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AYS News Digest 21/01/21: Poland’s top court rules media ban at border illegal, but ban will likely remain

Data breach could threaten 500,000 vulnerable people // NGOs ask ICC to investigate crimes in Libya, Med // 11 people drown off Tunisia

Are You Syrious?

Jan 22 · 8 min read

Soldiers at the Kuźnica border crossing in Poland in November 2021. (Photo: Irek Dorozanski / DWOT, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Poland’s Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling earlier this week on the highly controversial media ban at its Belarusian border, saying that restricting press access to the border zone was illegal and violated the country’s constitution.

The media ban has been in effect since last September, when larger numbers of people on the move started entering Poland from Belarus and Poland declared a state of emergency. The central government shut down a designated strip of land at the border to prevent anyone who was not a resident of the area from entering the zone. This included doctors, aid volunteers and journalists.

Tuesday’s ruling saw the judges note that the Polish constitution guarantees “the right to circulate freely on Polish territory” and “to collect and publish information.” Judges said of the media that “it is not justifiable to state that this particular professional group threatens” the state.

In fact, the Supreme Court found that denying entry to the zone is contrary to the Constitution, which prohibits limiting rights related to the protection of life and human dignity. The Council of Ministers, which imposed the ban, does not have the right to do so, the Court said.

Importantly, the Court also emphasized that the ban violated the protection of human rights, as the Polish Red Cross could not enter the border zone to give medical aid. The Council of Ministers’ move also violated the right to freedom of movement within the country, the Court ruled.

Signs along the Polish-Belarusian border, near the Bug river by the town of Niemirów in 2014. (Photo: Grzegorz W. Tężycki, CC BY-SA 4.0)

The case in the landmark ruling stems from the arrests last September of three journalists, one from Agence France-Presse in Warsaw and two from the German-French TV ARTE, who entered the zone of the state of emergency.

The journalists were filming in border towns last autumn when they got lost in a rural area and inadvertently crossed into the restricted zone near the town of Szudziałów. They were arrested by a police patrol when trying to leave the area and detained for more than 24 hours. The group’s cameras were also confiscated.

A judge in a district court in Sokółka later found them guilty of violating aspects of the state of emergency, but applied leniency and did not fine or imprison the journalists. In November, Poland’s Commissioner for Civil Rights Protection, Marcin Wiącek, took the case to the Supreme Court, arguing not only that the journalists did not violate any law, but that the media ban itself violated the constitution.

While the ruling is certainly welcome news, legal experts have noted that the Supreme Court does not have the ability to abolish laws, and therefore cannot turn over the state of emergency or its border zone ban. However, “the ruling will have to be taken into account by the courts in case of similar trials,” Konrad Siemaszko, a legal expert at the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, told journalists on Wednesday.


11 people drown off Tunisian coast

Eleven people on the move drowned this week off the coast of Tunisia after a shipwreck near the Kerkenna Islands off the Tunisian city of Sfax, media reported. One of the dead is a 10-year-old girl.

Tunisia coast guard authorities announced they recovered four of the eleven bodies on Friday, 21 January. Twenty-one people were rescued alive. The boat had set out from the Tunisian coast on Wednesday. All the people aboard are said to be Tunisian nationals.

While the vast majority of boats heading for Europe leave from Libya, increasingly more people are leaving from Tunisia and hail from the country itself. Last November, Tunisian authorities intercepted some 200 people as they tried to leave Tunisia, among them 111 Tunisians.


NGOs ask International Criminal Court to investigate crimes against PoM in Libya and Central Med

Three European nongovernmental organizations — Italy’s StraLi, the Netherlands’ UpRights and France’s Adala for All — have filed a request to the International Criminal Court in the Hague to investigate crimes against people on the move in Libya and the Central Mediterranean.

The NGOs say the crimes should be investigated as war crimes under Article 8 of the International Criminal Court Statute and as crimes against humanity under Article 7.

While the letter focuses on crimes perpetrated by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard and other Libyan authorities, it also notes that Italian and Maltese authorities are complicit in these crimes by cooperating with the Libyan Coast Guard to push people back to Libya, where they are returned to detention centres and subjected to torture and degrading treatment.

The support by the EU countries “qualifies as a form of contribution to the crimes committed against migrants in [Libyan] detention centers,” UpRights said in a statement this week seen by media.

There is a “massive amount of evidence of pervasive international crimes on Europe’s doorstep,” noted Ramadan Amani from Adala for All.

