Minds of my Generation

Month: March, 2013

UNHCR: Proposed amendment to Estonian asylum law would allow for arbitrary detention of all asylum seekers and should be revised

01.03.13 UNHCR has published a set of recommendations relating to proposed amendments to Estonian national asylum legislation. The proposal to amend the Act on Granting International Protection to Aliens (AGIPA) contains, in UNHCR’s view, a much too broad range of cases where an asylum seeker may be detained, which could lead to their arbitrary and systematic detention, prohibited under international law.

UNHCR is seriously concerned that the proposed grounds for the detention of asylum seekers are much wider than those permitted under International and European law and could, in effect, allow for unlimited use of detention throughout the asylum procedure. Furthermore, the proposed recast of AGIPA would not contain the requirement to examine the necessity of the use of detention and includes no provisions related to alternatives to detention, despite EU law stipulating that it must only be used as a last resort if other methods prove ineffective. UNHCR also strongly recommends that Estonia include explicit exceptions to detention for particularly vulnerable groups of asylum seekers, in particular UNHCR maintains that asylum-seeking children should not be detained.

UNHCR recalls that Estonia will be required to transpose the recast of the EU Reception Conditions Directive within two years of its publication in the Official Journal of the EU and that the new version of AGIPA will therefore need to be revised again to bring it in-line with minimum standards.

Aside from the issue of detention, UNHCR recommends that the amended AGIPA be brought into line with EU requirements regarding access to the labour market for asylum seekers who have not yet received a decision on their case after nine months and that the possibility to challenge decisions regarding reception conditions be made available to them.

The purpose of the proposed amendments is to facilitate the merging of asylum reception centres and expulsion centres in order to ensure detention of asylum seekers at different stages of the procedure. This policy is considered a priority for the Estonian government under the Action Plan 2011-15.

Estonia received just 75 applications for asylum between July 2011 and July 2012 – the lowest in any of the EU Member States.


High Court orders last-minute reprieve from deportation of Tamils from the UK

01.03.13 The UK High Court has halted a deportation flight to Sri Lanka from the UK this week on the eve of the planned departure. Two senior judges, Mr Justice Wilkie and Judge Gleeson, rejected the government’s position that it was safe to return the asylum seekers whose claims had been rejected, and who are mostly Tamils, to Sri Lanka. A tribunal is currently examining and updating Country of Origin Information (COI) on Sri Lanka and, in the judges’ view, it would be inappropriate to carry out removals before it has reached its verdict. This unprecedented move means that no asylum seeker from Sri Lanka may be forcibly removed from the UK at present.

Several human rights organisations have criticised the UK policy of forced returns to Sri Lanka for a long time because of the risk of torture that they say exists for any Tamil and some other Sri Lankans, purely by virtue of their having claimed asylum in the UK. Freedom from Torture were behind the recent freedom of information request that revealed that 15 people have been granted refugee status in the UK after escaping torture in Sri Lanka where they were returned having had their initial claims rejected.

Keith Best, Chief Executive of Freedom from Torture, a Member of ECRE, responded to the news of the decision saying, “In the face of such overwhelming evidence, it is a sad indictment of our political masters that it has taken a court to impose the precautions that we have repeatedly called for.”

A report entitled ‘We will teach you a lesson’ published this week by Human Rights Watch (HRW) details the accounts of torture and rape suffered by Tamils in detention in Sri Lanka. David Mephan, the UK Director of HRW said that the report represents a “challenge” to the current UK policy of deportations to Sri Lanka.

The UK Border Agency (UKBA) insists that it examines every application for protection individually and a spokesperson said that they were “disappointed” by the decision to halt the deportation, which they intend to appeal.

For further information:

–         ECRE Weekly Bulletin, Evidence of risk of torture for Tamils returned to Sri Lanka mounts as more people are granted reprieve from deportation from UK, 26 October 2012

–         ECRE Weekly Bulletin, Human Rights Watch urges UK to halt deportations of Tamils to Sri Lanka, 2 March 2012

Danish Refugee Council: Denmark must protect all Syrian asylum seekers

01.03.13 The Danish Refugee Council (DRC) has called on the Danish asylum authorities to take the lead from its neighbours, Sweden and Norway, and grant asylum to all people fleeing the war in Syria.

