Category Archives: Commissioner for Human Rights

CoE Human Rights Commissioner Welcomes Italian Declarations that Migrant Push-Back Policy Will No Longer Be Applied

Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Nils Muižnieks completed a four day visit to Italy between 3-6 July.  The visit was “focused on the human rights of Roma and Sinti and on the human rights of migrants, including asylum seekers.”  A report on the visit will be issued in the future.  In the meantime the Commissioner released a statement on 9 July in which he “welcomed recent declarations [in Italy] at the highest political level that the ‘push-back’ policy will no longer be applied, in the light of the Hirsi Jamaa judgment of the Strasbourg Court [and stated his appreciation for] the efforts throughout the country to accommodate persons arriving from North Africa in the first half of 2011…”  The Commissioner further “recommended that the system of reception centres be unified, guaranteeing an adequate level of protection everywhere, and capable of responding to fluctuating migratory flows. The Commissioner also pointed out that once officially recognized, refugees and other beneficiaries of international protection do not receive the crucial support they need to integrate into Italian society, and are therefore forced to live in destitute conditions. The Commissioner said ‘I personally witnessed the intolerable circumstances faced by 800 such persons, struggling to survive in an abandoned building in Rome. This is unacceptable in a country like Italy’.”

Click here for full statement.

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CoE Human Rights Commissioner Releases Report on Italy’s Treatment of Roma and Migrants

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, just released a report on Italy based upon his visit to Italy on 26-27 May 2011.  The report addresses concerns relating to the treatment of the Roma and Sinti and relating to the treatment of migrants, including migrants arriving from North Africa.

Excerpts:

“Strasbourg, 7 September 2011 – CommDH(2011)26 – English only

Report by Thomas Hammarberg, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, following his visit to Italy from 26 to 27 May 2011

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II. Protection of the human rights of migrants, including asylum seekers

Rescue operations and interceptions at sea

The Commissioner welcomes the invaluable efforts of the Italian authorities aimed at rescuing migrants on boats crossing the Mediterranean. He strongly encourages the Italian authorities to maintain their long-standing tradition of rescue, which is all the more indispensable in the current context of forced migration from Libya. He calls on the Italian authorities to ensure that in all cases where migrants are in distress at sea their rescue and safety enjoy absolute priority over all other considerations, including any lack of clarity and agreement, notably between Italy and Malta, about responsibilities for rescue. With reference to the operations carried out jointly with Libya in the central Mediterranean aimed at intercepting migrants fleeing Libya on boats and returning them there (so-called push-backs), the Commissioner urges the Italian authorities to discontinue and refrain from becoming involved in any practices in the field of interceptions at sea that may result in migrants being sent to places where they are at risk of ill treatment or onward refoulement.

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II. Protection of the human rights of migrants, including asylum seekers

44. Following the political unrest in Tunisia and the armed conflict in Libya, the number of migrants, including asylum seekers, arriving on boats to Italy, and in particular Lampedusa, has increased sharply. Since mid-January, approximately 24 000 people have arrived from Tunisia. At the end of March 2011, migrants also started to arrive on boats from Libya (the biggest groups being nationals of Nigeria, Ghana, Mali, Ivory Coast, Bangladesh, Eritrea and Somalia) and by 23 June their number had almost reached 20 000. In addition to arrivals from Tunisia and Libya, some 2 000 migrants landed in southern Italy on boats coming from Egypt, Greece and Turkey. On 23 June, the total figure of arrivals by sea to Italy since January 2011 therefore stood at around 46 000.

45. It is clear that these events pose a number of challenges relating to a wide range of human rights, including the right to seek asylum and the right to life, notably in connection with rescue operations at sea. With most of the migrants from Northern Africa seeking refuge and a new life in “Europe” generally, and not specifically in the countries that they reach first, the European dimension of these challenges is equally clear. Certainly, the ongoing military operations in Libya and their impact on migratory movements bound to Europe has lent further visibility to this European and international dimension. Accordingly, the Commissioner has on many occasions called for a greater European role, in the form of solidarity and co-operation in meeting the human rights challenges relating to arrivals of migrants, including asylum seekers, from Northern Africa, but unfortunately the response has been limited. The Commissioner reiterates this call in respect of the situation with which Italy is confronted at the moment.

