Tag Archives: UNHCR

Panel Discussion: “Heading to Europe: Safe Haven or Graveyard?,” Radboud University Nijmegen, 16 May

From the organizers:

The Interest Group on Migration and Refugee Law of the European Society of International Law, the Centre for Migration Law of the Radboud University Nijmegen and the Amsterdam Center for International Law of the University of Amsterdam are pleased to announce ‘Heading to Europe: Safe Haven or Graveyard?’, a panel discussion on migration by sea in the Mediterranean. The panel discussion will be held on 16 May 2014 at the Radboud University Nijmegen.

The year of 2013 has demonstrated that the tragedy of thousands of migrants and refugees drowning on the shores of Europe is now a common occurrence. The fate of those who perished near the Italian island of Lampedusa has brought the urgency of the situation into focus. The aim of the panel discussion is to provide an overview of the legal rules and processes applicable to migration by sea in the Mediterranean and to reflect on their wider sociological implications.

The panel discussion consists of two panels, each followed by a plenary discussion. In the first panel, legal experts working in the field of academia and at stakeholder organizations (e.g. UN Refugee Agency, Council of Europe, European Union) focus on legal aspects of boat migration in the Mediterranean. The second panel brings together scholars and practitioners with first-hand experience from transit countries to discuss the sociological effects of the legal rules and processes. Click here for the complete program, and here for more information on the panelists.

The organizing partners cordially invite interested scholars, governments officials, practitioners and advanced students to join in the panel discussion ‘Heading to Europe: Safe Haven or Graveyard?’. Active participation in the discussion is strongly encouraged. Participation is free of charge. For participation, please register at the bottom of this page. For inquiries, please contact Lisa-Marie Komp at lisa-marie.komp@law-school.de.

Location is the CPO-zaal, Spinozagebouw at the Radboud University in Nijmegen (Montessorilaan 3).

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER

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Filed under Colloques / Conferences, Council of Europe, European Union, Frontex, Mediterranean

PACE Calls for Urgent Measures to Assist Greece and Turkey With Mounting Migratory Tensions in Eastern Mediterranean

PACE, the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, adopted a Resolution on 24 January 2013 calling for “firm and urgent measures [to] tackle the mounting pressure and tension over asylum and irregular migration into Greece, Turkey and other Mediterranean countries.”  The Resolution noted that Greece, with EU assistance, has enhanced border controls, particularly along its land border with Turkey and while “these policies have helped reduce considerably the flow of arrivals across the Evros border with Turkey, they have transferred the problem to the Greek islands and have not helped significantly in dealing with the situation of irregular migrants, asylum seekers and refugees already in Greece.”

The Resolution makes recommendations to the EU, Greece, and Turkey and calls on CoE members states to “substantially increase their assistance to Greece, Turkey and other front-line countries” in various ways, including:

  • provide bi-lateral assistance, including by exploring new approaches to resettlement and intraEurope relocation of refugees  and asylum seekers;
  • share responsibility for Syrian refugees and asylum seekers via intra European Union relocation and refrain from sending these persons back to Syria or third countries;
  • maintain a moratorium on returns to Greece of asylum seekers under the Dublin Regulation.

The Resolution was supported by a Report prepared by Ms Tineke Strik, Rapporteur, PACE Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons.

Click here for full text of Resolution 1918(2013), Migration and asylum: mounting tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Click here for PACE press statement.

Click here for Report by Rapporteur, Ms Tineke Strik, Doc. 13106, 23 Jan 2013.

Here are extensive excerpts from the Rapporteur’s Report (which should be read in its entirety):

Summary -  Greece has become the main entry point for irregular migratory flows into the European Union, while Turkey has become the main country of transit. [***]

Europe must drastically rethink its approach to responsibility sharing to deal with what is a European problem and not one reserved to a single or only a few countries. Member States are called on to substantially increase their support for Greece, Turkey and other front-line countries to ensure that they have a realistic possibility of dealing with the challenges that they face. In this the Council of Europe also has a role to play, for example through exploring resettlement and readmission possibilities, assisting States in dealing with their asylum backlogs and putting forward innovative projects to alleviate growing racism and xenophobia towards migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

[***]

C. Explanatory memorandum by Ms Strik, rapporteur

1. Introduction

[***]

2. Greece is facing a major challenge to cope with both the large influx of mixed migratory flows, including irregular migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, and the current economic crisis. That said it is not the only country struggling to cope in the region. It is impossible to look at the situation of Greece without also examining that of Turkey, which is the main country of transit to Greece and is also having to shoulder responsibility for over 150 000 Syrian refugees.

3. In the light of the foregoing, it is necessary to examine the extent of the migration and asylum challenges at Europe’s south-eastern border, taking into account Turkey and Greece’s policy reactions. Two further elements have to be added to this, namely the social tensions arising within Greek society due to an overload of financial and migratory pressure and also the issue of shared responsibility in Europe for dealing with European as opposed to simply national problems.

2. The storm at Europe’s south-eastern border

2.1. Greece under pressure: irregular migration challenge and economic crisis

4. In recent years, hundreds of thousands of irregular migrants, asylum seekers and refugees crossed the Greek land, river and sea borders with many travelling through Turkey. In 2010, the large majority of mixed migratory flows entered the European Union through the Greek-Turkish border. This situation brings major challenges in terms of human rights and migration management.

5. According to statistics provided by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in 2010, more than 132 000 third-country nationals were arrested in Greece, including 53 000 in the Greek-Turkish border regions. During the first ten months of 2012, over 70 000 arrests occurred, including about 32 000 at the borders of Turkey.  People came from 110 different countries – the majority from Asia, including Afghanis, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, as well as from Iraq, Somalia, and the Middle-East, especially Palestinians and an increasing number of Syrians.

6. Most migrants and asylum seekers do not want to stay in Greece and plan to continue their journey further into Europe. Many of them are however stuck in Greece, due to border checks and arrests when trying to exit Greece, the current Dublin Regulation, and the fact that many irregular migrants cannot be returned to their country of origin.

