Tag Archives: ECRE

ECRE Interview with Tineke Strik Regarding PACE Investigation into Migrants Deaths in Mediterranean

ECRE last week published an interview with Ms Tineke Strike regarding the PACE Migration Committee’s ongoing investigation into the almost 2000 migrant deaths that have occurred in the central Mediterranean this year.  The Committee is focusing in particular on the incident that occurred in late March 2011 when unknown ship(s) and aircraft observed and then failed to rescue a disabled migrant boat.  Approximately 60 persons subsequently died.

Excerpts from the ECRE interview:

“[***]  What are the main findings of your report on the death at the Mediterranean so far?

We have spoken with survivors and with the priest who received the request for assistance from the boat in distress, Italian border guards, and the Italian refugee agency, as well as the Italian Refugee Council (CIR), a Member of ECRE. We also talked to different people in Brussels, including NATO, the ambassador of the Council of Europe, Amnesty and several MEPs. Today, during the PACE hearing on November 30 in Paris, we had a discussion with a number of experts in international law, Frontex, UNHCR and ICRC. All in all a lot of information has been gathered.

We have already sent requests for information to find out via satellite maps and logs if there were boats near the distressed boat Once we know under which flags these boats were sailing, we will be able to track which governments might have been responsible and ask them whether they knew that the boat asking for help was in danger or not and how they acted upon that information.

We are actually still waiting for information for this information. It is unfortunate that it takes time to get this information but we are trying to get hold of it through different channels. We have approached High Representative Ashton and asked for her consent to provide us with information from the European Satellite Centre. We have already used this kind of information at the Council of Europe, for example to detect the illegal detention centres that the CIA was using. We therefore hope that Ashton once again will cooperate.

We also asked NATO to provide us with information and have asked all the countries who took part in the NATO action in Libya and who had ships in that region during that period to give us data on where their boats were and when. NATO has promised to request the Member States to provide us with this information, also if these boats were not under the command of NATO. If this does not succeed, we still have our own national parliamentarians that could push their governments in their own country if it is necessary to gather the information.

If countries were involved they might not want to admit that, which makes my position difficult. I am not a judge and I don’t have enforcement powers so I’m partly dependent on the cooperation of various parties.  But I think all parties can benefit from transparency on what has happened, in order to avoid such tragedies in the future.


How do you think the EU has responded to the turmoil and war in North Africa and, in particular, the following displacement of people in the region and the arrival of some of them to Europe?

In my report following the protests in North Africa, we see that by far the largest part of the people who have fled Libya went to Tunisia and Egypt. There was a lot of fuss in the EU about the 25,000 who eventually fled to Italy. Tunisia took half million, Egypt took a half a million which shows how big the contrast with the EU was, especially considering that Member States were reluctant to resettle refugees from camps in Tunisia. This while Tunisia and Egypt were in a very vulnerable position in the post-revolutionary period. If we really want to help and strengthen stability in the region, we must show these states that they are not alone. These countries generously opened their borders, they understood the situation of the people there and to a great extent we stood aside and just watched.

Then we failed to help out Italy and Malta, especially when countries like France and Denmark wanted to close their borders. This shows exactly how much we are still not politically ready for a common asylum system. We provide beautiful public statements but when it comes down to it, Member States do not want to lose their sovereignty or be troubled by developments elsewhere. I do not think you can have both: either you have a joint system and you show solidarity, or you close all the borders and reinvent the wheel.

Common policies go hand in hand with solidarity and in fact we should look beyond the European borders.  What you see now is that border controls at the external borders of the EU continue to shift to North Africa and sometimes even further. One cannot claim that our responsibilities only begin when people have reached our territory. I was therefore very disappointed when the European Commission replied to a question by MEP Hélène Flautre on this incident saying that the boat was in Libyan waters and therefore they had no power to get involved. If certain acts like push backs at high sea or bilateral agreements with unsafe third countries such as Libya, lead to death or inhumane treatment, EU member states or other countries of the Council of Europe are accountable for a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. In that sense I have high expectations of the decision of the ECHR in the case of Hirsi and others v. Italy.


