Minds of my Generation

Month: April, 2013

Over 70,000 European citizens demand the protection of migrants at the EU’s external borders

26.04.2013.  Amnesty International presented this week a petition signed by 70,141 European citizens to the chair of the Civil Liberties Committee, Juan Fernando López Aguilar, who accepted it on behalf of the European Parliament. The petition calls on the European Parliament to fulfil its watchdog role, holding governments to account on their treatment of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers at Europe’s borders.

The presentation of the petition is part of the ‘When you don’t exist’ campaign, to draw attention to the plight of migrants forced to attempt illegal crossings into the EU. Nicolas Beger, Director of Amnesty Europe said, “Borders are one of the few areas where EU countries can largely escape scrutiny. Migrants suffer the impact of being ‘out of sight, out of mind’.” Speaking at the event in front of the European Parliament in Brussels, Ahmed, from Somalia, described  his dangerous journey through Yemen, Syria, Turkey and Greece, to Sweden.

18,000 men, women and children are known to have died along European borders since 1988. In 2011 alone, 1,500 people drowned or went missing in the Mediterranean, fleeing the conflicts of the Arab Spring.

For further information:

–         ECRE, Interview with Carmen Dupont, Coordinator of Amnesty International’s ‘When you don’t exist’ campaign, 02.11.2012

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Russia steps up clamp-down on NGOs

26.04.2013. ECRE’s Russian Member, Memorial Centre for Human Rights, along with its sister organisation, the Committee for Civic Assistance, have come under increased pressure this week from government authorities following the draconian legislation on NGOs adopted last year.

The offices of both organisations have been raided by officials from the Prosecutor General’s office and other agencies, including the police and tax authorities. The Federal Migration Service attended the latest check at the Civic Assistance Committee, upon request by a member of the state institution Russian Civic Chambers, Georgy Fedorov, who has accused the Civic Assistance Committee of “organising illegal migration and the legalisation of illegals” and in particular of bringing Muslim extremists to Russia, passing them off as Coptic Christians from Egypt. Svetlana Gannushkina, Chair of the Committee for Civic Assistance, has called this accusation libellous. The Civic Assistance Committee has decided to stop cooperating with investigations until their legality has been ascertained.

Furthermore, the election watchdog NGO Golos has become this week the first NGO to be fined  under the same legislation. Golos has been fined the sum of 300,000 Roubles (6,300 Euros) for failing to declare itself a ‘Foreign Agent’, despite not having accepted any foreign funding since the passing of the controversial new law.

Last February, Russian NGOs lodged an application to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) to contest the law that establishes that any NGO engaging in ‘political activity’ and receiving foreign funding can be asked to register on a database of “foreign agents”. Moreover, any materials distributed by such NGOs, including in the media and on the internet, have to be accompanied by a reference to their foreign agent status.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has published a report this week analysing a series of changes that have been introduced since Vladmir Putin’s return to Presidency. The developments include the nationwide campaign of invasive inspections of NGOs, the harassment and in some cases imprisonment of political activists, the “foreign agents” law, the treason law, and the assembly law. Hugh Williamson, HRW’s Europe and Central Asia Director, said, “the campaign is unprecedented in its scope and scale, and seems clearly aimed at intimidating and marginalizing civil society groups. This inspection campaign can potentially be used to force some groups to end advocacy work, or to close them down.”

For further information:

–         ECRE, We are all foreign agents!, November 2012

–         ECRE Weekly Bulletin, Russian authorities raid NGO Offices, 29 March 2013

Nils Muižnieks: Greece must curb violence against migrants and combat impunity

19.04.2013. In a new report on Greece, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Nils Muižnieks, has urged the Greek government to use the full force of the national and international legislation available to combat racism and hate crime, which continue to represent an urgent and serious concern for the protection of human rights in the country. Legal provisions exist, the report states, to address racism and hate crime, including potentially banning the neo-Nazi party, Golden Dawn. According to Muižnieks, a “sustained and concerted effort” is required, especially of the police and the courts, to protect rule of law in the country.

The Commissioner calls on the Greek state to facilitate the process of reporting hate crimes by exempting such complaints from the fees imposed for filing a police complaint and providing adequate legal aid to victims if necessary. According to the Commissioner, the threat of racist violence against foreigners must be tackled through immediately establishing an independent police complaints mechanism, accelerating the implementation of reforms to national anti-racism legislation, and adopting a programme of systematic and comprehensive training in anti-discrimination law and practice for all police officers, border guards and members of the judiciary.