46. At the same time, the Commissioner wishes to stress that Italy must abide by its human rights obligations vis-à-vis all migrants, including asylum seekers, who find themselves within Italy’s jurisdiction – a responsibility which in the Commissioner’s view has not been met fully. While the Italian authorities have taken a number of steps to protect the human rights of these persons, from rescue at sea through to reception and access to asylum, concerns remain in different subject areas, some of which are highlighted below.

47. More generally, the Commissioner wishes to stress that a more objective and balanced representation of the migration movements prompted by the events in Northern Africa, and notably the conflict in Libya, would assist in ensuring a human rights compliant response to these phenomena in both Italy and Europe as a whole. In this respect, the Commissioner notes that the 20 000 arrivals from Libya to Italy mentioned above stand, at least for the moment, in stark contrast with the many times greater forecasts concerning the potential number of arrivals from Libya which had been made publicly in Italy at the beginning of the conflict. It is also sobering to note that these arrivals account for around 2% of the persons having left Libya as a result of the conflict. Indeed, 98% of the approximately 1 100 000 people who have left Libya so far have done so by crossing land borders into Tunisia, Egypt, Niger, Chad and Algeria.

a. Rescue operations and interceptions at sea

48. The Italian authorities, and particularly the coast guard and customs police, have been instrumental in saving the lives of many migrants who have attempted to reach European shores from Northern Africa on unseaworthy boats. Rescue operations have obviously intensified in recent months, reflecting the increase in departures of migrant boats from Tunisia and Libya since January 2011.

49. Over the same time period, however, at least as many as 1 500 persons have lost their lives while trying to cross the Mediterranean to seek a safe haven. The Commissioner notes that responsibilities remain to be ascertained in certain cases. For instance, in an episode which is currently being investigated by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and which resulted in the death at sea of 61 persons, including over 20 women and children, a boat carrying 72 migrants was left adrift for two weeks in spite of its presence having reportedly been signalled to the authorities of Italy, Malta and NATO, and the boat itself having been spotted by a helicopter and a passing vessel of unidentified nationalities. The Commissioner notes that in some cases, lack of clarity and agreement, notably between Italy and Malta, about responsibilities for rescue may delay operations or otherwise put the lives of migrants in distress at risk. More generally, the Commissioner finds it difficult to accept that people in distress at sea can face death in one of the busiest areas of the Mediterranean, especially now with the large numbers of military and other vessels in the area.

50. The Commissioner also notes that since May 2009, and up to the beginning of the armed conflict in Libya in February 2011, the Italian authorities have carried out operations jointly with Libya in the central Mediterranean, aimed at intercepting migrants fleeing Libya on boats and returning them there (so-called respingimenti, or push-backs). The practice has been repeatedly criticised for violating international human rights law, as migrants, including asylum seekers, are returned to Libya where they risk being ill-treated or in turn deported to other countries where they are exposed to such a risk, without being given an opportunity to seek and enjoy international protection through an individual assessment of their case. Indeed, in a case that is currently pending before the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, a group of Somali and Eritrean migrants who were travelling by boat from Libya have argued that the decision of the Italian authorities to intercept their vessels on the high seas and send them straight back to Libya exposed them to a risk of ill-treatment there, as well as to a serious threat of being sent back to their countries of origin, where they might also face ill-treatment.24

51. The Commissioner notes that the beginning of these operations started shortly after the conclusion of agreements between Italy and Libya in 2008 and 2009.25 In his 2009 report on Italy, the Commissioner expressed “his disapproval of bilateral or multilateral agreements for the forced return of irregular migrants to countries with long-standing, proven records of torture”,26 a concern which was shared by the Parliamentary Assembly in June 2010.27 In February 2011, following the beginning of the armed conflict in Libya, Italy announced that it had suspended the implementation of its agreements with Libya. However, the Commissioner also notes that on 17 June 2011, Italy signed with the Libyan National Transitional Council a Memorandum of Understanding, which refers to the commitments contained in the agreements previously signed with Libya and provides for mutual assistance and co-operation in combating irregular immigration, “including the repatriation of immigrants in an irregular situation.”28

Conclusions and recommendations

52. The Commissioner welcomes the invaluable efforts of the Italian authorities aimed at rescuing migrants on boats in the Mediterranean, which have saved thousands of lives over the past months and years. He strongly encourages the Italian authorities to maintain their long-standing tradition of rescue, a task which is all the more indispensable in the current context of forced migration from Libya.

