The CJEU held in a judgment dated 4 June 2015 that the long-term residence Directive does not preclude the imposition of an obligation to pass a civic integration examination, as long as this does not obstruct the objectives pursued by the Directive.
Dutch law provided that third country nationals applying for residency needed to pass an exam testing their knowledge of Dutch language and society by a certain date, failing which they would have to pay a fine. As the registration fee and costs incurred to prepare for and sit the examination were relatively high, it was liable to jeopardise the Directive’s objective of integration of non-EU citizens, depriving it of effectiveness.
Professor Steve Peers comments that “the Court has struck a good balance between ensuring that immigrants fit into society and the need to prevent integration tests forming a disguised means of excluding migrants from ever really fitting in despite their genuine efforts”…..CJEU: Civic integration examinations are compatible with the EU Long-term residence Directive
An updated Asylum Information Database (AIDA) report on Croatia has been published that reflects the amendment to the country’s Law on Administrative Disputes made in December 2014. This amendment introduces the possibility of a second appeal in the asylum procedure, allowing asylum seekers to appeal against a decision of the Administrative Court before the High Administrative Court. While the onward appeal has a suspensive effect, allowing applicants to remain on Croatian territory until the end of proceedings, this is expected to be amended in a forthcoming Law on International and Temporary Protection, which is to transpose the Asylum Procedures Directive and the Reception Conditions Directive into Croatian legislation. According to the report, written by the Croatian Law Centre, there has been no case or available information to date on how the appeal before the High Administrative Court is handled in practice, or on the forms of accommodation and benefits available to asylum seekers during this appeal.
The report also demonstrates that there has been a significant drop in the number of asylum applications made in Croatia, from 1,089 in 2013, to 453 in 2014, of which 54 were made by Syrian nationals 18 by Afghan, 10 by Somali, and 4 by Eritrean nationals. The recognition rate has remained at approximately 11%.
The ECRE member organisation France Terre d’Asile released a document to provide insight into the various issues of the welcome and support of unaccompanied children in France in order to give an overview of the system in place. The paper highlights how unaccompanied minors in France may struggle to find legal representation, and thus may have no legal capacity. This can in turn lead to difficulties in accessing social protection, health care, education and a number of other rights. While obtaining precise statistics on the numbers of unaccompanied foreign minors is problematic, it is estimated that there are around 8,000 in France, with a large proportion of them being male, and aged over 15 years old.
The applicant, George Malki Karim, is Syrian. He submitted in March 2014 an application for international protection in Sweden. The inspection revealed that the applicant had made a request in Slovenia in May 2013. The Swedish Migration Agency therefore called Slovenia to take back and examine the request of the applicant in accordance with Regulation 604/2013(Dublin III Regulation). However, the applicant informed the Migration Agency that he had stayed for more than three months outside the EU in the meantime. His passport contained one entry stamp from Lebanon on 20 July 2013. Slovenia still agreed to take back the applicant, so his application in Sweden was rejected. The applicant lodged an appeal with the Migration Court in Stockholm, which rejected his appeal for the reasons stated in the case C-394/12 Abdullahi: the court noted that the procedure was correct, that the applicant’s stay outside the EU in this case was irrelevant, and that there are no other reasons for the criteria of the Dublin III Regulation not to apply.
The applicant lodged an appeal before the referring court, the Migration Court of Appeal at the Administrative Court of Appeal in Stockholm. He maintained his position that Dublin III does not apply because he left the territory of the EU for more than three months. He also appealed on humanitarian grounds, because of the deficiencies in the asylum procedure in Slovenia. The Swedish Migration Agency disputed the applicant’s view on the implementation of the Regulation and pointed out that the procedure is primarily a matter between the EU Member States.
The Administrative Court of Appeal of Stockholm submitted the following questions to the CJEU for a preliminary ruling:
(1) Are the new provisions on effective remedies of Regulation No 604/2013, Recital 19 and Article 27(1) and (5), interpreted as meaning that an applicant must have the opportunity to challenge the criteria of Chapter III of the Regulation under which he or she may be transferred to another Member State which has agreed to receive him or her, or is an effective remedy limited in the sense that it applies only to the right to an assessment of whether there are systemic deficiencies in the asylum procedure and reception conditions in the Member State in which the applicant will be transferred (by analogy with the judgment of the Court of Justice in Case C-394/12)?
(2) If the Court considers that it should be possible to have an effective remedy against the criteria of Chapter III of the Regulation, is Article 19(2) of Regulation No 604/2013 interpreted as meaning that the Regulation should not apply if the applicant demonstrates that he or she has been living for at least three months beyond the territory of the Member States?