According to the DRC, 170 people from Syria are living in Denmark in a situation of ‘legal limbo’ – unable to return to their country due to the war that continues to ravage it, but not granted any legal status or leave to remain in Denmark. As long as the Danish authorities maintain that the situation in Syria is not serious enough to warrant an automatic policy of protection for Syrian asylum seekers, each case will be examined on its individual merits. The DRC, therefore, has contacted Syrian asylum seekers with the intention of reopening each of their cases for protection individually.

Eva Singer, the head of asylum at DRC told the ECRE Weekly Bulletin, ”The situation in Syria is extremely serious and therefore all Syrian asylum seekers qualify for and should receive protection in Denmark – just as they do in Norway and Sweden. Some have been in this situation since the beginning of the civil war, worrying about family members in refuge in the region or displaced inside Syria as well as trying to deal with the insecurity of their own situation.”

The number of Syrian asylum seekers in Denmark has increased since the outbreak of conflict, in the third quarter of 2012, they represented 17% of all asylum applicants, the largest group. The UN estimates that 70,000 people have been killed in Syria since the beginning of the conflict two years ago.

For further information:

–         Politiken, Sounding the Refugee Alarm: 170 Syrians in ‘limbo’ in Denmark (in Danish), 25 February 2013

–         ECRE, CMME & ICMC, Syria refugee crisis, EU should do more, 16 January 2013

FGM and Asylum in Europe: Need for common guidelines and support for asylum authorities across the EU

01.03.13 UNHCR has compiled a report called ‘Too Much Pain’, a statistical overview of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Asylum in the EU. The report is an attempt to bridge the knowledge gap that exists as regards FGM and the extent of its practice both worldwide but also within the European Union.

The report reveals the scale of the problem of asylum seeking women and girls who are at risk of FGM. 20,000 applications for asylum are made per year in the EU by women and girls from countries where FGM is practiced, around 20% of the total number of asylum applications made by women. Of these, around 9,000 have already been mutilated, while only 1,000 claims per year directly raise the question of FGM. This report stresses the need to establish common guidelines, training and support for asylum authorities across the EU to identify and adequately address the needs of this group of women.

The launch of the UNHCR report took place at a conference held on 27 February for the Amnesty International led campaign to put pressure on the EU to take action to end the practice of FGM. At the conference, the testimony of a 25 year old Somali refugee made clear the need to provide specific training and increased sensitivity for asylum staff when addressing FGM in asylum claims. The woman felt ashamed to tell her story in front of the male interpreter she was given for her interview, and later had to contend with the ignorance of medical staff during her examination.

This report goes some way towards achieving one of the five key goals of the campaign to end FGM; that of improved data collection. The campaign urges the EU institutions to take concrete steps such as developing and adopting an Action Plan against FGM. It also encourages Member States to sign up without delay to the Istanbul Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence Against Women.

ECRI: Ethnic minorities under-represented in and unprotected by police

22.02.13 The Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI)  has published its conclusions on the implementation of priority recommendations made in 2010 to the governments of the UK, Austria, Estonia and, Albania.

The under-representation of ethnic minorities in the UK police force and lack of a system to tackle police racism in Austria were two important recommendations from ECRI’s 2010 reports, neither of which has, according to ECRI, been satisfactorily addressed. A minor increase in ethnic minority police officers in England and Wales from 4.6% in 2010 to 4.8% in 2011 was noted, but serious under-representation remains in senior positions. ECRI considers that its recommendation to Austria to set up a fully independent body entrusted with the investigation of alleged cases of racial discrimination and racially motivated misconduct by the police has not been implemented.

Also in the UK, ECRI warned that cuts to legal aid introduced in 2012 will particularly disadvantage members of ethnic minorities, who make up one quarter of beneficiaries of legal aid in employment cases. The recommendation that the government ensure access to legal aid in discrimination in employment cases has not been fully implemented.

Statelessness remains a serious problem in Estonia. According to a government survey, 7% of the population of the country is stateless.

In Albania, the 2010 report strongly recommended to ensure Roma people have access to housing. Meanwhile, a 2012 UNICEF study  has revealed that 40% of Roma households are without running water. Furthermore, obstacles remain to accessing social housing, especially for Roma who may be unable to provide the paperwork to support their application. The UK has been more successful in implementing a recommendation to address disadvantages that Gipsies face in accessing adequate accommodation.

For further information:

–         ECRI, report on Albania, Austria, Estonia and the UK, 2010

–         Institute of Race Relations, Spotlight on Racial Violence, 21 February 2013

–         Institute of Race Relations, Gypsies and Travellers concerned over coalition plans, 21 February 2013

ECRI: Ireland must review its asylum accommodation system and allow asylum seekers to work

22.02.13 The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has published its fourth report on Ireland in which it raises serious concerns about the ‘direct provision’ system in place for asylum seekers in Ireland.