53. At the same time, the Commissioner calls on the Italian authorities to ensure that in all cases where migrants are in distress at sea their rescue and safety enjoy absolute priority over all other considerations. The attention of the Italian authorities is drawn to the PACE resolution 1821 (2011)29 adopted in June 2011, which calls on member states to “fulfil without exception and without delay their obligation to save people in distress at sea.”30 In this connection, the Commissioner recalls that on 8 April, just two days after a boat from Libya carrying more than 220 migrants capsized near the Italian island of Lampedusa causing the death by drowning of more than 200 persons, UNHCR recommended that “[a]ny overcrowded boat leaving Libya these days should be considered to be in distress.” On the same occasion UNHCR also underlined that “[a] long-standing tradition of saving lives at sea may be at risk if it becomes an issue of contention between States as to who rescues whom.”

54. The Commissioner urges the Italian authorities to discontinue and refrain from becoming involved in any practices in the field of interceptions at sea that may result in migrants being sent to places where they are at risk of ill treatment or onward refoulement. The Commissioner wishes to highlight that when a state exercises effective control, authority or power over third-country nationals rescued or intercepted at sea (including the state’s own territorial waters, those of another state and international waters) its obligations include ensuring effective access to adequate asylum determination procedures and not returning individuals to countries where they would face a real risk of persecution or treatment contrary notably to Articles 2 (right to life) and 3 (prohibition of torture) of the ECHR.

55. In this connection, the Commissioner draws once more the attention of the Italian authorities to the PACE resolution 1821 (2011) which calls on member states to: “refrain from any practices that might be tantamount to direct or indirect refoulement, including on the high seas, in keeping with the UNHCR’s interpretation of the extraterritorial application of that principle and with the relevant judgements of the European Court of Human Rights”; and to “suspend any bilateral agreements they may have concluded with third states if the human rights of those intercepted are not appropriately guaranteed therein, particularly the right of access to an asylum procedure, and wherever these might be tantamount to a violation of the principle of non-refoulement […].”31

56. In accordance with UNHCR’s recommendations on protection with regard to people fleeing from Libya, the Commissioner strongly encourages the Italian authorities to continue to keep the country’s borders open for people who are forced to flee from Libya and are in need of international protection.32

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Click here for Report.

Click here for CoE Press Statement.

Click here for CoE Human Rights website regarding human rights of immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.

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COE Parliamentary Assembly Adopts Resolution Regarding North African Migrants & Asylum Seekers

Earlier today PACE approved a resolution based on a report by Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC) addressing the large influx of migrants and asylum seekers on Europe’s southern borders.  From the PACE press statement: the Assembly “welcomed the efforts so far of the ‘frontline states’ to provide humanitarian assistance in line with their international obligations, and urged other European countries to ‘show solidarity’ with them, including by agreeing to resettle refugees and other persons with international protection needs. Malta was in a ‘particularly difficult situation’ given its small size, high population and limited resources… If the current wave of arrivals in Europe increases because of an even greater exodus of persons from Libya, in particular Libyans fleeing terror from Colonel Gaddafi’s regime or an entrenched civil war, the EU should consider applying its temporary protection directive….”

Excerpts from PACE Resolution 1805 (2011):

The large-scale arrival of irregular migrants, asylum seekers and refugees on Europe’s southern shores

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6.       The Parliamentary Assembly recognises that one of the first priorities is to deal with the humanitarian and international protection needs of those who have arrived on Europe’s shores, primarily in Italy and Malta. Member states, the European Union, international organisations, civil society and others all have a contribution to make and need to show solidarity with the front-line states. This solidarity and willingness to share responsibility needs to extend to the coast of North Africa and the many thousands of refugees and displaced persons still seeking ways to return home after fleeing from Libya. It should also extend to those migrants and refugees who are trapped in Libya awaiting the chance to flee.

7.       The Assembly notes that while there has been a wave of arrivals, there has not yet been the feared total deluge. This distinction is important because it has not always been clearly made by politicians, the media and others, leading to heightened fear and misunderstanding among the general public and calls for exaggerated responses.

8.       The Assembly recognises the pressure that the front-line countries of the Council of Europe are under, and welcomes their efforts to provide humanitarian assistance in line with international obligations and encourages them to continue with these efforts. The Assembly reminds states of their international obligations not to push back boats which are carrying persons with international protection needs.

