UNHCR Regional Bureau Europe: Weekly Report (February 16, 2017 5:16 PM)
Trends of Sea Arrivals
Between 06 and 12 February, 207 refugees and migrants arrived to Greece by sea – a decrease from the 460 who arrived the previous week. The number of sea arrivals fluctuated between 0 arrivals (09-12 February) and 57 (07 February). Kastelorizo recorded the majority of estimated sea arrivals (85), followed by Lesvos (54). Comparing with the previous week the average number of daily arrivals decreased from 66 to 30.
In Italy, 1,018 persons (including 39 unaccompanied and separated children [UASC] i.e. 4%) arrived by sea during the same week after having been rescued. On 06 February, 927 persons were disembarked in Lampedusa (434) and Augusta (493). New arrivals departed from Libya and mainly originate from sub-Saharan African countries and Morocco, but also include persons from Bangladesh and Pakistan. On 09 February, 91 Iraqi and Iranian nationals (including many families and 31 UASC) arrived in Apulia, having departed from Greece two days earlier. The overall most common countries of origin among 2017 arrivals to Italy include Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea and Nigeria.
The Spanish Civil Guard and the Spanish Rescue Agency have confirmed to UNHCR that an inflatable boat, reportedly carrying five persons (all males originating from sub-Saharan African countries) trying to reach Spanish shores from Morocco, capsized very close to a beach in Tarifa, Spain on the morning of 12 February. Three persons were able to reach shore and were assisted by the Red Cross, while two others remain missing.
This incident at sea occurs in the context of increasing sea arrivals to the Andalusian coast, where over 1,200 persons arrived by sea since the beginning of 2017 despite unfavorable weather conditions. This represents a 200% of increase compared to the same period last year. In 2017 so far, some 20 persons were reported dead or missing in the Western Mediterranean of the 256 dead/missing in the entire Mediterranean Sea.
Situation in Greece
Efforts to alleviate overcrowding at sites and Reception and Identification Centres (RICs) on the Aegean islands continued with further transfers of asylum-seekers to the mainland and to improved accommodation shelters. Between 04 and 10 February, 507 people were transferred from the islands to the mainland (305 Lesvos, 124 Chios, 68 Samos, seven Leros, and three Rhodes), including 129 referred to KEPOM and 239 placed in UNHCR accommodation.
From 01 June 2016 to 10 February 2017, UNHCR had assisted the transfer to improved accommodation of 5,388 people, including 2,286 under UNHCR’s Accommodation Scheme, 1,133 through KEPOM, and provided 1,969 ferry tickets to those eligible. By 07 February 2017, a total of 25,439 people had benefited from UNHCR’s Relocation and Accommodation Scheme since the beginning of the programme and 19,309 places were available. However, despite infrastructure and accommodation interventions carried out by UNHCR and partners there are still sites which remain ill-equipped or overcrowded leaving residents exposed to protection and security risks.
Violent incidents between residents of sites on Samos and Leros were reported during the week, bringing fear for security and frustrations among refugees and migrants.
One of these incidents occurred during the night of 09-10 February at RIC Vathy impacting unaccompanied children (UAC) hosted there. UNHCR and Save the Children coordinated support to the UAC. UNHCR and the European Commission (EC) continued to strongly advocate for restriction of access and permanent police presence at the UASC level. Regular reports of altercations among communities residing in RICs such as Vathy highlight the need for more security to ensure a safe environment for all, especially those with specific needs such as UASC. UNHCR encourages the authorities and offers support for the establishment of more child friendly spaces and safe areas such as the one recently opened in RIC Vial on Chios.
During the week, UNHCR continued to regularly receive reports of incidents of self-harm, suicide attempts, and panic attacks on Samos. Overcrowding and cold/wet weather continue to be the main contributors to a difficult protection environment at RIC Vathy and the ‘extended area’. Onsite security and poor WASH conditions were of particular concern at sites such as RIC Vathy. With the aim to improve living conditions at RIC Vathy, UNHCR, through partner Samaritan’s Purse, has supported authorities in installing WASH containers and carrying out constructions works.
