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Migration News and Policy Report

24.2.20 - 8.3.20

Weeks In Summary

Last week's (2-8 March) tensions at the Greek-Turkish border have dominated news coverage about migration in Europe. As the Turkish army suffered casualties in the Syrian province of Idlib and claimed to be under new migratory pressure, it opened its borders with the EU and encouraged refugees to move into the Union's territory. The official EU and Greek position has been one of deterrence, resulting into a dangerous standoff between the countries' borders. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is expected to meet EU officials in Brussels on Monday 9 March. 

This newsletter edition offers a special focus into some of the main issues surrounding the crisis and the EU response.


 TOP STORIES


  • Tensions at Greek-Turkish border between security forces and refugees
  • EU Commission announces Action Plan for immediate measure to support Greece
  • Frontex wants to disembark refugees intercepted at sea in Senegal

 GREECE-TURKEY BORDER CRISIS


Briefing: main events


On Thursday 27 February, Turkey lost 33 soldiers to an airstrike conducted by Russian-backed Syrian forces in the province of Idlib, the last stronghold of Syrian rebels. As a result, the Turkish government, claiming migratory pressure from Idlib, announced that they would not be stopping refugees from crossing into the EU. On Saturday 29 February, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan admitted to having "opened the doors", as clashes broke out between refugees and the Greek police.
 

On Sunday 1 March, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis declared that asylum applications would not be processed for a month and that the Greek military and police would be fortifying the borders in order to stop crossings. Other EU countries like Hungary or Austria also declared that their borders would be closed to incoming refugees. On Monday 2 March, a video emerged showing Greek coast guards firing into the sea around dinghies coming from Turkey to force their return.

 

On Tuesday 3 March, UNHCR reminded the Hellenic republic that their declaration lacked any legal basis. Nevertheless, on the same day, EU Commission's President Ursula von der Leyen set the body's official position by publicly praising Greek efforts at acting as Europe's "shield". Furthermore, she announced a series of measures worth €700m of EU funds aimed at supporting Greece's response. On Wednesday 4 March, the Commission presented its plan at an extraordinary meeting of the Council. In a nutshell, the proposal calls for:

  • the establishment of two rapid border interventions and a new return programme to be coordinated by Frontex
  • a call for Member States to provide 160 experts for the European Asylum Support Office
  • humanitarian assistance to be deployed within the frame of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism
  • mainly, financial assistance to Greece's border and migration management


Over the week, tensions at the land border continued, with crossed accusations between the two countries (Turkey accusing the Greek authorities of firing live rounds against refugees and Greece accusing Turkey of firing tear gas against their forces, as well as destroying their fences). In parallel, the Turkish government has been complaining about delays in payments from the EU relating to the EU-Turkey statement of 2016, while the EU accused its partner of 'blackmailing' the Union.

 

On Thursday 5 March, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, agreed to a ceasefire in Syria to be enforced from Friday onwards. However, tensions at the Greek-Turkish border continued over the weekend. On Sunday, Erdoğan encouraged Europe to "open the gates" for refugees, setting his position before a meeting with EU officials to take place on Monday 9 March in Brussels. 

Frontex to launch rapid border intervention at Greece’s external borders

 

Following the recent release of the EU Commission Action Plan for immediate measures to support Greece, Frontex has announced the creation of a rapid border intervention to assist the EU country's border management at the Aegean sea. At present, the agency was trying to agree on an operational plan with the Greek government. Once this is finalised, EU Member States and Schengen Associated Countries will be asked to provide border guards and other relevant staff from a rapid reaction pool, as well as material support. When assistance would be called upon,  a rapid reaction pool of 1500 officers would have to be put at Frontex's service within five days and equipment within ten days. 

Czech Ministry of Interior will support Greek efforts at managing the Turkish border

 

The Czech Minister of Interior, Jan Hamáček announced on Wednesday 4 March, that the country would be immediately sending a humanitarian convoy (e.g. sleeping bags, mattresses,  heaters) to the Greek border. In addition, the Ministry put at the disposal of a possible Greek request up to fifty policemen and 1€m at the service of border defence. Twenty of these officers would be part of Frontex's rapid border interventions and thirty of bilateral assistance. The funds would be withdrawn from the 'Pomoc na místě' programme.

Media interventions from Consortium's member organisations and partners over the Greek-Turkish crisis

 

As events at the Greek-Turkish border unfolded, several member organisations and partners from the Consortium have commented on the situation in the Czech media. Interventions include:
 

 
  • On 2 March, Marie Heřmanova (PLNU) and Dalimil Petrilák (PLNU) were informing about the crisis within its wider context on an article for Alarm. In addition, Dalimil Petrilák has been uploading detailed daily updates on his Facebook wall and writing articles for Deník Referendum (on 3 March and on 9 March).
 