7. The context of the serious economic and sovereign debt crisis aggravates the situation and reduces the ability for the Greek Government to adequately respond to the large influx. [***]

2.2. Syria: a bad situation could get worse

8. In its Resolution 1902 (2012) on “The European response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria”, the Parliamentary Assembly condemned “the continuing, systematic and gross human rights violations, amounting to crimes against humanity, committed in Syria”. It described the humanitarian situation as becoming “more and more critical” for the estimated 1.2 million internally displaced Syrians and the 638 000 Syrians registered or awaiting registration as refugees in neighbouring countries.

[***]

11. By October 2012, 23 500 Syrian nationals had applied for asylum in EU member States, including almost 3 000 applications in September 2012 alone, and over 15 000 in Germany and Sweden.  Compared to neighbouring countries, asylum seeker numbers in the European Union currently remains manageable. However the number of Syrians trying to enter Greek territory in an irregular manner reached a critical level in July 2012, when up to 800 Syrians were crossing the Greek-Turkish land border every week. In the second half of 2012, more than 32% of sea arrivals to the Greek Islands were Syrian nationals.

2.3. Regional implications of mixed migratory arrivals

12. In recent years, Spain, Italy and Malta were at the forefront of large-scale sea arrivals. According to the UNHCR, in 2012, 1 567 individuals arrived in Malta by sea. 75% of these persons were from Somalia. The UNHCR estimates however that less than 30% of the more than 16 000 individuals who have arrived in Malta since 2002 remain in Malta.

13. Spain and Italy have signed and effectively enforced readmission agreements with North and West African countries cutting down on the mixed migration flows. These agreements have provided the basis for returning irregular migrants and preventing their crossing through increased maritime patrols and border surveillance, including in the context of joint Frontex operations.

14. As a consequence of shifting routes, migratory pressure at the Greek-Turkish border increased significantly and Greece became the main gate of entry into the European Union from 2008 onwards, with an interval in 2011 when the Arab Spring brought a new migratory flow to Italy and Malta. To give an idea of how much the routes have changed, Frontex indicated that in 2012, 56% of detections of irregular entry into the European Union occurred on the Greek-Turkish border.

15. Turkey, by contrast, has become the main transit country for migrants seeking to enter the European Union. Its 11 000-km-long border and its extensive visa-free regime make it an easy country to enter. An estimated half a million documented and undocumented migrants currently live in the country. This has brought a whole new range of challenges for Turkey and meant that it has had to develop a new approach to migration management and protection for those seeking asylum and international protection.  It has also faced problems in terms of detention of irregular migrants and asylum seekers. As with Greece, the conditions of detention have been highly criticised and steps are being taken to build new centres with the assistance of funding from the European Union.

16. Until recently, the traditionally complex Greek-Turkish political relations did not allow the pursuit and consolidation of an effective readmission policy with Turkey. Although Greece, for example, signed a readmission protocol with Turkey which goes back to 2001, the implementation of this was only agreed on in 2010. It is important that this bilateral agreement between Greece and Turkey functions effectively and this will be a challenge for both countries.

3. Shielding Greece through border management and detention: does it work?

3.1. Enhanced border controls at the Greek-Turkish land border (Evros region)

17. The unprecedented numbers of irregular migrants and asylum seekers attempting to cross the Greek-Turkish border in recent years put the existing capacities and resources of Greece under severe strain. To remedy this situation, the Greek authorities have adopted the “Greek Action Plan on Asylum and Migration Management”, which is the basis for reforming the asylum and migration management framework in Greece.

18. In this context, considerable efforts were undertaken to reinforce Greece’s external borders and particularly the Greek-Turkish border in the Evros region. This was done notably through building up operational centres, using electronic surveillance and night vision devices, and by deploying patrol boats to strengthen river patrols. The surveillance technology used is part of the efforts under the European Border Surveillance System (Eurosur).

19. The so-called operation “Aspida” (“shield”), initiated in August 2012, aims to enhance border controls, surveillance and patrolling activities at the Greek-Turkish land border. Approximately 1 800 additional police officers from across Greece were deployed as border guards to the Evros region.

20. Increased border controls in the context of this operation have not been without criticism. There have been worrying reports about migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers from Syria and other countries, being pushed back to Turkey over the Evros river.  Two incidents reportedly took place in June and October 2012, when inflatable boats were intercepted in the middle of the Evros river by Greek patrol boats and pushed back to Turkey before their boat was sunk, leaving people to swim to the Turkish shore.

21. In addition, the Greek authorities completed a barbed wire fence at the 12.5-km-land border in December 2012. The barrier which was criticised by EU officials when announced  and built without EU funding, cost an estimated 3 million euros.

22. As a consequence of these actions, the numbers of irregular land border crossings dropped from over 2 000 a week in the first week of August to below 30 a week in the second half of September. According to the regional governor of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, they are now close to zero.  While the Greek authorities claim that these actions have resulted in a more than 80% decrease of irregular entries,  one can observe that migrants’ routes have shifted from the Greek-Turkish land border mainly to the sea border between both countries. This shift has been recognised by the Greek authorities.

23. Increased numbers of migrants are now arriving on the Greek Aegean islands of Lesvos, Samos, Symi and Farmkonissi. Between August and December 2012, 3 280 persons were arrested after crossing the Greek-Turkish sea border,  compared to 65 persons in the first seven months of 2012.

24. There has also been an increase in the number of deaths at sea. In early September 2012, 60 people perished when their boat sank off the coast in Izmir.  On 15 December 2012, at least 18 migrants drowned off the coast of Lesvos while attempting to reach the island by boat.

25. The spill over effect of new routes opening are now being felt by neighbouring countries, such as Bulgaria and some of the Western Balkans.

