PICUM Bulletin — 23 December 2016
- United Nations
- European Policy Developments
- National Developments
- Health Care
- Labour and Fair Working Conditions
- Undocumented Women
- Undocumented Children and Their Families
- Detention and Deportation
- PICUM IN THE NEWS
According to the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Missing Migrant project, as of 19 December 2016, a total of 7,277 migrants and refugees have died or remain missing on world migratory routes in 2016. This is the highest yearly number IOM has ever recorded. It represents an average of 20 deaths per day. By comparison, the total number of deaths of migrants and refugees recorded in 2015 was 5,740. The number of deaths in the Mediterranean accounted for over 60 percent of all deaths of migrants and refugees worldwide. To view an interactive map of the Missing Migrant project providing data and figures, click here.
EU interior ministers are negotiating with members of the European Parliament to expand the scope and accessibility of the EU fingerprint database Eurodac. The reform of the database would widen it to include irregular migrants, and children from the age of 6 (previously from 14 years old), and aims to prevent secondary movements of asylum seekers. The database would also increase the number and speed of deportations. Eurodac will be used as a means to accelerate the identification and “re-documentation” of migrants and to enhance the tracking of irregular migrants by allowing comparisons with all categories of stored data. The scope of the Eurodac Regulation would include the possibility for member states to store and search data belonging to third-country nationals or stateless persons who are irregularly in the EU. The database would include biometric data like face scans, fingerprint scans and other data. It also introduces sanctions, including the possibility to use means of coercion to extract the data. Coercive administrative sanctions include detention as a last resort when a person (including a child) refuses to provide fingerprints and facial image, unless the refusal is due to damaged fingertips or facial image and the person is deemed vulnerable or a child. Where there are suspicions of child protection or safeguarding risks and the child refuses to provide their biometric data, they should be referred to national child protection authorities. Other protection concerns raised by the proposals relate to lack of information about the purpose of data collection, data retention, sharing of data with third countries, and lack of systematic consideration of the best interests of the child. The taking of fingerprints and facial image of the child should be carried out only when this is in the best interests of the child. To view the Eurodac proposal, click here.
Sources: EU Observer, 9 December 2016, European Council Press Release, 9 December 2016
GREECE / Dublin regulation: EU countries to return asylum seekers to Greece, thousands stay in the country irregularly
The European Commission announced on 8 December 2016 that European countries can return asylum seekers to Greece as of mid-March 2017. Under the Dublin regulation, the first country of entry is responsible for handling an asylum claim. However, returns to Greece were blocked after the European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2011 that it was not safe for migrants to be returned to due to deficiencies in the Greek asylum system and its degrading treatment of migrants. Facilities in Greece remain overcrowded. Over 62,500 women, men and children are stranded in Greece, many of them staying irregularly if their protection claims are not proceeded or are rejected. Human rights groups have denounced the European Commission’s decision. Human Rights Watch (HRW) noted that the situation in Greece remains critical due to the EU-Turkey agreement and the closure of the Western Balkan migration route which has led migrants and asylum seekers to be trapped on the Greek islands in substandard conditions.
Sources: Ekathimerini, 8 December 2016 ; The Wall Street Journal; 8 December 2016 ; the Independent; 8 December 2016; Human Right Watch, 10 December 2016
USA / Report denounces methods of US border agency that have caused thousands of deaths, injuries and disappearances among border-crossers in the US-Mexico border zone
The Arizona-based advocacy group No More Deaths together with La Coalición de Derechos Humanos (Coalition for Human Rights) has published a first part of the three-part report series “Disappeared: How Border-Enforcement Agencies Are Fueling a Missing-Persons Crisis”. This first part of the series, released on 7 December 2016, is entitled “Deadly Apprehension Methods" and finds that people who cross the border and are never seen again ‘are disappeared by the US border-enforcement system’. They denounce alleged abuses by U.S. Border Patrol agency including chasing and dispersing border crossers across the desert, leaving many injured, dead or lost. The report states that tens of thousands of undocumented migrants have disappeared in the US-Mexico border zone since the 1990s, including 1,200 in 2015. It also accuses the federal agency, which deploys 18,000 agents on the 2,000-mile border with Mexico, of sabotaging humanitarian aid efforts and discriminating against undocumented people in emergency responses. The US Customs and Border Protection issued a statement defending its record and blamed deaths on smugglers. The groups call on people to send letters to legislators to end the dying and disappearances at the U.S. border.
