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Human rights of refugees and migrants – the situation in the Western Balkans

Doc. 14013: collection of written amendments | Doc. 14013 | 19/04/2016 | Final version

Caption: AdoptedRejectedWithdrawnNo electronic votes

ADraft Resolution

1In 2015, 856 000 people crossed the Aegean Sea from Turkey to the Greek islands, almost twenty times as many as arrived in 2014. Almost as many people arrived in the first two months of 2016 as in the first seven months of 2015 and there is every reason to expect that the level of arrivals will exceed last year’s. The overwhelming majority – more than 90% – continue to be nationals of refugee-producing countries, especially Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Those arriving in Greece and transiting through the Western Balkans may for the most part be refugees, but they do not wish to apply for asylum in any of these countries.
2Refugees and migrants entering the contiguous continental European Union via the Western Balkans is not a new phenomenon, and their number had begun rising significantly from as early as 2012. In August 2015, however, unprecedented numbers of arrivals led many of these countries unilaterally to change their policies, either by attempting to block irregular entry onto their territory, or by facilitating rapid transit across it. By September, the situation had stabilised, with a relatively safe route emerging from Greece to western Europe which, although physically demanding and no substitute for humanitarian pathways, was at least reasonably efficient.
3A contagious fear of the consequences of border closures further north, however, led the Western Balkan countries to raise increasingly restrictive barriers to entry: first by introducing “nationality screening”, then by introducing daily quotas on admission and, in the case of Austria, on the number of asylum applications accepted. By the end of February 2016, the Western Balkans route was in practice closed to all but a few hundred refugees and migrants per week, although the number of arrivals in Greece showed no sign of abating. There is now deliberate discrimination (nationality screening), deliberate denial of access to protection for arbitrary administrative reasons (daily quotas on admissions and acceptance of asylum applications) and deliberate failure to comply with binding international judicial decisions or authoritative advice not to return asylum seekers to countries that are known to be unable to provide effective protection (returns to Serbia, “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” and Greece).

In the draft resolution, paragraph 3, delete the following words: "and, in the case of Austria, on the number of asylum applications accepted."

4As a result, the humanitarian situation of the refugees and migrants in the Western Balkans has deteriorated and they are increasingly at risk of exploitation and abuse, notably by traffickers in human beings and migrant smugglers. Since August 2015 up until very recently, there have been regular reports suggesting the use of excessive force against refugees and migrants by police and security forces of “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, Croatia or Hungary at their borders. It is expected that within the near future, as many as 100 000 refugees and migrants will be trapped in Greece, which is well known to lack sufficient reception capacity and longer-term shelter and to have a dysfunctional asylum system; yet despite these serious deficiencies and their consequences for refugees and asylum seekers, other European Union member States have effectively failed to implement the agreement on relocation of asylum seekers from Greece and Italy.
5The Parliamentary Assembly is also concerned about the situation in Hungary. Hungary unilaterally erected razor-wire fences along its borders with Serbia and Croatia, thus closing itself off from the flow of refugees and migrants along the Western Balkans route towards Austria and redirecting it through Croatia and Slovenia. Hungary also introduced very restrictive asylum legislation, lacking essential procedural safeguards. Around half of the asylum seekers in Hungary are detained, sometimes in inadequate conditions. The Assembly considers that Hungary’s asylum procedures and detention policy appear to be incompatible with its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights (ETS No. 5), European Union law and the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, and that the anti-migrant public discourse of its government and other public authorities is incompatible with the fundamental values of the Council of Europe.

In the draft resolution, replace paragraph 5 with the following paragraph:

"In the absence of common EU solutions, Hungary took decisions at national level to restore order at its borders and to comply with EU law. In order to be able to protect the external borders of the EU and the Schengen area, Hungary erected fences along its borders with Serbia and Croatia, which is a legal obligation that has never been repealed. The official border crossing points, however, have always been open and fully operational. Also, the European Council stated in February that the EU needs to return to the practice of Members of the Schengen area fully applying the Schengen Borders Code and refusing entry at external borders to third-country nationals who do not satisfy the entry conditions or who have not made an asylum application despite having had the opportunity to do so."