On Chios, UNHCR completed the roll-out of its cash distribution programme in all sites, on 8 and 9 February. In total, 628 cards were distributed, for the benefit of 977 people. In Greece, the decision to provide asylum-seekers with cash assistance was jointly made by UNHCR, the Ministry of Migration Policy, and the EC, as part of a holistic cash assistance programme introduced in Greece in 2016. The programme aims to provide all asylum-seekers registered in Greece with cash assistance by the end of March 2017.
The situation on the mainland for those residing in former warehouse sites in Northern Greece saw significant progress. UNHCR assisted with the full evacuation of two of these sites (Oreokastro and Karamanlis) and the partial evacuation of several other sites. In addition to the full evacuations, UNHCR continued supporting transfers of people to improved accommodation. UNHCR has expressed its concerns and opposition to the use of warehouses as accommodation sites and has continuously advocated for their closure.
UNHCR successfully organized a two-week participatory assessment, which took place in all sites in Attica and Andravida. The main concerns raised by the consulted population were about quality of food, health services, and the general living conditions in sites. Additionally, a carbon monoxide poisoning awareness campaign was conducted in Elliniko by UNHCR in cooperation with two community workers. UNHCR also organized a participatory assessment for the host neighbouring community, issues discussed included the relationship of the refugee community with the local population and the impact that the establishment of Andravida site had on the daily lives of the host community. Similar participatory assessments have started in Thessaloniki, Larissa, Ioannina, Chios and Leros. In total, over 150 focus group discussions are planned in 55 different sites, including camps, RICs, shelters, and urban areas.
Update on Returns from Greece to Turkey
One return operation was carried out from Greece to Turkey within the scope of the EU-Turkey Statement of 18 March 2016 during the reporting period. According to Greek authorities, 19 people (eight Pakistanis, five Nigerians, three Algerians, two Bangladeshi, and one Palestinian) were returned from Lesvos to Dikili on 10 February.
Two withdrew their applications for asylum in Greece, 16 received negative decisions of their asylum claim and one opted to not apply for asylum in Greece.
Overall, 889 persons were returned from Greece to Turkey as of 12 February 2017 under the 18 March EU-Turkey Statement.
Situation in Serbia
The estimated number of refugees and migrants present in Serbia throughout last week stood at 7,700. Of those present in the country, 86% were accommodated in 17 heated government shelters, while the rest were staying rough in Belgrade city centre or near the Hungarian border.
UNHCR and partners maintain presence at centres while providing protection assistance and monitoring, legal counselling on asylum in Serbia and support for coordination between authorities and humanitarian agencies.
UNHCR has carried on supporting the rapid refurbishment of the new Obrenovac centre near Belgrade.
Small groups of men and boys continue to make use of governmental transport from the Belgrade city centre, while some also went to Obrenovac spontaneously, requesting accommodation. The number of refugees and migrants (men and boys) accommodated in Obrenovac thus rose from 574 a week ago to 765. Accordingly, fewer men and boys appear to be sleeping rough in Belgrade city centre.
A second death caused by hypothermia this winter was confirmed last week. The body of a Pakistani man who was left behind by smugglers near the Serbian-Bulgarian border at the end of January was discovered by Serbian authorities. The authorities assisted with the transfer of his remains to his relatives in Western Europe.
Subotica TC sheltered 148 asylum-seekers and Sombor TC around 100, while only four male asylum-seekers camped at Horgos and seven at Kelebija border sites awaiting admission into Hungarian transit zones.
Around 250 unregistered migrant men from North African countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan were sleeping rough around Subotica, waiting to irregularly enter Hungary.
