Tag Archives: Council of Europe

COE Human Rights Commissioner Expresses Concern to ECtHR Over Greece’s Treatment of Asylum Seekers

Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg has made public the third party intervention he submitted to the European Court of Human Rights on 10 March.  The intervention was made at the invitation of the ECtHR pursuant to Article 36, paragraph 2 of the ECHR, and is the first such submission of its kind by the Commissioner.

The intervention was submitted in case 26494/09 AHMED ALI v. the Netherlands and Greece, and thirteen related cases.  The cases all deal with the return of asylum seekers from the Netherlands to Greece pursuant to the EC Dublin Regulation.

The Commissioner’s Office notes in a Press Statement that “[w]ith the entry into force of Protocol No. 14 to the [ECHR], the Commissioner will [now] have the right to intervene proprio motu as third party in the Court’s proceedings.”

Excerpts from the Commissioner’s intervention before the ECtHR:

“Introduction – [***]

3. The protection of the human rights of asylum seekers and refugees is a priority theme of the Commissioner’s present work concerning all Council of Europe member states. The Commissioner has repeatedly stressed the importance of guaranteeing the individual right to seek and enjoy asylum and has addressed a number of relevant recommendations to member states. [***]

I. Observations on the current framework of refugee protection in Greece

6. The Commissioner is fully cognisant of the considerable, mixed migration (immigrants and asylum seekers) flow pressures that have been exerted on Greece, as is the case for other Mediterranean Council of Europe member states, for many years. The increase of irregular migration into Greece that has occurred particularly in the last five years has further strained this country’s resources. Nonetheless, the complex international phenomenon of migration should be dealt with by Greece and all other Council of Europe member states concerned in a manner which is not only efficient but also effectively respectful of the Council of Europe human rights standards.

7. Greece received the sixth largest number of refugee applicants in the EU during the first half of 2009 (9 800 applications).

8. In 2009, a total of 15 928 asylum applications were lodged in Greece; there were 11 recognitions of Convention refugee status and 18 grants of humanitarian status or subsidiary protection. The Commissioner has noted with concern that in 2009 the recognition rate at first instance was 0,04% for Convention refugee status and 0,06% for the other two statuses. The pending applications at first instance in 2009 reached 3 122. As regards asylum appeals in 2009, there were 12 095 appeals, 25 recognitions of Convention refugee status and 11 grants of humanitarian or subsidiary protection. The respective recognition rates on appeal were 2,87% and 1,26%. On 10 February 2010 the Commissioner was informed by the Minister of Citizen Protection of the fact that the total of pending asylum claims in early February 2010 was as high as 44 560, and found this to be worrying.

9. The Commissioner noted that during the first ten months of 2009 Greece received 7 857 applications from other EU member states to receive back refugee applicants under the Dublin Regulation. Of these applications, 2 770 were accepted and 106 rejected. The final transfers to Greece during that period totalled 995. [***]

II. Major issues concerning the asylum procedure in Greece and human rights safeguards

Legal framework  [***]

Asylum seekers’ access to domestic and international remedies

23. The Commissioner recalls his Recommendation concerning the rights of aliens wishing to enter a Council of Europe member State and the enforcement of expulsion orders, where he stresses the need for the right of judicial remedy within the meaning of Article 13 of the Convention not only to be guaranteed in law but also to be granted in practice when a person alleges that the competent authorities have contravened or are likely to contravene a right guaranteed by the Convention. [***]

27. In view of the above, the Commissioner is worried that asylum seekers in Greece face a serious, real risk of being deprived of their right to an effective remedy in respect of the violations of the Convention of which they allege to be victims, which is guaranteed under Article 13 of the Convention and Article 39 of the Directive 2005/85/EC. The notion of an effective remedy under Article 13 requires a scope of review conducted by a domestic court able to address the key elements of whether there has been a violation of the Convention.

28. As regards access to the European Court of Human Rights, although this is guaranteed in principle for every individual within Greece’s jurisdiction, lodging an application before the Court appears to be very difficult in practice. The same applies for requests made under Rule 39 of the Rules of the Court (interim measures): the number of such requests introduced from and against Greece seems to be quite low compared to other state parties, and can be linked to difficulties, described in other parts of the present written submission, in accessing interpretation services and lawyers, in particular for people in detention, and to the lack of proper legal information available in general.