What do you think the impact of your work and the investigation will be?

I hope the report will raise the awareness of the international obligations and also the awareness of the importance of avoiding such tragedies. It is important that violating the obligation to rescue does not remain unmentioned or lead to impunity. If we succeed in proving which actors were wrong. Member States will be more careful and there will be more pressure to cooperate and share the responsibilities, and to establish practical and binding solutions. Being a parliamentary assembly of national parliamentarians, I also hope that the discussion will also take place in Member States. I find it really outrageous that such a tragedy can occur so close to our borders and that we have been so silent about it.


Click here for full interview.

Click here for my last post on this topic.


Leave a comment

Filed under Council of Europe, European Union, Frontex, General, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, News, Tunisia, UNHCR

ECRE calls on the EU to rescue sub–Saharan refugees trapped in Libya

Statement in full:

“Brussels, 3 March 2011. In a meeting today with Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström, ECRE urged the European Commission to make an appeal to EU Member States to help evacuate and offer protection to the 4,000 sub-Saharan refugees who are trapped in Libya.

The international community is making important efforts to support the evacuation of Europeans, Egyptians, Tunisians and other foreigners. However, sub-Saharan refugees, mainly Somalis and Eritreans, are not able to get out of Libya to find safety. As de facto refugees, they cannot go back to their own countries, which they fled to save their lives. What is more, suspected of being pro-Gaddafi mercenaries, they are being targeted and are at great risk if they try to reach the Egyptian or Tunisian border.

Bjarte Vandvik, ECRE’s Secretary General, said ‘Persecuted in their own country, persecuted now in Libya and unable to leave the country, sub –Saharan refugees need to be urgently evacuated to Europe’.

For further information

– ECRE, Appeal for Libya: NGOs call on European governments and the European Union to stand with them in helping people who are fleeing Libya

– ECRE, Safe haven for people fleeing bloodshed in Libya

– CIR, CIR launches an urgent appeal for the evacuation of Eritrean refugees in Tripoli


Click here for link to ECRE statement.

Click here (SV) for Commissioner Malmström’s short blog post regarding the meeting with ECRE.

Leave a comment

Filed under European Union, Libya, Mediterranean, Statements

ECRE Statement: Safe haven for people fleeing bloodshed in Libya

ECRE issued a statement earlier today.  Here is the full statement:

As the situation in Libya is worsening and the world is watching the atrocities of Gaddafi’s regime, European governments are stepping up efforts to evacuate their citizens outside the country. The repression is brutal and just as British, Turkish, Egyptians and other foreigners, some Libyans and refugees from sub-Saharan countries unable to go back and stranded in Libya will need refuge from violence and human rights abuses.

At this historical moment, on the other side of the Mediterranean, the EU needs to live up to its obligations to protect those fleeing the violence.

With or without Frontex, border control operations carried out at sea cannot result in persons being returned to Libya without assessing in a fair asylum procedure whether they are in need of international protection.

Some European governments have warned of an exodus of biblical proportions. The truth is that what will happen is totally unpredictable. For the moment, those leaving the country seem to be travelling to Egypt or remaining elsewhere in the region. So far, according to the EU Border Agency Frontex, some 5.500 people, mainly Tunisians, arrived to Lampedusa in January and February. This is nowhere near the number that would make an asylum system of a country such as Italy collapse.

Even if the number of people arriving to Europe would increase dramatically, to the extent that an immediate and individual assessment of their protection needs would no longer be possible, the EU has already at its disposal the tools to ensure that people can reach a safe haven. The Temporary Protection Directive, adopted after the Kosovo crisis, allows Member States to grant immediately a protection status to persons who arrive in Europe in the context of so-called mass influx and makes it possible for Member States to better share responsibility through the relocation of refugees protected under this scheme to other EU countries.

In addition, the recently established European Asylum Support Office has the competence to deploy national asylum experts to EU Member States receiving high numbers of asylum seekers. Although the agency is not yet operational, ad hoc solutions can be found if need be.

