Minds of my Generation

Month: January, 2013

France Terre d’Asile and Asylum Aid: Women seeking asylum face inconsistent treatment across Europe

25.01.2013 On Monday 21 January, France Terre d’Asile and Asylum Aid were invited to address the Committee for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM) at the European Parliament about the need to ensure the protection of the rights of women and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender (LGBT) people within European asylum systems.

The European Parliament has adopted a comparative report, Gender Related Asylum Applications in Europe, first published in May 2012 by France Terre d’Asile, Asylum Aid, the Spanish Commission for Assistance to Refugees (CEAR), the Italian Refugee Council (CIR) and  the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC).

Debora Singer, Manager of Asylum Aid’s Women’s Project, stated that, “Women seeking asylum in Europe face huge injustices, and inconsistent treatment from one country to the next. The European parliament has promised to improve conditions for asylum seekers across Europe. But it won’t get anywhere in its attempts to harmonise the European asylum system if it ignores the rights of women, who make up one third of all asylum applicants”

The comparative report revealed worrying disparities in practices across Member States, with a low standard of treatment overall. For example, in France, Malta and Romania, female genital mutilation (FGM) is not always recognised as a form of persecution. However, this format also allows for the identification of instances of good practice, which can be used informatively to improve overall standards.

On Wednesday 23 January, the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Network on ‘Women Free from Violence’ invited France Terre d’Asile to a further hearing on women refugees. The key recommendation concerned the need for states to ratify the Istanbul Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, which contains a provision specifically regarding gender-based asylum claims. France Terre d’Asile argues that, once the convention has entered into force, it will represent a powerful tool with-which to ensure the protection of female refugees.

For further information:

–         France Terre d’Asile, Press release, Monday 21 January 2013


Status and access to rights for migrants who cannot be returned differ across Europe

25.01.2013 No uniform status exists for third country nationals pending return or removal from the EU Member States and the Schengen Associated Countries, according to a report that is being prepared by researchers for Ramboll and Eurasylum for the European Commission. The EU Returns Directive stipulates common standards for returns procedures, but is silent on the situation of people that the state wishes to remove from its territory, but who cannot, in practice, be returned for a variety of reasons.

The preliminary executive summary of the report concludes that it is necessary to push forward discussions, in order to move towards legislation in this area in the future.

In most of the 31 countries included in the study, there is no dedicated legislation or even specific terminology for this group of people. In these countries, according to the law, people are either allowed to stay, or be removed, there is no provision for those who fall in between. In several countries, people can remain in this situation of legal limbo for years, de facto tolerated by the state, but without any path available to regularise their immigration status. In more than half of the countries, no regularisation means is envisioned for non-removable individuals whatsoever.

In 12 countries, however, an official tolerated status exists. This status is usually only granted to the migrants who are considered to cooperate with the system, but cannot be returned through no fault of their own; in most cases this status grants the individual additional rights, but not necessarily the possibility of regularisation. It is not the case, however, that the countries with the provision of an official ‘tolerated’ status necessarily grant such people more rights than countries which do not have this legal provision. They do, however, provide a generally higher level of rights compared to migrants in irregular situations.

The research has found that non-removable migrants are not always able to access in practice the rights to which they are entitled. For example, they are more likely to enjoy their rights, such as for example enrolment in education for children, if they are provided with accommodation and not held in a detention centre.

In attempting to define the target group, the study finds a number of sub-groups, including asylum seekers whose claim has been rejected, but who cannot be returned due to a lack of travel documentation or the risk of harm in their country of origin; people who cannot be removed due to a lack of cooperation on the part of the country of origin in terms of granting travel documents; or people who cannot be returned due to their failure to cooperate with the returns procedure.

A conference was held in Brussels this week with representatives of Member States’ immigration authorities, the European Commission, and NGOs to discuss the direction that the debate should take in terms of moving towards harmonised legislation.

CPT: Torture in detention and impunity for perpetrators persist in the North Caucasus

25.01.2013 For the first time since 2003, the Russian authorities have authorised the publication of a report by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) on the findings from its visit to the North-Caucasus region.