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12.       The Assembly, recognising that events in North Africa are of concern to all member states of the Council of Europe, therefore calls on member states to:

12.1.        acknowledge that the arrival of a large number of irregular immigrants on the southern shores of Europe is the responsibility of all European states and requires a solution which envisages the need to share this responsibility collectively. The Assembly reminds member states of the repeated appeals of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights for the need for effective responsibility sharing;

12.2.       provide urgent humanitarian aid and assistance to all those persons arriving on Europe’s southern shores and other borders, including through the provision of adequate accommodation, shelter and health care, as highlighted previously in Assembly Resolution 1637 (2008) on Europe’s boat people: mixed migration flows by sea into southern Europe;

12.3.       refrain from automatic detention and have recourse to detention only where there is no other reasonable alternative, ensuring that conditions comply with minimum human rights standards as outlined in Assembly Resolution 1707 (2010) on detention of asylum seekers and irregular migrants in Europe;

12.4.       ensure that vulnerable persons, including women and children, victims of torture, victims of trafficking, and the elderly, are not detained and receive appropriate care and assistance;

12.5.       guarantee the right of asylum and non-refoulement through, inter alia:

12.5.1.       ensuring that states give access to their territory to persons in need of international protection;

12.5.2.       assuring the quality and consistency of asylum decisions in line with Assembly Resolution 1695 (2009) on improving the quality and consistency of asylum decisions in the Council of Europe member states;

12.6.       ensure that, in screening arrivals and carrying out asylum determinations, these are carried out without delay, but that speed is not given preference over fairness;

12.7.       provide full support to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), International Organisation for Migration (IOM), International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other international and national organisations providing humanitarian and other assistance, both in North Africa and in the European countries of arrival, and generously take part in resettlement programmes for refugees stranded in North African countries;

12.8.       show solidarity in the challenges faced, which includes sharing responsibility with front-line states, including by:

12.8.1.       giving further support to the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union (Frontex) and the newly established European Asylum Agency (EASO), and encouraging further use of European Union funding available through the External Borders Fund, the Return Fund, the European Refugee Fund and the Integration Fund;

12.8.2.       looking into the possibility of taking on commitments for resettlement of those with international protection needs from the European countries of arrival and on suspending the application of the Dublin Regulations or on considering other forms of responsibility sharing, through the use of existing mechanisms provided for in the Dublin Regulation, including the solidarity clause in Article 3(2) and the humanitarian clause in Article 15;

12.8.3.       working together, including with the European Union, on the issue of voluntary and forced returns, taking into account necessary human rights safeguards when relying on readmission agreements in line with Assembly Resolution 1741 (2010) on readmission agreements: a mechanism for returning irregular migrants;

12.8.4.        acknowledging the particularly difficult situation in which Malta finds itself, in view of the size of its territory, its high population density and limited human and material resources, and committing to the resettlement of those with international protection needs.

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14.       If a mass exodus of Libyan refugees occurs because of increasing terror by Colonel Gaddafi or the emergence of a civil war, the Assembly encourages the European Union member states to consider applying the temporary protection directive (Council Directive 2001/55/EC of 20 July 2001 on minimum standards for giving temporary protection in the event of a mass influx of displaced persons and on measures promoting a balance of efforts between Member States in receiving such persons and bearing the consequences thereof). It is important, however, to ensure that no states are considering returning Libyans at this stage and that at least a form of temporary protection is provided in practice.

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Click here for Resolution. (Resolution 1805 (2011))

Click here for Recommendation. (REC 1967 (2011))

Click here for PACE press statement.

Click here for Report, Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population, Rapporteur: Ms Tineke STRIK, (Doc. 12581, 13 April 2011).

 

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Maltese Minister Says Malta Will Not Reconsider Its Detention of Migrants

Malta Today reports that Justice and Home Affairs Minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici reaffirmed Malta’s detention law and disagrees with the comments made by COE Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg.  From Malta Today: “‘This [the detention policy] is compliant with Malta’s EU and other international obligations. As a matter of fact, the European Convention on Human Rights does not rule out detention,’ Mifsud Bonnici said, citing Article 5 (1)(f) of the Convention. … Mifsud Bonnici however said that the judgement in the [ECtHR’s] Massoud vs Malta case, ‘cannot, in any way be interpreted as constituting a condemnation of Malta’s detention policy. This has been proved and explained time and again.’”