Reforms to the Greek asylum system, including filling the large gap in assuring adequate reception facilities for asylum seekers, in particular to ensure the protection of unaccompanied migrant children, should also be accelerated. The Commissioner calls on the Greek authorities to review their policy of systematic detention of migrant and the construction of more detention facilities and to consider possible alternative measures.

In its response to the report, the Greek government states that it shares concern over the considerable increase in racist attacks, but argues that “racist attitudes remain a marginal phenomenon in the Greek society”. According to the Greek government, support for Golden Dawn does not indicate a rise of racism in society but rather is motivated by opposition to austerity measures and increasing unemployment.

For further information:

–         The Washington Post, Council of Europe: Greece “within its rights” to ban extreme-right group golden Dawn, 16 April 2013

–         Greek Reporter, EU Official says Greece could ban Golden Dawn, 16 April 2013

–         To Vima, Hate Crimes (in Greek), 14 April 2013

Greece urged to improve its treatment of Syrian refugees

19.04.2013. On Wednesday, UNHCR presented its protection considerations and recommendations regarding Syrians in Greece. UNHCR calls on the Greek authorities to facilitate access to the territory for Syrians as well as unhindered access to asylum procedures. Furthermore, UNHCR’s Head of Office in Greece, Giorgos Tsarbopoulos, emphasised that until the security and human rights situation in the region has sufficiently improved, no Syrians should be deported back to Syria or neighbouring countries. UNHCR emphasized that Syrian refugees should not be detained and that their expulsion orders or return decisions should be suspended.

Major General Emmanuel Katriadakis of the Greek Ministry for Public Order and Citizen’s Protection said that an order has been in effect since 9 April, according to which Syrians may only be detained for ‘a few days’ in order to identify their origin. There will also be a six-month suspension on all return orders of Syrians, with the possibility of renewal every six months until the situation is back to normal.

Reacting to the announcement, the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR), Member of ECRE, said: “We welcome the Greek government’s announcement to provide protection to Syrian asylum seekers and refugees and we look forward to seeing that this is actually enforced by the relevant national authorities. We will continue monitoring the situation through our visits to detention centres across Greece”

Although according to official statements, no Syrian national has been deported by Greece in 2012, some testimonies received by UNHCR and other human rights organisations from Syrians refer to having experienced ‘push-backs’ or informal returns from the Greek border.

Of the 152 Syrian nationals who received a decision in first instance on their asylum application during 2012 in Greece, 150 were rejected and two were granted international protection.

According to the Ministry of Public Order and Citizen Protection, 7,927 Syrians were arrested for irregular entry in Greece in 2012. 1,276 Syrians were arrested in the first quarter of 2013.

Detention discourages Syrians from applying from asylum, GCR says: “Whether they hold papers or not, Syrians are kept in detention centres for six months. In cases where they apply for asylum, they are held in detention for 12 months following the submission of their claim for asylum. Together with their distrust of the Greek asylum system, this is the main reason for which they do not want to apply for protection”.

Asylum seekers in Greece may be detained for up to 18 months, while conditions in detention and  reports of ill-treatment and police brutality continue to receive intense criticism from human rights groups and have resulted in hunger strikes, suicide attempts and riots.

Aitima, another of ECRE’s Greek member organisations has underlined that unaccompanied children, families, victims of torture and the sick are all systematically detained in Greece, as well as migrants who have no possibility of being deported. The NGO emphasizes that this is not only contrary to national and international law, but an unnecessary additional cost to the already over-stretched Greek state. Aitima urges the authorities to put an end to the detention of asylum seekers, to investigate the allegations of detainees’ ill-treatment, and issue six-month stay permits for individuals whose deportation is not feasible.

For further information:

–         Aitima, Detention of irregular migrants and asylum seekers, 10 April 2013

–         Ekathimerini, Pressed by human rights activists, Greece pledges to stop deportations of Syrian refugees, 17 April 2013

–         Le Nouvel Observateur, Syrian Refugees: Greece must prepare to receive them (in French), 17 April 2013

–         Reuters, Number of Syrians trying to reach EU jumped in 2012, 18 April 2013

–         Infomobile, The plight of Syrian refugees in Greece (Video), 10 April 2013

–         International Commission of Jurists, ECRE, Second Joint Submission of the to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in the case of M.S.S. v. Belgium and Greece and related cases, February 2013

Médecins du Monde: Patients in Portugal and Greece have to choose between eating and buying medicines

12.04.2013. The most vulnerable persons in European societies are becoming even more so in terms of access to healthcare, social exclusion, living conditions and being at risk of violence according to the findings of a new report by Médicins du Monde (MdM) published this week. The report shows the dramatic effects that the economic crisis, rising unemployment and cuts to social protection, is having in access to healthcare.