Explanatory note

The paragraph as it stands is unbalanced and does not reflect the existing obligations of Hungary to control the entry of persons into the Schengen Area. The text is also outdated in the sense that conclusions of the European Council reinforced the Hungarian practice of the strict application of the Schengen Borders Code.

6Europe has so far failed to find a proper, sustainable response to the refugee and migration crisis in the Western Balkans. There has been an almost complete failure to implement some of the most important agreements reached in autumn 2015, notably that on relocation of refugees from Greece, and those of the Western Balkans Route Leaders’ Meeting intended to ensure adequate reception capacity and longer-term shelter for refugees and migrants along the route. Mutual trust and confidence have been undermined by unilateral actions and the exclusion of Greece from regional consultations on migration issues. Instead, the focus has shifted to border controls and preventing refugees and migrants from leaving Turkey. The only apparent response to all other problems is money; the idea of relocation seems almost to have been forgotten.
7The Assembly recalls the fragility of political stability in the Western Balkans region. It is absolutely essential that the countries concerned are fully supported in their efforts to deal with the current refugee crisis and that all countries avoid taking unilateral action that might undermine mutual trust and the prospects for effective co-operation.
8The Assembly believes that no response to the current situation can succeed in the longer term unless it is based on genuine solidarity and recognition of the need for collective action and equitable sharing of responsibility, with full respect for the human rights of refugees and migrants and the basic principles of international and European law.
9The Assembly therefore calls on the Western Balkan countries, namely “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia, as well as Greece and Austria, to:

In the draft resolution, replace paragraph 9 with the following paragraph:

"The Assembly therefore calls on all affected states to:"

9.1ensure compliance with the principle of non-refoulement regarding asylum seekers at the border claiming international protection, in accordance with the standards of the European Convention on Human Rights, as interpreted by the European Court of Human Rights;
9.2refrain from implementing policies that deny access to protection on discriminatory grounds of nationality or on arbitrary grounds of administrative convenience;

In the draft resolution, delete paragraph 9.2.

9.3ensure that police and security forces implement border control without recourse to excessive force, respecting refugees’ and migrants’ fundamental right to dignity;
9.4ensure that national capacity for short-term reception and longer-term shelter is sufficient to accommodate in appropriate conditions asylum seekers in transit or seeking protection;
9.5take all necessary measures to ensure that national asylum systems meet the standards of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, the European Convention on Human Rights and European Union law, as applicable;
9.6refrain from returning asylum seekers to countries that are unable to guarantee protection in accordance with the above standards, where applicable;
9.7refrain from implementing border control policies that would unreasonably impose a disproportionate responsibility for the protection of refugees and migrants on other States more vulnerable to their arrival;

In the draft resolution, delete paragraph 9.7.

9.8implement in full all aspects of the agreement reached at the Western Balkans Route Leaders’ Meeting;
9.9ensure that lasting actions in response to the refugee and migrant crisis are only taken following consultation with all other States concerned.
10The Assembly also calls on the European Union to:
10.1ensure that human rights are given priority in policies to address the situation in the Western Balkans, in particular the right to seek and enjoy asylum, the prohibition on degrading treatment and on refoulement, the right to liberty and security, the right to an effective remedy and the prohibition on discrimination;
10.2ensure that relevant European Union law is implemented in full by all member States, in particular the reception conditions, asylum procedures and qualification directives;
10.3ensure full implementation of previous decisions and agreements, notably on relocation of refugees from Greece and on reception and longer-term shelter capacity in the Western Balkans, action against migrant smuggling and human trafficking, provision of information to refugees and migrants on applicable rules and their rights and obligations, registration of arrivals and exchange of information on flows of refugees and migrants;
10.4provide all necessary financial and technical support to affected States, at levels sufficient to meet the challenges they face and avoiding onerous procedural requirements that may unduly delay provision of assistance in emergency situations;
10.5reform the Dublin system with a view to a more equitable sharing of responsibility, thus avoiding further overburdening of member States with insufficient protection and reception capacities.