Click here for article.

Click here for Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg’s statement.

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500 Migrants Reach Malta from Libya – First Arrivals in 2011

300 migrants arrived in Malta this afternoon.  A second group of approximately 250 is expected to arrive this evening.  The migrants are believed to be Sub-Saharan asylum seekers from Libya.

Under Maltese law, the arriving asylum seekers will be detained.  The law purports to authorise detention for up to 18 months.  Malta’s detention centres are at present largely empty due to the lack of recent migrant arrivals.  COE Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg concluded a visit to Malta just last week.  The Commissioner’s report pertaining to his visit has not yet been released, but a statement was released in which the Commissioner called for “the policy of mandatory detention of all irregular migrants, including asylum seekers, [to] be reconsidered.”

Excerpts from the Statement:

“‘Malta and Europe need each other if the challenges of migration are to be met in a manner that respects human rights,’ said the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, following his visit to Malta from 23 to 25 March. According to the Commissioner, Malta needs to move away from a reactive approach to migration and establish a system that is fully in line with European standards concerning the human rights of immigrants and asylum seekers. At the same time, a much more generous and collegial approach is needed on the part of other European states, by accepting to host some of the persons to whom Malta has rightly accorded international protection. ‘However, with the exception of France and Germany – and further afield the US – this has not been the case so far.’

The Commissioner underlined that the current uncertainty related to the events in Libya and possible forced migration towards Malta and Europe should not deter the Maltese authorities from undertaking the necessary reforms. ‘Instead this is another reason for more European solidarity to support these reforms’ said the Commissioner, noting also that the substantial decrease in the number of irregular arrivals in Malta over the last two years has taken considerable pressure off Malta.

In this context, the policy of mandatory detention of all irregular migrants, including asylum seekers, should be reconsidered. The Commissioner notes that the mandatory detention of migrants can hardly be reconciled with the requirements set by the European Convention on Human Rights, as also reflected in a July 2010 judgment of the Strasbourg Court in the case of Louled Massoud, which found that Malta had violated the Convention by detaining an asylum seeker, whose claim had been rejected, for almost 18 months. ‘Malta should take all necessary legislative and other measures in order to implement fully and effectively this important judgment of the European Court of Human Rights’ said the Commissioner. Alternatives to the detention of migrants should be provided for in law, in accordance with the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly’s Resolution 1707 (2010). …”

Click here and here for articles.

Click here for the Commissioner’s full statement

Click here for link to Commissioner’s thematic web page on human rights of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

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COE HR Commissioner Launches Web Page Dedicated to Human Rights of Immigrants and Asylum Seekers

COE Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg’s website now includes a thematic page (version française) dedicated to the human rights of immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.  It contains documents and information published by the Commissioner.  The timely page has been launched to coincide with the COE Seminar on the human rights dimensions of migration in Europe which begins today in Istanbul.

Click here (EN) or here (FR) for the web page.

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COE Seminar: Human rights dimensions of migration in Europe (Istanbul, 17-18 Feb)

Thomas Hammarberg, COE Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Turkish Chairmanship of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers are holding a migration and human rights seminar in Istanbul, 17-18 February.  From the Commissioner’s web site:  The seminar “aims to exchange views on the most important discrepancies between European migration laws and practices and human rights standards, as well as on optimal ways to provide assistance to states in reflecting on and revisiting their migration policies.”

Three general topics will be addressed: Human rights challenges of migration in Europe, Unaccompanied migrant children, and Smuggling of migrants.  Scheduled speakers and participants include:

  • Karim Atassi, UNHCR Deputy Representative to Turkey;
  • Tina Acketoft, PACE Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population;
  • Emily Logan, Irish Ombudsman for Children;
  • Rebecca O’Donnell, Save the Children, Brussels;
  • Elisabet Fura, ECtHR Judge;
  • Martin Fowke, Unit on Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants, UNODC;
  • Richard Ares Baumgartner, Frontex Senior External Relations Officer ;
  • Professor Dr. Nuray Ekşi, Chair of Private International Law Department at the Law Faculty of ĺstanbul Kültür University;
  • Professor Theodora Kostakopoulou;

Click here for draft programme.

