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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.


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

CoE HR Commissioner: Europe should increase air surveillance to spot and rescue migrant boats

Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg issued a new Comment, “African migrants are drowning in the Mediterranean,” in which he voices the concern that “preventing migrants from coming [to Europe] has become more important than saving lives” and calls for a dramatic increase in “surveillance – from the air – along the Libyan coast and further out in order to spot any fragile [migrant] vessels at sea and safely prepare a rescue.”


“The drowning tragedies in the Mediterranean are not a new phenomenon; … [European deterrent measures] ha[ve] not prevented people from trying to reach Europe, but it has made the journey more dangerous and given the smugglers a reason to increase their prices. The boats have become more and more overcrowded and more of them have capsized.  Smugglers have a responsibility; they take on board much too many migrants in much too unsuitable boats – and thereby put lives at risk. …

Europe has a role in this. The imperative principle of ‘rescue at sea’ must not only be respected for those close to a sinking ship; there is also a need to increase dramatically surveillance – from the air – along the Libyan coast and further out in order to spot any fragile vessels at sea and safely prepare a rescue.  In view of the ongoing military operations it would be difficult to argue that there are no resources for such reconnaissance activity. Indeed, the escalation of the armed conflict has contributed to the acute situation of the sub-Saharan migrants.

European governments and institutions have more responsibility for this crisis than they have demonstrated so far. Their silence and passivity are difficult to accept. When preventing migrants from coming has become more important than saving lives, something has gone dramatically wrong.”

Click here (EN) or here (FR) for full statement.

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Filed under Council of Europe, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, Statements, Tunisia

CoE Report Regarding Accession of EU to ECHR

“The seventh working meeting of the CDDH informal working group on the accession of the European Union to the European Convention on Human Rights (CDDH UE) with the European Commission was held in Strasbourg on 10-13 May 2011” and the report of the meeting was released on 16 May.  The meeting report includes a Draft Revised Accession Agreement (see Appendix III in meeting report).  (HT to @echrnews.)

Click here for meeting report.

Click here for link to web page of CoE Informal Group on Accession of the European Union to the Convention (CDDH-UE).

Click here for submission by the AIRE Centre and Amnesty International to the working group.

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PACE President Calls for Inquiry into Europe’s Role in Deaths of 61 Boat People

Full Text:

“Strasbourg, 09.05.2011 – Mevlüt Çavusoglu, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), today expressed his distress and deep concern following reports that 61 boat people have died after their appeals for rescue were ignored. Reportedly, their boat was left to drift in the Mediterranean for 16 days.

‘If this grave accusation is true – that, despite the alarm being raised, and despite the fact that this boat, fleeing Libya, had been located by armed forces operating in the Mediterranean, no attempt was made to rescue the 72 passengers aboard, then it is a dark day for Europe as a whole,’ he declared.

‘I call for an immediate and comprehensive inquiry into the circumstances of the deaths of the 61 people who perished, including babies, children and women who – one by one – died of starvation and thirst while Europe looked on,’ he added.

‘At the same time, we have also witnessed acts of solidarity: over 400 boat people were rescued yesterday by the Italian coastguard, with the help of Lampedusa’s inhabitants,’ he said. ‘This is something Europe should be proud of.’

‘Finally, Europe should stop exaggerating the impact of these arrivals. Libya’s neighbouring countries, mainly Egypt and Tunisia, are dealing with over 650 000 refugees who have fled the conflict there. In a spirit of solidarity and of burden-sharing, the 27 EU member states should at least be able to deal, in a humane way and in compliance with their international obligations, with the arrival by boat of several thousand,’ Mr Çavusoglu added.

‘Our Assembly will be sending a delegation to Lampedusa on 23-24 May 2011 to evaluate the situation there, ahead of two major debates – possibly in June – on the rescue of boat-people and the need for Europe to share responsibility. The Assembly has produced a string of critical reports on these matters, and will continue to urgently insist on the humane and lawful treatment of asylum-seekers, refugees and irregular migrants coming to Europe.'”

Click here for link to statement.


Filed under Council of Europe, Mediterranean, News, Statements

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


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.


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.


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.


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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Filed under Commissioner for Human Rights, Council of Europe, European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, European Union, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, News, Tunisia, UNHCR

COE Parliamentary Assembly to Hold Urgent Debate on Large-Scale Migrant Arrivals in Southern Europe

From PACE:  “Spring session: 11-15 April 2011 – Debates on the arrival of irregular migrants and asylum seekers on Europe’s southern shores and on the situation in Northern Africa.