3.2. Systematic detention of irregular migrants and asylum seekers

26. Together with increased border controls, administrative detention remains the predominant policy response by the Greek authorities to the entry and stay of irregular migrants.  [***]

[***]

29. Particularly worrying are the conditions in the various detention centres and police stations where irregular migrants and asylum seekers are held, and which have frequently been criticised. The European Court of Human Rights has found Greece to be in violation of the right to freedom from inhuman or degrading treatment in several cases in recent years.  In addition, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment (CPT) has regularly criticised the poor detention conditions of irregular migrants and asylum seekers and the structural deficiencies in Greece’s detention policy as well as the government’s persistent lack of action to improve the situation.  See also: CPT, Report on its visit from 19 to 27 January 2011, published on 10 January 2012, at: www.cpt.coe.int/documents/grc/2012-01-inf-eng.pdf, together with the reply by the Greek authorities, at: www.cpt.coe.int/documents/grc/2012-02-inf-eng.pdf. The conditions of detention in one centre in Greece were found to be so bad that a local court in Igoumenista acquitted, earlier this year, migrants who were charged with escaping from detention stating that the conditions in the centre were not in compliance with the migrants’ human rights.

[***]

3.3. Impediments in accessing asylum and international protection

35. Despite the current efforts by the Greek authorities to reform the asylum and migration management framework, the country still does not have a fair and effective asylum system in place. The Greek Action Plan on Migration and Asylum, which was revised in December 2012, sets out the strategy of the Greek Government. It foresees the speedy creation of a functioning new Asylum Service, a new First Reception Service and a new Appeals Authority, staffed by civil servants under the Ministry of Public Order and Citizens Protection, disengaging the asylum procedure from the police authorities. However problems in finding sufficient financial resources and qualified staff still give rise for concerns on the implementation of the plans.

[***]

4. Social tensions within Greek society

4.1. The social situation of migrants and asylum seekers

41. Greece’s efforts to deal with the influx of irregular migrants and asylum seekers suffers from there being no comprehensive migration policy. [***]

4.2. Discrimination, xenophobia and racist attacks against migrants

46. The mounting social tensions and the inadequate response by the State to address the difficult social situation of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees have led to an increase in criminality and exploitation of this group. In addition, migration has become a key confrontational political issue. This in turn has contributed to an increasingly wide-spread anti-immigrant sentiment among the Greek population.

47. Over the last two years there has been a dramatic increase in xenophobic violence and racially motivated attacks against migrants in Greece, including physical attacks, such as beatings and stabbings, attacks on immigrants’ residences, places of worship, migrants’ shops or community centres.  The Network for Recording Incidents of Racist Violence documented 87 racist incidents against migrants and refugees between January and September 2012.  Half of them were connected with extremist groups.

48. Members and supporters of Golden Dawn have often been linked with recent violent attacks and raids against migrants and asylum seekers. By using blatantly anti-migrant and racist discourse, often inciting violence, Golden Dawn gained 7% of the popular vote during the June 2012 parliamentary elections and support seems to be growing, according to recent polls. In October 2012, the Greek Parliament lifted the immunity from prosecution of the two Golden Dawn MPs who participated in the violent attacks against migrants in September.

49. The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights has called on Greece to examine whether the “most overt extremist and Nazi party in Europe” is legal. It seems that Golden Dawn aims at political and societal destabilisation and gains by the failing policy regarding refugees and irregular migrants. In December 2012, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) expressed its “deep concern” about the rise of Golden Dawn and asked the Greek authorities to “take firm and effective action to ensure that the activities of Golden Dawn do not violate the free and democratic political order or the rights of any individuals”.

5. The European responsibility for a European problem

5.1. European front-line States under particular pressure

50. This is not the first time that the Parliamentary Assembly expresses its concern on the particular pressure that European front-line States are confronted with. Resolution 1521 (2006) on the mass arrival of irregular migrants on Europe’s Southern shores, Resolution 1637 (2008) on Europe’s “boat people”: mixed migration flows by sea into southern Europe and Resolution 1805 (2011) on the large-scale arrival of irregular migrants, asylum seekers and refugees on Europe’s southern shores.

51. Despite the fact that most European Union countries have stopped returning asylum seekers to Greece under the Dublin Regulation following the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case M.S.S. v. Belgium and Greece,  there are still some reports of returns from some countries based on this regulation.

52. The final agreement between the Council and the European Parliament on the revision of the Dublin Regulation still allocates responsibilities for asylum seekers to a single EU member State and does not present a more fundamental reform of the rules. European Union member States also rejected the idea of a mechanism to suspend transfers to those EU countries which were unable to manage the influx of asylum seekers into their territory, preferring to adopt an “early warning mechanism”.

5.2. Greece: A test case for European solidarity

53. This migratory pressure Greece is confronted with comes at a moment when the country is suffering as no other European country does from the current economic and social crisis. In response to these difficulties, the European Union has provided financial and technical assistance.

54. During the period of 2011-2013, Greece received 98,6 million euros under the Return Fund, 132,8 million euros under the External Border Fund and 19,95 million euros under the European Refugee Fund. The focus of funding was thus on border control and detention measures, to the detriment of the protection measures.

55. Frontex Joint Operation “Poseidon Land” was launched in 2010 at the borders between Turkey and Greece and between Turkey and Bulgaria. EU member States currently have 41 police officers and equipment deployed to the Evros border region in Greece.  They also support the Greek and Bulgarian authorities with the screening and debriefing of irregular migrants, and tackling irregular migratory inflows and smuggling networks towards Greece. In addition, Frontex has recently strengthened its patrols in the coastal waters in the Eastern Aegean between Greece and Turkey in the context of Joint Operation “Poseidon Sea”. European Union member States have deployed additional maritime surveillance assets at the sea border between Greece and Turkey. The joint operation was extended to also cover the West coast of Greece and today is Frontex’s main operational activity in the Mediterranean region.