Finally, the EU’s decision to suspend the negotiations with Libya on a framework agreement, which included cooperation in the field of immigration and asylum, is indeed the only sensible thing to do. Libya’s poor human rights record was well known when last year the European Commission agreed to offer the dictatorship € 50m over the next 3 years to reinforce Tripoli’s capacity to prevent migrants from entering the Southern border and from crossing the Mediterranean towards Europe. According to the European Commission, no money has been disbursed so far. The bloodshed in the country and the regime’s attempts to blackmail the EU by threatening with breaking its cooperation on controlling migration towards Europe, showed clearer than ever who the EU was willing to trust to control migration to Europe. This cannot go on.


Ana Fontal

Senior Press and Public Information Officer

Tel: +32 2 212 08 12

Mobile: + 32 (0) 486 531 676


Click here for link to statement.

Leave a comment

Filed under European Union, Frontex, Italy, Libya, Mediterranean, Statements, Tunisia

ECRE Interview with Christopher Hein, CIR Director (Italian Refugee Council) Regarding Situation in Lampedusa

ECRE conducted an interview with Christopher Hein, Director of the Italian Refugee Council.  Here are some of the points he made regarding the migrant arrivals in Lampedusa and neighbouring islands:

  • The expeditious deportation of the group of Egyptians who arrived on Sicily earlier this week shows that the readmission agreement with Egypt continues to function whereas the agreement with Tunisia is not functioning at present;
  • CIR is concerned that if Frontex becomes involved with the current situation, Tunisian migrants may be returned indiscriminately;
  • EASO is not capable of assisting at present because it has no staff;
  • The migrants who have arrived need to be processed-  those seeking asylum should be subjected to asylum procedures, those seeking humanitarian protection should be subjected to the humanitarian procedures; and others, where appropriate, should be offered voluntary repatriation;
  • If much larger numbers of migrants were to continue to arrive, obligations under the EU Temporary Protection Direction might be triggered (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).

Click here for full ECRE interview

1 Comment

Filed under Analysis, European Union, Frontex, Italy, Mediterranean, News, Tunisia

ECRE Critical of EU Migration Agreement with Libya

ECRE has posted a statement on its web site that is very critical of the recent EU-Libya Migration agreement.  Also posted is an interview with MEP Sylvie Guillaume (S&D, France) who is a member of the LIBE Committee where she discusses the human rights implications of the EU agreement.

Excerpts from ECRE’s Statement:  “It is difficult to understand why the EU is finalising a deal with the political dictatorship in Libya on issues that impact the fundamental rights of thousands of people. In June this year, Tripoli ordered the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, to close its offices in the country, a perfect illustration of Libya’s particular understanding of refugee protection and the unreliable nature of the regime under Colonel Gaddafi. Can we honestly think that refugees are safe in Libya? …

Through this ‘migration cooperation agenda’, the EU is trusting Libya to stop irregular migration towards Europe and to decide on the fate of those asylum seekers who will find it now even harder to reach safety in Europe. This follows last year’s highly questionable agreement between Rome and Tripoli to allow Italy to push back migrants to Libya without assessing their need for international protection. Since then, hardly any refugee has managed to reach Italy by sea. The EU Governments and the European Commission have so far turned a blind eye….

In particular, EU representatives have committed to assist Tripoli in reinforcing its capacity to prevent migrants from entering Libya through its Southern borders and in developing its patrolling capacities in its territorial waters and at high sea. The agreement also covers EU’s assistance to Libya in screening migrants in order to identify those in need of international protection. By setting up EU-sponsored asylum processing centres in Libya, EU States would evade their obligations to protect refugees and shift the responsibility to a country with an appalling human rights record….”

Click here for full statement.

Click here (EN) and here (FR) for interview with MEP Sylvie Guillaume.

1 Comment

Filed under European Union, Italy, Libya, Mediterranean, Statements, UNHCR

ECRE and AI Joint Briefing on Commission Proposal to Amend Frontex Regulation

On 21 September ECRE and Amnesty International released a 30+ page joint briefing on the 24 February 2010 European Commission “Proposal for a REGULATION OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND THE COUNCIL amending Council Regulation (EC) No 2007/2004 establishing a European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union (FRONTEX),” COM(2010) 61 final.