Protection of asylum seekers from refoulement

29. During both his visits the Commissioner was informed by migrants he met and by Greek refugee lawyers about instances of non registration by the Police of asylum claims and of instances of refoulement, especially from Greece to Turkey. Such forced returns have occasionally taken place before the migrants were able to apply for asylum, but also concern ‘pink card’ holders registered as asylum seekers in Greece. Characteristically, during the Commissioner’s discussions with migrant detainees at the Feres border guard station in December 2008, one of them reported that of the group of 65 persons who were arrested in 2008, having crossed the Evros river, 50 of them were ‘immediately deported’. [***]

31. In this context, it is noted that despite the Commissioner’s recommendations, Greece has not as yet acceded to the 1963 Protocol No. 4 to the European Convention on Human Rights which, inter alia, proscribes the collective expulsion of aliens, while Turkey still adheres to the geographical limitation of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, thus excluding from refugee status persons coming from outside of Europe.

32. During his visit to Greece in February 2010 the Commissioner was informed of and concerned at another reported case of refoulement concerning a group of 43 Kurds who had arrived at the town of Chania, Crete on 18 July 2009; 17 of them applied for refugee status. According to NGO reports, on 27 July 2009 they were all transferred to the aliens’ detention centre of Venna (North East Greece) from where they were subsequently expelled to Turkey. A series of other collective expulsions of migrant groups, ranging from 30 to 120 persons, to Turkey (through the land border of the Evros department) from various eastern Aegean islands were reported by Greek refugee lawyers to have occurred in July and August 2009. The Commissioner was informed by Greek refugee lawyers of more similar collective expulsions that have reportedly occurred in December 2009, January and February 2010.

33. The Commissioner underlines that such practices are not compatible with member states’ obligations recalled by the Committee of Ministers Twenty Guidelines on Forced Returns (especially Guideline 3 – prohibition of collective expulsion) and with the states’ fundamental obligation under the Convention not to return a person to a country where they would face a real risk of being subjected to treatment contrary to Article 3, or even Article 2. The Commissioner is concerned that asylum seekers returning to Greece by virtue of the Dublin Regulation may face such risks, jeopardising the enjoyment by them of their human rights enshrined in the Convention. [***]


47. In conclusion, the Commissioner considers that current asylum law and practice in Greece are not in compliance with international and European human rights standards. In particular:

– access to refugee protection remains highly problematic, notably due to the non-functioning of the first instance Advisory Refugee Committees, lack of proper information on asylum procedures and legal aid that should be available to potential or actual asylum seekers, widely reported instances of refoulement or non-registration of asylum claims;

– the quality of asylum decisions at first instance is inadequate, notably because of structural deficiencies and lack of procedural safeguards, in particular concerning the provision of legal aid and interpretation;

– existing domestic remedy against negative asylum applications is not effective;

– asylum seekers, including persons transferred under the Dublin Regulation, face extremely harsh living conditions in Greece.

48. Since the beginning of his mandate, the Commissioner has been following developments relating to migration, and especially asylum, in Greece. The Commissioner is pleased to note the new Greek government’s decision and willingness, shown to him during his visit in February 2010, to overhaul the refugee protection system and overcome its current serious, chronic and structural deficiencies.

49. The Commissioner fully supports these efforts and has urged the Greek authorities to proceed and engage with determination and commitment in the necessary legislative and administrative changes that would bring the Greek asylum system in line with international and European human rights standards.”

Click here for full submission to ECtHR.

Click here for the Commissioner’s Press Statement.

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Filed under Aegean Sea, European Court of Human Rights, Greece, Judicial, Statements

Frattini, Ministre des Affaires étrangères: l’Italie est le pays le plus engagé à sauver la vie de ceux qui sont en danger en Méditerranée

Discours de Franco FRATTINI Ministre des Affaires étrangères de l’Italie le 26 janvier à l’occasion de la 1ère partie de la session ordinaire de 2010 de l’Assemblée parlementaire du Conseil de l’Europe (Strasbourg, 25-29 janvier 2010).

