B Explanatory memorandum
by Mr Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, rapporteur
1 The Assembly has been following
the ongoing migration and refugee crisis and its various issues
from a very early stage. The reports prepared by the Committee on
Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons and ensuing resolutions
raised humanitarian concerns and stressed the need to fully respect
the human rights of migrants and refugees, and at the same time
sought to identify measures which would contribute to the better management
of the crisis and increased co-operation between the Council of
Europe member States.
2 A number of reports already submitted to the Assembly or still
under preparation deal with questions which are of direct relevance
to the present report. As rapporteur, I have been confronted with
the difficult task of having to prepare a thorough report on the
subject while trying to avoid – as far as possible – repetition, duplication
and interference with other rapporteurs’ mandates.
In order to achieve this objective, I have decided to invite
readers to consult the most relevant texts prepared by the committee
over the last year with a view to acquiring a full picture of the
Assembly’s position on different aspects of the ongoing migration
and refugee crisis: “The need to reform European migration policies”, Doc. 14248
, Resolution 2147
; “Refugees in Greece: challenges and risks – A European responsibility”, Doc. 14082
, Resolution 2118
; “A stronger European response to the Syrian refugee crisis”, Doc. 14014
, Resolution 2107
; “Human rights of refugees and migrants – the situation
in the Western Balkans”, Doc.
, Resolution 2108
; “The Mediterranean Sea: a front door to irregular migration”, Doc. 13942
, Resolution 2088
; “After Dublin – the urgent need for a real European
asylum system”, Doc 13866
, Resolution 2072
, “Organised crime and migrants”, Doc. 13941
, Resolution 2089 (2016)
; and “Harmonising the protection of unaccompanied minors
in Europe”, Doc 14142
, Resolution 2136 (2016)
The committee is currently working on a number of reports
which touch upon the subject of the present report and deal with
questions which can hardly be avoided in this text. I particularly
draw your attention to the report on “A comprehensive humanitarian
and political response to the migration and refugee crisis in Europe”Note
which will be discussed with the
present report during the migration debate in June 2017.
However, undoubtedly the most relevant text with regard to
the present report is the report on “The situation of refugees and
migrants under the EU–Turkey Agreement of 18 March 2016” (Doc. 14028
, Resolution 2109
. This agreement – given its legal status, a more appropriate
denomination might be “statement” or “deal” – along with a number
of other instruments including resettlement and relocation schemes,
creation of “hotspots”, financial assistance and enhanced co-operation
with the countries of origin and transit, have had a great impact
on the situation of refugees in Greece, and indeed in many other
countries of Europe.
The Assembly’s position contained in Resolution 2109 (2016)
, which was adopted following the debate on the above-mentioned
report, was sceptical – not to say critical – vis-à-vis the Statement,
and a number of concerns on human rights issues were voiced. I strongly
recommend that readers consult this text before getting acquainted
with the present report.
7 Now, more than a year since the EU–Turkey Summit of 18 March
2016, I intend to take stock of the results of the implementation
of the measures agreed on that day. In this respect, I will examine
and assess to what extent the concerns expressed by the Assembly
in June 2016 have been addressed and what progress has been achieved
in the accomplishment of other relevant recommendations included
in the texts listed above and adopted by the Assembly.
8 I will look more closely into the situation in Greece and
Italy, in particular into the reception and living conditions in
hotspots, the efficiency of the processing of asylum applications,
as well as the relocation and resettlement mechanisms. I will also
examine the question of movement of migrants within Europe and the situation
of those who are confined to the Balkans.
9 To gather relevant first-hand information, I carried out a
fact-finding visit to Greece (Athens and Lesvos) on 29 and 30 March
and to Italy (Rome and Trapani) on 10 and 11 May 2017. I also intend
to go to Turkey in June 2017 (exact dates to be fixed; the findings
of this visit will be included in an addendum to the present report)
to meet different stakeholders and get acquainted with the reality
in the field, assess the efficiency of procedures and living and
material conditions in hotspots and reception centres.
10 In order to complement this information, but also to allow
members of the committee to hear first-hand information and hold
an exchange of views, I organised a hearing during the April 2017
part-session with the participation of a representative of the European
11 In conclusion, I am trying to identify measures which could
be recommended to the member States and the European Union with
a view to addressing outstanding concerns.
2 Background information
12 A sharp increase in the numbers
of people crossing the Mediterranean Sea over the last several years has
resulted in an unprecedented migratory and refugee crisis in Europe.
At its peak, in 2015, over 1 million people arrived on European
shores as compared to 204 500 in 2014, 60 000 in 2013 and an estimated 40
000 a year on average between 1998 and 2012.
Two of the main countries of first arrival – Greece and Italy
– have been affected in different ways. In 2014, as many as 34 500
refugees and migrants entered Europe through Greece, and 170 000
through Italy. In 2015, 853 600 arrived through Greece and 183 600
figures in 2016 were, respectively 176 000 and 181 000.
