Europe’s Refugee Emergency Response - Update #15, 11-17 December 2015
The European Commission (EC) enacted four major decisions during this reporting period. It:
1) proposed the creation of a European Border and Coast Guard and reinforced Frontex’s mandate in external border management and return, renaming it “the European Border and Coast Guard Agency”. The Border Package establishes a European Border and Coast Guard, targets a revision of the Schengen Borders Code and a Regulation on a European travel document for the return of irregularly staying third-country nationals. These proposals will go through legislative procedure and require agreement before they can come into force;
2) recommended the establishment of a Voluntary Humanitarian Admission Scheme (VHAS) with Turkey, in the framework of the Joint Action Plan of Action approved on 15 October. The scheme foresees an efficient and voluntary scheme allowing the humanitarian admission from Turkey into the European Union (EU) of persons in need of protection, displaced by the conflict in Syria. UNHCR, with the assistance of the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and IOM, will facilitate the implementation of the scheme; 3) proposed the temporary suspension of Sweden’s participation in the EU relocation mechanism and has published progress reports on Greece, Italy and the Western Balkans in the context of the European Agenda on Migration;
4) decided to send letters of formal notice to Croatia, Greece and Italy for failing to fully transpose and implement the common European asylum system.
With the winter approaching, more shipwrecks are occurring. According to the Hellenic Coast Guard, the dead toll is 223 and the missing 148, from 1 January to 14 December 2015. A shipwreck occurred on the sea border between Greece and Turkey near Kastelorizo Island on 12 December. However, the most recent one was on 16 December, when a wooden boat sank off the coast of Molyvos, 1.3 miles north of Eftalou, Lesvos Island. Two people, including one child and one man of 80 years old, were confirmed dead and dozens are missing. Ninety persons were reportedly rescued so far. The Hellenic Coast Guard, Frontex, MSF, Greenpeace, and private boats are participating in the ongoing rescue efforts.
So far this year, there were 797,520 arrivals in Greece, including 19,302 during the reporting period. The situation remained calm in Eidomeni, where Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis continue to be allowed to cross into the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. On 15 December, the Alternate Minister for Migration Policy and Mayors of Southern Athens agreed to transfer of the refugees and migrants staying at the temporary facility in Palaio Faliro to the hockey stadium at Elliniko, which has a capacity of 850 people.
The facility in Palaio Faliro is planned to be closed on 17 December. The Greek Prime Minister, Mr. Alexis Tsipras, accompanied by the Alternate Minister for Migration Policy Mouzalas, visited Chios and Leros islands on 16 December to inspect the hotspots under construction. After his visit, the Greek Premier stated that Greece succeeded in fulfilling its obligations, but now it is the EU partners’ turn to proceed with the relocation of 66,000 asylum-seekers from Greece; provide meaningful assistance with returns; and implement the agreement between EU and Turkey. In a newspaper statement, prior to the EU summit of 17 December, the Greek Prime Minister, Mr. Alexis Tsipras, said that Greece has already made all necessary moves for the implementation of the readmission agreements, which will be re-affirmed at the EU Summit. UNHCR and the EC have launched a programme to provide 20,000 additional reception places for asylum-seekers in Greece through rent subsidies and host family programmes. The places provided under this scheme are an important part of the EU emergency relocation programme, providing temporary accommodation in Greece for applicants who are awaiting relocation to other EU Member States. The declaration was signed by UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees - Operations, Mr. George Okoth-Obbo, Greece's Alternate Minister of Interior and Administrative Reconstruction, Mr. Ioannis Mouzalas, and, on behalf of the EC, Vice-President, Ms. Kristalina Georgieva.
During her stay in Athens, EC Vice-President Georgieva visited Elaionas site accompanied by Athens Mayor and the Secretary General of the Greek Ministry on Migration and discussed ways to accelerate the implementation of support programmes. Some 21,292 people arrived in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The Ministry of Interior (MoI) now has sufficient resources to register almost all individuals. Some 173 people with no documents or in possession of forged documents were returned to the Greek border. While they were all counselled on the asylum procedure, and their right to apply, no one did. Winterization activities in the reception centre in Gevgelija and in Tabanovce were intensified.
The lack of sufficient electricity remained a challenge in both sites with the advent of colder weather. In a meeting with Mr. Donald Tusk (President of the European Council), Mr. Tomislav Nikolic (President of Serbia), and Mr. Johannes Hahn (EU Enlargement Commissioner) on 16 December in Brussels, President Ivanov re-iterated that the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia only has the capacity to receive 2,000 refugees for short-term transit, as was pledged during the Leaders’ meeting held in Brussels in October, and will not put in place any longer-term stay capacity. Some 21,558 refugees and migrants entered Serbia.
The majority were Syrian families with small children, followed by single men from Afghanistan and Iraq. The weather turned colder but remained mostly dry. Enhancement of heated emergency shelter and waiting capacities was progressing in all sites. On 14 December, at the second EU-Serbia Inter-governmental Conference (IGC) in Brussels, the first EU accession negotiations entered a new stage by opening the substantive talks on chapters 32 (on financial control) and 35 (on normalization of Belgrade-Pristina relations), thus deepening the level of partnership of Serbia with the EU. The Serbian delegation at the IGC was led by the Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic. In Hungary, there were 34 new arrivals.
The Police apprehended 36 refugees and migrants after irregular entry, mainly from Serbia. The total number of arrivals in 2015 has reached 391,245 and there are 176,892 applications registered. So far in December the Hungarian authorities have registered over 100 new asylum claims. According to Government data, as of 17 December 703 individuals are detained in asylum detention centers and in various prison facilities.
On 10 December, the EC addressed a formal letter of notice to Hungary opening an infringement procedure concerning the recently adopted asylum legislation. In its press release the Commission notes that the Hungarian legislation in some instances is incompatible with the EU law, specifically in relation to the Recast Procedures Directive and the Directive on the right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings.
From 11 to 17 December, 24,189 people arrived from Serbia to the Winter Reception and Transit Centre (WRTC) in Slavonski Brod, Croatia. All were from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. The number of refugees and migrants arriving in Croatia since 16 September reached 500,000.
On 14 December, UNHCR, the Croatian MoI and Croatian Red Cross co-organized an annual two-day conference on International Protection in Osijek, which was attended by more than hundred representatives of government institutions, international organizations and civil society. The conference put emphasis on the influx of refugees and migrants, prevailing challenges as well as the response by the Government of Croatia, international organizations and civil society. There were 23,133 new arrivals to Slovenia, mostly families and individuals from Afghanistan and Syria. There were only a few families from Iraq.
Following discussion on the creation of a “mini-Schengen” by five EU member states, the Slovenian Prime Minister highlighted in Parliament that the “mini-Schengen will not come into existence and that Slovenia is implementing Schengen rules and will remain in the Schengen area”. There were 24,121 new arrivals to Austria. Austria has so far pledged 400 further places in the context of the EU Resettlement Programme, the third that Austria will conduct for Syrian refugees.
It was agreed to start with the process for the first 200 places in the first quarter of 2016. At the Slovenian-Austrian border the construction of a new screening centre directly at the border, where new arrivals shall be channeled through as of January, as well as the construction of a wire-netting fence (no barbwire) at both sides of the border crossing are in full swing. During the reporting period, over 810 refugees and migrants arrived by sea in Italy. Transfers under the EU relocation scheme took place of 14 Eritrean asylum-seekers to Finland and 10 Eritrean and Syrian asylum-seekers, as well as nuclear family members of different nationalities, to Portugal.