(Extrait du compte-rendu des débats)

M.. FRATTINI, ministre des Affaires étrangères de l’Italie (Interprétation):

“[***] [L]’immigration peut et doit être gérée pour bénéficier de toutes ses potentialités, minimiser le risque des chocs sociaux, et pour encourager au mieux une insertion harmonieuse des nouveaux arrivants dans nos pays.

Pour l’Italie, cela signifie qu’il convient d’adopter une double approche. Il convient d’un côté de lutter avec détermination, contre l’immigration clandestine, de l’autre, de gérer les flux migratoires, tout en définissant une stratégie à long terme pour préparer les parcours d’intégration des migrants en situation régulière.

Nous savons que les flux migratoires qui viennent de l’Afrique par la Méditerranée vers l’Europe représentent l’un des problèmes les plus complexes les plus urgents et les plus dramatiques de notre époque.

Ce défi exige une approche moderne qui tienne compte de l’aspect multidimensionnel de l‘immigration il suppose que tous les acteurs impliqués prennent leurs responsabilités : pays d’origine, pays de transit et pays de destination. En d’autres termes, il convient de mettre en place un véritable partenariat entre l’Europe et, principalement, les pays africains.

La question de l’immigration doit être abordée avec un mélange de fermeté et de sens de l’accueil, dans le plein respect de la légalité et des droits de l’homme, un respect profond pour les droits fondamentaux des migrants. Je dois dire que les opinions publiques européennes ne sont pas toujours pleinement informées du fait que l’Italie est une plate-forme facile à atteindre pour les immigrés clandestins et que lorsque nous accueillons des immigrés, c’est au nom de tous les pays de l’Union européenne. Nous sommes la porte de l’Europe.

C’est la raison pour laquelle l’Italie, malgré quelques vaines tentatives de communication, peut proclamer qu’elle est le pays qui s’est le plus engagé à sauver la vie de ceux qui sont en danger en Méditerranée, – et elle continuera de le faire.

Entre 2008 et 2009, nous avons secouru en mer plus de 40 000 migrants. Mais nous devons faire preuve de la plus grande sévérité à l’encontre des trafiquants d’êtres humains, car ces personnes étaient pour la grande majorité victimes d’un trafic bien organisé, nouvel esclavage du XXIe siècle.

Nous devons donc travailler sur la prévention, en encourageant le développement des pays d’origine. C’est ce que nous avons fait en situant l’Afrique parmi les priorités de la politique étrangère de l‘Italie.

La politique qui vise à gérer ce phénomène si complexe ne peut pas relever uniquement des pays qui sont le plus directement exposés en raison de leur situation géographique. C’est la raison pour laquelle l’Italie insiste pour que l’Europe s’engage davantage sur la question de l’immigration en Méditerranée. L’Union européenne doit faire plus et aborder ce défi dans un esprit de véritable solidarité entre les Etats membres. Une décision récente de l’union européenne, l’approbation du programme « Justice, liberté et sécurité », dénommé le programme de Stockholm, est un pas dans la bonne direction.

Les propositions de l’Italie ont été acceptées. Elles visaient à renforcer l’Agence Frontex, à mettre en place un Office européen de l’asile, à instaurer un régime commun d’asile dans le cadre européen et à développer la protection internationale en dehors du territoire européen. Enfin, l’initiative italienne visait à instaurer une coopération accrue avec les pays de la rive sud de la Méditerranée.  [***]”

Click here for full French text.

Click here for partial English translation of text.

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Hammarberg: Criminalising migration is the wrong answer to a complex social phenomenon

“‘Criminalising the irregular entry and presence of migrants in Europe corrodes established international law principles and causes many human tragedies without achieving its purpose of genuine control’ said Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, presenting today in Brussels an Issue Paper on this topic.

‘I have observed with increasing concern this trend as part of a policy of migration management’ he said. ‘States have a legitimate interest to control their borders, but criminalisation is a disproportionate measure which causes further stigmatisation and marginalisation of migrants. Immigration offences should remain administrative in nature.’

This Issue Paper builds upon these concerns and examines systematically the human rights implications of the criminalisation of migration in Europe. It analyses the external border crossing, migrants’ residence and protection of their social rights including employment, as well as asylum and detention.

It concludes with a number of recommendations to Council of Europe member states, as a starting point to ensure the correct intersection of human rights standards and the treatment of foreign nationals.