The joint briefing presents detailed views on the proposal and makes numerous specific recommendations for possible amendments.  I have not had time to read the full briefing closely, but here are several excerpts from the Summary:

“1. Role and responsibilities of Frontex vis-à-vis Member States –  [***] Amnesty International and ECRE recommend that Frontex be subject to full accountability by the enhancement of democratic oversight of the Agency before the European Parliament, in addition to judicial oversight by the European Courts for legal protection against unlawful actions, and by effective implementation of the requirement to give access to prompt, objective and reliable information on its activities. In particular, accountability should be enhanced by providing for the following: 1) Relevant information, including risk analysis, should be transmitted to the European Parliament to enable adequate scrutiny of Frontex activities; 2) Independent observation should be enabled at the meetings of the Management Board; 3) Frontex programme of work should be subject to public consultation. [***]

2. The legal framework governing Frontex –  The proposal clarifies the legal framework of Frontex operations by stating explicitly that its activities are subject to the Schengen Borders Code and should be undertaken in accordance to relevant international and EU law, obligations related to international protection and fundamental rights. Sea border surveillance activities fall within the remit of the Schengen Borders Code, even if implemented in the high seas, and as such must be conducted without prejudice of the rights of refugees and other persons demanding international protection. The Council Decision setting out rules which apply to join sea operations further clarifies that all aspects of these operations, including interception and disembarkation, are subject to international obligations arising from refugee and human rights law.

While meant to deal with Member States’ disputes over responsibility, the Council Decision also includes non-binding guidelines, which must form part of the operational plan drawn up for each Frontex operation and state modalities for disembarkation of persons intercepted or rescued. Yet, these are not detailed enough to ensure that sea operations will meet the requisite standards.

Amnesty International and ECRE recommend that the new Frontex Regulation includes an explicit requirement that the rules for interception at sea operations be formalized in the operational plan. Moreover, they should be accompanied with detailed measures to ensure that disembarkation meets the requisite standards, in particular by specifying the place of disembarkation and as regards the provision of food, shelter and medical care, as well as access to asylum and protection from refoulement.

Although the extent of the extraterritorial application of the EU acquis remains to be determined, Member States intercepting individuals beyond their territorial waters cannot operate in a legal vacuum. In addition, when border surveillance activities take place in the territorial waters of a third country, Member States and Frontex appear to attribute responsibility for any possible human rights breaches to the third country concerned. Adequate measures must also be in place to ensure that those involved in joint operations are able to guarantee refugee and human rights protections in a practical way, both when they act within a territory or territorial waters, as well as extraterritorially Amnesty International and ECRE recommend that the proposal sets out the concrete measures by which States can effectively meet their obligations, when these are engaged both territorially and extraterritorially. These should include at a minimum the following: 1) Individuals have the possibility of explaining their circumstances during a personal interview; 2) Those who wish to apply for asylum are helped to access the asylum procedure, including through interpretation and independent legal advice. International cooperation should never be construed as releasing EU Member States from fundamental rights obligations in relation to those intercepted or diverted in the territorial sea of the third state in question. [***]”

Click here for the Joint Briefing.

Click here for the Proposed Amendment to the Regulation.

Leave a comment

Filed under Analysis, Communiqués, European Union, Frontex, News

ECRE Statement Re EU Conference on Quality and Efficiency in the Asylum Process

ECRE released a statement at the conclusion of this week’s EU Ministerial Conference on Quality and Efficiency in the Asylum Process:

“… Since its peak in the early 1990s, the number of asylum applications lodged within the European Union has experienced a sharp decline, despite the increase in some individual Member States. However, a difficult political and economic environment in Europe is fuelling little appetite for welcoming foreigners, which is translated into a slow progress at the table of negotiations to build a Common European Asylum System.