MdM highlights that patients in clinics in Portugal and Greece have had to choose between feeding themselves and buying their medicines, and clinics across Europe have been forced to expand the services they provide, running soup kitchens alongside health centres, due to the illogicality of providing healthcare to people if they cannot afford to feed themselves. The report is highly critical of measures such as the Spanish Royal Decree 16/2012 of April 2012, which limits foreigners’ access to healthcare, prompting health workers in several regions to reject it on the basis that it is counter to the ethical principles of the Hippocratic oath. Measures such as this are also, according to MdM, economically unsound, as they force more people to rely only on emergency services, which are more expensive to provide.

81% of the patients surveyed had no way of accessing healthcare without paying the full costs. 20% of the MdM service users reported having been denied access to care by a healthcare provider in the last 12 months (especially in Spain, 62%). 40% of the patients surveyed had fled war or experienced violence in their home countries or on their journey to Europe, while 26% reported experiencing violence once in Europe. Xenophobic violence is a particular problem in Greece, where MdM clinics have been targeted by right wing extremists.

The report is also particularly critical of the fact that children, especially those from marginalised groups such as Roma, or those in an irregular migration situation are not being systematically immunised. The practitioners warn that this is detrimental to health in the larger population and could lead to epidemics.

The findings of the report are based on 19,302 consultations and 11,921 diagnoses with 8,412 patients at MdM clinics in 14 cities across seven European countries: Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) is currently working on a report about inequalities in access to health care in Greece, with a particular focus on the situation of vulnerable groups, such as the poor, the elderly, migrants and minorities.

For further information:

–         Médecins du Monde, Press Release, April 2013

–         Médecins du Monde, Update on health legislation in ten European Countries, April 2013

NGOs, UNHCR and European Commission welcome Turkey’s new asylum law

12.04.2013. The new Turkish Law on Foreigners and International Protection has been welcomed by NGOs, UNHCR and the European Commission. Oktay Durukan of ECRE member organisation in Turkey, the Helsinki Citizen’s Assembly (HCA), told the ECRE Weekly Bulletin that the new law represents a “hugely important step forward in the right direction for Turkey”.

Turkey has not lifted its ‘geographical limitation’ and therefore non-European refugees will still not have the right to long-term protection in the country.  However, in other areas, according to HCA, the law brings Turkish asylum legislation almost entirely in line with EU standards for reception, procedures for the recognition of refugees, and, for the first time, other beneficiaries of international protection. The law provides basic procedural safeguards including appeals against negative asylum decisions and deportation orders with automatic suspensive effect. Furthermore, lawyers and UNHCR are guaranteed access to pre removal detention centres.

The law also provides for accommodation for asylum seekers; seven reception centres are currently under construction, largely funded by the EU. All beneficiaries of international protection in Turkey will be entitled to free healthcare, although restrictions will still apply to access to the labour market.

HCA expressed concerns that shortcomings in EU legislation have been transferred into this law too, including provisions for accelerated procedures and the introduction of the Safe Third Country concept. HCA is also concerned that the time limit of 15 days to file an appeal, and the short supply of legal assistance providers in the country could make the process extremely difficult in practice.

HCA welcomed the transparency with which the negotiations were conducted, with opportunities for civil society stakeholders to contribute to the process.

The new law establishes a new civilian asylum and migration authority, under the Ministry of the Interior, which will also prepare the implementing legislation.

According to UNHCR, Turkey is hosting 34,576 asylum seekers and refugees originating from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Somalia, as well as 293,000 Syrian refugees.

For further information:

–          EU Business, Eyeing EU, Turkey adopts asylum and migration law, 5 April 2013

–          European Commission, Joint Statement by Commissioners Stefan Füle and Cecilia Malmström on the adoption by the Turkish Parliament of the Law on Foreigners and International Protection, 5 April 2013

–          World Bulletin, EU welcomes new Turkish law on foreigners, 6 April 2013

–          Turkish Press, Turkish president approves law on rights of foreigners, 10 April 2013

SIS II to centralize data of people who are not allowed entry into the Schengen area

12.04.2013. This week the ‘second generation’ Schengen Information System (SIS II) entered into operation. The new system, which will be one of the largest IT systems of its kind worldwide, includes a new system of ‘alerts’ issued in order to identify persons who are not entitled to enter and move freely in the Schengen area, as well as persons sought in relation to criminal activities, missing persons and stolen documents and property.