Perilous journeys across the Mediterranean have resulted in
an inevitable death toll: over 5 000 migrants lost their lives in
2016 as compared to 3 800 in 2015. 1 309 people drowned in the first
five months of this year alone.Note
As stressed in previous
no save and rescue operations can
guarantee full protection of human lives and prevent all deaths
at sea. As long as people undertake the risk of crossing the sea,
there will be loss of lives.
15 Reception capacities of the countries of first arrival proved
to be entirely insufficient and asylum procedures turned out to
be dysfunctional when confronted with huge numbers of applications.
People arriving on the Greek islands in 2015 were not even properly
registered and they headed immediately to the northern countries
via the Western Balkans route, which led to enormous pressure on
countries of transit and final destination as well as serious human
rights concerns. Measures subsequently introduced by some of these countries,
including closure of borders, led to the concentration of people
in informal camps in appalling conditions.
16 These unprecedented numbers of refugees and migrants arriving
in western Europe have generated political tensions in many States
and an institutional crisis in the European Union. Europe’s chaotic
response has revealed the inadequacy of existing legal instruments,
including the Dublin Regulation and migration policies. The failure
of the common European approach became even more evident in the
light of individual national policies ranging from the most restrictive
to the most generous and often contradicting each other. The ensuing
debates at EU level on responsibility sharing and repartition on
the basis of voluntary or compulsory quotas demonstrated the inability
of European leaders to address the problem.
17 Against this background, the EU–Turkey Summit of 18 March
2016 issued a Statement designed as a partial response to the inflow
of refugees and migrants from Turkish territory to the Greek islands.
Its objective was to “break the business model of the smugglers
and to offer migrants an alternative to putting their lives at risk”,
by providing the return to Turkey of all new irregular migrants
crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands as from 20 March 2016.
For every Syrian returned to Turkey from Greece, another Syrian
refugee was to be resettled directly to the European Union from
Turkey. Other Syrian refugees were also to be resettled under a Voluntary
Humanitarian Admission Scheme. Turkey committed itself to taking
any necessary measures to prevent new sea or land routes for irregular
migration from its territory to the European Union. Other provisions of
the Statement concerned financial assistance allocated to Turkey
(6 billion euros by the end of 2018), prospects for a visa liberalisation
programme for Turkey, re-launching of the accession process and
the upgrading of the Customs Union.
The first reactions to the Statement were not enthusiastic.
Human rights organisations raised several issues of concern.Note
Assembly was also critical and the report on “The situation of refugees
and migrants under the EU–Turkey Agreement” debated in June 2016
referred to a number of potential human rights abuses. In particular,
it questioned the principle of new arrivals being systematically
detained in inadequate conditions on an uncertain legal basis. It
also voiced the concern that returns to Turkey may not meet the
requirements of EU and international law as Turkey cannot be considered
under current circumstances as a safe third country. It also pointed
out that the Greek asylum system lacks the capacity to process so
many applications and that there is inadequate access to an effective
remedy against return to Turkey. Finally, it stressed that resettlement
of Syrian refugees should not be linked to the number of returns.
19 More than a year after the implementation of the Statement
and other complementary measures, I will try to assess, in the next
chapters, to what extent the concerns expressed by the Assembly
have been addressed and what was the impact of the European response
on the human rights situation of refugees and migrants in Greece
of the European response to the human rights situation in the countries
of first arrival
20 The implementation of the EU–Turkey
Statement of 18 March 2016 led to a significant decrease in arrivals
in Greece during the second half of the year. While the total number
of refugees and migrants who arrived to this country in 2016 amounted
to 176 000, the vast majority of them, namely 125 000, came in the first
three months of the year, before the conclusion of the Statement.
At the same time, arrivals in Italy continued at a steady pace of
approximately 180 000 throughout the whole year. In total, 387 000
refugees and migrants arrived to Italy and Greece in 2016 as compared
to over one million a year before.
21 This trend continued in the first four months of 2017. Total
arrivals in Greece between January and 10 May amounted to 5 601
persons. In Italy the number of arrivals during the same time amounted
to 45 086. Over this period, 37 deaths at sea were registered in
Greece, while 1 222 deaths were registered in Italy.
22 In consequence, the Central Mediterranean Route (Libya-Italy)
has once again become the dominant route for refugees and migrants
to reach Europe as it had been before the surge in arrivals through
the eastern Mediterranean in late 2015 and early 2016. However,
during my visit to Italy I was assured by different interlocutors
that the EU–Turkey Statement has had no impact on the number of
people following the Central Mediterranean Route. I will come to
this question in more detail below.
23 The overall situation of refugees and migrants in Greece has
considerably evolved. At present, there are over 63 000 asylum seekers
awaiting the outcome of the status determination procedure in Greece.