  • On 4 March, Martin Rozumek (OPU) gave an interview to DVTV commenting on the overall situation, its potential impact over the EU and the response of the Czech government. Rozumek had already conceded an interview for Seznam Zprávy the previous day.
 

EU to deal with the situation of  unaccompanied children refugees from Greek camps

 

On Friday 6 March, the EU Commission announced through a press release that President Ursula von der Leyen had agreed with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to put in place a plan to attend to the situation of unaccompanied migrant children in Greece. The task was entrusted to Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson, who confirmed that she would be travelling to Greece on 12 March to speak to the relevant stakeholders.

German mayors plea for accepting unaccompanied children refugees

 

The mayors of seven German cities sent, on Friday 6 March, a petition to the German federal government asking it to allow them to accept unaccompanied minors from Greek refugee camps. In the letter, they claim that there are up to 140 cities in the country within an alliance called 'Cities of Safe Havens' which are calling on the central government to generate legal pathways for the reception of these children. The cities offered to immediately relocate five hundred children under the age of fourteen from Greek refugee camps. 

Hostility towards refugees grows in Lesbos amid new arrivals

 

As Turkey opened its borders with Greece, the number of arrivals to Lesbos increased. The New York Times reported the presence of local vigilante groups trying to deter migrants from entering the island and informally arresting smugglers. Other forms of aggression on the island have targeted journalists, aid workers, and facilities for refugees (two of which have suffered arson). Protests, as well as groups of youth attempting to attack refugees on the island, were already reported by early February. 


 EU POLICY


 

Frontex wants to disembark refugees in Senegal

 

Activist Matthias Monroy published an interesting article on his blog which described EU plans to return refugees intercepted at sea back to Senegal. In order to do so, the Commission would need to sign a Status Agreement with the West African country, the first such deal with a non-European nation. This would allow EU operations' vessels operating in Senegal's Search and Rescue zone to return refugees caught at sea back into the country without, allegedly, violating the non-refoulement principle.

Reviewing migration policy in the UK

 

The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford recently published a review of the United Kingdom's current policy towards migrants after their arrival in the country. The brief paper covers a history of the policies and their goals, the competing definitions of 'integration' and the different targets of the policy. It concludes by highlighting the lack of a coherent national framework for integration, as well as of a clear definition of competencies.

"There is a lack of clarity on where responsibility lies in Whitehall, or between national and local government; differing definitions of integration used and some lack of consistency: for example between the expectation that migrants learn English but a shortage of opportunities to take language classes. Policy rhetoric and practice has placed greater emphasis on the migrant’s obligation to integrate than on addressing barriers that they face" -
 
Jacqui Broadhead (Director, Global Exchange on Migration and Diversity)

 MIGRATION NEWS

UNHCR launches plan for aiding refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo

 

On Friday 6 March, UNHCR and its partners established the DRC Regional Refugee Response Plan 2020-2021, which is meant to function alongside the already existing Humanitarian Response Plan for DRC. According to a UNHCR press release, the plan aims at covering humanitarian activities for 66 organisations that will support refugees from DRC and host communities in neighbouring countries. The UN agency is urgently appealing for $621 million dollars, acknowledging that the programme's predecessor was just 22% funded. 

OHCHR attempts to challenge India's Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA)

On Monday 2 March, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, informed the Indian government that she had filed an application to the country's Supreme Court asking to make the High Commissioner a third party in a petition against the controversial CAA which had been put forward by a civil servant. According to India Today, the petition argues that the CAA was at risk of breaching the principle of non-refoulement by discriminating against certain religious minorities (i.e. Muslims). The country's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Raveesh Kumar, criticised the move as an attempt to infringe the Indian parliament's sovereignty.


MIGRATION & FILM


One World 2020 documentary festival (5-14 March) 

 

A new edition of the One World (Jeden svět) film festival was kickstarted on Thursday 5 March in Prague. The festival, focusing on human rights, has been organised by People in Need since 1999. This year's edition pays particular attention to the realities of climate change. Nevertheless, there are several films directly connecting to issues of migration. Among the ones to be shown in Prague are:
 

 
You can consult this edition's programme for Prague here. Over two weeks, One World will screen 133 documentaries from 60 countries, in thirteen spaces in Prague. If you want to check the programme for the other 35 cities in the country instead, you can have a look at each individual one here.
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