The use of biometric data (fingerprints and photographs) has been introduced to the database, which will be accessible to national border control, police, customs, judicial and vehicle registration authorities, as well as Europol and Eurojust.

Following the implementation of the Returns Directive, EU re-entry bans may accompany all return decisions. Member States are obliged to issue a re-entry ban if the person is forcibly returned or if they have not respected the order to leave the territory. According to the Directive, entry bans “shall not in principle exceed five years”.

Member States may enter an alert in the SIS system to flag people who have been issued with a re-entry ban. The Meijers Committee has argued that amendments to the Returns Directive and the SIS II Regulation are needed to clarify their scope of application, and secure proportionality and effective judicial review.

ECRE opposes the imposition of an entry ban on asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected and who are facing return, as removal should be considered a sufficient resolution to their situation. Furthermore, an EU-wide entry ban does not take into account possible changes in the countries of origin that may entail risk of persecution and force individuals to leave again after they have been returned.

Through the issuing of entry bans and SIS alerts, asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected could be refused access to all Schengen states despite the fact that huge differences exist between national asylum systems in Europe, making the asylum system a ‘lottery’.

According to the European Commission, it is guaranteed that no data from SIS II will be made available to third countries or international organisations.

The initial target date for the delivery of SIS II was March 2007 and the total cost of the project since 2002 has been 167,784,606 Euros.

Eu-LISA, the EU Agency for large-scale IT systems, which is already responsible for the operational management of the asylum database Eurodac and the Visa Information System, will run the new system.

For further information:

–         DG Home Affairs, Schengen Information System (SIS II) goes live (video), 9 April 2013

–         Regulation (EC) No 1987/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 December 2006 on the establishment, operation and use of the second generation Schengen Information System (SIS II),

–         Schengen Joint Supervisory Authority (JSA), Letter to Commissioner Malmström regarding the Relationship between the Return Directive and the SIS II Regulation , 11 December 2012

–         Meijers Committee, Note on the coordination of the relationship between the Entry Ban and the SIS-alert: an urgent need for legislative measures, 8 February 2012

Ireland’s asylum accommodation system of ‘Direct provision’ under fire

05.04.2013. The children’s charity Barnardos has strongly criticised the policy of moving child asylum seekers in Ireland into ‘direct provision’ reception centres when they reach the age of 18. The direct provision system requires asylum seekers to live in the state designated accommodation centres, without being allowed to work or study and being dependent on an allowance of €19.10 per week.

At the launch of a new report, commissioned by Barnardos and the Irish Health Service Executive (HSE), the Head of Advocacy at Barnardos, Catherine Joyce said that twenty years from now, the Irish will “look back in horror” at the way these young people were treated as soon as they were no longer legally minors. The move to direct provision creates uncertainty, fear, and can be detrimental to asylum seekers’ mental health, possibly undoing positive developments achieved through earlier successful care placements, the research has found.

The Irish Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan, has responded to the report by calling for the government to put in place legal provisions for continued care for asylum seeking children, beyond their 18th birthday, saying that the current system represented a “fundamental flaw and deficit” in protection.

Other findings of the report were largely positive, welcoming improvements that have been seen in the care of asylum seeking children since the end of the hostel-based care system, which had been severely criticised for failing to provide vulnerable children with adequate care. However, according to the authors of the report, some consulted stakeholders, NGOs and advocacy groups in particular, were wary in their praise. Although better than the previous system, concerns remain over foster care for these children, and the report highlights that the process of matching individual children to appropriate foster families still needs improvement.

The foster care system in Ireland has been the subject of controversy in recent months following a report by Ireland’s Health Information and Quality Authority that revealed that hundreds of foster children in deprived areas of the country were being housed with unsuitable families.

The Irish Refugee Council (IRC) has an on-going campaign against housing children in direct provision accommodation. 23 April will be a nationwide day of action under the banner End institutionalised living:  Direct Provision – No place to call home. Further details are available from campaign@irishrefugeecouncil.ie

Academics have also levelled criticism at the system with Liam Thornton, Lecturer in Law at University College Dublin, maintaining that “a system that indefinitely denies a right to work no matter how long it takes to take a decision on  a refugee/subsidiary protection/leave to remain claim and forces some asylum seekers into communal living for years on end is not fit for purpose.”