Out of this figure, over 14 000 are still confined to the islands,
a further 14 000 are accommodated in the EU-funded flat scheme and
over 33 000 live in substandard reception conditions on mainland
24 Five hotspots have been opened in Greece (Lesvos, Chios, Samos,
Leros and Kos) with a total capacity of 5 450 for the reception
of people remaining on the islands whose applications are still
being processed as well as for new arrivals. Over 7 000 of those
who are confined to the islands live in alternative accommodation.
25 On average, 50 people cross the Aegean Sea from Turkey every
26 The creation of hotspots approach was adopted to address arrivals
in a more orderly way. They became indispensable following the EU–Turkey
Statement when almost 100% of new arrivals applied for asylum. Indeed,
before the closure of the border between Greece and “the former
Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, a very small percentage (2.7%)
submitted applications in Greece and the majority were heading to
the northern countries. Many were leaving the islands without any
registration, thus posing serious security concerns.
27 Hotspot centres both in Greece and Italy serve the purpose
of identification, registration, fingerprinting, debriefing, processing
of asylum requests and return operations. National asylum authorities
are assisted by the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), the European
Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External
Borders of the Member States of the European Union (Frontex) and
Europol. The work of these agencies is complementary to one another.
Those claiming asylum are channelled into a national asylum procedure
with EASO support teams helping to process asylum cases as quickly
as possible. Frontex helps national services by co-ordinating the
return of those who are considered not to be in need of international
protection. Europol and Eurojust assist the State services with
investigations to dismantle the smuggling and trafficking networks.
The support teams work in close partnership and under the full control
of the national authorities of the host country and only the national
authorities are competent to establish co-ordination and standard
operating procedures. A number of international (UNHCR, International
Organization for Migration (IOM)) and national organisations and
non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are involved in legal and
psychological assistance to newcomers as well as monitoring of the
compliance with human rights standards.
28 One of the concerns expressed by my interlocutors in Greece
related to the delay in adoption, by the government, of standard
operating procedures for hotspots and appointment of co-ordinators
who would contribute to the increase in efficiency of the work of
29 During my fact-finding visit, I visited one of the busiest
hotspots called Moria, located on the east of the island of Lesvos.
It has received 708 asylum seekers since the beginning of 2017.
In comparison, in 2016, 91 506 people arrived in Lesvos by sea (56%
of the total arrivals to Greece). The main nationalities arriving
on Lesvos this year have been the Democratic Republic of Congo,
Eritrea, Congo and Iraq. The majority of arriving asylums seekers
(65%) are young single men. Children (both accompanied and non-accompanied)
make up 10%.
30 According to the Greek authorities, during my visit, 3 020
asylum seekers and migrants were being accommodated in Moria in
51 refugee housing units and 198 prefabricated containers. I was
assured that all vulnerable cases including unaccompanied minors
(342 persons) were being accommodated outside the hotspot in hotels,
host families and apartments run by the UNHCR’s local partner Iliaktida.
The UNHCR provides support to the Greek authorities and co-ordinates
with NGOs for the management of sites in Lesvos.
31 I have visited Moria in my national capacity on several occasions
in the past two years, and I have to recognise a great improvement
achieved over the last year in reception conditions. The site is
still severely overcrowded and living conditions are harsh but the
progress is visible. During my last visit, infrastructural works
such as construction of footings and retaining walls, excavation,
levelling, gravelling, concreting and fencing were underway.
32 At the same time, the UNHCR, in close co-operation with local
authorities, is searching for alternative accommodation outside
33 The problem of poor living conditions is a direct consequence
of the duration of processing of asylum applications as asylum seekers
are not transferred to mainland Greece before the positive outcome
of the procedure. Let me recall that one of the most outstanding
concerns expressed by human rights organisations in the wake of
the EU–Turkey Summit related to the insufficient capacity on the
islands for assessing asylum claims. These concerns seems to have
been proven right, since despite the improvement, living conditions
on most islands are still far from international standards.
34 The European Union, through its Agencies (EASO, Frontex, Europol),
has provided support to the Greek asylum services in terms of expertise,
logistics and materials. In April 2017, the EASO deployed 59 experts
and 87 interpreters. Nevertheless, there are still shortfalls, and
41 more experts should be deployed shortly. However, as experts
are normally only deployed for a limited period of up to six weeks,
the agencies need to continuously make new requests to the member
States to replace the departing experts. Needless to say that such
frequent rotation has an inevitable impact on the efficiency of
the work. Many interlocutors stressed the need for the increase
in the number of experts and the prolongation of the duration of
35 In Moria, I had the chance to observe all stages of the reception
procedure. On the very day of my visit, 46 migrants landed on the
island. They were transferred to the hotspot. All of them expressed
the wish to submit applications for asylum. The registration is
conducted within 24 hours, except for vulnerable cases (unaccompanied
minors, pregnant women, families with small children) who are identified
with the help of human rights workers and given priority. It includes
identification, security screening and health control. Specially
trained experts verify the exactitude of some declarations including
native language or dialect spoken by the claimants, their knowledge
of the realities of the place they allegedly lived, and so on. At
this stage, victims of different kinds of abuse (sexual abuse, torture)
are also identified. Once the registration is completed, applicants
can freely move around on the island; but they cannot go to the
36 It usually takes two months before the first interview is
conducted, during which time the application for asylum is established.