The original Swedish text can be found on the EDAL website here.
A decision by the Belgian Council of Aliens Law Litigation (CALL) on 29 April 2015 suspended the decision to transfer a Guinean national to Spain.
The applicant had lodged an asylum application in Belgium which had been refused with an order to leave the territory on the basis that Spain, under Article 13.1 of Dublin IIIRegulation, was competent to deal with the asylum request. The applicant subsequently lodged a request with the CALL to suspend this transfer under the ‘extremely urgent procedure’.
The applicant spent a number of months in Spain in 2014, before arriving in Belgium. In Spain, he had his fingerprints taken, and claimed that he had been discouraged by a social worker from applying for asylum there. A little later, the applicant found himself without any aid in Madrid, living on the streets. With psychological damage emanating from the aftereffects of physical trauma sustained due to ill-treatment in his country of origin, medical records suggested that the applicant was a vulnerable person. The agreement to return the applicant to Spain contained no guarantee that the applicant’s vulnerability would be taken into account in the Spanish asylum system, with there being no specific procedure existent for the identification of vulnerable persons. Merely sending the applicant’s medical certificate to the Spanish authorities would not be sufficient to guarantee this.
Further, there was no guarantee that the individual would be able to introduce a new request for international protection in Spain. Whilst the CALL noted that there were no systemic deficiencies in the Spanish asylum system, the aforementioned lack of guarantees meant that the applicant could be at risk of ill-treatment, and thus the return decision to Spain was suspended.
A summary of the key changes for visitors from 24 April 2015
The Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules, HC 1025, laid before Parliament on 26 February 2015, consolidates the Immigration Rules for visitors into a new Appendix V to the Immigration Rules. The new rules for visitors take effect from 24 April 2015, with some transitional provisions as outlined in the Immigration Rules, Part 2.
The changes aim to rationalise the rules for visitors, making them largely self-contained within Appendix V, simplifying the language and reducing the number of visitor routes so that some visitors now have more flexibility in the range of activities they may undertake while in the UK.
The new rules will be accompanied by new sets of guidance, due to be published on or shortly after 24 April 2015.
In a case heard before the Belgian Council of Aliens Law Litigation (CALL) on 21 April, an unaccompanied minor from Djibouti saw an earlier decision to not grant refugee status overturned despite grave doubts about the coherence, consistency and lack of detail used in substantiating the applicant’s claims that she had left her country due to a well-founded fear of persecution.
The applicant had made a number of chronological and factual errors in her testimony to the asylum board in Belgium such as concerns place names and the time of elections in Djibouti, which had led to her claim being doubted. She had further asserted that she was at risk of forced marriage and female circumcision. This had been rejected due to evidence that rules existed in Djibouti to ban these practices, and the ability of her parents to protect her from either of these practices up until this point. However, the CALL said that a reading of the jurisprudence and attached information showed that the female circumcision rate in Djibouti is around 93%, and that infibulation is very common. The protection offered by the Djiboutian state and the efficacy of the laws against female circumcision has been reported in a document from CGRA’s research unit Cedoca to be weak, and the laws barely applied at all. With this in mind, the CALL said that the applicant could be said to be fleeing her country of origin due to fear of persecution in the sense of Article 1, Section A §2 of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees due to her belonging to the social group of women. It further considered that an unaccompanied minor in these circumstances should be given a large benefit of the doubt, and thus granted the applicant refugee status.
The report written by the Italian Council for Refugees (CIR) illustrates how obstacles still prevent asylum seekers from accessing adequate reception. For example, asylum seekers claiming asylum at police headquarters can be accommodated in reception centres only after the formal registration of their asylum claim, which may happen long after the person has been fingerprinted, thus leaving people sleeping rough on the streets. In contrast, asylum seekers rescued at sea are immediately transferred to emergency temporary reception centres (CAS), regardless of the formal registration of their applications.
Furthermore, the quality of assistance varies between the different reception centres. Over 35,000 people were accommodated in temporary accommodation centres (CAS) in 2014 and 2015. The reception conditions and services provided in these centres are not being monitored at the national level. Accommodation Centres for Asylum Seekers (CARA) and short-term accommodation centres (CDA), host around over 9,000 asylum seekers who receive basic services in large, overcrowded buildings. UNHCR has warned that asylum seekers at CARA reception centres still face poor living conditions, due to the low quality of services, the prevalence of abuses and inefficiencies as well as the complete lack of integration perspectives. Overall, centres are overcrowded and sometimes placed in remote locations. Centres of the SPRAR network, providing over 20,000 places, ensure more and better services, such as mediation and legal counselling.