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Decision from Grand Chamber of ECtHR: Returning Asylum Seekers to Greece Violates European Conv. on Human Rights

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights issued a decision today in the CASE OF M.S.S. v. BELGIUM AND GREECE (Application no. 30696/09) (also FR) and concluded that Belgium should not have returned an Afghan asylum seeker to Greece under the Dublin II regulation which mandates that asylum claims are to be considered in the state where the asylum seeker first entered Europe.

This is the first decision from the ECtHR addressing the application of the Dublin II regulation.  According to European Voice, the “Court [currently] has around 960 cases pending that relate to the Dublin regulation, against the Netherlands, Finland, Belgium, the United Kingdom and France, most of them concerning expulsions to Greece.”

I have not had a chance to read the decision closely yet, but here is some basic information about today’s decision (more to follow in a subsequent post):

Excerpts from the Court’s Press Release (click here for FR):

“In today’s Grand Chamber judgment in the case M.S.S. v. Belgium and Greece (application no. 30696/09), which is final, the European Court of Human Rights held, by a majority, that there had been:

A violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment) of the European Convention on Human Rights by Greece both because of the applicant’s detention conditions and because of his living conditions in Greece;

A violation of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) taken together with Article 3 by Greece because of the deficiencies in the asylum procedure followed in the applicant’s case;

A violation of Article 3 by Belgium both because of having exposed the applicant to risks linked to the deficiencies in the asylum procedure in Greece and because of having exposed him to detention and living conditions in Greece that were in breach of Article 3;

A violation of Article 13 taken together with Article 3 by Belgium because of the lack of an effective remedy against the applicant’s expulsion order.”

ECRE released a statement describing the decision as a “major blow to the Dublin system.”  Excerpts from the ECRE statement:

“Bjarte Vandvik, ECRE Secretary General, stated: ‘This judgment is a major blow to the Dublin system. The assumption that all EU Member States respect fundamental rights and that it is therefore safe to automatically transfer asylum seekers between EU countries no longer stands. Europe must seriously rethink the Dublin system and replace it with a regime that ensures the rights of asylum seekers are respected’.

This judgment will affect many asylum seekers in Europe. In 2010 alone, EU countries requested Greece to examine the applications of almost 7,000 asylum seekers who had entered the EU through Greece. Their situation will now need to be re-examined in light of this ruling.

Bjarte Vandvik [also] stated: ‘European countries must comply with the Court’s ruling, stop sending asylum seekers back to Greece, and examine asylum applications themselves until a fair asylum system is in place in Greece’.

The Dublin system fails refugees and Member States and needs to be changed.  This ruling reflects the serious shortcomings in the asylum procedure in Greece and in Belgium and it also highlights the flaws in the Dublin system itself. ECRE has long stressed that Dublin shifts responsibility for asylum seekers to states at Europe’s frontiers. Also, it allows refugees to be sent back to European countries where their fundamental rights are not respected.

As a first step in the right direction, ECRE supports the Commission proposal to review the Dublin Regulation, as it introduces significant humanitarian reforms and important procedural safeguards. For example, the proposal makes it easier for asylum seekers to join family members living in Europe, protects the rights of children who have arrived alone and ensures the continuity of care for vulnerable persons.

However, these are only temporary measures that do not solve the sometimes devastating impact of the Dublin system on asylum seeker’s human rights. Ultimately the Dublin Regulation should be abolished and replaced by a more humane and equitable system that considers the connections between individual asylum seekers and particular Member States.”

Click here for full ECRE Statement on the decision.

Click here (ECHR Blog) and here (Free Movement Blog) for some initial additional thoughts about the decision.

Click here, here, and here for articles.

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Hammarberg Makes Urgent Request of Italy for Information on Eritreans in Libya

COE Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg has made an urgent request to the Italian Government for information on alleged human rights violations of Eritrean migrants in Libya, including Eritreans who may have been among persons intercepted at sea by Italy and forcibly returned to Libya without being afforded an opportunity to seek international protection.

In a letter to the Italian Foreign Minister, Commissioner Hammarberg wrote “[g]iven the recent decision of the Libyan authorities to discontinue UNHCR’s activities in the country, it is increasingly difficult to confirm the exact accuracy of these reports. However, given their consistency and the seriousness of the allegations, I hope that I can count on your cooperation to urgently clarify the situation with the Libyan authorities and be kept informed about the results of your investigations.”