56. Furthermore, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) provides technical support to Greece and other EU member States whose asylum and reception systems are under particular pressure. Following the request by the Greek Government in February 2011, EASO started giving assistance and training in building up a new asylum system, improving reception conditions of asylum seekers in Greece and clearing the backlog of outstanding asylum claims. To do this they have deployed over 40 Asylum Support Teams of experts to the country.

57. While EU member States are ready to provide financial and technical assistance to help Greece in managing and controlling its borders, with a focus on both forced and voluntary returns as a policy solution, they are not keen on sharing the reception and processing of mixed migratory flows arriving at the European Union’s external border. According to the Greens/European Free Alliance of the European Parliament, “[m]igration will not be stopped by reinforcing border control, border management measures and forced returns; the current approach only reinforces human rights violations”.

58. As rapporteur I would largely agree with this statement, although I would add that while such policies may be able to solve a problem in one country, it then simply “passes the buck” to another. Should it be possible to seal Greece’s border, this would undoubtedly then put even greater pressure on Turkey and Bulgaria and then up the eastern borders of the European Union. This is an issue which will be the subject of a separate report by the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons.

59. The European Union response to the economic and financial crisis in Greece has been a massive bail out. Similar solidarity is however necessary with regards to the current social and humanitarian crisis in the field of migration and asylum. Europe is however doing too little, too late. A shared asylum policy that takes into account that the migratory pressures are not the sole responsible of one or a few European States, but a European problem, is even more essential in a time when the region is facing major instability. This instability will only increase further if the up and coming Golden Dawn party succeeds in exploiting the immigrant issue. Europe cannot afford to look away.

60. Increased migratory flows to European front-line States requires a fundamental rethink on solidarity and responsibility sharing. This includes swift solutions that go beyond mere financial and technical assistance and show greater solidarity in receiving refugees and asylum seekers and developing resettlement, especially currently for Syrian refugees from the neighbouring countries of Syria, and intra-EU relocation programmes, in particular where children and families are concerned. Assembly Resolution 1820 (2011) on asylum seekers and refugees: sharing responsibility in Europe provides meaningful recommendations in this respect.

6. Conclusions

61. The pressure of mixed migratory flows currently unfolding at the European Union’s external borders in the eastern Mediterranean requires rethinking of the entire solidarity system with the European Union and the Council of Europe. Greece, Turkey or other neighbouring countries should not be left with the primary responsibility of dealing with the mounting mixed migratory pressure from the South and East. A shared asylum and migration policy is even more essential at a time when the region is facing major economic and social instability.

62. Stricter border control, prolonging migrants’ and asylum seekers’ detention or constructing new detention facilities in Greece all contribute to further human rights violations taking place. They are not the way out of the problem and they do not persuade people fleeing from poverty or violence in their countries of origin to remain at home.

63. The recent efforts by the Greek authorities to introduce a more effective and humane system addressing the large number of irregular migrants and asylum seekers entering Greece is a welcome step in the right direction. Greece however faces a Herculean task in building up an efficient, fair and functioning system providing international protection to those in need.

64. Europe urgently needs to join forces to deal with the Syrian refugee problem, offering resettlement and relocation to relieve the burden falling on neighbouring States of Syria as well as its southern European States, and ensuring that Syrian refugees are not sent back.

65. The challenges are great but not insurmountable for Europe. Left to individual States they are.

[***]”

Click here for full text of Resolution 1918(2013), Migration and asylum: mounting tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Click here for PACE press statement.

Click here for Report by Rapporteur, Ms Tineke Strik, Doc. 13106, 23 Jan 2013.

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Filed under Aegean Sea, Analysis, Council of Europe, Frontex, Greece, News, Reports, Syria, Turkey, UNHCR

UNHCR: Record Number of Migrants and Refugees Crossed Gulf of Aden in 2012

The UNHCR reported on 15 January 2013 that “[a] record 107,500 African refugees and migrants made the dangerous journey from the Horn of Africa to Yemen in 2012. This is the largest influx into Yemen since 2006 when UNHCR began compiling these statistics. The previous record high was in 2011 when more than 103,000 people arrived in Yemen by sea.”  UNHCR estimates that 80% of the persons making the crossing are Ethiopian and the remainder Somali.   UNHCR estimates that approximately 100 persons drowned in 2012.  “Boats crossing to Yemen are often packed beyond capacity and smugglers, in order to avoid the Yemeni coast guard, force passengers into the water, often far from the shores and with tragic consequences.”

Click here for full UNHCR press release.

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Filed under Data / Stats, Ethiopia, Gulf of Aden, News, Somalia, UNHCR, Yemen

UNHCR Reports 55 people missing or drowned off northern Somali coast

UNHCR Press Release:

“Fifty-five people are drowned or missing after an overcrowded boat capsized off the Somali coast on Tuesday night (18 December). UNHCR is greatly saddened by this latest tragic incident – the biggest loss of life in the Gulf of Aden since February 2011 when 57 Somali refugees and migrants from the Horn of Africa drowned while attempting to reach Yemen.

According to five of the survivors – all young Somali men – the boat was overcrowded and ran into trouble almost immediately after leaving the port of Bosasso in northern Somalia on Tuesday. It capsized just 15 minutes into its journey, spilling all 60 passengers into sea. Those on board were Ethiopians and Somalis.

To date, 23 bodies have been recovered, including those of 14 women, eight men, and a boy said to be less than four years of age. Five of the dead are confirmed to have been Ethiopians. The thirty-two remaining passengers are presumed to have drowned.

‘The tragic loss of so many lives is a new and stark reminder of the risks Somali refugees are taking as they flee their country’ said UNHCR Representative for Somalia, Bruno Geddo. ‘Without doubt, the Gulf of Aden is now the deadliest route for people fleeing conflict, violence and human rights abuses in the Horn of Africa.’

100,000 people have crossed the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden this year, despite warnings from UNHCR and other aid agencies about the risks such trips involve. In addition to using unseaworthy and overcrowded boats, those fleeing the Horn of Africa region often fall prey to unscrupulous smugglers, in whose hands they can face exploitation, extortion and even death.