A National Coordinating Working Group has been established within the Italian Ministry of Interior, which involves members of civil society organisations and UNHCR in efforts to improve reception and integration in the country. The Working Group is responsible for the development of a plan to create additional emergency reception places, under an equitable distribution scheme, across the Italian regions as well as developing an integration plan.
The new decree reinforces protection for asylum-seeking children, whose level of maturity and personal development must be taken into account during personal interviews. Furthermore, the principle of the ‘best interest of the child’ is clearly prioritised, in particular in the identification of a mechanism for age assessment of unaccompanied children to be adopted in the future.
Furthermore, from now on, persons awaiting return will be detained for a maximum of 90 days, instead of the previous 18 month limit.
Finally, the report includes concerns by UNHCR and CIR about the decision to end Italy’s search and rescue operation, Mare Nostrum, which rescued over 170,000 people in 2014.
With a delay of seven years, an implementing decree on asylum procedures has entered into force in Italy on 20 March 2015. This Decree lays down the rules implementing the Procedure Decree 25/2008 which transposed in 2008 the EU Procedures Directive. The EU had in the meanwhile, already approved new measures in June 2013, to be transposed by July 2015.
The new law clearly states that asylum seekers do not need to approach the authorities of their countries of origin to request official documentation in order to benefit from state free legal aid.
The new measures also foresee the adoption of guidelines on minimum standards for the management of reception centres, which has been welcomed by UNHCR.
Under the new rules adopted in March, beneficiaries of humanitarian protection have the right to stay in Italy for two years, instead of one, as established by the previous law. In 2014, 36,330 applications were examined, out of which 21,861 people were granted a form of protection (60%); from which 10,091 were granted humanitarian protection.
ELENA Weekly Legal Update
10 April 2015
Following on from the majority judgment in June, rejecting the applicant’s complaint that return from Sweden to Libya would expose him to a risk of persecution based on his homosexuality, the Grand Chamber has decided to strike out the application in accordance with Article 37 § 1(b) of the Convention.
Surmising the developments that had taken place since the Chamber’s judgment in June, the Grand Chamber makes specific reference to the Migration Board’s decision to grant the applicant a permanent residence permit . This decision was rendered by the Board following a deterioration of the security situation in Libya, owing to continuous political instability which appears to be unwavering. Against this background, and a new domestic legal comment concerning the situation in Libya, the Migration Board found that the deterioration in security alongside the applicant’s homosexuality constituted a new circumstance. This subsequently led to the finding that, if returned, the applicant would be subjected to persecution on account of his homosexuality.
Whilst the Swedish government requested the Grand Chamber to strike out the application in line with Article 37 para 1 of the Convention, the applicant conversely requested the application to be maintained, given that the matter of whether Sweden had breached Article 3 by its previous decisions had not been resolved. Similarly, the correctness of the previous Chamber’s reasoning had yet to be examined. Additionally, the applicant noted the pertinent human rights issues at stake in the judgment, notably rights of homosexuals in asylum cases [29-30], which required a continued examination.
Noting that Sweden’s own motion to grant a permanent residence permit to the applicant had effectively repealed the previous expulsion decision and, consequently, the threat of an Article 3 violation, the Grand Chamber found, in line with previous jurisprudence, (O.G.O. v. the United Kingdom) that the applicant no longer risked being expelled from Sweden. Accordingly, the matter had been resolved within the meaning of Article 37 § 1 (b) of the ECHR [34-35]. Indeed, the Court found that the Migration Board had taken the applicant’s homosexuality into account when finding that due to the deterioration of security the applicant would be at risk of persecution “since he lived openly as a homosexual and could be expected to continue doing so on his return” . Finding, therefore, that there was no need to retrospectively examine Sweden’s responsibility under Article 3, the Court additionally surmised that there were no special circumstances relating to human rights that required an ongoing examination of the case. The Court, thus, decided to strike the case out of its list.
The Grand Chamber has issued its second decision concerning Sweden and has, similarly, struck the case out of its list under Article 37 § 1 (b) of the ECHR. The Court’s previous judgment refused to find a violation of Article 3 if a single woman, member of a religious minority, were to be sent back to Southern and Central Iraq.
