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Refugee crisis: latest news from across Europe
3-9.3.20

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Statewatch Observatory: The refugee crisis in the Med and inside the EU: a humanitarian emergency

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CYPRUS: KISA calls on the Minister to retract his defamatory statements and to proceed to a dialogue with the stakeholders and NGOs concerned (press release, pdf):

"The government has reacted to the increased refugee and migrant flows of the last 2-3 years with an ever more extreme right narrative, which comprises, among others, interconnecting migrants and refugees to matters of security, terrorism, unemployment and social cohesion. According to this narrative, refugees are channelled by Turkey following a plan that aims at changing the demographic nature and the full control of Cyprus.

It seems that KISA with its critical positions and views against this narrative annoys the establishment as well as other extreme right and nationalistic circles. That is why, there is lately a systematic attempt targeting, smearing and mudslinging of the work and action of KISA and its leadership by a section of the printed and electronic media that agrees and supports the extreme right policies of the executive branch."

See also: Letter from the European Network Against Racism to the Cyprus interior minister: Your statements on ENAR on Radio Proto 1, 24 February 2020 (pdf)

Open letter: EUROPE MUST ACT FOR THE IMMEDIATE DECONGESTION OF THE AEGEAN ISLANDS (pdf):

"The Aegean Islands have descended into crisis. 5 years of neglectful EU policy has finally culminated in days of protest ( 1 , 2 ), NGOs threatened with violence, and mass strikes across the islands. Whilst over 42,000 asylum seekers reside on these islands, there is capacity for just 6,178 ( 1 ). Now, communities are braced for a surge in arrivals as Turkey has opened its borders, reneging on the EU-Turkey agreement.

This ongoing political stalemate between the EU, Greece and Turkey must be resolved. This game, played by the powerful, is putting innocent human lives at risk. It must stop now. Added to this already volatile mix is rising panic over the coronavirus. With healthcare severely lacking in the hotspot camps, NGOs fear that an outbreak would have disastrous consequences."

Common statement: Transnational solidarity against racism and war! (link):

"Hundreds of groups and organizations worldwide sign multilingual statement demanding peace, fundamental rights and freedoms of every person on the move.

Five years after the so-called “refugee crisis” and almost four years after the EU-Turkey deal, we are once again witnessing the violence caused by security-centred migration policies. Since last Thursday (27.02.2020), thousands of people have been moving towards the Turkey-Greece border following the announcement that migrants wanting to reach Europe will no longer be stopped on the Turkish side. The announcement from Turkish government officials came after the death of 33 Turkish soldiers in the Idlib area, where conflict escalation has seen the civilian death toll rapidly increase by the day, with basic infrastructure and health facilities being blatantly fired at. Turkish government keeps its borders with Syria closed while seeing no harm in pushing thousands of migrants towards the doors of Europe, into a limbo."

"Protect our laws and humanity!" - Open Letter by 120 Organizations

The undersigned organisations are deeply concerned about recent developments at the Evros border and the Aegean islands where people are stranded at the borders of Europe, instrumentalized for political purposes, and subject to violations of their rights. We are also deeply concerned about the way the authorities of Greece and the European Union are handling new arrivals. Equally alarming are the extreme actions by security forces against refugees and by civilians against staff of human rights and humanitarian organizations. We would also like to point out that the climate of panic and rhetoric of 'asymmetric threat' -also promoted by the authorities- does not reflect reality and seriously affects not only vulnerable refugees- but also our society and the rule of law as a whole.

GUE/NGL MEPs' letter to the Commission and Council on the situation at the Greek-Turkish border (3 March 2020, pdf):

"We, as Members of the European Parliament call upon you to ensure immediate action in such a way that it will ensure that Turkey immediately stops end the use of people fleeing war as political bargaining chip and as a tool for geo-political pressure to Greece and Europe as a whole. We call upon you to ensure effective access to protection in full respect of the Geneva Convention and EU law and to do so based on equal sharing of all challenges and responsibilities among all the EU Member States.

We call upon you to take all necessary and immediate actions, including via an extraordinary EU Summit, in order to ensure the evacuation of seekers of international protection from the Greek islands and the land borders with Turkey, their immediate transfer to all the EU Member States and, in parallel, to enable the functioning of a fair and effective common asylum system and the creation of safe and legal pathways to the EU."