For further information:

–         Irish Refugee Council, State sanctioned child poverty and exclusion:  the case of children in state accommodation for asylum seekers, September 2012

–         Irish Refugee Council, Open letter to Alan Shatter TD, Minister for Justice, 2 November 2012

–         Human Rights in Ireland, The Direct Provision System: The Time for Change is Now, 27 March 2013

–         Irish Times, Inhumane asylum-seeker system needs radical reform, 23 March 2013

Amnesty International calls on Egypt and Sudan for action to end the brutal treatment of refugees kidnapped for ransom and trafficked to the Sinai

05.04.2013. Refugees and asylum seekers are subjected to extreme violence and brutality at the hands of human traffickers in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, according to a new report by Amnesty International. The refugees, most of whom are Eritreans kidnapped from three refugee camps in eastern Sudan, are trafficked by criminal gangs through Egypt to the Sinai peninsula, where they are held for ransom. Captives whose families cannot pay for their release are often murdered, while many others die from the beatings and violence they have suffered.

Amnesty’s interviews with survivors reveal extreme levels of violence, including rape, beatings and torture of other kinds, as well as people being set on fire, their corpses left to rot in the room where other victims are held. The captors reportedly demand sums of up to USD 30-40,000 from the victims’ families in order to secure their release.

Amnesty calls on Egypt to immediately investigate the compounds in the northeast Sinai where these people are said to be held, and to cooperate with countries such as Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea to put an end to the violence. Amnesty also urges countries to promptly investigate accusations that state officials, notably from Sudan, have been involved in kidnappings from refugee camps, and to improve security in the camps.

Finally, Amnesty also calls on countries of destination, the primary one of which is Israel, to improve training of personnel in contact with migrants to recognise victims of such abuses and to respond to their needs, as well as granting them access to a fair asylum procedure.

For further information:

–         Amnesty International, Press Release: Egypt, Sudan: Kidnap and trafficking of refugees and asylum-seekers must be stoppede, 3 April 2013

–         The Daily News, Human Trafficking in the Sinai, 19 March 2013

–         Van Reisen, M., Estefanos, M.; Rijken, C., Human Trafficking in the Sinai: Refugees Between Life and Death, October 2012

–         In-Depth News, Human Trafficking devastating the Sinai, 28 September 2012

–         Agenzia Habeshia, Sinai, the horror of the slave market, 7 March 2013

Interview with Adriano Silvestri, Head of Asylum, Migration and Borders Sector at the EU Fundamental Rights Agency

29.03.2013. “Joint operations outside EU waters must not lead to the circumvention of European fundamental rights safeguards”

The EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) has published this week a report on fundamental rights at the EU’s Southern sea borders. The report provides an in-depth examination of practices in Greece, Italy, Malta, Spain and Cyprus in border surveillance and disembarkation procedures for intercepted migrants, and studies the fundamental rights challenges related to EU funding and Frontex operations.

The ECRE Weekly Bulletin spoke to Adriano Silvestri, Head of FRA’s Asylum, Migration and Borders Sector, about policies and practices that have an impact on migrants trying to reach Europe by sea as well as the measures needed to better protect their lives and fundamental rights, including the right to seek asylum.

What priorities have emerged from your research for the protection of the fundamental rights of migrants at sea?

The most fundamental rights of an individual, the right to life and the prohibition of refoulement, are at stake at sea. According to UNHCR estimates, over 1,500 people went missing or died in the Mediterranean in 2011 alone. A great deal of effort is being made to save the lives of migrants at sea, including cases where officers put their own lives at risk to go out in rough seas and rescue people. There is also a lot of valuable work being done by NGOs and international organisations, in Italy and Spain for example. But there’s still more that could be done. First of all, rescue operations have to be initiated immediately when information about a boat in distress at sea is received:  good coordination between the various national rescue coordination centres is very important to avoid delays.

In connection with this, there is a need to have clear rules about where to bring the intercepted or rescued migrants, because a lack of clarity about where to disembark them may also lead to delays. It is therefore important that Council Decision 2010/252/EU, which contained guidelines for Frontex-coordinated operations, but which was recently annulled by the Court of Justice, is soon replaced by a new instrument with strong protection safeguards.