I was told that each interview may last up to nine hours and every
interviewer receives one person per day. Each application is examined
on the merits but the duration of the determination procedure is
different depending on nationality. If asylum status is granted,
the person is transferred to the mainland. If it is rejected, then
almost all applicants make an appeal. If the appeal is rejected,
the person, if found, is detained (usually for no longer than one
week) then returned to Turkey.
37 The IOM has been running a project called Assisted Voluntary
Returns and Integration, including administrative, financial and
logistical support, for irregular migrants who decide to return
voluntarily to their country of origin in a dignified manner with
concrete prospects for re-integration. Over 6 000 persons have been assisted
in their return from Greece over the last two years.
38 My interlocutors involved in the asylum procedure were in
agreement that once backlogs of applications are cleared, new applications
will be dealt with smoothly. When the hotspots were established
in late 2015, they were confronted with a huge number of applications
from those asylum seekers who became stuck on the islands following
the closure of the border between Greece and “the former Yugoslav
Republic of Macedonia”. I was assured that all backlogs would be
dealt with within a few months. From then on, the duration of status determination
procedures on the islands should be considerably reduced. This assurance
is still to be proven correct.
39 I should note that another concern expressed, inter alia, by the Assembly resolution
on the situation of refugees and migrants under the EU–Turkey Statement,
relating to the fact that returns of Syrian refugees to Turkey as
a “first country of asylum” or “safe third country” might be contrary
to EU and/or international law, as Turkey may not ensure protection
that is “sufficient”; however, reports of onward refoulement of Syrians has been
addressed as no Syrian refugees (or indeed any other nationality)
are returned without their applications for asylum being examined
40 It was feared that remedies against decisions to return rejected
asylum seekers to Turkey would not always have a suspensive effect
as required by the European Convention on Human Rights (ETS No.
5). However, as I stated above, people are not returned before the
appeal decision is delivered.
41 In April 2016, Greece adopted a new asylum law (Law No. 4375/2016)
which provided for an admissibility assessment before considering
an application on its merits. Until recently, only Syrians have
been subject to the admissibility procedure (as according to the
Statement, they should be returned to Turkey), with all other nationalities
having their applications considered on merits.
42 According to the latest figures provided by the European Commission,
arrivals continue to largely outpace the number of returns from
the Greek islands to Turkey. As at 1 April 2017, the total number
of migrants returned since the date of the EU–Turkey Statement was
1 487. All of these returns were voluntary or involuntary based
on one of three grounds: the person did not apply for asylum, withdrew
their asylum application after the first hearing or was rejected
after the examination on the merits. These figures are insufficient
to reduce the number of asylum seekers living in the overcrowded
hotspots of the eastern Aegean.
43 Another concern was also addressed related to the detention
of asylum seekers in hotspots which might be incompatible with the
requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights due notably
to procedural failures undermining the legal grounds for detention
and inadequate detention conditions: the length of detention does
not exceed 25 days as provided for in Greek Law No. 4375/2016 adopted
on 2 April 2016. Indeed, the hotspots are not, as described by some
human rights organisations, detention centres in the proper meaning
of this word. Once registered, people can easily walk in and out
thanks to badges which have been established for security reasons.
However, they are detained pending return if their appeal is rejected,
but the duration of detention does not exceed a week.
44 Moreover, contrary to fears expressed in the Assembly report,
children and vulnerable persons are identified at a very early stage
of the status determination procedure, and are not kept in detention.
They do not remain in the hotspots either as they are systematically
offered alternative accommodation. Last year, the UNHCR, with EU
funding, created over 20 000 accommodation places for relocation
candidates and asylum seekers with specific needs, mostly through
apartments, renovated buildings, hotels and host families. Further projects
are underway. However, the situation of unaccompanied minors remains
an outstanding concern, particularly in Italy, where their number
is much higher than in Greece. (I will come back to this question
in Chapter 5.)
45 There are further concerns related to living conditions in
the hotspots. They used to be extremely overcrowded, and problems
still exist particularly in Chios and Samos. The situation should
be addressed as a matter of urgency. Proper reception capacities
on the islands are foreseen for 7 450 people while the actual number
of refugees and migrants is double that. Many asylum seekers have
been transferred from the islands to the mainland.
46 Living conditions have also considerably improved in the mainland
but they still remain a matter of concern. In Eidomeni, there are
no longer any people camping at an informal site near the border
but there are other camps which do not meet standards and should
be upgraded and improved as a matter of urgency. The efforts of
the Greek authorities together with UNHCR to identify and secure
alternative accommodation should be commended. Long-term solutions
with a view to integrating those refugees who are likely to remain
in Greece should be privileged.
