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Icy conditions threaten migrants’ health

The freezing temperatures across much of Europe have placed many asylum seekers and migrants in peril as they remain in ill-equipped facilities. This is one of the main concerns from the latest summary report of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) on migration-related fundamental rights in selected EU Member States.

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The Agency’s latest summary identifies pressing fundamental rights issues that need addressing in various EU Member States. Some of the main findings include:

  1. In many countries new arrivals continue to fall. For example, arrivals to Greece in December 2016 dropped 98% compared to the same month in 2015. However, the extreme cold in south eastern Europe severely affected people on the move resulting in some, including children, dying from or being hospitalised with frostbite. Others were made to wait in the cold in self-made tents in transit zones for the chance to apply for asylum; as a result at the Hungarian-Serbian border every second person is sick, many with fever, colds or the flu.
  2. Overcrowding remains a persistent problem at hotspot and reception facilities with many housed in buildings without heating despite the harsh weather. Immigration detention also continues to be common practice in many Member States and is increasing in some places.
  3. Problems in accessing protection procedures continue to be reported during initial registration and asylum processing. Unaccompanied children can be left waiting in transit zones for admission for over two months and families for over six months. Lack of information and a shortage of interpreters further exacerbate the situation.
  4. People facilitating the arrival of migrants without profit continue to be prosecuted and sometimes imprisoned in various countries. In Denmark, migrants helping family members or others arrive may be expelled in addition to a fine or a prison sentence.
  5. When it comes to returns, there is concern about the lack of information and advance notice in some countries; for example in Austria a child was taken from school during a lesson. In Sweden, the police increasingly ask municipal services for help in locating undocumented migrants who have dependent children and receive benefits.
  6. Child protection remains problematic in many countries. The lack of standardised methods for assessing age, overburdened or insufficient numbers of guardians, too few places in adequate and secure facilities, and little attention being paid to the child’s right to be heard remain common concerns.
  7. Hate speech online and off, and violent crime continue to remain high with intolerance in society and in public speech against asylum seekers and migrants on the rise. In Germany, the media refrain from naming reporters covering demonstrations as a result of violent attacks. In northern Italy, the regional governing party has called on mayors to name places associated with the Muslim community to strictly control Islamic worship in the region.
  8. In some countries the political response to the migration situation is hardening. Legislative initiatives in several Member States aim at reducing basic benefits, restricting family reunification and facilitating and accelerating returns. However, especially over the Christmas period, there have been numerous charitable and civil society initiatives to support migrant groups in many Member States.

The European Commission asked the Agency to collect data about the fundamental rights situation of people arriving in Member States particularly affected by large migration movements. The reports cover 14 Member States: Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Spain and Sweden.

FRA has published overviews since September 2015. The next focus will be on torture and trauma.