Council of the EU: Statement on the situation at the EU's external borders (Consilium, link):

"The EU and its Member States remain determined to effectively protect EU’s external borders. Illegal crossings will not be tolerated. In this regard, the EU and its Member States will take all necessary measures, in accordance with EU and international law. Migrants should not be encouraged to endanger their lives by attempting illegal crossings by land or sea. The Council calls upon the Turkish government and all actors and organisations on the ground to relay this message and counter the dissemination of false information. The EU will continue to actively fight human smuggling.

All Member States, the European Commission and EU Agencies stand ready to strengthen their support to areas under pressure, including through the deployment of FRONTEX’s rapid border intervention and additional technical assistance. Member States will swiftly provide the support necessary to ensure the immediate deployment of the relevant teams and assets. The Commission will play an active role in coordinating Member States' support."

EU: A coalition to “shield” migrants and refugees against violence at the borders - We will hold Greece and the EU accountable for the violations of the rights of migrants and refugees fleeing Turkey (Migreurop, link):

"We firmly condemn the instrumental use of migrants and refugees by the EU and Turkey, and the Greek and EU operations deployed to prevent them from reaching European soil. No policy aim can justify such gross violations. Exiles fleeing violence must not face the violence of borders while they seek protection. Our organisations are joining their efforts to hold states accountable for their crimes. We plan to document and take legal action against those responsible for the violations of migrants and refugees’ rights, as well as those of activists acting in solidarity with them. We will employ our investigative and legal instruments to block state violence and reverse the deeply worrying trend towards the multiplication of push-backs in Greece, – a trend observable to different degrees across the EU’s shifting borders. Migrants and refugees are not a threat the EU should shield itself against, but are themselves threatened by state violence all along their precarious trajectories. We aim to use the tools of human rights to shield migrants and refugees from the brutality targeting them."

Europe’s Morality Is Dying at the Greek Border (Foreign Policy, link):

"This week, Greece’s northern border with Turkey and the Bulgarian-Turkish borderlands, too, have witnessed brutal, violent scenes reminiscent of war zones. Thousands of desperate migrants fleeing war zones—including mothers with babies in their arms—are storming barbed-wire fences to get into European Union territory to apply for political asylum, while Greek security forces in anti-riot gear beat them back and shoot rubber bullets and billowing clouds of tear gas at them. On the easternmost Greek islands, such as Lesbos, the Greek coast guard and navy have been turning away dinghies of half-frozen, frightened refugees. More than 32,000 migrants have been arrested at the Greek land border."

Joint statement on the ongoing violence at the Greece-Turkey border (Forensic Architecture, link):

"Today, together with more than a dozen NGOs, legal agencies, and activist groups, we published a statement (below) on the ongoing violence against refugees and migrants at the Greece-Turkey border, which has already resulted in multiple reports of serious injuries, as well as the death of 22-year-old Muhammad al-Arab. Watch our preliminary investigation into his death here"

Danish boat in Aegean refused order to push back rescued migrants (Politico, link):

"A Danish patrol boat monitoring the Aegean sea refused an order to push back migrants they rescued, Danish officials told public broadcaster DR.

The Danish boat was patrolling the sea between Turkey and Greece's easternmost islands as part of Operation Poseidon, a border surveillance mission in support of Greece, coordinated by EU border protection agency Frontex.

Jens Møller, the police chief in charge of the Danish unit participating in the operation, told DR that the crew had rescued 33 migrants headed for Greece in a rubber dinghy when they received a radio order from Operation Poseidon's headquarters to put the migrants back into to their dinghy and tow it out of Greek waters.

The crew refused the order, believing it would endanger the lives of the migrants."

Migrants: EU commission not fit to guard treaties (EUobserver, link):

"Asked if it was legal for Greece to suspend asylum claims for a month as Greece has done, the commission announced it had no "authority to have a definitive legal opinion or legal doctrine."

Asked if it was legal to fire rubber bullets at asylum seekers, the commission also refused to comment.

"It is not up to the commission to offer any opinion or judgement on a situation which is exceptional, that is under certain constraints," said Margaritis Schinas, the vice-president in charge of "promoting our European way of life".