47 There are substantial financial resources in the form of EU
long-term and emergency funds allocated to Greece. However, the
Greek authorities have not used the emergency funds to a satisfactory
level, in particular for the monitoring of the Aegean Sea.
48 The situation in Italy seems
to be more complex. 181 436 people, both refugees and migrants arrived
in 2016 by sea. 90% travelled by boat from Libya. The top two nationalities
were Nigerians (21%) and Eritreans (11%). A striking feature is
the change in profile of these asylum seekers, including the increasing
number of unaccompanied children, over 25 000 in 2016 (14%) which
is double as compared to 2015. This development raises justified
concerns about probable exploitation of these young people by organised
49 The number of people who arrived in the first four months
of 2017 amounted to 45 000 and was higher by 36% in comparison with
the same period of 2016 when 31 000 arrived. All of my interlocutors
agreed, however, that this increase was not the consequence of the
implementation of the EU–Turkey Statement. Those using the Central
Mediterranean Route (Nigerians, Eritreans, Guineans and other African
nationalities) are of different nationalities from those who cross
the Aegean Sea.
50 In recent months, one can observe an increase in the number
of Bangladeshi nationals coming to Italy via Libya. I was told that
these people frequently come to Libya – a country which in the past
offered many job opportunities for migrant workers – in search of
work, encouraged by traffickers. Once in Libya, they realise that
the conditions promised by the traffickers do not correspond to
reality and they undertake a perilous journey, facilitated by the
traffickers, across the sea. The same pattern applies to other migrants
who arrive in Libya from the south.
51 The boats and pontoons usually depart from a 20 kilometre
long stretch of Libyan coastline. The overwhelming majority of them
are completely unseaworthy and overcrowded, and despite increased
efforts for save and rescue operations, the loss of lives cannot
be eliminated. Over 1 200 people died in the first four months of
52 There are five hotspots in Italy (Lampedusa, Pozzallo, Porto
Empedocle, Taranto and Trapani) with a total capacity of 1 600,
which seems to be completely insufficient given the number of arrivals
frequently reaching peaks of 2 000 or more per day. The national
authorities, and in particular a dedicated Italian team within the
Ministry of the Interior, from the very beginning demonstrated strong
support for hotspots and the related migration management. It drafted
without delay Standard operating procedures which became operational
in May 2016, involving in the process of elaboration and consultation
all the main stakeholders, namely the Italian authorities, the European
Commission, Frontex, Europol, EASO, the UNHCR and the IOM. The swift
adoption and implementation of these operating procedures has contributed
greatly towards restructuring the hotspots approach in Italy. Co-ordination
at the operational and local levels is fully satisfactory.
53 However, only about one third of arriving migrants and refugees
disembark at the hotspot locations, with the majority landing in
other ports. The Italian authorities are implementing a new strategy,
building upon the hotpot approach, aimed at upgrading other disembarkation
ports with a view to enabling the application of standard operating
54 According to the Italian authorities, this approach allows
for the proper registration, identification and fingerprinting of
approximately 97% of arriving migrants and refugees. The registration
lasts up to 72 hours, then asylum seekers are sent according to
the agreed quotas to different regions in Italy where they are taken in
charge by local authorities and accommodated in camps and alternative
accommodation. The number of available places has been increased
drastically over the last months. 176 000 asylum seekers remain
at present in reception facilities.
55 Living conditions vary considerably from one place to another:
while some of them are satisfactory; in others deficiencies are
constantly identified. Among the reasons for these discrepancies
are the lack of national standards and the fact that the accommodation
centres are not run by specialised agencies.
56 In one of the camps based in Sicily called Mineo, which accommodates
around 4 000 asylum seekers, a criminal investigation into administrative
mismanagement is underway.
57 The total capacity for reception is estimated at 200 000 people.
Beyond this number, the humanitarian crisis will become a real threat.
Given that the number of people arriving to Italy is on the rise,
and the number of people leaving Italy is decreasing (also due to
the more systematic controls at the northern borders), there is
an urgent need to address this question.
58 As in Greece, almost 100% of people apply for asylum compared
to previous years when migrants would head for the northern countries
and did not want to diminish their chances of obtaining asylum there
by applying in the first arrival country. Consequently, Italy, which
used to be a transit country, has become a country of destination.
59 The procedure for consideration of asylum requests lasts approximately
60 to 80 days before the decision at the first instance is taken.
The procedure is not adapted to the high numbers of applicants and should
thus be revised. During this time, all applicants remain under the
reception regime. The average rate of recognition is 43% (plus 10%
of subsidiary protection). All applicants who have been rejected
in the first instance have the right to appeal. Almost 60% of appeals
are successful. Once the status is determined, the refugees and
those who have been granted humanitarian status lose their right
to accommodation and assistance but have the right to work.
60 The system of return of rejected asylum seekers is a total
failure. In practice, there are neither forced nor voluntary returns
from Italy. The underlying reason is the lack of co-operation with
the countries of origin. Failed asylum seekers become irregular
migrants and the majority of them do not leave the country. Needless
to say that this situation is highly unsatisfactory for both migrants
and host communities as well as for the image of migrants in general.