The report notes high instances of mental health complaints among asylum seekers accommodated in direct provision reception facilities for longer than six months and criticises the lack of autonomy and independence afforded to them. The report recommends an ‘in-depth and systematic review’ of this policy.

In order to facilitate the independence and integration of asylum seekers, ECRI recommends that the government consider allowing them the right to access paid employment. The report also recommends considering increasing the resources dedicated to language classes and increasing asylum seekers’ weekly allowance, which has not been augmented from € 19.10 per month per adult since 1999, and has lost about a third of its value in that time.

The Irish Refugee Council (IRC), an ECRE Member, has welcomed the findings of the report. The IRC argues that the system of direct provision is detrimental, especially in the long-term to families. Sue Conlan, Chief Executive of IRC said, “Nearly half of the residents are children, many of them born in Ireland, who are growing up not only in a form of institutionalisation but also in poverty and social exclusion.”

Another priority recommendation regards the establishment of a single system for the processing of asylum and subsidiary protection claims. As matters stand, a person seeking subsidiary protection in Ireland must first go through an application for refugee status, only then, if that claim is rejected, can they file a new claim for subsidiary protection. Under the proposed Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill, these would be consolidated into a single procedure.

For further information:

–         The Irish Times, Report on racism calls for new legislation, 20 February 2013

–         The Irish Times, Institutional care scandals continue to shame society, 13 February 2013

Against UNHCR advice, several European countries take steps to enforce returns to Mogadishu

22. 02.13 This month, the Norwegian authorities decided to lift the suspension on all forced returns to Mogadishu and southern Somalia. Such returns had been suspended since October 2010 due to the severity of the situation in the region. However, the Norwegian authorities consider that the situation in Mogadishu is no longer so critical that all asylum seekers need protection and decided to revoke the suspension of returns. The risks of return to these areas of Somalia will be individually evaluated.

This move follows a joint Danish – Norwegian mission to Nairobi and Mogadishu in October 2012 that produced a report surmising that some improvement in the security situation in Mogadishu could be observed. However, the report also noted that there remain ‘a lot’ of collateral civilian casualties and targeted assassinations as well as concerns over the presence of government-backed militias and little police engagement. The report emphasised that Somalia is not a post-conflict state, but that the conflict in the country continues to evolve. Furthermore, the team reduced the amount of time spent in Mogadishu to two visits of only one day each, due to security advice from the Norwegian and Danish embassies in Nairobi.

The immigration authorities of Denmark are also considering resuming returns to the region. The Danish Refugee Council (DRC) has recognized minor improvements in the general security situation in parts of Somalia, but still considers the European Court of Human Rights ruling in Sufi and Elmi vs UK relevant. “It has improved, but it’s far too early to conclude that there is peace (…) If people are willing to risk sailing to Yemen to get away then you know it is serious. It is very risky and many drown on the way over”, said Andreas Kamm, DRC’s Secretary General.

This week the forced return of a Somali asylum seeker from the Netherlands to Mogadishu has been temporarily prevented through a provisional measure called by the Dutch court.  The Netherlands has not forcibly returned anyone to Mogadishu since 2010. The Dutch Refugee Council reacted to the attempt of the Dutch authorities to enforce returns to Somalia with grave concern, arguing that last month, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, urged against returns to Mogadishu in a meeting with Dutch MPs.

UNHCR Guidelines stating that we do not advise returns to South and Central Somalia are still valid. Governments need to be extremely cautious with regard to forced returns to Somalia, even if an asylum claim has been rejected after a solid procedure. In addition, forced returns from the West could undermine the incipient stabilization process in Somalia”, Melita Sunjic, an UNHCR’s Spokesperson told this Bulletin.

A report of the UN Secretary General on Somalia published on 31 January 2013 states that the security situation remains unpredictable in Mogadishu and that “Al-Shabaab attacks occurred frequently, including targeted killings and hand grenade attacks, with an increase in outlying districts”.

While Sweden’s Migration Board changed its assessment of the security situation in the region in November 2012, they maintain that it amounts to ‘severe conflict’ rather than ‘internal armed conflict’.

The majority of European states do not currently carry out forced returns to the region. 8,930 Somali persons applied for asylum in the EU from January to September 2012. However, Human Rights Watch received reports that Sweden and the UK may also be considering a resumption of deportations.