Adopting the final agenda of its plenary Spring Session, the Assembly today [11 April] decided to hold, on Thursday 14 April, an urgent debate on the large-scale arrival of irregular migrants on Europe’s southern shores and a current affairs debate on the situation in Northern Africa…..”  Agenda Working documents

From the Agenda:

Thursday 14 April 2011

8.30 a.m. Committees
10 a.m. 1. Debate under urgent procedure: 

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

Rapporteur of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population:

Deadline for tabling amendments: Wednesday 13 April at 12 noon

Debate and vote on a …

2. Current affairs debate: 

The situation in Northern Africa


1 p.m. End of the sitting

Click here for link to PACE news page.

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PACE President calls for Europe to support humanitarian evacuation from Libya

Statement from Mevlüt Çavusoglu, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe:  “Refugees and migrants are trapped by the conflicts [in Libya]. In Libya, 8000 persons have been recognised as refugees by the UNHCR and are particularly vulnerable…. UNHCR and IOM have today made a joint appeal to governments around the world to provide support for an emergency humanitarian evacuation ongoing at the moment. I join their appeal by adding my plea: the help of the entire international community is urgently needed, and Europe should be at the forefront of the response to this crisis.”

Click here for full statement.

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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.


Filed under Aegean Sea, Colloques / Conferences, Commissioner for Human Rights, Committee of Ministers, Council of Europe, European Court of Human Rights, Frontex, Turkey, UNHCR, UNODC

PACE President Çavusoglu: ECtHR Decision “explodes myth that Europe is able to protect the rights of refugees”

PACE President Mevlüt Çavusoglu issued a statement regarding today’s Grand Chamber decision in the CASE OF M.S.S. v. BELGIUM AND GREECE (Application no. 30696/09) (also FR):

“‘The European Court of Human Rights today delivered a milestone judgment damning how Europe is protecting its refugees, asylum seekers and irregular migrants,’ today said Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) President Mevlüt Çavusoglu.

‘While the M.S.S. v. Belgium and Greece judgment is only against two member states, the implications of the judgment will be rippling through the capitals of Europe,’ he added. ‘The myth that European Union member states are safe places to return asylum seekers has been exploded by the European Court of Human Rights.’

The President stated that the Court had found massive deficiencies in detention conditions in Greece and in the procedures and remedies designed to safeguard the rights of asylum seekers, refugees and irregular migrants in Europe. He commented that Greece was not alone in failing on detention safeguards and that the Assembly had recently addressed recommendations to all member states on steps to improve detention facilities in Europe.

‘What is also clear from this judgment is that the so-called EU ‘Dublin system’ for determining the state responsible for deciding an asylum decision has to be changed as a matter of urgency. It is based on the false premise that EU member states are all safe and able to cope. They are not, and the ‘Dublin system’ creates enormous burdens on front-line states, such as Greece,’ the President declared.

He called on the EU to work with the Council of Europe, UNHCR and others, to solve the problem of returns under the “Dublin system” and reiterated a concern repeatedly highlighted by the Assembly that Europe needs to make its asylum systems fairer (see PACE Resolution 1695 (2009)) and needs clear rules on detention of irregular migrants and asylum seekers (see PACE Resolution 1707 (2010)).

‘Europe has European Prison Rules applying to criminals, but we still do not have similar rules for irregular migrants and asylum seekers who have committed no crime,’ he concluded.”


Filed under Belgium, Council of Europe, European Court of Human Rights, European Union, Greece, News, Statements

INTERIGHTS Litigation Workshop: Human Security and Migration (27-28 Jan)

Of possible interest to some readers. The deadline for applications [INTERIGHTS_Workshop_Application_Form] is Sunday, 12 December 2010.  Early applications are strongly encouraged.

INTERIGHTS‘ Europe Programme covering Council of Europe countries within Central and Eastern Europe and former Soviet Union is pleased to invite applications for a strategic litigation workshop on “Human Security and Migration” which will be held in London on 27-28 January 2011. The workshop is open to lawyers and human rights activists engaged in legal advocacy from Council of Europe states, especially those from Central and Eastern Europe, the Baltic States and the Caucasus. To ensure a fruitful in-depth discussion, only a limited number of places will be offered.

Throughout the region, migrants – in particular, undocumented/irregular migrants, unskilled migrant workers, and asylum seekers and refugees – are vulnerable to a wide range of human rights abuses such as ill-treatment, arbitrary detention, servitude and forced labour, denial of access to justice, interference with private and family life, and denial of access to medical treatment and social services.  Moreover, due to their non-citizen (often irregular) status, migrants can be denied or severely restricted in their access to legal redress both in theory and practice.

The workshop’s objectives include:

  • – facilitating cooperation and exchange of ideas and experiences between local lawyers and human rights defenders who are engaged in litigation and other forms of legal advocacy related to human security in the context of migration;
  • – achieving a better understanding of the nature and scale of violations occurring in this context;
  • –  examining legal strategies to address those violations, including the identification of applicable legal standards and appropriate international, regional and national legal fora;
  • –  increasing the capacity of participating lawyers and NGOs to litigate abuses of human rights in the context of migration at international and regional level, especially before the European Court of Human Rights;
  • –  improving INTERIGHTS’ understanding of the legal challenges existing in the field of human security and migration and the ways in which we can participate in addressing them;
  • –  nurturing cooperation between INTERIGHTS and local lawyers and NGOs on the thematic issues identified below.