61 A major concern for Italy, as already mentioned above, is
the increasing number of unaccompanied minors. There is a shortage
of facilities for minors in the regions where landings take place.
As a consequence, minors stay in hotspots which are not adapted
to their specific needs.
62 There are also increasing numbers of women arriving mainly
from Nigeria which is a matter of utmost concern. According to social
workers whom I met, almost all of these women have been sexually
abused during the journey and often the abuse and exploitation continues
in the camps. The majority of them have been victims of traffickers
and are targets for exploitation by criminal networks in Europe.
Here again, reception conditions are not systematically adapted
to this vulnerable category of asylum seekers.
63 According to UNHCR statistics,
there are 2 900 000 refugees in Turkey.
64 According to statistics provided by the Turkish Coast Guard
for 2016, as many as 37 060 irregular migrants were apprehended
during their attempts to cross the Aegean Sea.
65 At the same time, 2 672 Syrian nationals were resettled from
Turkey to other EU countries.
66 I intend to visit Turkey in June 2017 in order to get acquainted
with the situation of refugees hosted in the country and returned
migrants. I will include the findings of the visit in an addendum
to the present report.
and resettlement mechanisms
67 As part of the European response
to the migratory and refugee crisis, the European Council adopted,
in September 2015, the emergency relocation scheme under which asylum
seekers with a high chance of having their applications successfully
processed would be relocated from Greece and Italy to other EU member
States and the processing of their applications would take place
in these host countries.
68 The original commitment concerned the relocation of almost
160 000 people, but it was scaled down to 98 255 in September 2016,
when the European Council adopted an amendment to make 54 000 places
not yet allocated available for the purpose of legally admitting
Syrians from Turkey to the European Union.
Amid divisive discussions on the voluntary or obligatory nature
of repartitions quotas, as at 12 April 2017, a total number of only
16 340 people had been relocated (5 001 from Italy and 11 339 from
70 In the light of unsatisfactory progress in relocations, in
December 2016, the European Commission called on member States individually
to increase their efforts to meet the targets of 1 000 monthly relocations from
Italy and 2 000 from Greece. Member States and Associated Countries
(Switzerland, Norway and Liechtenstein), which were already participating
actively in the relocation scheme, responded positively and communicated
their planned monthly pledges.
71 Since the beginning of 2017, the pace of relocations has continued
to increase. In March, a record number of 2 465 persons were relocated.
However, despite this positive progress, the current pace of relocation
is still far below the targets set to ensure that all people eligible
are relocated within the remaining time: the scheme is supposed
to be finalised in September 2017.
72 Some countries, for example Luxembourg and Portugal, are steadily
progressing on their obligations, some others (Bulgaria, Croatia
and the Slovak Republic) are relocating on a very limited basis.
Austria has announced recently that it will start relocations soon
but some other countries (Hungary and Poland) have not launched
any action yet. So far, only two member States (Malta and Finland)
are well on track to meet their obligations for relocation from
Greece and Italy. To conclude, significantly increased commitment
and delivery is still needed from other countries, in particular
those which have not begun any relocations.
73 In my talks with the Greek authorities and other stakeholders
involved in the relocation scheme, I tried to identify the real
reasons for these unjustified delays. The repartition and allocation
have been agreed between the States; but there is lack of political
will to accomplish their own commitments. Other obstacles prevent
efficient relocation, and the criteria for eligibility are too difficult
74 I concluded that in the case of some countries (Poland, Hungary,
the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic and Austria), there is insufficient
political will; however, in the case of more active countries, official commitment
has to be matched with determined action by the competent national
services. I was told that although the number of pledges is increasing,
the security and bureaucratic procedures take a long time. The relocating
countries usually have requirements concerning the profile of the
asylum seekers that they are willing to receive. Combined with strict
criteria for eligibility (nationality, no application for asylum
submitted in another country, no refusal), it makes it more difficult
to identify the right people. Then security screening conducted
by each national service, unrelated to the screening already carried
out by the Greek authorities, takes a long time.
75 The situation is more complex in Italy, where very few people
are eligible for relocation. If the criteria are not broadened,
it is likely that very soon there will be no more eligible candidates.
In this context, it is incomprehensible why relocation of unaccompanied
minors remains a total failure. Up until now, not a single unaccompanied
minor has been relocated from Italy.
In July 2015, the European
Council adopted the resettlement scheme which was designed to provide safe
and legal avenues to Europe for people in need of international
protection. It was agreed to resettle 22 504 refugees from Turkey,
Jordan and Lebanon. As at 7 February 2017, 13 968 people had been
resettled. Resettlements have taken place to 21 resettling States.Note
of these, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Finland and the Netherlands,
as well as associated countries Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Iceland,
have already fulfilled their pledges.
