migrants and the increase in deaths at sea.
In Hungary, NGOs planned to organise summer holidays for refugees in Keszthely (a popular tourist destination along Lake Balaton). In response, a member of parliament and representative of Keszthely allegedly posted a hateful comment on Facebook, suggesting this prepared the ground for relocating refugees to Keszthely and was part of “Soros’s plan”. He removed the comment from Facebook following strong protests.
In view of the upcoming election in Austria, UNHCR recommended several measures for the protection of refugees, such as strengthening support for integration, reinforcing resettlement, ensuring swift family reunification and enhancing the protection of children.
The ‘CasaPound Italia’ organisation protested against a priest – active in an anti-racist campaign – who decided to stand as a candidate in the local elections in one of the districts of Rome.
According to the Spanish Immigration and Refugee Aid Network, the neo-Nazi group Hogar Social was involved in fuelling anti-Muslim sentiment in Madrid and Granada. This included, for example, the placement of an Islamophobic banner reading "Islam is destroying Europe while we open the doors to them #terroristaswelcome" in response to the “refugees welcome" banner in the Madrid City Council building.
The Pew Research Centre conducted research in 38 countries to determine which issues caused the most concern in 2017. The research concluded that among the countries examined, Hungarians fear migrants the most (although Hungary is a country with a relatively low refugee intake). Gallup’s latest poll researching the most and least welcoming countries for migrants also found Hungary to be one of the least welcoming societies. Gallup conducted the poll in 138 countries, and ranked Hungary at position number 136 on the list. The same survey revealed that Slovakia is one of the five least accepting countries out of the 138 surveyed, with 61 % of the population stating that Slovakia should not receive any Syrian refugees. FRA has not had the opportunity to verify the survey methodology.
In Sweden, some 15 extreme right-wing activists attacked a demonstration in Stockholm that protested the deportation of rejected asylum seekers to Afghanistan. Three people suffered minor injuries. Protests against deportations to Afghanistan have continued and led to protests in other cities around Sweden, such as in Gothenburg and Malmö.
Racist, xenophobic and related incidents against migrants have been on the rise in Poland, according to NGOs. For example, the Open Republic Association against Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia reported fives cases concerning hate speech, both online and offline, against asylum seekers and/or Muslims.
A leaflet promoting a book with anti-Muslim content was distributed in parishes of the Catholic Church across Slovakia. Such leaflets were available in Catholic churches. However, these have not been approved by the Conference of Bishops of Slovakia as an official source of information.
In Germany, NGOs reported seven violent attacks against asylum seekers, with at least six injured asylum seekers, one arson attack against a reception centre, and five other attacks against reception centres. The Federal Criminal Police registered 256 offences against migrants, including 33 injured persons, in June 2017. In Leipzig (Saxony), 20 to 30 persons assembled at night outside a reception centre, chanting slogans such as “Foreigners leave”, “Sieg heil” and “Heil Hitler”. Ahead of the elections, many rallies against migrants have taken place, organised primarily by the right-wing political party AfD and the anti-Muslim and anti-migrant network Pegida.
In Austria, the anti-discrimination office, Styria, reported 11 hate crimes and 133 online hate postings in August. The Identitäre Bewegung Österreich set banners in Upper Austria and Tyrol saying “Re-migration – off to the south” and “Integration is a lie”. The movement also installed a “memorial stone” in Upper Austria inscribed with “Migrant violence Linz 2017” and spilled red paint over it.
Interpol in Andorra arrested the founder of one of the main Finnish anti-immigration websites (MV-lehti), who faces charges for aggravated incitement against an ethnic group. Finnish Police initiated proceedings in the Pirkanmaa District Court against the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement (PVL).