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AYS Digest 27/8/21 Afghanistan, “Remember this: an oppressed journalist committed to democracy could not be saved”

GREECE: New deportation law tabled. UK: Priti Patel asks Afghans to wait for safe routes while government stops registrations for evacuation. DENMARK: Refugee board could overturn rejections for Afghans.

FEATURED: “Remember this: an oppressed journalist committed to democracy could not be saved”

As the world withdraws from Afghanistan, multiple civil society groups, NGOs, politicians and individuals have called for continued support of those fleeing the country. Human Rights Watch have issued a statement in light of the winding down of the evacuation, reminding world governments of their responsibilities to those they have worked with.

Many of those most committed to creating a better society, empowering women, and trying to hold the government to account are now in hiding, facing grave dangers. […]

The countries who have supported these activists have a responsibility to evacuate them as long as that is possible, and take other feasible measures to bring them and their families to safety after the evacuation has ended.

Some people’s families have even resorted to telling the Taliban that their loved ones are dead. People who have not been successfully evacuated have been told to get to a third country from which they can be rescued. This involves an overland journey, generally with limited supplies, to one of the bordering countries — Iran and Pakistan, which currently host approximately three million Afghans each. Pakistan has also threatened to close the border completely. Turkmenistan, which has militarised its border. Tajikistan, which has said it can provide 100,000 spaces. And Uzbekistan, which has been supporting the German evacuation but deploys strong rhetoric against ‘illegal entry.’

A further statement has been issued by Lesvos Solidarity, signed by many NGOs, stating that there are thought to be 5.5 million people internally displaced within Afghanistan itself and calling for:

1) Evacuation, resettlement and other safe routes to protection for Afghans — Evacuate as many as possible of the people facing immediate security risks, as quickly as possible.

2) Humanitarian assistance — Scale up provision of humanitarian assistance.

3) Re-establish security for the people of Afghanistan — Use the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and other EU external action, including diplomatic efforts, civilian crisis management, sanctions and other operational tools, to support security for Afghans and international peace negotiations.

4) Access to asylum in Europe — Ensure rapid access to fair asylum procedure; preparations should be made in Europe now.

5) Suspending deportations to Afghanistan — Halt deportations to Afghanistan.

A group of Mayors from around the world have also made a statement welcoming people from Afghanistan to their cities:

As mayors representing cities across the globe, we stand ready to immediately welcome Afghan refugees in our communities. We call on our national governments and the international community to urgently work with the global network of city leaders and civil society to expand pathways and provide humanitarian support now.

Safe routes for Afghans now!

SEA

Rescues and deaths at sea

A group of 27 people were rescued by Salvamento Maritimo 300km off Dhakla. On the boat, for dead bodies were found (one man, one woman, and two young girls).

On Thursday evening, 87 people were rescued southeast of Castillo de San Sebastián de Cádiz by Salvamento Maritimo. Ten more people were rescued from a boat heading towards the coast of Malaga and 12 people near the coast of Almeria.

As many as 100 people who were on board a boat in distress were taken to safety by the Italian coast guard not far from Lampedusa on Friday. According to Italian media reports, 76 of the people on board are minors.

On Friday, Seabird (the monitoring aircraft of the Sea-Watch organisation) spotted a capsized wooden boat in the central Mediterranean. Eleven people had climbed on top of it, while five others were in the water. Two nearby Italian tankers (Asso25 and Asso30) were notified, but did not respond immediately. When an overcrowded Libyan coast guard vessel approached the boat, some people were rescued, but not those who drifted away. Italian tanker Asso25 reached the scene and rescued more people, but as Sea Watch report, five people are still missing.

After three months of blockade, the Sea-Eye 4 left the port of Palermo and is now on its second mission to the central Mediterranean.

BULGARIA

More soldiers at Greek and Turkish borders

In the midst of the European panic over a new wave of arrivals following the fall of Kabul, Bulgaria announced on Thursday that “it would send between 400 to 700 soldiers to its borders with Greece and Turkey, to support around 1,000 border police officers already stationed there.” In 2021 alone, according to the interior ministry’s data, 590 people have been caught in Bulgaria, and 16,900 have been returned to neighbouring countries since the start of 2021. Accusations of pushbacks, abuse and discriminatory asylum practices are widespread.

GREECE

Arrivals

Franziska Grillmeier report that 30 people arrived on Lesvos on a rubber boat on Thursday. They have now been registered and are in the quarantine camp in Kara Tepe.

New ‘Deportation Bill’ tabled for discussion in Parliament

ECRE report that on 25th August, the Greek government tabled a bill amending deportation and return procedures, residence permits and asylum procedures. The bill has been met with severe criticism for eroding protection and introducing new fees and fines imposed on asylum seekers and the organisations supporting them.

In light of “systematic and indiscriminate” deportation decisions by police against asylum seekers and the failure of administrative courts to ensure legal scrutiny, the law lacks sufficient clarifications of procedures prior to return or deportation and fails to ensure the right of applicants to remain on Greek territory until the end of the asylum procedure. The organisations identify a risk of refoulement given the lack of assessment of the merits and limited appeal options in such discontinued cases. The bill suspends safeguards for people at risk of non-refoulement and does not reinstate humanitarian protection in the asylum process. The reduction of the maximum time limit for voluntary departure from one year to 120 days prevents “safeguarding ties and schooling of children,” with the organisations underlining that “the abrupt severance of those ties amounts to difficultly reparable harm”. Further, the introduction of a 150 euro fine against beneficiaries of international protection submitting a late application for renewal of their residency permit, and a 100 euro fee for every subsequent asylum application violates EU law.
… Further, the bill continues the ongoing crack-down on NGOs supporting asylum seekers and refugees as it introduces “restrictions and conditions on organisations active in competence areas of the Hellenic Coast Guard, flouts Law of the Sea obligations towards persons in distress and imposes strict criminal sanctions and fines of up to 2,000 € per person and 12,000 € per institution”.