With the latest deaths, 95 people have drowned or gone missing in the waters between Somalia and Yemen this year. UNHCR and other agencies, through the local Migration Response Centre (MRC) in Bosasso are currently providing support and services to the survivors and assisting the local authorities with the ongoing recovery operations.

END

Further info: Andy Needham, UNHCR Somalia PI Officer +254 733 120 931 needham@unhcr.org

Andy Needham Public Information Officer UNHCR Somalia First Floor, Lion Place, Waiyaki Way 43801-00100 Nairobi, Kenya

Somalia Displacement Portal: https://data.unhcr.org/horn-of-africa/somalia.php

m: +254 733 120 931 d: +254 20 420 2103 o: +254 20 420 2000

needham@unhcr.org www.unhcr.org www.takeaction.unhcr.org “

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Filed under Gulf of Aden, News, Somalia, UNHCR, Yemen

Guardian: Report of Syrians Having Been Turned Back on Evros River by Greek and Possibly Frontex Border Guards

A Guardian article today describes an incident which occurred earlier in the year which, if accurate, would indicate that Greek border guards and possibly border guards operating under Frontex Joint Operation Poseidon Land have returned Syrian asylum seekers (and migrants of other nationalities) to Turkish territory without registering and screening the migrants.

Excerpt: “This summer two people smugglers left 25 Syrian refugees to cross the Evros alone at night. There were two rubber dinghies. The first disappeared across the river into the night. The second …capsized. Most of the men, women and children could not swim. Some survived … The bedraggled Syrians who made it ashore [were detained].  After [irregular migrants are arrested], they are usually detained in administrative holding centres by the EU border police, Frontex, which has been deployed a few miles from the border since 2010. However, the group of Syrian refugees who made it across the Evros that night were not registered. Instead, they were arrested by officers in ‘blue uniforms’ and driven back to the river. ‘There were between 100 to 150 people by the river,’ said Farouk (not his real name), a 29-year-old from the Qamishli region in northern Syria. ‘They were of many nationalities, mainly Syrian. Some tried to make problems: they had paid a lot of money to get that far. When that happened, the police beat them. The police kicked and slapped them, including the women, they picked up children and threw them into the boat.’  The officers put people in small plastic boats, which they tied to larger, motorised boats, and returned them to Turkish territory.  … A UN High Commissioner for Refugees source said the organisation could not comment on Farouk’s story or illegal push-backs by Greek police in general. However, they acknowledged hearing similar accounts. ‘People say that there is a situation where people may enter the territory but are not registered as persons who are arrested in Greek territory. They are returned through use of force at night through the river. We think that these operations have been eliminated in the last two years.’ … Pasxalis Syritoudis, police chief of the northern Evros region, denied that his officers operated a push-back policy. … However, Syritoudis admitted that his main goal was to ‘prevent people entering Greek soil’. This meant sometimes his officers used boats to block migrants in dinghies from crossing the border. ‘We have 10 boats patrolling the river all the time. The boats are used to block people from crossing – to stop them getting to Greek territory.’…”

Click here for article.

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Filed under European Union, Frontex, Greece, News, Turkey, UNHCR

UNHCR: More people are risking lives in the Caribbean to reach safety

Full text of 13 July 2012 statement: UNHCR is very concerned by the loss of life we are seeing in maritime incidents in the Caribbean among people trying to escape difficult conditions in Haiti.

On Tuesday July 10, a woman drowned when a boat carrying more than 100 Haitian migrants ran aground near the Bahamas. In an earlier tragedy, on June 12, more than a dozen Haitians lost their lives in Bahamian and US waters while trying to reach the shores of Florida. These events are a reminder of the extremes that people in difficult situations sometimes resort to.

Continuing difficulties in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake are leading thousands of Haitians to flee their homeland each year, often in unseaworthy vessels. Although no firm statistics exist, it is estimated that hundreds of deaths occur yearly as a result.

US Coast Guard data shows that since December 2011 over 900 people have been found on boats in rescue or interception operations including some 652 Haitians, 146 Cubans and 111 people from the Dominican Republic. [See US Coast Guard statistics here.]

Inside Haiti, internal displacement remains significant with 421,000 individuals still living in camps in and around Port-au-Prince and elsewhere in the country. The political situation remains tense, and a rise is reported in criminality and insecurity. A cholera outbreak has continued.

UNHCR is also concerned about countries that are returning the Haitians to Haiti, ignoring an earlier joint-appeal by UNHCR and OHCHR asking states not to return Haitians, for humanitarian reasons, without adequate individual protection screening. The joint call was made in view of the daunting humanitarian challenges that Haiti still faces, exacerbated by the January 2010 earthquake.

UNHCR continues to advocate for the inclusion of adequate protection safeguards for individuals apprehended at sea, and hopes that such tragedies can be avoided in the future through enhanced international cooperation in the region.

Click here for statement.

Click here for link to US Coast Guard “Alien Migrant Interdiction” statistics page.

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Filed under Caribbean - West Indies, Data / Stats, Haiti, News, UNHCR

Statement from PACE Rapporteur Tineke Strik on Most Recent Deaths in Mediterranean Sea: “When will this ever end?”

Full Text (FR ci-dessous):  Strasbourg, 11.07.2012 – “Yet again, a dinghy with 55 people on board drifted for 15 days on the Mediterranean. This time, only one person survived. When will this ever end?,” today asked Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC), rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on “Lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea: who is responsible?”. She expressed her great sadness and anger over the deaths of another 54 boat people fleeing Libya towards Italy.

“It is still not safe in Libya and the boats will continue to arrive. Europe knows that. I had hoped my report on the ‘left-to-die boat’ would serve as an eye-opener to prevent such tragedies happening time and time again. States must never hesitate to undertake immediate action to rescue people, even if they think someone else should be responsible: every minute counts,” said Senator Strik.