ECRE believes that initiatives to increase practical cooperation, such as this conference and the establishment of a European Asylum Support Office, which will soon be up and running in Malta, will help to make the asylum system fairer and more efficient. For instance, yesterday’s discussions have provided examples of how to improve the treatment of children or traumatised asylum seekers. Also, pooling resources with regard to information about the home countries of asylum seekers, interpretation services and training can contribute to better decisions.

Bjarte Vandvik, ECRE’s Secretary General, said: ‘The current EU asylum system is failing both Member States and people who arrive to Europe fleeing war or persecution. Practical cooperation is part of the solution but will not be enough. European Member States also need to resolve the impasse in the negotiations and work together to agree on fairer common asylum rules’.

Asylum seekers still have hugely different chances of being granted international protection depending on the EU country that will examine their application. For instance, in 2009, virtually no Iraqis were recognised as refugees in Greece, while in Germany, 77% of Iraqi asylum seekers were granted international protection and could rebuild their lives. A harmonised asylum system with higher standards of protection would not be only fairer; it would also be more efficient and less costly in the longer term.”

Click here for information on the Conference organised by the Belgian Presidency.

Click here for Commissioner Cecilia Malmström’s statement at the conference.

Leave a comment

Filed under European Union, News, Statements

ECRE’s Recommendations to the Belgian EU Presidency

ECRE issued last week a letter and memorandum setting forth its recommendations to the Belgian EU Presidency in regard to the Common European Asylum System (CEAS), the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), and other related legislative files that will be considered during the Belgian Presidency.

Among the several important recommendations made by ECRE are the following:

“Access to protection – … [C]ooperation between the EASO, FRA and FRONTEX provide opportunities to develop mechanisms at EU level to guarantee that border control mechanisms are protection-sensitive in practice. The recently adopted guidelines for joint sea operations coordinated by FRONTEX restate the international human rights framework governing interception at sea and reaffirm the obligation of Member States to ensure that “no person shall be disembarked in, or otherwise handed over to the authorities of a country in contravention of the principle of non-refoulement, or from which there is a risk of expulsion or return to another country in contravention of that principle.”  They also explicitly require that “the person intercepted or rescued shall be informed in an appropriate way so that they can express any reasons for believing that disembarkation in the proposed place would be in breach of the principle of non-refoulement”. Whereas the guidelines merely restate these principles, they need to be implemented in practice. Given that the actual disembarkation of persons intercepted or rescued in the context of FRONTEX operations is dealt with in the non-binding part of the guidelines, it remains to be seen how effective this tool will be in order to ensure effective access to protection.

Recently the Commission proposed the third substantive revision of FRONTEX’ mandate. The Commission proposal unambiguously asserts that relevant EU standards, as well as international human rights and refugee law, are applicable to all border operations carried out by Member States under the auspices of Frontex and to all other activities entrusted to the Agency, which ECRE welcomes.

At the same time, while the intention of the Commission is to further clarify the role and responsibilities of FRONTEX vis-à-vis the Member States, the fundamental ambiguities about accountability for possible human rights violations during border control operations coordinated by FRONTEX are not resolved. ECRE believes that the respective roles and responsibilities of Member States’ guest officers, host Member State border officers, observers from third countries and FRONTEX personnel in those operations must be clearly established to avoid “accountability shifting” between the various actors involved. The enhanced role of FRONTEX in coordinating joint operations necessarily adds to FRONTEX’ responsibility and therefore further amendments to the Commission proposal are required to reinforce the Agency’s accountability.

Moreover, the proposed expansion of the role of FRONTEX in cooperating with third countries in border management, including through the posting of Immigration Liaison Officers, raises a number of concerns from a fundamental rights perspective, in particular regarding the ability of individuals to flee and find protection from persecution. Consequently, ECRE believes that additional safeguards are needed to ensure that FRONTEX activities will indeed not “prevent access to protection systems by persons in need of international protection” as required by the Stockholm Programme.

