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AYS Daily Digest 03/03/2021: Iuventa crew and others may face legal charges for SAR work

Anti-racism group in Cyprus faces closure // Desperation after evictions in Greece // Rescues off the Canaries // Calls for volunteers in France // First meeting of Frontex working group // New judicial cooperation over human trafficking

Photo source: Twitter

FEATURE — Under fire for search and rescue in the central Med, 1,309 days later

Yesterday in the digest we celebrated the wonderful news that Sea Watch 4 was freed from detention and Sea Watch 3 was given a safe port for the 363 people on board. But every triumph in one arena, it seems, always comes with a setback in another.

The next setback came the following day, with the news that Italian prosecutors have completed a probe into three NGOs and 21 individuals for allegedly aiding illegal immigration in the central Mediterranean—“aiding illegal immigration” being, of course, search and rescue (SAR) work.

Now, Save the Children, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and the German organization Jugend Rettet are under legal scrutiny for SAR operations they conducted in 2016 and 2017. The Iuventa ship, which was running migrant-rescue operations for Jugend Rettet, was seized by authorities in Lampedusa in 2017, some 1,309 days ago.

“This is a political declaration of intent to criminalise solidarity, and it has a deadly consequence: people die, when they could be saved,” Iuventa wrote in a press release following the news of the probe.

The prosecutors department in the Sicilian city of Trapani has notified the three NGOs and the 21 individuals that they have concluded their xczv investigation, a move that usually precedes the request of indictments.

The crew of the Iuventa could face up to 20 years in jail for their work in rescuing more than 14,000 people from drowning in a mass grave.

In its press release, Iuventa maintains its innocence and points out several major flaws in the prosecution’s case:

The main so-called “eyewitness” who collected evidence against the Iuventa crew publicly revoked his testimony. He then stated to the press that he had been promised a job within the Italian right party Lega Nord in exchange for his witness statement. Furthermore, through a detailed reconstruction of events, renowned team of scientists “Forensic Architecture,” disproved the theses of the prosecution in a public analysis of Iuventa operations.

Sascha Girke, the former Head of Mission onboard the Iuventa said: “Although we stand accused, it is us who accuse European authorities of refusing safe passage and of letting people drown.”

This terrible news about Iuventa comes just on the heels of the announcement of the investigation by Italian prosecutors in Ragusa into Mediterranea Saving Humans and the Maersk Etienne tanker for their SAR work, which you read more about in yesterday’s digest.


Amnesty International calls for protection of anti-racism organization

In a statement, the international human rights organization Amnesty International is calling for the safeguarding of a leading anti-racism and pro-migrant organization that is facing the risk of being shut down on the island nation of Cyprus.

The organization, the Movement for Equality, Support, Anti-Racism (KISA), founded in 1998, states its mission as “the promotion of an all-inclusive, multicultural society, free of racism, xenophobia and discrimination,” according to its website.

KISA works in the areas of migration, racism, and trafficking through awareness-raising campaigns for the public as well as lobbying efforts. The group also operates a migrant and refugee centre that provides free information, support and mediation services to people-on-the-move, victims of trafficking and racism, and ethnic minorities in general.

KISA’s Executive Director Doros Polykarpou told Amnesty International:

We work to protect human rights in our country, under very difficult circumstances. We expect democratic governments to respect our role and work. The closure of KISA would strike a blow at the fight for human rights in Cyprus and deprive migrants and refugees living in the country of a significant ally and supporter.

Cypriot law changed in August 2020, making it easier for the Ministry of Interior to quickly dissolve organizations that did not comply with new regulations. The Ministry removed KISA from the official registry of organizations in December, saying that the group failed to submit the required information to authorities. Now, the Cyprus Administrative Court will hold a hearing in the appeal brought by KISA against the Interior Ministry’s decision to cancel their registration and dissolve the organization, according to Amnesty’s press release.

“[T]he de-registration and the proceedings for the dissolution of KISA are an excessive and disproportionate interference with their right to freedom of association and raise serious concerns over the shrinking space for civil society in Cyprus,” Amnesty wrote in its statement.


Weekly roundup from SOS Mediterranee

Check out the weekly roundup of news on the Central Med from SOS Mediterranee, ‘Eyes on the Central Med.’

Event alert!

Borderline Europe and Flüchtlingsrat Berlin are holding a free Facebook live event on Friday, 5 March at 10:00 am UTC to celebrate the release of their latest report, EU AD HOC RELOCATION: A lottery from the sea to the hotspots and back to unsafety.

The report is based on interviews that were conducted with protection seekers rescued at sea, and shows that people who are seeking protection in Europe are being denied fundamental rights and uncovers the degrading, non-transparent and inhumane procedures of the relocation mechanism. The event organizers will also talk about the current situation of relocated people in Germany and share their demands.