The Foreign Minister and Interior Minister have written a joint letter to the Il Foglio newspaper where they say that the Italian Government “was mediating with Tripoli to identify the Eritreans and try to find them employment in Libya so that they would not be forcibly repatriated.”  According to Reuters, the ministers also said “it was necessary to respect Libyan sovereignty and [they] called for an international approach, involving the United Nations and other organizations” and that the “fate of these Eritrean citizens cannot be resolved only through our bilateral relationship (with Libya).”

Click here for the Commissioner’s letter to the Italian Foreign Minister.

Click here for the Commissioner’s letter to the Italian Interior Minister.

Click here for article.

Click here (IT) for Italian Ministers’ Reply to Il Foglio.

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Exchange of Letters Between COE HR Commissioner and Greece

COE Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg has released copies of the correspondence between his office and the Greek government concerning his February visit to Greece and his concerns over a variety of issues, including Greece’s treatment of asylum seekers.  According to the Commissioner’s web site “[t]he letters focus on the human rights of migrants, especially asylum seekers, minorities, and the conduct of members of law enforcement agencies.  In view of long-standing, serious shortcomings in the field of asylum, the Commissioner highlights the urgent need for the authorities to support the ongoing reform in this field with the necessary institutional capacity and tools for implementation. The Commissioner also urges the authorities to address the situation of unaccompanied or separated migrant children.”

Click here for link to the statement and the letters.

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COE Committee of Ministers: “Europe’s boat people: mixed migration flows by sea into southern Europe”

The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers on 31 March adopted its Reply to COE Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1850 (2008) on“Europe’s boat people: mixed migration flows by sea into southern Europe.”

Comments from the COE European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment are attached to the Rely as an Appendix.

The Reply contains an acknowledgement that the Committee of Ministers was not able to reach agreement on the recommendation that guidelines be prepared for minimum standards to be applied to the detention of irregular migrants:

“5. The Committee of Ministers has taken note of the proposal that guidelines be prepared for minimum standards to be applied to the detention of irregular migrants and asylum seekers. However, the Committee of Ministers has not, at the present time, reached a common position with regard to examining possibilities for Council of Europe action in this area. The Committee of Ministers underlines the importance of the relevant instruments of the Council of Europe, such as the European Convention on Human Rights and the recommendations adopted by the Committee of Ministers in this field (see paragraph 9 below), as well as those emerging from the work of the CPT and the Commissioner for Human Rights. It notes the ongoing work in the European Union in this field, including the revision under way of the 2003 directive laying down minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers.”

Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1850 was issued in 2008 prior to the implementation in 2009 of Italy’s push-back practice and the Committee of Ministers’ Reply does not make explicit reference to Italy’s push-back policy.  The Recommendation and Reply are focused on the treatment of irregular migrants as they arrive on the shores of member states.

But there are several statements in the Reply which should apply implicitly to the irregular migrants whether encountered upon arrival on shore or intercepted or rescued in international waters.

For example:

“6. Particularly significant instruments in this field, also to be borne in mind in the framework of any possible activity in this area, include Committee of Ministers’ Recommendation No. R (98) 13 of 18 September 1998 on the right of rejected asylum seekers to an effective remedy against decisions on expulsion in the context of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, Recommendation No. R (98) 15 on the training of officials who first come into contact with asylum seekers, in particular at border points and Recommendation Rec(2003)5 on measures of detention of asylum seekers. The Committee of Ministers would also signal the “Twenty guidelines on forced return” adopted on 20 May 2005 and the Guidelines on human rights protection in the context of accelerated asylum procedures adopted on 1 July 2009.”

“7. The Committee of Ministers would also refer to other texts relevant in this area, such as its reply to Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1755 (2006) on “Human rights of irregular migrants” in which it draws attention to the minimum safeguards provided for in the European Convention on Human Rights that can be applied to irregular migrants. It also recalls its Recommendation No. R (2000) 3 to member states on the right to satisfaction of basic material needs of persons in situations of extreme hardship, which provides a minimum threshold of rights which should be recognised regardless of their status.”

“10. The Committee of Ministers would also draw attention to the extensive work of the Commissioner for Human Rights in this field and to his recommendations to member states and his appeals for solidarity within Europe with those countries that are on the frontline and facing a very difficult situation. It also refers to the regular exchanges of views that it holds with the Commissioner during the year. These exchanges are both of a general nature but also concern specific country reports in which he addresses, inter alia, the protection of human rights of immigrants and asylum seekers, including, where relevant, those arriving by sea. [***]”

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