Minds of my Generation

Month: July, 2013

Rights groups reaffirm opposition to the use of list of ‘Safe Countries of Origin’ in Belgium

24.05.13. On 15 May, the Belgian government published a Royal Decree establishing its unchanged list of ‘Safe Countries of Origin’ of asylum seekers, which includes Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, FYROM and India. Asylum seekers originating from these countries will continue to have their applications examined in accelerated procedures, as it is assumed that they are unlikely to have suffered persecution.
ECRE member organisations in Belgium, Ciré and the Flemish Refugee Council, along with the Human Rights’ League and the Association for the Rights of Foreigners have spoken out to reaffirm their strong opposition to the use of lists of safe countries of origin for asylum seekers in Belgium. According to these groups, accelerated asylum procedures do not respect the fundamental rights of asylum seekers. Asylum seekers from such countries face a higher burden of proof of persecution or mistreatment, a reduced amount of time for the decision-making process, with decisions usually returned within two weeks, reduced opportunity to appeal against negative decisions, and deportations are not suspended in order to allow applicants to stay in the territory while appealing a negative decision. Furthermore, asylum seekers from these ‘Safe Countries’ face additional restrictions on access to reception facilities.
The organisations point out that among the populations of supposed ‘safe countries’ are minority groups,
ECRE Weekly Bulletin – 24 May 2013
such as the Roma, against whom discrimination is well-documented and widespread.
France removed Kosovo and Albania from its list of safe countries in 2012, but Belgium keeps them, illustrating the unequal chances faced by asylum seekers in different EU countries. For further information:
 Flemish Refugee Council, Government confirms list of ‘Safe Countries of Origin’: asylum seekers are still the losers (in Flemish), 22 May 2013
 Ciré, The government confirms the list of safe countries: bad practice and hypocritical policy (in French), 22 May 2013
 ECRE weekly Bulletin, Safe countries of origin: an inconvenient truth, 30 March 2012

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UK and Denmark announce protection schemes for Afghan interpreters

24.05.13. About 600 Afghan interpreters who worked with British forces in Afghanistan (about half of the total) will be eligible for asylum in the UK, the government announced this week. The government proposes to grant interpreters a five year residence permit -the standard duration for recognised refugees-, with the possibility of applying for permanent residence thereafter. According to the BBC, whether close family members will be allowed to accompany the interpreters will be decided on a case by case basis by immigration officials.
The British Refugee Council has noted that the proposal has received support from across the political spectrum, but voices concerns that the eligibility criteria for the scheme are set quite high and may well exclude many people in need of protection. Maurice Wren, Chief Executive of the British Refugee Council stated that he welcomes the government’s recognition of the dangers faced by many in Afghanistan, adding that, “Given this level of instability and danger, we urge the Government to rethink its practice of returning young people, many barely out of childhood, to the situation that exists in Afghanistan right now.”
The organisation Avaaz, which had presented a petition to the government signed by 82,000 people in support of offering protection to Afghan interpreters, has welcomed the news, but agrees that the scheme may well exclude many deserving cases, simply because their contract with UK forces ended before 1 January 2013.
Under the scheme, interpreters fulfilling certain conditions, who have worked on the front line with UK troops for over a year, may come to the UK, or chose to remain in Afghanistan and sign-up to five years of fully-funded training and education, or continue to receive their current salary for a further 18 months.
The Danish government has also announced a plan to provide visas to interpreters who have worked with Danish troops in order for them to be able to come to Denmark to then apply for asylum. Danish Defence Minister, Nick Haekkerup, has said that Denmark has a “moral obligation” to help. The Danish Refugee Council has welcomed the initiative: “Although we do not yet know the practical details of the screening process we see this as a positive and responsible initiative aiming at ensuring the safety of a vulnerable group of people”, says Head of Asylum in the Danish Refugee Council, Eva Singer.
The pledges from the British and Danish governments are in contrast to an announcement from the Dutch government this week that there is not sufficient support in parliament for an equivalent protection scheme in the Netherlands.
For further information:
 ECRE Weekly Bulletin, Afghans working with European troops face uncertain fate, 22 March 2013
 The Guardian, Afghan interpreters’ resettlement scheme ‘does not go far enough’, 22 May 2013
 BBC, Climbdown over Afghan interpreters’ right to come to UK, 22 May 2013
 BBC, Afghan interpreters: ‘No life for us here’, 22 May 2013
 Bloomberg Business News, UK, Denmark eye visas for Afghan interpreters, 22 May 2013
 You can follow updates on the subject on #AfghanInterpreters on Twitter

Non-punishment principle for victims of trafficking must be upheld

17.05.13. European law enforcement bodies and members of the judiciary must uphold the principle of non-punishment for victims of human trafficking who have committed crimes as a consequence of their trafficked situation, says a report by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Crimes typically related to trafficking, such as the use of false documents, work in cannabis factories, or pickpocketing are often committed under coercion by victims of trafficking for the profit of traffickers, argues the report, and their perpetrators should not be detained, prosecuted or punished.
Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, OSCE Special Representative and Coordinator for Combatting Trafficking, delineates 29 recommendations on how to handle instances where there are indications that crimes have been committed because of exploitation. The principle of non-punishment will allow victims to testify in court without fear of reprisal, improving the chances of prosecuting the traffickers themselves, argues Giammarinaro. The report highlights that it is often traffickers’ deliberate strategy to expose their victims to criminality, in order maintain control and prevent them from seeking help from law enforcement officials.
The report recommends that specific provisions be introduced into national legislation to ensure the protection of victims of trafficking. It also highlights that, as per the judgment in the case Adimi R v. Uxbridge Magistrate’s Court, immigration related offences or detention must not hinder victims’ ability to make an asylum application or be used to exclude them from refugee status.
Giammarinaro presented the report at the 22nd session of the UNODC’s Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice at the end of April. For further information:
 UN News Centre, UN Member States appraise Global Action Plan to combat human trafficking, 13 May 2013
 Council of Europe, Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings, 2005