Source: The Guardian, 7 December 2016
Ahead of International Migrants’ Day, a group of United Nations experts called for an end to the immigration detention of children and their families. The group includes Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, François Crépeau; Chair of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, Jose S. Brillantes; Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Benyam Dawit Mezmur; and Chair of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Sètondji Roland Adjovi. The statement highlights that under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, states cannot justify detaining migrant children because they are unaccompanied or separated from their families. States also cannot justify detaining children on the basis that their parents need to be detained and that it is the only way to keep the family together. States must adopt alternatives to detention for children and their families that are non-custodial and community-based. The statement also notes that children in detention will often be traumatised and left with a feeling of being punished although they did nothing wrong, and that even short periods of detention have an adverse and long-lasting effect on a child’s development. The full statement is available here.
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) has published two General Comments. General comment No. 20 (2016) on the implementation of the rights of the child during adolescence has a specific section on migration. The Committee notes that while for many, migration offers significant social and economic opportunities, it poses risks, including physical harm, psychological trauma, immigration raids and detention, and restricted access to education, housing, health, recreation, participation, protection and social security. The Committee refers states parties to its comprehensive recommendations elaborated in respect of migrant children. General comment No. 19 (2016) on public budgeting for the realisation of children’s rights provides detailed guidance on how to implement UNCRC Article 4 and utilise public budgets to realise all children’s rights, including the rights of the most excluded groups of children. It emphasises that states may not discriminate against any child or category of children through resource mobilisation, allocation or execution of public funds. In their budgetary decisions, states should consider all factors required for children of different ages to survive, grow and develop. The best interest of the child should be a primary consideration throughout the budgetary process. The UNCRC General Comments are available to download here. A statement of the Child Rights Connect Working Group on Investment in Children is available here.
European Policy DevelopmentsTop
EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS / Judgment in case Khlaifia and Others v. Italy: violation of right to liberty and security, no inhuman or degrading treatment
The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights issued its judgement on 15 December 2016 in the case Khlaifia and Others v. Italy, which concerns three Tunisian nationals who were intercepted by the Italian coastguard when attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea by boat and were brought to Lampedusa in September 2011. They were initially held in a reception centre, and later in ships, pending their removal. In accordance with a bilateral agreement concluded in early April 2011, the Italian authorities deported the Tunisian nationals to Tunisia. An initial ruling by the Court’s Second Chamber in September 2015 held that the applicants’ rights had been violated under Articles 5 and 3, as well as Article 4 of Protocol No. 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) (see PICUM Bulletin 21 October 2015). At the request of the Italian government, the case was referred to the Grand Chamber, which confirmed that the applicants’ detention was unlawful: the applicants were detained in a facility not provided for under Italian law, and their detention could not have been made lawful under Italy’s bilateral agreement with Tunisia, because its terms were secret and therefore could not provide them with the necessary clarity and certainty about its consequences. Their detention therefore was a violation of the right to liberty and security (Article 5 §1), the right to be informed promptly of the reasons for deprivation of liberty (Article 5 §2), and the right to a speedy decision on the lawfulness of detention (Article 5 §4). The Court ruled that there was no violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) in respect to the conditions in the reception centre in Lampedusa. According to reports, over 50,000 migrants and refugees were staying in Lampedusa at the time and reception centres were overcrowded with inadequate hygienic conditions. The Court found that conditions nonetheless did not rise to the required level of severity to constitute inhuman or degrading treatment. The Court did, however, find a violation of Article 3 combined with Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) because the applicants had no way to challenge the conditions of their detention. Finally, the Court held that there had been no violation of Article 4 of Protocol 4 of ECHR because the applicants had the opportunity to raise arguments against their deportation to the authorities. In the absence of such objections, their deportation was justified on the basis of their nationality and irregular entry. There was also no violation of Article 4 of Protocol 4 combined with Article 13 (right to an effective remedy): the applicants’ refusal-of-entry orders notified them of the possibility of making an appeal of their removal and, in the absence of allegations that they would face a violation of their rights under Article 2 or 3 of ECHR in Tunisia, the fact that an appeal would not have suspended their deportation did not deprive them of their right to an effective remedy. To read the full judgement, click here.
