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Fundamental rights and the EU Hotspot approach (October 2017)


Refugees and asylum seekers experience a broad range of rights violations when they arrive to the so-called hotspots in Italy and Greece. Additionally the Greek hotspots have become a form of deterrence policy, a new Danish Refugee Council (DRC) study of the implementation of the EU hotspot approach shows.

Gaps in information, lack of legal assistance, under-identification of vulnerable persons, restricted freedom of movement and de facto detention. This is just some of the conditions which asylum seekers and refugees arriving in the hotspots in Italy and Greece meet, according to a legal assessment of the current operation of the EU hotspot approach. The result is a wide range of fundamental rights issues in the hotspots, which are addressed in the study through a number of recommendations. While the EU Hotspot Approach in itself is not a problem, the way that it is implemented is.

The study includes a more in-depth look into the Moria hotspot on the Greek island of Lesvos. It shows poor humanitarian standards with massive overcrowding. Current figures estimate a staggering 6250 asylum seekers and migrants currently residing in Moria, against a capacity of 1800. At the time of the study, only one latrine was functioning, water supplies were insufficient, and thousands of asylum seekers were living in tents.

The study also examines the role of the hotspot approach in the proposed reform of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) and the hotspot approach as a form of externalization and deterrence. DRC argues that – in particularly on the Greek islands – many of the current protection gaps and challenges are derived from the fact that the approach in its implementation constitute a shift away from a territorial reception towards a model of containment at the EU’s external borders coupled with policies of deterrence, not least due to its inter-linkage with the EU-Turkey deal in the Greek context.

Christian Friis Bach, Secretary General of the Danish Refugee Council, states that “the first priority must and should be the protection of people seeking safety from conflict and persecution. The current conditions in the hotspots are not acceptable and we must strengthen the effective and rights-sensitive reception, identification and registration in the hotspots. There must be access to legal assistance and asylum procedures in safe and dignified surroundings with adequate humanitarian standards.” He further underlines, that “the EU must find common solutions, and accept a fair share of the responsibility to provide international protection to those in need”.

The DRC recommendations and the future role of the EU hotspot approach were debated at a panel discussion in Brussels on Friday 10 November 2017 with relevant EU institutions, Member States, knowledge institutions and NGOs. The event allowed for timely discussion with key EU stakeholders in advance of the release of European Commission Guidelines for the implementation of the EU Hotspot Approach expected this week, and for highlighting the deteriorating situation on the Greek islands.