Evacuations, Rescues & Pushbacks at sea


29 people trapped on small island in middle of Evros river for days

Many people have not had access to the asylum system for 50 days in Greece, new report says

There has been no access to asylum for the majority of people on mainland Greece, Crete and Rhodes for nearly two months, according to a new policy brief published by Mobile Info Team, a partner organization of the Border Violence Monitoring Network.

Changes to Greece’s asylum system last November are at fault, MIT says. New policies have seen the termination of the Skype pre-registration system for people to register asylum claims. Now people must go to two reception centres on the mainland, but those centres are not yet operational, MIT says. Thus, people cannot register asylum claims.

“Temporarily blocking access to asylum not only leaves people in need of protection at risk, undocumented and destitue, it also violates national and international law,” MIT wrote in the policy brief. “Even when such reception centres are opened, this policy will force people into de facto detention under prison-like conditions.”

More people entered Greece via the mainland than the sea in 2021, MIT noted. The NGO said its projected analysis forecasts that Greece would need to register between 30,160 and 44,000 people annually on the mainland alone. “This policy change will therefore undoubtedly have a significant impact on the lives of tens of thousands of people seeking safety in Europe,” the group said.

“The abrupt change in policy has left people in an information void. There are currently no details available on how and when individuals can enter the asylum system,” MIT noted. “It is deeply concerning that the Greek authorities are denying people access to the asylum system without offering any interim measures or information on how and when people can expect to register their asylum claims.”

Greece honors Fabrice Leggeri, head of Frontex

In an unusual turn of events — but maybe not so unusual, given the current state of Greek migration policies — the Greek government has chosen to honor Fabrice Leggeri for his role in tackling the ‘migration crisis’ in Greece.

On visit to Samos, French politician interrogates camp resident

In front of numerous international media, Valérie Pécresse, a French politician currently serving as the president of the regional council of Île-de-France, interrogated a camp resident as to why he came to Europe.

A video of the encounter, in French, can be viewed here.


EU’s ‘Smart Borders’ system to cost €300 million.

Read more here, in German.

EU delivers 2.2 million Covid vaccines to Afghan refugees in Iran

A shipment of 2.2 million doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine arrived in Tehran’s airport on Wednesday, media reported. The doses, sent by the European Commission at the request of Iran, are meant for Afghan refugees in the country.

The European Commission coordinated the delivery of the shipment to Iran and financed 75% of its transportation costs, while Spain funded the donation, media said.


Data of 500,000 vulnerable people compromised in cyber-attack on Red Cross Red Crescent

A cyber-attack against data stored by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was detected this week, possibly compromising the sensitive information of some 500,000 vulnerable people, according to a press release from the ICRC.

The data originated from at least 60 Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies around the world. More than 515,000 people, including those separated from their families due to conflict, migration and disaster, missing persons and their families, and people in detention, have had their information security compromised.

“An attack on the data of people who are missing makes the anguish and suffering for families even more difficult to endure. We are all appalled and perplexed that this humanitarian information would be targeted and compromised,” said Robert Mardini, ICRC’s director-general. “This cyber-attack puts vulnerable people, those already in need of humanitarian services, at further risk.”

The source of the attack, which targeted a Swiss company the ICRC contracts to store data, remains unknown. The data has not yet been shared publicly, to the ICRC’s knowledge. The organization issued a public appeal to the hackers:

“Your actions could potentially cause yet more harm and pain to those who have already endured untold suffering. The real people, the real families behind the information you now have are among the world’s least powerful. Please do the right thing. Do not share, sell, leak or otherwise use this data.”


Rule of Silence (New Internationalist)

A hard-line regime in Greek refugee camps is making life harder for the migrants within them, as well as aid workers who want to help.

Rule of silence

Rule of silence When an NGO volunteer at the Mavrovouni refugee camp on Lesvos, Greece, realized the food handouts had…

The Ghetto Is On Fire! The Struggle Of Migrant Agricultural Workers For Autonomy In Sicily (Border Criminologies)

The movements of migrant agricultural workers around the Italian countryside define the map of modern forms of exploitation and resistance in the Italian agro-industrial sector. It is a map of labour mobility that is parallel, and at the same time overlapping, with the trajectories of people on the move, especially the ones arriving in Europe via the Central Mediterranean.

The Ghetto Is On Fire! The Struggle Of Migrant Agricultural Workers For Autonomy In Sicily

Guest post by activists from Contadinazioni-Fuorimercato. Contadinazioni and Fuorimercato are an association and a…

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

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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.

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