77 The EU–Turkey Statement stipulated that for every Syrian being
returned to Turkey from the Greek islands, another Syrian would
be resettled from Turkey to the European Union. It provided for
the Voluntary Humanitarian Admission Scheme which was activated
on 4 April 2016 once irregular crossings between Turkey and the
European Union were substantially and sustainably reduced. The number
of resettlements under this scheme has been included in the overall
figure of settlements. In the ninth European Commission Progress
Report on the European Union’s emergency relocation and resettlement
scheme of 7 February 2015, it was assessed that the number of resettlements
under the EU–Turkey Statement has continued to increase and member
States were advancing well with the preparation of further resettlement
operations. Since 4 April 2016, 3 098 Syrians have been resettled
from Turkey to the European Union under the 1:1 mechanism (one resettled
for one returned). The Turkish authorities have been delivering
on their commitment to step up efforts to provide larger lists of
human rights concerns
78 Although, as demonstrated above,
undeniable progress has been made in the reception conditions and processing
of asylum requests in both front-line countries, Greece and Italy,
since 2015 and early 2016, there are still some challenges which
are having an impact on the human rights situation of refugees and
migrants, and they should be addressed as a matter of urgency. Concrete
measures should be taken by the European Union and the Greek and
Italian authorities to improve the situation in some areas.
79 Improving reception conditions, particularly on the Greek
islands, is a priority. Certainly, they have improved since 2016,
but this does not mean that they are satisfactory. Some reception
centres are still overcrowded, inadequate and insecure. The most
sustainable solution to this problem would be to quickly process
asylum claims and increase transfers to the mainland thus reducing
the number of those who need to be accommodated on the islands.
80 On the mainland, sites that are clearly unsuitable for accommodation,
in particular warehouses in the central Macedonian region and Eliniko,
and the remaining informal site in the Attica region, should be
closed immediately and people should be transferred to adequate
and safe reception conditions. The plans for building new camps
that will host hundreds of migrants should be abandoned as big camps
contribute to marginalisation. Smaller hosting facilities and greater
geographical distribution should be promoted based on the Italian
experience. National standards for hosting facilities should be
adopted. Projects proposing the use of renovated buildings, hotels
and host families along the lines of the UNHCR plan should be supported.
81 The capacity for registration and processing of asylum claims
should be increased, particularly on the mainland where first instance
decisions for those registered in the middle of 2016 will only be
delivered in 2018. The UNHCR has also signalled some discriminatory
practices which delay the procedures for some nationalities (for
example Afghans and Iraqis). The Greek Asylum System together with
EASO should urgently address this lack of capacity to fully process
asylum claims within a reasonable timeframe for all nationalities.
82 Reception conditions should also be improved in Italy and
national standards should be established in order to eliminate serious
discrepancies between different accommodation centres. The question
of return of rejected claimants should be addressed as a matter
of urgency in order to prevent the saturation of existing reception
places which will soon reach their limit.
83 The issue of unaccompanied minors remains a most serious concern
in both Italy and Greece. Both girl and boy migrants are exposed
to increased risks and have often suffered violence, exploitation,
trafficking in human beings, physical, psychological and sexual
abuse during the journey and in the camps. They undergo an increased
risk of being marginalised and drawn into criminal activities. Risks
are multiplied when children share space with adults who are strangers
to them in overcrowded facilities, not adapted to their specific
84 The use of appropriate age assessment procedures is crucial
for the protection of migrant children’s rights. Unfortunately,
in some countries they do not comply with standards and may be inaccurate
to the detriment of minors. The Committee on Migration, Refugees
and Displaced Persons is now working on guidelines for age assessment
procedures, the recommendations of which will be submitted to the Parliamentary
Assembly later this year.
85 The question of relocation of unaccompanied minors is a total
failure in both Italy and Greece. The relocation scheme should be
adapted, as a matter of urgency, in order to enable minors to benefit
from relocation. This is particularly urgent in Italy where, very
soon, there will be no more eligible candidates for relocation.
86 There are over 21 000 unaccompanied minors registered in Italy
and the percentage of children and young people among new arrivals
is on a constant rise. Most of them are swiftly identified and registered
as unaccompanied minors upon arrival, but, regrettably, many of
them are transferred to inappropriate reception conditions due to
the lack of specialised centres.
87 The situation may improve when a recently adopted Law No.
47 on unaccompanied migrant minors (the “Legge Zampa”) which entered
into force in May 2017 is fully implemented. It provides for the
establishment of specifically dedicated centres and the appointment
of 26 000 guardians. The decree on the implementation of the law
is under preparation and hopefully it will be issued without undue
88 There are 2 000 minors registered in Greece but only 1 352
live in shelters. 891 unaccompanied minors are on a waiting list,
including 130 in reception centres and 18 in protective custody.
The national capacity for accommodating unaccompanied children –
despite undeniable improvements – is still far from meeting the needs.