“Governments in Europe, and not only in the countries on the southern shores of Europe, must react, and take an equal share in the protection of asylum seekers arriving from Africa,” she added.

“It is all the more important that the resolution adopted by the Assembly in April this year is implemented and that the remaining questions are answered by NATO and by European governments. I am therefore now making public my most recent requests to member States and NATO, which remain unanswered,” she concluded.

The UNHCR estimates that this year over 170 people have lost their lives attempting to reach Italy by sea. Over 1 300 have arrived from Libya to Italy, and over 1 000 to Malta.

Letter to the Defence Secretary the United Kingdom

Letter to the Defence Minister of Spain

Letter to the NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Operations

PACE Resolution 1872 (2012) (PDF)

Tineke Strik’s full report (PDF)

Strasbourg, 11.07.2012 – « Une fois de plus, un canot pneumatique avec 55 personnes à son bord a dérivé pendant 15 jours en Méditerranée. Cette fois, il n’y a eu qu’un seul survivant. Quand cela s’arrêtera-t-il ? », s’interroge Tineke Strik (Pays-Bas, SOC), l’auteur du rapport de l’Assemblée parlementaire du Conseil de l’Europe (APCE) « Vies perdues en Méditerranée : qui est responsable ? ». Elle a exprimé aujourd’hui sa profonde tristesse et sa colère à l’annonce de la mort de 54 personnes qui fuyaient la Libye pour l’Italie.

« La situation en Libye n’est toujours pas sûre et d’autres bateaux continueront d’arriver. L’Europe le sait. J’avais espéré que mon rapport sur le « bateau cercueil » provoquerait une prise de conscience et empêcherait que ces tragédies ne se reproduisent toujours et encore. Les États ne doivent jamais hésiter à prendre des mesures immédiates pour sauver des personnes, même s’ils estiment que quelqu’un d’autre devrait être responsable : chaque minute compte », a déclaré la sénatrice Strik.

« Les gouvernements européens, et pas seulement ceux des pays du rivage sud de la Méditerranée, doivent réagir et prendre une part égale dans la protection des demandeurs d’asile venant d’Afrique », a-t-elle ajouté.

« Il est d’autant plus important que la résolution adoptée par l’Assemblée en avril de cette année soit mise en œuvre et que l’OTAN et les gouvernements européens répondent aux questions encore en suspens. C’est pourquoi je rends publiques mes dernières demandes aux Etats membres et à l’OTAN, qui sont restées sans réponse », conclut-elle.

Le Haut-Commissariat de l’ONU pour les réfugiés estime que plus de 170 personnes ont péri cette année en tentant de gagner l’Italie par la mer. Plus de 1.300 personnes en provenance de Libye sont arrivées en Italie, et plus de 1.000 à Malte.

Lettre au Secrétaire d’Etat à la Défense du Royaume-Uni

Lettre au Ministre de la Défense de l’Espagne

Lettre au Secrétaire général adjoint délégué, Division des opérations de l’OTAN

Résolution 1872 (2012) de l’APCE

Rapport intégral de Tineke Strik (PDF)

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UNHCR Reports 54 Persons Dead After Migrant Boat Drifts in Mediterranean for 15 Days

The UNHCR reported yesterday that UNHCR staff interviewed the sole survivor of a migrant boat that departed from Tripoli for Italy in late June with 55 people on board.  The survivor was interviewed in Zarzis, Tunisia. “According to the survivor, there was no water on board and people started to die of dehydration within days. Many drank sea water, including the man who survived. He was rescued [off the coast of Tunisia] floating on the remains of the [inflatable] boat and a jerry can. According to the survivor over half of the deceased were from Eritrea, including three of his relatives.”  According to the UNHCR press statement “[s]o far in 2012, over 1,300 people have arrived by boat from Libya in Italy. A boat, reportedly carrying 50 Eritreans and Somalis, is currently at sea. They refused to be rescued by Maltese military forces [on 9 July].  Over 1,000 people on 14 boats have arrived in Malta from Libya so far this year. Two other boats were intercepted by Maltese authorities, but the majority elected not to be rescued and continued to Italy.  UNHCR Italy estimates that so far this year some 170 people have been declared dead or lost at sea attempting to make the journey from Libya to Europe.”

Click here for UNHCR press statement.

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Oxford Migration Law Discussion Group Seminar: A discussion on Hirsi v Italy (Oxford, 27 Feb)

“The Migration Law Discussion Group at the University of Oxford is holding a meeting Monday, 27 Feb. 2012, to discuss the Grand Chamber judgment delivered by the Strasbourg Court on the case of Hirsi v Italy. The session will start with a presentation by UNHCR (third party intervener in the case) and provide ample opportunity for discussion afterwards.  The details are as follows:  MLDG SEMINAR: ‘How far does non-refoulement go? A discussion on Hirsi v Italy’;  SPEAKER: Madeline Garlick, Head of Unit, Policy and Legal Support, UNHCR Europe;   ABSTRACT:  The European Court of Human Rights, on 23 February 2012, has handed down its judgment in the matter of Hirsi & Ors v Italy. This case, brought to the court by a group of migrants intercepted at sea and returned to Libya by Italy in 2009, raises important questions around the scope and application of the principle of non-refoulement. This includes notably the extent of States’ protection obligations when exercising jurisdiction over individuals outside their territory. The decision is ground-breaking and should lead to a dramatic change in the way border controls are conducted in Europe, affording protection to migrants and refugees in an unprecedented way.  The speaker, who represented UNHCR before the Court in the case, will examine key points of interest in the judgment and convey the perspective of UNHCR as a third party intervener. Participants at the event will be invited to discuss the judgment and its wider implications.

DATE: Monday, 27 February 2012
VENUE: Seminar Room 2, Refugee Studies Centre – Queen Elizabeth House, 3 Mansfield Rd – Oxford OX1 3TB
TIME: 5h30 pm”

(From Migration and Law Network listserve.)