Sources: Verfassungsblog, 16 December 2016; European Court of Human Rights Press Release, 15 December 2016; Elena Weekly Legal Update, 16 December 2016,
The local church in the city of Pori will open its doors for rejected asylum seekers and provide them a place to sleep. This includes mostly people from Iraq, Afghanistan and North African countries. The local police expressed concern about the plan and arguing that this might be considered hiding people. The police stated that in certain cases, the church might face criminal charges for violation of the Foreigners’ Act if they host undocumented migrants in its premises.
Source: Satakunnan Kansa, 30 November 2016
The medical superintendents of five Finnish university children’s hospitals published a joint statement in December 2016, stating that the university hospitals in Helsinki, Turku, Tampere, Kuopio and Oulu open their doors to all the children, regardless of their migration status in Finland. The statement argues that treatment of all children should be mandatory in order to fulfil the international obligations which bind Finland under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Source: Helsingin Sanomat,13 December 2016
GREECE / Report indicates that migrant women delivering babies in Greece often not provided pain relief, chance to consent to c-sections
The Hellenic Action for Human Rights has published a preliminary report on antenatal care, birth and postnatal care of migrant women in Greece, which indicates that 60% of the 29 women surveyed for their study who had delivered babies in Greece had received a caesarean section. In all but one of these cases, the women were given general anaesthetic rather than an epidural. This was done despite the risks given the impossibility of obtaining a proper medical history because of interpretation was no provided. None of the women was provided an opportunity to give consent for the procedure or to ask questions about the decision to perform a caesarean section. Only one of the women who delivered vaginally was provided with pain relief. The proportion of women in Greece’s general population who have a caesarean section is among the highest in Europe, and more than double the average among EU member states. The high number of caesarean deliveries among the migrant women studied has been criticised by advocates, who point out that, unlike Greek women who typically return to their homes after birth, many migrant women return to camps with extremely poor conditions and stressful, insecure circumstances.
Source: The Guardian, 19 December 2016
Labour and Fair Working ConditionsTop
Qatar has announced the end of its labour sponsorship system (‘kafala’ system) that forces migrant workers to seek their employer's permission to change jobs or leave the country. A new contract-based law was reported to come into effect on 13 December 2016, replacing the ‘kafala’ system. A Qatari government statement quoted by the BBC states that the legislative changes, combined with ongoing enforcement and a commitment to systemic reform, in Qatar and in countries of origin, will ensure workers' rights are respected across the entire labour pathway. However, Amnesty International has released a briefing “New name, old system? Qatar’s new employment law and abuse of migrant workers” detailing how the reform does not entail significant changes and leaves the system intact. Workers still need their employer’s permission to change jobs, without which they face criminal charges for “absconding” if they change jobs during a contract period, which can last up to five years. Workers still require exit permits to leave the country, which can still be blocked by their employer. A government committee will consider workers’ appeals against being blocked from leaving. Employers keeping workers’ passports, which was illegal until now, is now legal under a new loophole which abusive employers can easily exploit. The new law also does nothing to change the situation of the thousands of migrant domestic workers who are excluded from key labour protections in Qatari law. Qatar has hired hundreds of thousands of migrant construction workers for the 2022 football World Cup. World Cup related construction is set to peak in the next two years, with the building of at least eight stadiums, hotels, transport networks and other infrastructure. Amnesty International has previously documented appalling working conditions. As well as calling on the Qatari government to implement substantive reforms, Amnesty urges FIFA and key people in the football world to push for structural changes to the relationship between employers and migrant workers.
Sources: BBC News, 13 December; Amnesty International, 12 December 2016
On the occasion of International Migrants’ Day on 18 December 2016, the European Trade Union Confederation and its UnionMigrantNet network published the report “Defending Undocumented Migrants” which emphasises all workers’ rights, regardless of residence status. The report explains the situation of undocumented workers and the need for a ‘firewall’, a clear separation between immigration law enforcement and public services. The report, among others, proposes to establish more regular channels for migrant workers; to ensure migrant workers’ right to change their employer and complaint mechanisms for all workers to enforce their labour rights. To download the report in English and French, click here.
CAMPAIGN / PICUM and WAVE urge action to ensure access to services and justice for all women who are survivors of violence
Ahead of International Migrants’ Day, the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM) and Women Against Violence Europe (WAVE) Network launched a campaign partnership on 15 December 2016 to promote access to services for undocumented women and women with precarious migration status. In the context of WAVE’s Step Up! Campaign, the focus area on undocumented migrant women and women with a precarious migration status highlights key principles for ensuring equal protection for all survivors, namely that women’s rights, as human rights, apply to all women; that protection and safety should come first; and that discriminatory practices must be challenged. Service providers (such as shelters, medical staff and legal advisors), governmental actors at all levels (local, regional, national and EU), law enforcement, victim support organisations, human rights bodies, civil society organisations, women’s rights activists as well as individuals are all encouraged to show their commitment to these principles by signing a pledge. To view the pledge and to find out more about the campaign partnership, click here.