Over 150 asylum-seekers informed UNHCR and partners that they have been denied access to asylum procedures in Hungary, with some alleging maltreatment by Hungarian police and were pushed back to Serbia. In addition, over 30 in Croatia have been pushed back into Serbia. UNHCR also continued following up on reports of unlawful expulsions of asylum-seekers from Serbia to Bulgaria and FYR Macedonia.
During the week, Hungarian officials admitted 53 people into the transit zones at the border with Serbia granting them access to seek asylum in Hungary. In addition, the Hungarian police reported 32 apprehensions for irregular entry, while 329 people were prevented from crossing the green border and another 236 people were intercepted inside Hungary and escorted back to the other side of the border control fence. The border police, the military, Immigration and Asylum Office (IAO), the Constitution Protection Office (CPO), and the Government’s Office which provides legal information maintains presence inside the transit zones. UNHCR has been conducting daily visits to the transit zones and providing asylum-seekers with information and counselling on their rights and obligations, Dublin procedures and on the implications of the safe third country notion.
The Hungarian government has announced plans to change the border management system, including to introduce detention for all asylum-seekers while their asylum requests are assessed. The new system may be in breach of Hungary’s obligations under EU- and international law. UNHCR has previously issued Guidelines on the Applicable Criteria and Standards relating to the Detention of Asylum Seekers and Alternatives to Detention highlighting the various ways for governments to address irregular migration other than through detention.
Other principles highlighted in the guidelines include, respecting the right to seek asylum, detention must not be arbitrary and recognition of the special circumstances and needs of particular asylum-seekers.
Update on Relocation
No relocations from Italy occurred during the week. Total relocations from Italy since the beginning of the relocation scheme stands at 3,205 persons (8% of the initial 39,600 target). No UASC have been relocated from Italy yet. (Latest EC Figures)
A total of 188 asylum-seekers were relocated from Greece during the reporting period, to France (63), Ireland (39), Portugal (38), Belgium (32), Estonia (9) and Slovakia (7). There were 550 new pledges from France (400), Finland (100) and Bulgaria (50) during the reporting period. According to the latest figures provided by the EC, 8,874 persons have been relocated from Greece to other European countries since the beginning of the relocation scheme (13% of the initial 66,400 target).
EU Related Developments
On 06 February, at the Foreign Affairs Council, EU Ministers for Foreign Affairs discussed the Middle East peace process, as well as the situation in Ukraine, Egypt and Libya. Concerning Egypt, among other aspects, EU Ministers discussed cooperation in the field of migration. Regarding Libya, they emphasized the importance of the country regaining its stability. EU Ministers also adopted specific conclusions on Libya, whereby they “condemn human rights violations and abuses against migrants” while reiterating the need to “stem irregular migratory flows” along the Central Mediterranean and Libya’s role in that respect. They underlined in particular that, in line with the 3 February Valletta Declaration, priority would be given to the training of the Libyan Coast Guard.
On 06 February, the European Commission awarded EUR 3.9 million in emergency funding to Greece under the Internal Security Fund (ISF). The funding, to further support EU-financed action carried out by the Ministry of Defence, aims at improving reception conditions on the Greek islands. This includes the provision of catering and accommodation, the transportation of refugees and migrants on the islands, and support of emergency accommodation solutions, such as temporary accommodation in ships.
On 07 February, following a proposal by the EC on 25 January, the Council adopted a decision setting out a recommendation to prolong on-going temporary internal border controls in Austria, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway, under certain conditions, for a further three months.
On 08 February, the EC released the Ninth Report on Relocation and Resettlement. The report assess progress made on relocation and resettlement, while identifying areas for improvement.
On 08 February, UNHCR attended the Senior Officials’ Meeting on Migration in Valletta, which focused on EU-Africa cooperation. UNHCR welcomed the renewed commitments to implement the Valletta Action Plan, and called in particular for the full inclusion of refugees in all migration-related EU actions. For UNHCR’s speech.