Furthermore, all officers and institutions entrusted with border surveillance duties must be made aware that push-backs at sea are not allowed. This would lower the risk of refoulement.

Finally, cooperation with third countries should not lead to a situation in which European rights safeguards deriving from the European Convention on Human Rights are circumvented when operational tasks are undertaken outside of EU waters, i.e. in third countries’ territorial waters or on the high seas.

What can be done to assure the right to claim asylum at EU borders?

Firstly, it is extremely important that timely and effective information is provided about the right to seek asylum and about the procedures for doing so. Our research found that this is more effective where NGOs and international organisations are involved. The Praesidium project in Lampedusa, where a number of international humanitarian organisations cooperate with the authorities in managing arrivals, is an example of promising practice, as are the information sessions on asylum to new arrivals in Malta.

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“All officers and institutions entrusted with border surveillance duties must be made aware that push-backs at sea are not allowed”

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Secondly, there is a clear duty for all officers involved to refer asylum applications to the competent authorities. This should also be the case for officers deployed through Frontex or in joint operations.

There is also a need for those officers to know what an asylum request is. Without proper training it may not be easy to identify an asylum application, particularly where the word ‘asylum’ or ‘refugee’ is not used explicitly.  During the interview with the police to identify the person who has just arrived, questions should be phrased in a way that allows  migrants to say why they have left their own countries. And, of course, the interviews should be carried out with basic procedural safeguards in place, such as having an interpreter. From what we saw during our research, however, this is not always guaranteed.

Finally, the presence of NGOs and international organisations at the points of arrival is important for creating the trust that is necessary for migrants to come forward with their real concerns. For example, in Spain, upon disembarkation, all women and girls are first taken to the Red Cross offices, where they are given clean clothing, can take a shower, and have the opportunity to speak to a woman before police officers interview them. This creates at least a little bit of trust, especially in cases where the migrants have difficult or traumatic stories to tell.

The procedures employed after disembarkation are not only relevant for the right to seek asylum, but also for the identification of other categories of people who are at risk. In addition to identifying asylum seekers, it is also important to adapt the systems currently in place to identify suspected victims of human trafficking and unaccompanied or separated children, as well as victims of serious crimes. Particularly in Spain, we have seen a relatively high number of women and girls who were victims of very serious criminal acts before coming to the country. A recent report by MSF in Morocco has also documented the violence that migrants are subjected to there.

What potential does the EUROSUR package have, in your view, to increase fundamental rights protection at sea, and what are the potential dangers of the legislation?

EUROSUR allows to link the information that is collected through surveillance at the national level and by Frontex. The system presents the opportunity to offer more and earlier information on people in distress at sea and encourages collaboration between various responsible national agencies and authorities. But there are also potential risks. First of all, the lifesaving potential of EUROSUR may not in effect be fully exploited. Secondly, Member States may share information contained in EUROSUR with third countries. If a Member State shares information about a group of persons trying to leave to seek safety with a country from outside the EU, and that country intervenes and stops them from reaching safety, the action by the Member State would in practice prevent individuals from seeking asylum.

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“The lifesaving potential of EUROSUR may not in effect be fully exploited.”

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Finally, there have to be some checks and balances imposed to make sure that personal data is not inadvertently shared, including in the form of pictures or videos. The proposed regulation has a number of safeguards: for example, it forbids the sharing of information with third countries if this could be used to violate the basic fundamental rights of the individual concerned. However, we need to see how these safeguards are implemented. The evaluation of EUROSUR should definitely also include a fundamental rights perspective.

What are the possible pitfalls involved in collaboration with third countries in border control operations at sea?

Third countries, with the exception of Turkey, are not bound by the European Convention on Human Rights or by EU law. So the countries from which the migrant boats usually depart operate under different legal standards. This has to be borne in mind during the planning of such cooperation.

Collaboration with third countries can take different forms. Sometimes it is about donating equipment or assets. If donated assets are used to violate human rights, that should certainly have implications for future donations. In addition, though, such incidents should also be followed by a dialogue between the donating EU state and the third country.

Collaboration with third countries can also mean sharing intelligence. If information on migrant flows is shared, there need to be controls or guarantees that this information will not be used by that third country to take action at odds with the migrants’ fundamental rights.

However, it is the practical aspect of collaboration with third countries that is most problematic. Just because these joint operations take place outside EU Member States or EU waters, they must not lead to the circumvention of European fundamental rights safeguards.