The CPT reports grave concerns over the lack of progress made since its first visit to the region over a decade ago. The Committee collected evidence of the use of torture and ill-treatment in detention centres in all three republics visited, Dagestan, Chechnya and North Ossetia-Alania, and of high rates of impunity for perpetrators.

The report concludes that public officials, investigators and judges do not take the necessary action when they are made aware of potential cases of abuse. In the majority of cases, investigations into allegations of torture are dropped after a preliminary enquiry. When criminal proceedings are initiated, the accused is usually charged with lesser offenses than torture, such as abuse of power.

The Committee noted that despite general cooperation on the part of Russian officials, several displayed an attitude of denial, refusing to acknowledge the possibility of instances of torture. Instances were also recorded of intimidation of detainees by authorities, and the provision of inaccurate information.

The CPT has reiterated recommendations including ensuring access to legal and medical care to detainees.

The report, based on a visit in April and May 2011, has been published in tandem with the response of the Russian government.

The Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland, has welcomed Russia’s authorisation of the publication of the report, and expressed hope that this openness will continue.

For further information:

–         The European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Mali’s refugee crisis deepens amid an escalation in violence between militias and international forces

18.01.2013 An upsurge in violence in Mali over the past week, with clashes between the French-backed Malian army and rebel Islamist groups from northern and central Mali, has resulted in a fresh wave of displacement, forcing more refugees into neighbouring countries.

In a briefing note published this week, UNHCR revealed that the total number of refugees in the region has now reached 144,500, with people primarily finding shelter in Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso and Algeria. There are an estimated 229,000 internally displaced persons remaining in Mali.

90% of the refugees displaced this week are women and children, many are housed in camps, some of which had to be relocated to safer areas further from the Malian border.

UNHCR has only received 63% of the US$123 million it has appealed for from the international community to support operations in Mali and the surrounding countries.

Although violence erupted in northern Mali in January 2012 between the Government and various armed groups, France only removed Mali from its list of safe third countries of origin last December. On the assumption that persecution is unlikely to occur in these countries, asylum seekers from designated safe third countries have their applications examined in an accelerated procedure.

ECRE’s member organisation in Spain, the Spanish Commission for Assistance to Refugees (CEAR) has called on the Spanish government to guarantee the protection of any Malian citizens on Spanish territory, with a moratorium on all returns of irregular migrants to Mali, and ensured access to the asylum system.

For further information:

–         Relief Web, Maps showing a humanitarian snapshot of Mali, 14 January 2013.

–         The Guardian, Mass rape, amputations and killings – why families are fleeing terror in Mali, 15 December 2012.

–         Al Jazeera, Making Sense of Mali’s Armed Groups, 17 January 2013.

–         Deutsche Welle, EU Foreign Ministers prepare emergency Mali meeting, 17 January 2013.

–         Human Rights Watch, Mali : Islamists should free child soldiers, 15 January 2013.

–         Forum réfugiés, Mali, no longer a safe country of origin, 21 December 2012.

IRC: Breadth and scope of the Syrian crisis outstrip the international community’s response

18.01.2013 The International Rescue Committee (IRC)’s new report, ‘Syria: A Regional Crisis’, provides an assessment of the situation in Syria and its neighbouring countries, nearly two years after the beginning of the conflict. The report reveals that a large number of refugees cite sexual violence as a prime reason for their flight.

There is a serious lack of medical and counselling services available to refugee rape survivors. On top of this, refugee women continue to face risks inside and outside of the camps, with elevated levels of domestic violence, and reports of women and girls being forced into early marriages in the hope of protecting them from rape. According to IRC, programs that provide women and girls with economic support are necessary to reduce exploitative jobs and survival sex.

The report warns the international community to prepare for a protracted humanitarian crisis, with refugees potentially unable to return home well beyond the fall of the Assad government and the need for intensive financial and diplomatic support to the region following the end of the conflict.

The report highlights the fact that financial assistance thus far provided by the international community is largely insufficient to address current urgent needs. IRC underlines that sufficient resources need to be committed to meet the needs of refugees living outside of designated camps – about 70% of the total – including health care, money for food and accommodation and access to education.