Issue Papers are commissioned and published by the Commissioner for Human Rights for the purpose of contributing to debate or further reflection on a current and important human rights matter. The full text is available on the Commissioner’s web-site.”

Click here for Issue Paper.

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COE Commissioner for HR Releases Letters to Italy and Malta (Statements)

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, released copies of two letters he sent last August to the Minister of Interior of Italy, Roberto Maroni, and to the Minister for Justice and Home Affairs, of Malta, Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici in regard to the incident in August when a boat carrying over 70 migrants was left adrift for over two weeks.  Most of the migrants died.

A statement on the Commissioner’s web page states as follows:

“I publish these letters in order to reopen the discussion on the need to fully align migration practices with human rights standards. This serious incident should be effectively investigated” said the Commissioner. “Four of the five survivors have been granted refugee status in Italy and one is waiting for the decision on her application. This is good news. However, there is still an urgent need to take all necessary measures to prevent the recurrence of such tragedies. Regrettably, the authorities have not replied so far.”

In his letters, the Commissioner also underlined that the responsibility to rescue persons at sea appeared to have been neglected. He therefore recommended that both countries concerned engage in a constructive cooperation to develop sea patrolling which is duly respectful of human rights and humanitarian principles.

“The protection of the human rights of migrants needs urgent attention” said the Commissioner. “Every European country should act in a spirit of solidarity towards other countries, discharge its responsibilities under international law and effectively protect migrants, whose fundamental rights are at serious risk.”

Relevant excerpts from the letters:

Letter to Italian Minister Maroni, Ministry of the Interior – 25 August 2009

“[O]ne element is already evident: these people have not benefited from international humanitarian protection. In particular, the responsibility to rescue persons at sea appears to have been neglected. The Italian Coast Guard and other agencies – as well as fishermen – have shown until recently a laudable record of rescuing at sea hundreds of irregular migrants attempting to reach Italy. What happened this time? Have the provisions set out in the new security package played a deterrent role? Is the cooperation with the Coast Guards of other countries not functioning properly, thereby preventing boats in distress from being spotted and rescued?”

“Indeed, many migrants are human beings in dire circumstances who deserve our attention and respect. A substantial number of them are fleeing persecution or violence; this necessitates the provision of international protection. All European countries, not only Italy, must grant protection to migrants and cooperate more effectively to handle migration flows in a coherent manner, with full regard to humanitarian principles.

I hope that the Italian government will take all necessary measures to avoid such tragedies in the future. In this context, a constructive cooperation with the authorities in Malta, to develop sea patrolling which is duly respectful of human rights and humanitarian principles, would be highly beneficial.”

“The survivors of such tragedies should of course not be criminalised. Instead, they should be provided with all the necessary assistance. Their right to apply for asylum should be fully respected, and their request examined with the utmost attention. The situation of their country of origin and of departure should also be taken into account.

I deeply believe that it is both wrong and counterproductive to politicise migration issues. It is much more in keeping with our common values – and, ultimately, more effective – to address them based on a comprehensive and cooperative approach, guided by human rights and humanitarian principles.”

Click here for the Italian letter.

Letter to Maltese Minister Bonnici, Justice and Home Affairs Ministry – 26 August 2009

“[T]he people on the ill-fated boat have not benefited from international

humanitarian protection. In particular, the responsibility to rescue persons at sea appears to have been neglected. What happened? Is the cooperation with the Coast Guards of other countries not functioning properly, thereby preventing boats in distress from being spotted and rescued?”

“Migratory flows present major challenges to many European countries. A common European approach is therefore needed to meet those challenges. I have raised the issue with the Swedish Presidency of the European Union. There is a need for responsibility-sharing, where every country is ready to contribute in a spirit of solidarity, not only with regard to the reception capacities of other countries, but also vis-à-vis migrants themselves. Many migrants are human beings in dire circumstances who deserve our attention and respect. A substantial number of them are fleeing persecution or violence and deserve international protection.”

“I hope that the Maltese government will take all necessary measures for such tragedies to be avoided in the future. A constructive cooperation with the authorities in Italy, to develop sea patrolling which is duly respectful of human rights and humanitarian principles, would be highly beneficial. I hope it will be possible to address these crucial issues with a cooperative approach, guided by human rights norms.”

Click here for the Maltese letter.

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