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“[Following the Hirsi case] immigration cooperation with third countries to prevent migrants from leaving in the first place is likely to increase”

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Do you believe that readmission agreements thus far concluded with third countries include sufficient safeguards for migrants?

The 13 readmission agreements concluded at EU level do not involve the countries from which the boats depart. Some EU agreements contain specific human rights clauses, but not all. In 2011, the Commission undertook an evaluation of the EU readmission agreements, suggesting a number of safeguards that should be included in the future; one example would be a system of suspension in the case of persistent or serious violations of the human rights of readmitted persons.

Agreements concluded by EU Member States are often informal; arrangements that are not necessarily made public, are not accessible and thus not under public scrutiny. It is therefore very difficult to know what sort of safeguards, if any, are incorporated, and that, in our view, is one of the areas where more work is necessary.

What impact do you think the ECtHR judgement on the Hirsi case will have on border controls and return operations of the EU Member States, whether they act under the aegis of FRONTEX or not?

I believe that it will become more difficult for States that are party to the ECHR to carry out push-backs at sea as they were carried out by Italy to Libya in 2009. I also believe that immigration cooperation with third countries that looks at ways of preventing migrants from leaving in the first place is likely to increase.

It has been reported that Syrians who have applied for visas from the region to travel to European countries to re-join relatives and escape the war have had their request denied. Due to the impossibility for these families to legally seek and access protection, they will resort to illegal means of entry through procurement of false documentation and often dangerous routes, including by sea. What are your recommendations to reduce the need for people to take such a dangerous journey?

Just as during the civil war in Libya back in 2007, most Syrian refugees are remaining in their own region.

However, it is true that there have been incidents at sea involving Syrians. For example, last September a boat with 60 migrants, including children, capsized near Izmir with fatal consequences, and these incidents are of course a very dangerous sign.

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“Fishermen are afraid that they could be subject to prosecution for facilitating irregular entry if they bring migrants to shore without first obtaining permission from the authorities.”

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What are the obligations and the disincentives for shipmasters to render assistance or rescue migrants at sea?

The duty to render assistance to people in distress at sea applies to everybody. Refusal to assist is a criminal offence for every shipmaster in the countries covered by our research. Overall, in our interviews with shipmasters and fishermen, we got a very clear message that the duty to render assistance is seen as a humanitarian tradition and, as such, extremely important.

At the same time, there are also disincentives for fishermen to intervene. Firstly, there is a financial cost associated with assisting people in distress at sea, as the fishermen usually are requested by the authorities to wait near the people they have rescued until the rescuers arrive, and that causes them to lose time when they would otherwise be working. Secondly, fishermen are afraid that they could be subject to prosecution for facilitating irregular entry if they bring migrants to shore without first obtaining permission from the authorities. This is an issue I think that should be followed up more closely and, at EU level, a revision of the 2002 Facilitation Directive should be considered. Finally, rescue operations are very dangerous. Fishing boats and other boats may jeopardise their own safety when attempting to take a large group of migrants onto their boat, so these can sometimes prevent an immediate rescue operation from taking place, particularly under rough sea conditions.

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“joint processing of asylum applications could contribute to ease tensions on where to disembark migrants intercepted or rescued at sea”

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Do you think expert teams from the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) should be involved in Frontex maritime operations in order to ensure the right to claim asylum?

I think there is definitely scope for more collaboration at European level between Frontex and EASO. First of all, EASO has the potential to provide support to the asylum and reception systems in third countries, and hence to lower the risk of abuse, exploitation, and the lack of recourse to justice there.

Secondly, resources permitting, EASO and Frontex could certainly collaborate more closely, particularly in briefing Frontex officers before they start asylum operations. EASO could also provide operation-specific guidance on certain risk factors: how to identify asylum applications, where these should be referred, how to access interpreters and so on.

Finally, it would be interesting to start exploring the possibility of jointly processing asylum applications in the EU, as these could contribute to ease tensions on where to disembark migrants intercepted or rescued at sea. EU Member States collaborate in the field of issuing visas; experience gathered by consulates could be a starting point for exploring joint processing of asylum claims. If the European Union would go in this direction, an enhanced role for EASO could also be envisaged. Clearly, joint processing of asylum applications would only be a first step which would need to be accompanied by solidarity mechanisms to share responsibility for persons found in need of international protection as well as for persons who, after a fair procedure, have been channelled into return procedures.