Greater effort should be made towards the creation of other types
of alternative care, for example care systems in host families including
local and refugee families and supervised independent living for
older children of 16 to 17 years of age in a smaller group care.
In addition, special zones for minors and other vulnerable groups
should be created in reception centres.
89 There have been reports of detention – in some circumstances
– of unaccompanied minors in closed reception or police facilities,
sometimes with adults. This situation is unacceptable. The Parliamentary Assembly
has been engaged, since 2015, in the parliamentary Campaign to End
Immigration Detention of Children in which it promotes and encourages
legislative and organisational solutions for alternatives to detention
90 Finally, a general remark on the need to improve co-ordination
structures with all humanitarian stakeholders active in Greece to
ensure a coherent and efficient response and establish clear responsibilities. This
would permit an exit from the current ad hoc response mode, as witnessed
in the winterisation response, and encourage continued confidence
of the donor community in the humanitarian response. Although the creation
of the Ministry of Migration in 2016 was considered to be a step
in the right direction, the lack of proper ministerial statute and
structure undermines progress. An action plan should be developed
in case of mass arrivals.
91 More than a year since the
adoption of the EU–Turkey Statement, it has to be acknowledged that
the agreement has delivered some positive results with regard to
many challenges. Its main objective was to break the business model
of smugglers exploiting refugees and migrants and putting their
lives at risk. The substantial decrease in both crossings and fatalities
since the entry into force of the Statement addresses to some extent
this concern. In the peak period in 2015, 5 000 to 6 000 people
were crossing the sea to the Greek islands daily. In the weeks before
the implementation of the Statement the daily average was almost
2 000. By contrast, the average has fallen to under 100 a day since
1 January 2017. The number of fatalities
which amounted to 37 between 1 January and 10 May 2017 is also dramatically
92 In consequence, the situation in Greece has largely improved
and become manageable despite the fact that Greece has become a
destination country where almost 100% of people arriving request
asylum. Reception, registration and asylum processing have become
efficient – given the continuous efforts of the authorities and
other stakeholders to improve them – and raise less concern than
before. However, they are by no means fully satisfactory and require
further efforts and improvements.
A direct consequence of the implementation of the EU–Turkey
Statement (and of the closure of borders) was an overall decrease
(of 83%) in the number of new arrivals in the countries of the Western
Balkans and Hungary: In terms of migrants stranded in these countries
at the end of 2016, the total number amounts to 13 533 as compared
to 5 688 at the end of 2015. The majority of stranded migrants remain
in Serbia (5 633) and Bulgaria (5 560).Note
94 The implementation of the EU–Turkey Statement and the closure
of the borders in the Western Balkans Route have had no impact on
the number of people using the Central Mediterranean Route. Even
if the number of arrivals to Italy increased by approximately 30%-40%
in the first five months of 2017, this phenomenon is linked to the
unstable situation in Libya and growing inflows of migrants from
different African countries.
95 The reception conditions and asylum procedures in Italy, even
if also improving, require urgent action. As with Greece, Italy
has become a destination country and continuous mass arrivals risk
saturating the country’s reception capacities. The question of the
treatment of rejected asylum seekers should be given immediate consideration;
the large number of irregular migrants represents a threat for the
whole asylum system and social stability.
96 The arrival of migrants to Italy is to a large extent dependent
on the situation in Libya. While the level of save and rescue operations
should be maintained, the European Union should increase its efforts
to effectively combat networks of smugglers in the Mediterranean
by targeting their supplies and by pooling intelligence between
member States and relevant agencies.
97 Co-operation with the Libyan Coast Guards which already exists
should be stepped up, and in particular funding for training programmes,
assistance in establishing a maritime rescue co-ordination centre
and support for the provision of additional patrolling assets and
their maintenance should be ensured.
98 There are ongoing contacts with the Libyan authorities to
ensure that the conditions in centres for migrants are improved,
with particular attention given to vulnerable persons and minors.
Co-operation with the UNHCR and IOM should be stepped up in this
99 On the other hand, however, people will continue to undertake
more diversified and dangerous journeys often relying on unscrupulous
smugglers because of the lack of legal ways to Europe. The lack
of accessible and safe pathways forces refugees and migrants to
take enormous risks by trying to cross the sea.
The Assembly has already expressed itself on the idea of externalisation
has called on the European member States and institutions to explore
possibilities for better identifying people in need of international
protection and organising external processing of asylum applications
by means of safer procedures established outside Europe in safe
third countries, provided that the human rights of asylum seekers
101 The introduction or increase of other legal and safe pathways
for migrants, such as more refined resettlement policies, family
reunification or a humanitarian status, would save the lives of
many potential candidates illegally crossing the sea.
102 Much has been said about the need for enhanced co-operation
and assistance to the countries of origin, including not only financial
support but also economic projects which would contribute to sustainable development
and incite people to stay in their own countries. Tackling the root
causes of the irregular migration across the Mediterranean is the
most important and unavoidable long-term measure which has to be introduced
as quickly as possible.