For further information:

–         Human Rights Watch, The Netherlands: Halt plans to deport Somalis, 21 February 2013

–         MSF, Hear my voice: Somalis on Living in a Humanitarian Crisis, 13 February 2013

New report shows failure to investigate child disappearances from asylum reception centres in Norway

15.02.13 A report published this week by the Norwegian Institute for Social Research (ISF) found systematic failures in the following up of cases of disappearances of unaccompanied children asylum seekers from reception centres in Norway. 85 children have disappeared from such centres in the past year alone, and according to the report, nobody is taking responsibility for this issue.
According to a previous report published earlier this year by Press Save the Children Youth, the majority of the children who disappeared between 2008 and 31 August 2012 had been notified that their asylum application would be processed under the Dublin system.
Furthermore, ISF finds systematic failures to follow up and investigate cases where children are suspected victims of human trafficking, often due to a dearth of hard evidence.
ISF underlines that while the youngest unaccompanied asylum seekers receive childcare, children between the ages of 15 and 18 must take on responsibilities that are inappropriate for their age.
According to ISF, the reception provisions are adequate for short stays of three to five months, but the system is failing for ‘long-term’ residents who are contesting the decisions on their cases or whose asylum applications have been rejected.
The report, which was commissioned by the Norwegian Immigration Authorities noted that the prolonged situation of uncertainty over their futures is detrimental to the mental and physical health of children and that long-term residence in the centres has an adverse effect on class attendance, as well as sleep patterns and general feeling of security.
There are 288 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children currently in reception centres in Norway, 50 of whom are considered ‘long-term’ residents.

CFDA: A third of asylum seekers are forced to rely on emergency shelters for housing in France’s inadequate reception system

15.02.13 Two thirds of asylum seekers in France are forced to rely on emergency homelessness services rather than designated asylum housing services, according to a new report.
The study by Coordination Française pour le Droit d’Asile (CFDA) -that brings together 20 French organisations- reveals inconsistent levels of treatment of asylum seekers across different prefectures of France and a general decrease in standards of reception. Delays to being able to access asylum procedures are growing, as is the length of the procedure once it is embarked upon (587 days on average in 2011), placing additional strain on the overburdened system; this despite French President François Hollande’s 2011 election campaign pledge to cut the time taken to determine an asylum claim to six months.
Despite a four-fold increase in accommodation capacity to 21,689 places since 2000, there has been an increase in the backlog of people trying to access these provisions. The most important factor in causing delays, according to the report, has been the successive reforms to the system that have complicated its administration.
Asylum applicants subject to Dublin II procedures wait months without access to social services to hear if they are to be sent to another EU Member State; even applicants who don’t face Dublin transfers wait excessive lengths of time for the substantive examination of their claims. And all this, the report highlights, for an ever-increasing cost to the public.
The report recommends in-depth reform of asylum procedures and reception provisions, advocating the shift of responsibility in this area back to prefectures in order to minimise delays, as well as the simplification of procedures for the fair and effective examination of asylum claims.
For further information:
 CFDA, Press Release: An asylum system that has run out of steam (in French), 13 February 2013
 La Cimade, Anarchic management of reception system, (in French), 13 February 2013
 La Cimade, Press Release: Right to Asylum in France: a meticulous and engaging state of play (in
ECRE Weekly Bulletin – 15 February 2013
French), 13 February 2013

Over 350,000 people have fled their homes in Mali

08.02.13 Since fighting began, 230,000 people have been displaced inside Mali and there are over 150,000 Malian refugees in the neighbouring countries. A recent Amnesty International report highlights growing concerns of human rights violations carried out by the Malian Army, including extrajudicial executions and arbitrary arrests of civilians. Asylum seeking Malians who left the country last year when fighting broke out in the north and are now detained in Malta have also expressed their concerns to UNCHR staff regarding the safety of their family members, not only in Mali but en route to refugee camps.
Whilst daily figures of refugees fleeing have fallen and many internally displaced people (IDPs) based in Bamako, the capital, are keen to return home, the prospects to do so are limited in view of the ongoing violence.
Against this backdrop, access to humanitarian assistance has improved in the south but there continue to be shortages in basic supplies, and living conditions are said to be precarious. According to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), there continues to be difficulties in delivering humanitarian aid in the north and in assisting numbers of people displaced and stranded in Tin Zaoutin at the Algerian border.
The European Commission has committed around $26.5 million (€19.8 million) to address the issue of nutrition and refugee assistance, however OCHA reports that these funds have not yet been allocated to specific projects.