Click here for more information.

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11 Dead, 34 Missing in Gulf of Aden – Smugglers Forced Passengers Into Sea

The UNHCR reported on 10 February that at least 11 persons drowned and 34 are missing after their boat capsized in the Gulf of Aden. The boat left Somalia for Yemen on 4 February, became disabled and drifted, and then capsized on 8 February in bad weather.  UNHCR reported that “[s]hocking details came to light [on 9 February] as survivors recounted to local authorities and our partners how smugglers forced 22 passengers overboard soon after the engine failed. … So far, 11 bodies have been recovered on beaches around the village of Ceelaayo some 30 kilometers west of Bossaso. Locals also found 13 survivors, including two women and a teenage boy and girl….”

This latest disaster occurs after an almost 100% increase in the number of refugees, asylum-seekers, and migrants crossing the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea from Africa to Yemen in 2011 compared to 2010.  103,000 migrants are estimated to have made the sea crossing in 2011 compared to an estimated 53,000 in 2010.  130 persons are known to have drowned in 2011.

Click here for UNHCR report.

Click here for my last post on the 2011 statistics.

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Mare Deserto: RSI documentary about the failure to rescue and subsequent deaths of 60 migrants in the Mediterranean in March 2011

RSI LA1, the Swiss Italian-language television network, last month broadcasted a one hour documentary,  Mare deserto , produced by Emiliano Bos and Paul Nicol.  The documentary is in Italian.  It investigates the events that occurred between 25 March and 10 April 2011 when a disabled migrant boat attempting to travel from Libya to Italy drifted for days during which time approximately 60 persons died.  Survivors from the migrant boat reported that at various times military ships and helicopters ignored their requests for assistance.  The producers located and interviewed 9 of the known survivors in Italy, Tunisia and Norway.

Click here or here for a link to the documentary.  (IT)

Click here and here for some of my previous posts on the incident and the ongoing PACE investigation into the incident.

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UNHCR: “Mediterranean takes record as most deadly stretch of water for refugees and migrants in 2011”

Full Text of UNHCR Briefing Note, 31 January:

“This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Sybella Wilkes – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at the press briefing, on 31 January 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

According to UNHCR estimates, more than 1,500 people drowned or went missing while attempting to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe in 2011. This makes 2011 the deadliest year for this region since UNHCR started to record these statistics in 2006. The previous high was in 2007 when 630 people were reported dead or missing.

Last year is also a record in terms of the massive number of arrivals in Europe via the Mediterranean, with more than 58,000 people arriving. The previous high was in 2008 when 54,000 people reached Greece, Italy and Malta. During 2009 and 2010, border control measures sharply reduced arrivals in Europe. The frequency of boat arrivals increased in early 2011 as the regimes in Tunisia and Libya collapsed.

Our teams in Greece, Italy, Libya and Malta, warn that the actual number of deaths at sea may be even higher. Our estimates are based on interviews with people who reached Europe on boats, telephone calls and e-mails from relatives, as well as reports from Libya and Tunisia from survivors whose boats either sank or were in distress in the early stages of the journey.

Survivors told UNHCR staff harrowing stories of being forced onboard by armed guards, particularly during April and May in Libya. The actual journey took place on unseaworthy vessels with refugee and migrant passengers often forced into having to skipper boats themselves. In addition, some survivors told UNHCR that fellow passengers beat and tortured them. Judicial investigations are ongoing in Italy following these reports.

The majority of last year’s arrivals by sea landed in Italy (56,000, of whom 28,000 were Tunisian) while Malta and Greece received 1,574 and 1,030 respectively. The vast majority arrived in the first half of the year. Most were migrants, not asylum-seekers. Only three boats landed from mid-August to the end of the year. In addition, according to Greek government figures, some 55,000 irregular migrants crossed the Greek-Turkish land border at Evros.

We are disturbed that since the beginning of 2012, despite high seas and poor weather conditions, three boats have attempted this perilous journey from Libya, with one going missing at sea. This boat, carrying at least 55 people raised the alarm on 14 January, warning of engine failure. Libyan coast guards informed UNHCR that 15 dead bodies, all identified as Somali, were found washed up on the beaches last week, including 12 women, two men and a baby girl. On Sunday, three more bodies were recovered. It was confirmed later that all those that perished were Somali residents of the makeshift site in Tripoli known as the Railway Project.

The other two boats that made it to Malta and Italy in January required rescuing. The first rescue of 72 Somali nationals by the Italian coast guard took place on 13 January. Those rescued included a pregnant woman and 29 children.

The second boat was rescued by the Maltese Armed Forces on 15 January with the support of the US Navy and a commercial vessel. In total 68 people were rescued from a dinghy found drifting some 56 nautical miles from Malta. A baby girl was born on one of the rescue vessels. Another woman reported a miscarriage during the voyage.

UNHCR welcomes the ongoing efforts of the Italian, Maltese and Libyan authorities to rescue boats in distress in the Mediterranean. We renew our call to all shipmasters in the Mediterranean, one of the busiest stretches of water in the world, to remain vigilant and to carry out their duty of rescuing vessels in distress.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

In Rome: Laura Boldrini on mobile +39 33 55 403 194

In Valetta: Fabrizio Ellul on mobile +356 99 69 0081

In Geneva: Sybella Wilkes on mobile +41 79 557 91 38”

Click here for link to statement.

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UNHCR: Record Number of Refugees and Migrants Cross to Yemen in 2011

The UNHCR reports that there has been an almost 100% increase in the number of refugees, asylum-seekers, and migrants who crossed the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea from Africa to Yemen in 2011 compared to 2010.  103,000 migrants are estimated to have made the sea crossing in 2011 compared to an estimated 53,000 in 2010.  130 persons are known to have drowned.  Ethiopians now make up the largest nationality making the voyage, accounting for about 75% of the total.  Prior to 2009 Somalis were the largest group.

Click here (EN), here (EN) and here (FR) for UNHCR statements.