Italian university to host refugee students from Ethiopia

European University Institute, an international university located near Florence, is the newest signatory to a UN project called ‘University Corridors for Refugees,’ (UNICORE) in which Ethiopian students are given scholarships to study at Italian universities.

UNICORE, now in its third year, includes 24 participating universities hosting up to 43 Ethiopian students. The students will receive a full scholarship, and UNICORE will also cover travel costs, visa-related expenses, and provide a study grant to help students during their time in Italy.


Abandonment of people-on-the-move in Greece

The recent mass evictions following the government’s shutdown of the Filoxenia housing program continue to have ripple effects.

The Filoxenia program provided 6,898 places to asylum seekers, with temporary accommodation at state-leased hotels. In the past 15 months, 79 hotels had been leased under Filoxenia. The hotels hosted vulnerable groups from the Aegean islands, including families with young children.

Evictions have already taken places in Thessaloniki, Athens and Corinth, where people now find themselves on the streets with nowhere to go.

“We are receiving dozens of calls from desperate people looking for food and a place to stay,” Vasilika Moon of the Filoxenia branch in Corinth told Info Migrants. “The majority of them still don’t have official documents, so they can’t travel or be included in other help programs.”

But meanwhile, Prime Minister Mitsotakis has praised his government’s “extremely encouraging” efforts to manage migration flows.

In a meeting with the mayors of Mytilene, Chios and Eastern Samos, Mitsotakis said that the country “will never return to a logic where our islands will be burdened with extremely high numbers of refugees and migrants.” He also praised the EU’s new asylum pact.

Important news for Lesvos RICs

The Minister of Migration and Asylum Notis Mitarakis has written a letter to the mayor of Mytilene, Stratis Kytelis, announcing several important matters.

First, the entire population of Kara Tepe has received a decision on their asylum cases. The Kara Tepe camp will be closed and “handed over to the citizens in the coming weeks.” ESTIA apartments will also close by November 2021. The new 240-acre RIC will have a capacity for 3,000 people.

Mitarakis also wrote that in the last six months, 6,000 people have been transferred from Lesvos, a 58% decrease from January 2020 to January 2021.

Second day of Ritsona protests for ID card access

Covid restrictions for asylum office services

The Greek asylum office has announced restrictions for its services due to the worsening of Covid-19 in the country. Until 7 March, the office can only be accessed by appointment.

Transfers to Germany

Another 106 recognized refugees left Lesvos for Hannover, Germany, part of the larger group of 344 people who have left for Germany over the past two weeks.


Newsletter from Info Park

During past week Ministry of Interior organized two more large-scale police raids where 83 refugees and other migrants were found and apparently taken to reception centers. Apart from the usual gathering places such as parks and streets in Savamala area as well as river banks, the action included hostels and apartments for rent. Even though MoI claimed that they gathered only migrants who were „illegally“ in Serbia, i.e. without police-issued registration papers or ID cards issued in the reception centers, the migrants testified that’s not true. A few of them shared with Info Park that they possessed ID cards from refugee centers near Belgrade, but the police took them away and told them they would be transferred to Presevo either way. The families found in these actions were taken to OSP Miksaliste, but were allowed to leave afterwards and were not taken to reception centers. Apart from these large-scale actions police regularly patrolled the area and racially profiled passers-by, stopping those who „looked like migrants“ and asked for their IDs. Those who were not in possession of any document were arrested and taken to the police station.

Despite these actions, the number of refugees and other migrants in Belgrade has been growing in the past week, including newly arrived families and unaccompanied boys. At the same time, the number of attempts of irregular border crossing has increased as well. Last week Hungarian authorities prevented 754 attempts on a single night. Apart from Hungary, a majority of refugees are headed to Romania, even though the success rate is even smaller than in Hungary. According to some refugees, this part of the road is among the most expensive, as the rate for crossing from Serbia to Romania can reach up to €1500 per person.

Local media reported that a group of ten people, including four children, was found in a truck trailer not far from Bujanovac, South Serbia. According to Customs, this is not the first case that migrants, who are trying to reach some of the developed EU countries, “find themselves in Serbia by mistake”. After the interview with the authorities, the people on the move did not know they got into a truck whose final destination is Serbia, because truck transporting customs cleared goods for a company whose headquarters are in the vicinity of Bujanovac. All of them were accommodated in the reception center in the south.