ECRE calls upon the Council and the European Parliament in particular to:

  • Support the proposed amendments to the FRONTEX Regulation reasserting the obligations under EU law and fundamental rights which are incumbent upon Member States when taking part in the Agency’s operations.
  • Establish mechanisms to reinforce FRONTEX accountability in view of the increasing responsibilities placed on the Agency.
  • Introduce the necessary safeguards to ensure that FRONTEX enhanced capacity to cooperate with third countries does not prevent access to protection systems by persons in need of international protection.”

Click here for the ECRE Memorandum.

Click here for the ECRE Letter to the Belgian EU Presidency.

Leave a comment

Filed under Belgium, Communiqués, European Union, Frontex, Statements

ECRE and CIR: Ill-treatment of Refugees in Libya: the EU, a Silent Accomplice

ECRE and CIR released a statement on 7 July criticising Italy and the EU in regard to the plight of over 200 Eritrean refugees, some of whom may have been subject to Italy’s push-back practice and who are now detained under dangerous conditions in Libya.

The two organisations “call upon all authorities involved to ensure that refugees are not repatriated to Eritrea where they are at risk of torture and ill- treatment. … ‘We strongly repeat our plea to the Italian Government to resettle the refugees to Italy’, says Christopher Hein, Director of the Italian Council for Refugees (CIR). ‘Some of those who are being mistreated now by the Libyan authorities have been pushed back there by Italy one year ago. Refugees are suffering the consequences of Italy’s violation of its legal obligations and EU Member States’ consenting silence’, added Bjarte Vandvik, ECRE’s Secretary General.”

Click here for the full statement.

Leave a comment

Filed under European Union, Italy, Libya, Mediterranean, Statements

ECRE: Can EU Trust Libya With Refugee Protection?

ECRE issued a press release last week regarding Libya’s decision to expel the UNHCR:

“Bjarte Vandvik, Secretary General of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) said: ‘UNHCR’s expulsion from Libya will hopefully be temporary but it does reveal the unreliability of this regime, as well as its understanding of refugee protection. How will the EU ensure that Libya keeps its word regarding commitments towards human rights? How can the EU trust such a partner?’”

“ECRE calls on the EU to seriously reconsider its cooperation on asylum and refugee issues with Libya, a country that is not a party to the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention. In particular, negotiations on an EU – Libya framework agreement must now be reviewed, as should any EU funding that supports Libyan authorities in intercepting refugees along their Southern border…. While UNHCR”s presence does not make Libya a safe place for refugees, the decision to prevent UNHCR from operating in the country once again illustrates the real intentions of the Libyan authorities when it comes to refugee protection. The EU cannot simply continue to ignore this reality but should make clear that the protection of refugees is still a fundamental value of the EU.”

(HT to Ana Lopez, ECRE’s Media and Information Officer).

Click here for full ECRE statement.

1 Comment

Filed under European Union, Libya, Mediterranean, Statements, UNHCR

ECRE Interview with Frontex Spokesperson

ECRE interviewed Frontex spokesperson Michal Parzyszek about the changes to Frontex’s mandate.  The interview took place before the 25 March European Parliament’s vote which allowed the changes to take effect.

Click here for the interview.

Leave a comment

Filed under European Union, Frontex, News

NGOs Urge EU to Respect Refugee Rights

ECRE, CEAR, and Amnesty International have released a joint statement urging EU governments to respect refugee rights as efforts are made to strengthen Frontex.

“Bjarte Vandvik, ECRE Secretary General said: ‘States have a legitimate right to control their borders, but this is not an excuse to ignore the fact that persons fleeing war or persecution are entitled to protection under international, European and national laws. As Frontex is being strengthened, its operations need to be monitored to ensure that human rights are respected’.”

“Regardless of where border controls take place and of who implements them, methods to prevent unauthorized entry must leave room for the identification of persons in need of international protection so they are not returned to any country where they will face persecution. Member States’ obligations under international and European refugee and human rights law do not stop at the physical boundaries of the EU. This responsibility is not only moral and political but also legal. EU Member States cannot abdicate their principles, values and commitments by doing outside their borders what would not be permissible in their territories.”

Click here for full statement.

Leave a comment

Filed under Aegean Sea, Eastern Atlantic, European Union, Frontex, Mediterranean, Statements