More than 2.5 million Syrians have been displaced by the conflict, and almost 600,000 have fled to neighbouring countries, while it is estimated that this number could grow to 1,000,000 in the next six months as there are virtually no safe areas left within the country.

An IRC delegation of board members and senior staff travelled to Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq in November 2012.

For further information:

–         ECRE Weekly Bulletin, PACE Calls for Further Action to Address the Syrian Refugee Crisis, 9 November 2012

–         Metro, Sexual Violence Against Women in Syria ‘Behind Refugee Crisis’, 14 January 2013

–         The Guardian, Syrian Women and Girls Allege use of Sexual Violence in Civil War, 14 January 2013

Italy’s electoral candidates urged to improve support for refugee integration

18.01.2013 As Italy’s general election approaches, UNHCR has called on all candidates for the new administration to include the reform of the Italian asylum system in their party platforms.

UNHCR strongly recommends improving reception conditions and integration measures for refugees, by enlarging the current capacity for reception, strengthening monitoring systems to control the standard of conditions as well as removing bureaucratic obstacles to longer-term residency, recognition of qualifications and access to the labour market and housing.

A further area of serious concern to UNHCR is access to the territory and to asylum procedures. In particular, the recommendations highlight the importance of respecting the principle of non-refoulement in migration control agreements with third countries and raises questions about Italy’s readmission agreement with Libya. UNHCR also regretted the extension of the maximum time period for detention of migrants to 18 months and called for the protection of children in adherence with the principle of the best interests of the child.

The Italian Refugee Council (CIR) expressed its support for the recommendations, emphasizing that Italy only hosts around 58,000 refugees, which is modest both on a global and a European scale.

Referring to recent research on Roads to Integration, CIR pointed out that there were very serious shortcomings in the integration for refugees in Italy. From the group of refugees surveyed, CIR found 44.6% were unemployed, with those who have found work predominantly working in unskilled positions, despite having qualifications. A significant proportion of the refugees surveyed still do not live in stable independent housing after three years of living in the country and many live in inadequate conditions such as squats.

For further information:–         UNHCR, Call on Political Actors to Include Asylum in their Agendas (in Italian), 14 January 2013

–         ECRE Weekly Bulletin, JRS: EU-North Africa Relationship puts Migrants’ Rights at Risk, 7 December 2012.

Global Detention Project: EU continues to fund immigration detention in Ukraine

11.01.2013 The Global Detention Project has updated its detention profile for Ukraine, highlighting the scale of EU funding that has been dedicated to increasing border control and detention capacity in the country. In 2011, 30 million Euros were allocated to build nine new detention centres in Ukraine in order to, according to the EU delegation to Ukraine, “enable” the application of the EU-Ukraine readmission agreement by providing detention space for “readmitted” migrants sent back to Ukraine from EU countries.

Asylum seekers, including unaccompanied children, are routinely detained in Ukraine, and UNHCR has expressed concern that this practice is on the increase. While the maximum length of detention, according to the law, is 12 months, there have been reports of migrants being re-arrested after their release and once again detained for the maximum timespan. Ukraine, which received a total of 3,622 asylum applications in 2011, detained 10,922 individuals for immigration purposes in the same year. According to the Global Detention Project, there were 13 immigration detention centres in the country in late 2012.

A Ukrainian parliamentary body has argued that the country has too much detention capacity, with two guards for every detainee. Conditions in these detention centres have improved since 2009, but remain variable, with reports of extortion and mistreatment including beatings and electric shocks. Concerns over access to legal aid, medical care and interpreters remain, and migrants rights organisations face challenges in accessing detainees.