“The proliferation of fees and fines against refugees and those who assist them in Greece goes beyond deterrence. Charging money for an asylum claim to be heard perverts the very nature of refugee protection.” (Legal and Advocacy Officer for RSA Minos Mouzourakis)

Discrimination and police abuse

Watch the video of Omar Alshakal, recounting his experience of discrimination when trying to take a ferry from Lesvos to Athens:

Journalists arrested on the border with Bulgaria

According to local media outlets, a British journalist and a Greek photographer were arrested in the ΖΑΠ, the security border area near Dikaion. Police claim they did not have the necessary permission to be there, while the journalists state they did. They will appear in court on the 1st of September.

EU Commission will not extend emergency funding of border security without monitoring mechanism in place

Media report that Greek authorities have requested an extension of the EU financial assistance for the Hellenic Coast Guard border operation. This time, the Directorate-General for Immigration and Home Affairs (DG HOME) of the Commission responded that there will be no additional funding if Greek authorities do not set up an independent mechanism to monitor and investigate the accusation of pushbacks against people on the move in the Aegean and on the Evros. This would be something similar to the Arbitrariness Investigation Authority set up by the Ombudsman to investigate allegations of police arbitrariness.

This is not a new request, nor one made only to Greece, as it is envisioned in the new Pact on Asylum and Migration. To receive EU funding, Croatia has implemented a similar mechanism, but it has been found to be far from independent. Instead, it is controlled by an inter-ministerial commission. Greece decided instead to respond negatively to the EU’s request. As reported in Greek media, a competent official stated that “Once the other member states have such a mechanism, as provided for in the new Pact on Immigration, we will build it.”

“Little Amal” on her way to Athens

On Friday, the 3,5m tall puppet Little Amal arrived in Greece. She is now in Ioannina and will arrive in Athens on Thursday, passing through Trikala, Larissa and Elefsina.

Little Amal was supposed to walk through the town of Meteora, famous for its hanging monasteries, but earlier this week the local council of Meteora, a municipality in central Greece, voted to ban Amal from walking through a village in the area. As media report, “the objection raised by several council members was that a puppet depicting a Muslim refugee should not be permitted to perform in a space of such importance to Greek Orthodox believers. The local bishop opposed the project for that reason, while a local heritage group complained that the initiative could bring more refugees to a country that has already taken in tens of thousands.

ALBANIA

A group of 121 people from Afghanistan land in Tirana

Media report that a first group of 121 people landed in Tirana on Friday morning and was then transferred to Durres, where they will be given temporary housing while waiting for the processing of their application to travel to the US. As we reported earlier in August, Albania has agreed to temporarily shelter around 4,000 Afghan refugees until their applications to go to the US are complete.

BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA

New project in Bihac

No Name Kitchen has started a collaboration with the local organisation U Pokretu and Italian group YaBasta Bologna; “The idea is as simple as operational: go where people on the move live, give them gloves, bags, and tools, and help them to clean the area. The positive reactions have been immediate. Those moments resulted in perfect occasions to spend time with the people, listen to them, get to know their stories, or simply have some fun together. After that, the tools to clean are distributed among the people to keep on cleaning and take care of their sites.

GERMANY

Fears of anti-migration backlash in run up to elections

In just one month, elections will be held in Germany to replace the current Chancellor, Angela Merkel. InfoMigrants report that the right wing party Alternative for Germany (AfD) are already campaigning hard to prevent people fleeing Afghanistan being welcomed to Germany. According to a recent poll, 10% of Germans support their stance. People with International Protection and Refugee status in Germany are concerned that this could lead to the next Chancellor taking a strong anti-immigration position, which could prevent them being granted citizenship or applying for family reunification.

DENMARK

Refugee board screen 77 rejected asylum claims from Afghan citizens

Media report that this week the Danish Refugee Board has begun screening cases of at least 77 people from Afghanistan who had previously been rejected and were due to be deported.

The Refugee Board’s decision is based on the uncertainty about the security situation in Afghanistan, including how the Taliban will act, writes the head of the secretariat at the Refugee Board, Stig Torp Henriksen … The board is now screening the cases to assess whether some of the cases should be resumed and possibly reversed.”

EU / FRONTEX

Frontex Fondamental Rights Officer publishes their first ever report

The first ever annual report by the Frontex Fundamental Rights Officer has finally been published. It covers the activities of the agency in 2020.

Containing 289 references to “fundamental rights” in just 28 pages, it must signal a discontinuity in the neglect of human rights we have witnessed so far. Or not? Wait for our Frontex Special coming out on Sunday! For now:

UK

Patel’s imaginary safe routes

While Priti Patel is urging Afghans not to fly to the UK, but to wait for ‘safe routes’, hundreds of Britons have signed up with charities to host people being resettled from Afghanistan in this last week, media report.

Hummingbird Refugee Project is looking for help housing two teenage brothers in London.

WORTH READING

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Are You Syrious?

News digests from the field, mainly for volunteers and people on the move, but also for journalists, decision makers and other parties.