The German organisation for nationwide coordination against human trafficking (Bundesweiter Koordinierungskreis gegen Menschenhandel e.V., KOK) has published a study in December 2016 analysing trafficking for labour exploitation and severe exploitation of women. The study was carried out due to a discrepancy the organisation noted between the public debate on trafficking of women and the realities they experienced in their work. Authored by Janina Mitwalli, the study is based on available data and other existing studies as well as interviews. The study finds that few cases of trafficking and severe labour exploitation of women are brought to court due to many women’s irregular status. Among others, the study also highlights the invisibility of domestic work, which is often irregular work and exploitation of domestic workers. The study concludes that trafficking is still associated by the general public with sexual exploitation of women. Trafficking for labour exploitation is usually only discussed by experts on the issue. There is also a perception that men are victims of labour exploitation and women of trafficking for sexual exploitation. Thus, there is much less public awareness of women who are exploited at work. Several sectors such as domestic work and agricultural work are often hard to access for organisations who aim to help victims of labour exploitation. The study also concludes that women’s possibilities to engage in labour unions or access justice vary greatly due to status and the situation of the work place. To read the full study (in German), click here.
Undocumented Children and Their FamiliesTop
IRELAND / New report highlights challenges faced by migrant children due to flawed immigration system
A landmark research report ‘Child Migration Matters: Children and Young People’s Experiences of Migration’ by the Immigrant Council of Ireland shows that the failure to consider the individual rights and needs of children in Ireland’s immigration system is having a devastating impact on the lives of too many migrant children in Ireland. The report outlines children and young people’s experiences of navigating the immigration system, accessing legal advice and legal representation, and the impact of immigration status on access to education and employment. Its key findings include that children are largely invisible in Ireland’s immigration system. Until 16, they are assumed to have the same immigration permission as their parent, but cannot access confirmation of this position. There is no legislation or guidance on the appropriate permissions to be granted to children. This lack of clarity results in inconsistency in the immigration permissions granted to children when they turn 16, even in identical circumstances. The immigration status and access to citizenship for children in care is not adequately addressed. Despite being in the care of the state, they are not automatically considered to be regularly resident. Their immigration permission still depends on their parents. Children cannot easily access information or specialised legal advice about their immigration status. They are frequently unaware of their duty to register at 16 years, or their eligibility for naturalisation. At the launch of the report on 16 December 2016, the Immigrant Council of Ireland called for the establishment of a specific agency or contact point that will take responsibility for providing information and legal advice on immigration to children and other key stakeholders. The report is available here.
Detention and DeportationTop
Since 1 December 2016, police have arrested over 1,400 of sub-Saharan migrants in the Algerian capital Algiers. They have been put in a camp near Tamanrasset in the middle of the Sahara without receiving information about what would happen to them. Migrants are sleeping on the floor without mattresses. There has been a report of violence and lack of food distribution. Since the conflict in Mali started in 2012, authorities have not carried out collective expulsions to sub-Saharan countries. According to reports, the migrants will be deported. So far, authorities have not yet commented publicly on the arrest.