The Belgrade Centre for Human Rights presented its annual report “Right to Asylum in the Republic of Serbia 2020” on Wednesday, 24 February 2021. A total of 2,830 people expressed the intention to seek asylum in 2020, whereas 12,937 expressed such intention in 2019. The drastic difference can be ascribed to the fact that the Ministry of Internal Affairs did not perform the registration of people intending to seek asylum, as they would ordinarily do, mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, 144 people applied for asylum with the Asylum Office, which upheld 29 applications.


34 people rescued off the Canary Islands

The Spanish maritime rescue service rescued 34 people 1.5 kilometers off the coast of Lanzarote, the northernmost of the Canary Islands. Aboard were 33 men and one woman, according to media reports. They will be brought to port in Arrecife.

Aerial crews are trying to locate another boat, but it has not yet been found.

Report: More than 10,000 Moroccan undocumented minors in Spain

According to a new report from Save the Children, there are over 10,000 undocumented Moroccan minors residing in Spain.

These children make up more than 50% of all young undocumented migrants from Africa, and approximately 7% of all undocumented migrant children in Spain.

Minors face immense hurdles in accessing social services, including education health care, and housing. Additionally, they are at great risk of exploitation at the hands of human or sex traffickers.


Norway welcomes 35 Syrian transfers from Greece

The Scandanavian country welcomed 35 Syrians from Greek camps at the Oslo airport on Wednesday afternoon, the first relocation to Norway since joint cooperation between IOM, UNHCR and UNICEF began in April 2020.

The group consists of seven families, with a total of 21 children. They have now been received by the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration who will process their claim for international protection.


First meeting of Frontex working group

The European Parliament’s Frontex Scrutiny Working Group (FSWG) will meet on Thursday in Brussels with the agency’s Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri and Commissioner Ylva Johansson.

For the first four months, the FSWG will carry out a fact-finding investigation, gathering information and evidence in regards to alleged violations of fundamental rights involving Frontex.

However, the meeting will take place behind closed doors.

New judicial cooperation on human trafficking

The EU will seek agreements between EU judicial cooperation agency Eurojust and 13 non-EU countries to enable cooperation on “serious crime, notably terrorism, organised crime, illicit trafficking of firearms, drug trafficking, trafficking in human beings and migrant smuggling, and cybercrime,” according to Statewatch.

The 13 countries are: Algeria, Argentina, Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Colombia, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey. Many of these countries have poor human rights records.

For example, the European Commission criticized Turkey in its 2020 report for a “systemic lack of independence of the judiciary” and a “serious backsliding of the respect for democratic standards, the rule of law, and fundamental freedoms.”

“We have to strengthen Eurojust’s role both inside and outside the EU,” European Commissioner for Justice Mr Didier Reynders said in a press release.

“Criminals don’t stop at European borders; they act globally. With an effective cooperation between EU countries and partner countries, we can catch more criminals and make the world safer,” he continued.

This “externalisation” of the EU is one tactic the bloc uses to try to halt migration before people even reach its shores and borders by effectively trapping them in unsafe or hostile countries.

Read more about what these agreements could mean for human rights in those 13 countries on Statewatch.

Frontex trainings

Frontex officers also trained coast guards in Morroco.

Unfortunate anniversaries


Detention centers in Libya

An interesting guest post from the Oxford’s Faculty of Law ‘Border Criminologies’ blog that examines the shift in the detained migrant population and the number of detention centres in Libya in recent years. Paolo Cuttitta is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Research Fellow at the IDPS, Université Sorbonne Paris Nord whose current research project investigates the relationship between the work of NGOs/CSOs in Libya and the EU-externalisation of migration control.

Human Rights Watch on Europe’s role in ending mass death at sea

Judith Sunderland, Human Rights Watch Associate Director, Europe and Central Asia Division, has written a call to action for European authorities in regards to the situation in the Central Mediterranean. She writes that the “cycle of suffering and death can be averted” if Europe expands its governmental search and rescue efforts, ceases to hinder ongoing SAR operations by NGOs, evacuates people from Libya directly, and of course, expands safe and legal channels for refugees and other migrants.

Interview with Hope Barker on Evros pushbacks

Read this in-depth interview with activist Hope Barker on pushbacks in Northern Greece, conducted by the student newspaper at the University of Bern.

Deutsche Welle video on Canary Islands

Watch this short video by Deutsche Welle about the current situation on the Canary Islands.

Hosting people-on-the-move in the UK

A positive story about a Norwich couple who host refugees and asylum-seekers in their home.

The UK’s second class

Read the latest post from David Allen Green’s Law and Policy blog about how restrictive citizenship laws in the UK are creating a new second class.

Find daily updates and special reports on our Medium page.

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Are You Syrious?

Are You Syrious?

Daily news digests from the field, mainly for volunteers and refugees on the route, but also for journalists and other parties.