Eric Mamer, the commission's chief spokesperson, was even more blunt. "You won't get a straight yes or no answer from me," he said.

Instead, what you will get is a commission that has cowed to the far-right and one that is no longer fit to be the guardian of the EU treaties. That honour now belongs to EU citizens alone, it seems."

Briefing: A manufactured refugee crisis at the Greek-Turkish border (The New Humanitarian, link):

"Dramatic scenes have been playing out in recent days at the land and sea borders between Greece and Turkey: Greek police tear-gassing and pushing back crowds of asylum seekers at a northern border crossing; the Hellenic Coast Guard firing warning shots at a dinghy full of asylum seekers in the Aegean Sea; angry protesters preventing another group in a dinghy from disembarking in the port on the island of Lesvos.

The images have been exploited by a savvy Turkish media campaign aimed at maximising pressure on the EU to support Turkish action in northwest Syria and to share more of the burden for hosting refugees. According to refugee advocates and human rights groups, Turkey’s politicisation of the refugee issue and the suffering at the EU’s borders are a predictable outcome of the EU-Turkey deal – a cornerstone of EU efforts to curb irregular migration across its borders."

UNHCR statement on the situation at the Turkey-EU border (UNHCR, link):

"UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is appealing for calm and an easing of tensions on Turkey’s borders with the European Union in light of the present increased movements of people there – including refugees and asylum-seekers.

UNHCR is monitoring developments in Turkey and in Greece and is offering its support. As in all such situations it is important that the authorities refrain from any measures that might increase the suffering of vulnerable people.

All States have a right to control their borders and manage irregular movements, but at the same time should refrain from the use of excessive or disproportionate force and maintain systems for handling asylum requests in an orderly manner.

Neither the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees nor EU refugee law provides any legal basis for the suspension of the reception of asylum applications."

Greece/EU: Urgently Relocate Lone Children (Human Rights Watch, link):

"(Athens) – European Union (EU) Member States should urgently relocate unaccompanied children from the Greek islands to safety in their territory, while ensuring that the children’s best interests are taken into account, 64 human rights and humanitarian organizations said in a statement today. The groups warned of widespread violations of children’s rights and threats to their health and safety across the Aegean islands’ refugee hotspots. Action is all the more urgent in light of the escalating violence on Lesbos and as increased arrivals to the islands could lead to further deterioration of the dangerous conditions in the camps."

Greece: Inhumane asylum measures will put lives at risk (Amnesty International, link):

"The inhumane measures which the Greek authorities are taking to prevent people from entering the country are an appalling betrayal of Greece’s human rights responsibilities and will put the lives of people fleeing violence at risk, Amnesty International said today.

Yesterday, following a meeting of Greece’s National Security Council, the authorities announced they would temporarily suspend the registration of asylum claims from people who enter the country irregularly. This measure will be coupled with the immediate return without registration of new arrivals if the return to their country of origin is “possible.” It’s not clear how the Greek authorities are interpreting “possible” in this context."

At the Greek-Turkish border, politicians play with people’s lives (Alarm Phone, link):

"People trying to enter Europe in search of protection face brutal repression in the Aegean region. Although this is not new, we currently see an escalation of violence as Turkey and Greece play a dangerous game with people’s lives. The survival instinct and hope of many for a better future is exploited and manipulated for cynical political stunts. Greece has now declared a state of emergency and to remove people’s right to claim asylum."

EU governments ‘harassing’ those who help migrants: report (Politico, link):

"European countries are misusing immigration and counterterrorism laws to punish civil society organizations and private citizens who are trying to help asylum seekers, Amnesty International said in a report published Tuesday.

Those who have helped migrants by handing out warm clothes, offering shelter and saving lives at sea have been subjected to "unfounded criminal proceedings, undue restrictions of their activities, intimidation, harassment and smear campaigns" in multiple EU countries, Amnesty said.

...Amnesty recorded cases of restriction and criminalization of assistance to migrants in Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Spain, Switzerland and the U.K. These included incidents in which governments seized boats used by NGOs to rescue migrants at sea, and brought spying and terrorism-related charges against people suspected of helping migrants, such as the case of a Frenchman who faced trial for “facilitating irregular entry” into France after giving asylum seekers tea and clothing."

The report: Punishing compassion: Solidarity on trial in Fortress Europe (pdf)

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