As an organisation focussing on strategic litigation, we are primarily interested in applications from practicing lawyers who have experience of representation and legal advice in cases involving serious violations of human rights of migrants or victims of trafficking.  However, we also wish to encourage applications from non-lawyers or non-litigating lawyers who are directly involved in protecting the rights of migrants. We shall prioritise applications from lawyers and activists working in Central and Eastern Europe (including Russia and Ukraine), the Baltic States and the Caucasus. In exceptional cases, however, applications from Western Europe could be accepted as well. We are especially – but not exclusively – interested in applicants who have an experience of working on any of the following areas:

  • (a)     treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, including issues arising under Articles 2, 3, 5, 6, 8 and 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights, such as violations of the right to life, the non-refoulement principle in the context of expulsions and deportations, unlawful detention, ill-treatment in detention, inadequate procedural guarantees for detainees or persons subject to transfer, such as denial of access to a lawyer, and discrimination in the application of immigration rules;
  • (b)     prevention of trafficking and human beings and protection of the human rights of victims of trafficking, including in the context of transit countries and countries of origin;
  • (c)    treatment of migrant labourers/undocumented migrants, especially issues arising under Article 4 (e.g. exploiting their vulnerable position to deny remuneration or provide grossly inadequate remuneration for their work; coercing into work by withholding their identity papers or deliberately failing to regularise their legal status); and Articles 2, 3 and 8 (e.g. poor health and safety standards at work, a lack of access to health care).

To ensure that the workshop reflects current and emerging trends in the identified area and is practical use to the participating lawyers, all applicants are asked to submit the description of a relevant case they have worked/are working on. The workshop’s agenda will be shaped by the legal issues arising out of the cases submitted by the selected participants.

The workshop will be held in English with simultaneous interpretation into Russian. Therefore, it is essential that participants are proficient in either English or Russian.

All reasonable travel and subsistence costs associated with attendance at the training will be covered by INTERIGHTS.

To apply, please email a completed application form (SEE BELOW) to Arpi Avetisyan, Legal Team Coordinator, at aavetisyan@interights.org. The deadline for applications is Sunday, 12 December 2010.  Early applications are strongly encouraged.

For further information, please contact Yuri Marchenko at ymarchenko@interights.org.

Click on this link for Application:  INTERIGHTS_Workshop_Application_Form

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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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Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture Report is Highly Critical of Italy’s Push-Back Practice

The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) published on 28 April its report on its visit to Italy in July 2009 and the official response to the report from the Italian Government.

In the CPT’s view, “Italy’s [push-back] policy, in its present form, of intercepting migrants at sea and obliging them to return to Libya or other non-European countries, violates the principle of non-refoulement, which forms part of Italy’s obligations under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

“The so-called push-back policy, as pursued by the Italian authorities and described in this report, does not meet [the] requirements [ of the ECHR]. The CPT urges the Italian authorities to substantially review forthwith the current practice of intercepting migrants at sea, so as to ensure that all persons within Italy’s jurisdiction – including those intercepted at sea outside Italian territorial waters by Italian-controlled vessels – receive the necessary humanitarian and medical care that their condition requires and that they have effective access to procedures and safeguards capable of guaranteeing respect for the principle of non-refoulement.”

The CPT is also very critical of the lack of cooperation received from the Italian Government: “Regrettably, the co-operation received at the central level [of the Italian Government] was, in certain respects, unsatisfactory. The delegation was denied access to some documents and information it had requested, which did not facilitate its task. Other information requested by the delegation prior to and in the course of the visit was not provided in a timely manner and when eventually furnished was, moreover, incomplete.”

“For instance, information requested pertaining, inter alia, to the logbooks from each push-back operation and the names of personnel responsible for the operations, which the authorities undertook to provide to the delegation, was subsequently refused on grounds of confidentiality. Also, the Italian authorities denied the existence of a list/inventory of objects seized from migrants in the course of a push-back operation, a copy of which the delegation had requested, and yet certain representatives of the Navy had told the delegation that such a list had indeed been compiled.”

“Further, the CPT’s delegation learned from the press, and not from the Italian authorities, that during the visit, on 29-30 July 2009, a push-back operation took place. … In the Committee’s view, when a CPT delegation carries out a visit to a Party to the Convention focussing on a specific issue made known in advance, the State authorities should, in a spirit of co-operation, endeavour to keep the visiting delegation informed of significant events pertaining to that same issue.”

Click here for CPT Press Release.

Click here for the CPT Report.

Click here for the Response of the Italian Government.

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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. [***]”

Click here for the full Committee of Ministers Reply.

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