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Rescued Somali Asylum Seekers in Malta Describe Dangerous Conditions in Libya

The first group of rescued migrants for 2012 arrived in Malta on 15 January after being rescued by an Armed Forces of Malta patrol boat and an Italian cargo ship.  The 68 rescued migrants are Somali asylum seekers and had left Libya four days earlier.  Another boat carrying 72 migrants was rescued by the Italian coastguard on the 13th.  This boat is also believed to have departed from Libya.  UNHCR officials have interviewed the asylum seekers in Malta: “The new arrivals confirmed to UNHCR that the situation in Libya is still not stable and that it is particularly precarious for Sub-Saharan nationals. One Somali woman told UNHCR that they were afraid to go outside the house. Some even described the situation in parts of Libya as being similar to the lawlessness of Somalia. They explained that smugglers provided them with the only possible way out at this point.”  The Times of Malta reported that two of the asylum seekers said “they paid armed Libyan militiamen $400 each to facilitate their crossing of the Mediterranean.”

Click here, here, and here for articles.

Click here (IT) for article.

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Filed under Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, News, UNHCR

ICMC Europe Report: “MAYDAY! Strengthening responses of assistance and protection to boat people and other migrants arriving in Southern Europe”

ICMC has released a 150+ page report entitled “MAYDAY! Strengthening responses of assistance and protection to boat people and other migrants arriving in Southern Europe.”  I have just started reading the report and may post some additional excerpts in the coming days.  Here is an excerpt from the Foreword and Introduction:

“In the first months of 2011 alone, more than 2,000 migrants have died crossing the Mediterranean Sea. More than 2,500 unaccompanied children arrived just on Italian shores. Tragic, chronic figures like these are urgent and continuous reminders of the need for another approach to human mobility that goes far beyond simple enforcement and fundamentally recognises the rights to life and protection for all.

It is not so much the arrivals of migrants and refugees that should be put to question, but rather the response mechanisms which very often fail as much in the fields of prevention and rescue as in the processes deciding where and how people are permitted to move, disembark, stay or return. Protection today is provided only for a limited number of boat people who need it, and governed by systems of access and identification that are far too limited. Correct identification, differentiation and referral systems are needed for all migrants in distress and from the very moment of their arrival, not only because they are human beings, but also because such approaches reflect the quality of our societies….”

Scope of this report – Gathering the results of nearly a half thousand surveys of first responders and other actors as well as the migrants themselves, this report examines what happens—or does not happen— to identify migrants in need of protection and assistance upon their arrival in Europe. In particular, it sheds light on the mechanisms developed, and gaps both in practice and in policy in responses to boat people and other migrants arriving in mixed migratory movements in four countries at Europe’s Southern door: Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain.

Although rescue at sea at one end and voluntary or enforcement-related return at the other are highly relevant topics and areas of research per se, DRIVE has focused on the situation of migrants at point of arrival. As such, the project and this report look at first responses in the phase immediately upon and surrounding arrival, and then to identification, differentiation and referral mechanisms for legal protection and/or further assistance in subsequent phases following arrival.

The principal focus of the project was on boat arrivals, but the shift in routes in Greece during the project period and the sharp increase in land border crossings there compelled reflection upon responses to migrants crossing land borders as well as those arriving by sea. While the project maintained its focus on arrivals by sea, one of its findings is that most of the laws, policies, procedures and responses applicable to boat people pertain equally to those arriving across land borders—in particular, steps on identification, differentiation and referral for protection and assistance.

The DRIVE project set out to promote protection of the rights of all migrants in these situations, especially the most vulnerable, regardless of their immigration status. Nevertheless, the project has highlighted four groups whose members have come to be defined to a varying extent as having specific rights or special needs under international and European legal instruments: asylum seekers, victims of human trafficking, children, and victims of torture. It merits emphasising however, that other migrants also have special needs because of particular vulnerabilities,- notably people with serious health problems, disabled people, elderly people, pregnant women, single parents with minor children and persons who have been subjected to or witnessed torture, rape or other serious forms of psychological, physical or sexual violence.

Structure of this report – The report is composed of four main parts, plus annexes:

Part 1: Building policy responses to boat people and others arriving in mixed migration flows – Within this first part, Chapter 1 provides a brief history of the policy evolution and the organizations involved in the area of mixed migration. Chapter 2 gives an overview of legal obligations relating to the rights of the migrants composing these arrivals. The third chapter provides an analysis of the EU policy and legal framework with regards to mixed migration arrivals at its borders.

Part 2: A focus on post-arrival identification, differentiation and referral for assistance and protection – The first chapter explains what is meant and implied by “identification, differentiation and referral”in mixed migration contexts, the concept at the core of the DRIVE study. The second chapter seeks to focus on the legal obligations of member states to conduct identification of people in need of protection at the border, with in-depth legal analysis of the rights and state obligations that international and EU law articulate for asylum seekers, children, and victims of human trafficking and torture.

Part 3: What happens to people arriving irregularly by boat in Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain? – The first chapter gives a snapshot of the trends and figures of arrivals in the Mediterranean region. In Chapter 2, the summaries of the four country reports (each presented in its entirety in an annex) then provide a look at the procedures and practices on the ground for first reception, identification and referral. The third chapter presents the results of the extensive migrants surveys that the DRIVE project conducted in the four countries in an effort to give voice to the beneficiaries themselves. Chapter 4 concludes with a comparative analysis identifying the main gaps and challenges in those countries.

Part 4: Conclusions and recommendations – The focus on the four countries enabled consideration of practices and procedures which could either improve the quality of the process or prevent people from accessing protection and assistance. Recommendations therefore seek to address how identification, differentiation and referral can be improved in the Mediterranean, including how the international and European legal and policy framework can address this question in a more comprehensive manner.

Annexes: Detailed mapping of the situation in Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain are attached in the annexes, as well as a presentation of some relevant tools and guidelines….”

Click here for Report.

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