Sources: Le Monde, 5 December 2016 ; Radio France Internationale, 5 December 2016
In a new report published in November 2016, the National Association for Assistance to Foreigners at the Borders (ANAFE) provides an analysis of the current state of migration detention centres in arrival areas. While detention should be used as a last resort and for as little time as possible, detention is often carried out without judicial oversight or access to legal assistance or health care. Detention centres near border areas have been found to be lacking transparency about conditions and procedures. The report describes the conditions of several detention centres in arrival areas in detail including detention of children. Decisions on what grounds a migrant is detained may be discriminatory and arbitrary. ANAFE is one of the few organisations authorised to access the centres and the report highlights infringements of rights witnessed by the association. While abuse is not uncommon, detainees do not have means to report them due to lack of free legal assistance, access to health care and independent observers. To read the full report, click here.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) together with the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) published on 13 December 2016 the report “’Detained and Dehumanised’ Report on human rights abuses against migrants in Libya” which highlights how the breakdown in the Libyan justice system has led to a state of impunity in which migrants are subjected to serious human rights violations and abuses. According to Martin Kobler, the Secretary General’s Special Representative for Libya and Head of the UNSMIL, people smuggled or trafficked into Libya face torture, forced labour and sexual exploitation along the route, many while also held in arbitrary detention. Recommendations to Libyan authorities include to end the arbitrary detention of all migrants and release immediately particularly vulnerable groups such as pregnant women, children, persons with health concerns and disabilities; to protect those in detention from killings, rape and sexual exploitation; to improve conditions of detention immediately and specifically provide adequate food, medical care, water and sanitation and to ensure full respect for the principle of non-refoulement and the prohibition of arbitrary and collective expulsions. Recommendations to countries of destination include to decriminalise irregular migration and ensure that migrants can effectively access justice and human rights protection, and can effectively report abuses by smugglers; to continue search and rescue at sea operations and to continue to support the lifesaving, human rights and other humanitarian activities of international organisations working on behalf of those in detention. To read the full report, click here.
A policy brief by the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS) authored by Maybritt Jill Alpes, Postdoc Researcher at the VU University of Amsterdam and Ninna Nyberg Sørensen, Senior Researcher at DIIS, published in November 2016 analyses risks following deportations. The policy brief divides these risks into three groups: economic and psychosocial risks, insecurities in the hands of state agents and inhumane and degrading treatment. The brief provides an overview of what risks frequently occur in countries to which migrants are deported. The policy brief recommends that there must be effective monitoring of deportations; complaint mechanisms and legal aid for out-of-country appeals should be put in place; agreements which include readmission clauses should be negotiated with the participation of parliamentarians and civil society and be made publicly available; cooperation with countries of origin should strengthen local judicial systems. To read the full policy brief, click here.
More than 400 women and children were released at once from two Texas immigration detention centres in early December 2016, after the centres were found to be holding families in violation of Texas law. The privately run South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley and the Karnes County Residential Center in Karnes City were licensed to hold children but a state District Court judge invalidated those licenses on 2 December arguing that the licence “runs counter to the general objectives of the Texas Human Resources Code and is, therefore, invalid”. None of the centres were built to hold children but the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the private firms that operate them have been trying to adapt them since the number of families with children crossing the border irregularly sharply increased in 2014. ICE is currently reviewing the ruling. Meanwhile, migrant shelters and local churches are trying to accommodate some of the families.
Source: Los Angeles Times, 6 December 2016
The ninth Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) took place in Dhaka, Bangladesh from 8 to 12 December 2016. The Civil Society Days took place on 8-9 December and gathered 200 civil society delegates from over 50 countries. The discussion led to an outcome report presented by the 2016 Chair of Civil Society, Colin Rajah, Coordinator of the Global Coalition on Migration, at the Common Space attended by civil society and government delegates on 10 December. The report highlights the need to empower migrant workers including through an effective complaints mechanism and access to justice for labour rights violations. It states that deterrence and migration control policies are often ineffective, and deprive individuals of their fundamental human rights; and addresses rising xenophobia, calling among others, for dialogue and support to cities and local authorities as first responders to migration. It notes that the Global Compact on migration must have practical effects on the ground, improving the lives, opportunities, and respect for the human rights of all migrants. For more information on the Civil Society Days, click here. To watch a video of the opening ceremony of the Common Space click here. The Civil Society Days and Common Space were followed by two days of governments-only discussions, the Government Days from 11-12 December. To read reports, remarks and speeches of the Global Forum on Migration and Development, click here.
PICUM IN THE NEWSTop
The Italian Internazionale published an article discussing how the EU-Afghanistan agreement aims to deport large numbers of Afghan people. The article quotes PICUM Advocacy Officer, Kadri Soova, stating that the European Commission thus pursues to curb irregular migration to Europe.
Source: Internazionale, 19 December 2016
The Spanish El Mundo published an opinion piece on the occasion of International Migrants’ Day which outlines the situation of migrant children, many of whom have gone missing from or left reception facilities and whose rights continue to be denied. The article mentions PICUM’s publication “Hear our voices. Undocumented Children and young people share their stories”.
Source: El Mundo, 18 December 2016
With contributions from Marta Llonch (PICUM Trainee), Sofia Al Bidir (PICUM Intern) and Heidi Nihtilä (PICUM volunteer)