For further information:

–         Human Rights Watch, Buffeted in the Borderland: the treatment of migrants and asylum seekers in the Ukraine, 2010

–         Law of Ukraine on Refugees and Persons in Need of Complementary or Temporary Protection, 8 July 2011

–         ECRE Weekly Bulletin, Interview with Leila Zhdanova, Ukrainian Refugee Council, 4 May 2012

UNHCR urges the Irish Presidency to promote high common standards of protection throughout the Union in 2013

11.01.2013 In a set of recommendations, UNHCR has urged Ireland to use the opportunity of  EU Presidency, which it will hold from January to June 2013, to promote the conclusion of the legislative process of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) and address the ‘vastly different’ standards in the treatment of asylum seekers and quality of decision-making across EU Member States. To this end, the Irish Presidency should promote the transposition and implementation of the CEAS based on good practice standards, in particular regarding alternatives to detention and the provision of quality information to applicants.

In particular, UNHCR calls for the exemption of particularly vulnerable categories of asylum seekers, such as unaccompanied children and torture victims, from accelerated asylum decision procedures to be included in the recast of the Asylum Procedures Directive. Furthermore, UNHCR advocates strong safeguards to be included in the text of the Eurodac Regulation, given Member States’ preference to allow access to the asylum seekers’ fingerprints database for law enforcement purposes, in a departure from the original purpose of the Regulation.

UNHCR also highlights the need to strengthen EU Member States’ responses to global humanitarian crises, in particular the conflict in Syria.

For further information:

–         ECRE, Comments and Recommendations on the Amended Commission Proposal to recast the Asylum Procedures Directive, September 2011

New EEA grant for reception centres for vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers in Greece

14.12.2012 Members of the European Economic Association (EEA), Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, have agreed to provide a grant of 4 million € to provide support to Greek NGOs to run reception centres for asylum seekers and vulnerable migrants. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Greece will be responsible for the management of the fund over the next three years.

The new fund forms part of the 20.9 million € pledged by EEA to improve asylum conditions in Greece. The focus is on the areas outside of Athens, where NGOs will be able to apply for funding under the scheme from January 2013, and will be encouraged to work alongside local authorities. Earlier this year, the EEA also provided funding (2.2 million €) to UNHCR in Greece in order to assist in the implementation of the government’s “National Plan for Migration Management”.

This action forms part of a trend of increased funding to Greece for the purpose of reforming its asylum and migration systems. In September 2012, the European Commission released a proposal aimed at increasing the co-financing rate for actions supported by the European Refugee Fund, European Integration Fund and the European Return Fund to countries facing economic difficulties, of-which Greece is one.

Trafficking in persons continues to take place on a global scale in a context of impunity

14.12.2012 The UNODC Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2012, published this week, highlights that significant impunity remains with regard to the crime of trafficking in persons.

Although 134 countries worldwide have criminalized trafficking, making it a specific offence in line with the Trafficking in Persons Protocol, the number of convictions for trafficking in persons remains generally very low. Between 5,500 and 7,000 traffickers were convicted per year between 2007 and 2010 in the 132 countries covered by the report. Notably, 16 per cent of the countries covered by the report, did not record a single conviction between 2007 and 2010; and 23 per cent of the countries recorded a very low number of convictions (between 1 and 10 convictions per year).

Trafficking in persons is a global crime affecting nearly all countries in every region of the world. Between 2007 and 2010, victims of 136 different nationalities were detected in 118 countries across the world. Women and girls together account for about 75 per cent of trafficking victims, and 27 per cent of all victims detected are children.

58% of victims are trafficked for sexual exploitation whereas labour exploitation accounts for 36%, to which can be added forced begging, removal of organs and those who are victims of a combination of these.

In its Counter Trafficking & Assistance to Vulnerable Migrants Report for activities in 2011, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) notes that Brazil, Bulgaria, China, India, Nigeria, Moldova, Pakistan, Romania, Russia and Ukraine are the main countries of origin of the victims of trafficking to the European Economic Area (EEA) – the EU27 plus Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. However, countries that traditionally have been considered as solely countries of destination, such as, for example, the United Kingdom, have also identified victims of trafficking who are nationals of the country in-which they are exploited.

Irregular migrants, unaccompanied migrant children and individuals from ethnic minorities such as Roma people are among the most vulnerable to human trafficking.

According to the ILO, in the last ten years an estimated 9 million people have been subjected to trafficking.