The Grand Chamber’s finding comes after the Migration Board’s decision to grant the applicant a permanent residence permit in Sweden. Whilst the Board did not consider the applicant as a refugee, the permit was issued in light of the general security situation in Baghdad as well as the applicant’s gender, religion and a lack of social network in Iraq. Conversely to what the ECtHR had previously found, the Board stated that internal relocation was not an alternative for the applicant given the high numbers of Iraqis fleeing to the Kurdistan Region within the space of a few months . On account of the Migration Board’s decision to grant a permanent residence permit as well as the applicant’s desire to discontinue the application in front of the Grand Chamber, the Court struck out the application in accordance with Article 37 § 1 (a) and (b) of the ECHR.
The CPT has published a report following on from its visit to Spain in 2014 where it monitored the treatment of irregular migrants, both at the borders, in detention facilities and at holding centres.
Firstly, with regards to administrative detention, the CPT found that detained foreign nationals were often requested to sign documents without being informed of their contents or being provided with an interpreter. This was particular apparent in Melilla, where the report also shines a spotlight on border practices and the Readmission Agreement with Morocco. Particularly disconcerting is the finding that no information has been furnished to the CPT on its use, despite repeated requests. Moreover, the frequent implementation by Spain of the “devolution procedure,” which provides for the possibility of returning to the border, within 72 hours, irregular migrants based on an administrative individual decision, is highly troubling given the international law norm violations such a procedure entails. In this vein the CPT notes video footage which shows forcible and often violent returns of migrants immediately at the border and even several hundred meters from the border, without any process of identification.
The Committee makes note of the Spanish amendment to the Aliens Act, now passed in law, questioning its legal basis. Spain is urged to provide officials with clear guidelines that migrants are not to be returned unlawfully without an individualised assessment of their protection needs and that an independent enquiry is undertaken with regards to reported violence. Additionally, as to reports that Moroccan Auxiliary Forces (MAF) are operating in between the border fences, forcibly removing migrants to Morocco, the CPT urges Spanish authorities to not hand over any migrants to the MAF.
As to conditions within detention centres the report notes allegations of both physical ill-treatment and verbal abuse by officers within the centres as well as police officers. Moreover, in the two centres visited, in Madrid and Barcelona, the environment documented was a carceral one with detainees being held in multi-occupancy cells, despite a number of cells being left unoccupied. Lastly, allegations were noted that in cases of deportation from both centres the migrants were often not informed of their impending deportation and, therefore, had no time to contact their lawyer.
In light of the obligation to provide an asylum applicant with a fair and effective opportunity to present the grounds for their application, EASO has published a structured practical guide intended to aid case officers in the handling of asylum interviews.
Providing information on relevant EU legislation the publication gives guidance to case officers on preparing the interview, including the identification of special procedural needs, conducting the interview, interview techniques, and the substance of the application. In this vein EASO refers in detail to the Qualification Directive and provides guidance regarding the substance of the claim which needs to be explored, as well as necessary post-interview actions.
The FRA have published its 2014 Handbook on European law relating to asylum, borders and immigration in Estonian, Lithuanian, Latvian, Czech, Slovak, Swedish, Slovenian and Portuguese. The Handbook, which provides a guide to the relevant legislation and jurisprudence in the fields of asylum, borders and immigration within the EU and Council of Europe frameworks, is now accessible in 19 EU languages.
Following on from the UNHCR’s observations on the situation of asylum in Greece in December 2014, the UNHCR has published a set of recommendations to the new Greek government relating to border management, reception conditions, access to procedures, unaccompanied and separated children, detention, integration, racism and statelessness.
Stipulating certain recommendations on access to the territory, the UNHCR calls for the adoption of internal rules and an action plan on procedures at the borders which fully respect international, European, domestic law and norms. In this vein, the UNHCR recommends Greece to ensure informal returns do not occur, that any allegations of said returns are investigated and that increased human resources are available to coast guard and local authorities in order to receive new arrivals and improve their material reception conditions. In terms of reception, the UNHCR calls on Greece to ensure First Reception Centres are fully equipped with staff, that tailored reception conditions are provided and a referral framework is set up for vulnerable applicants. Moreover, the UNHCR requests Greece to undertake an individualized examination of each deportation and detention order and issue a renewable six-month suspension, if removal is not feasible. Further attention is paid to the need to harmonise the status and rights of third-country nationals under deportation procedures and under return procedures if a return is not feasible.
On the topic of administrative detention, the UNHCR recommends that asylum applications of persons who are under pre-removal detention are processed and examined quickly and that detention orders meted out to asylum seekers are reviewed within 24-48 hours of issuance and then again on a weekly and monthly basis. The UNHCR further requests Greece to end the invocation of public security reasons for a ground of detention (pre-removal), where the return would not otherwise be feasible.
Other recommendations that the UNHCR set forth relate to the adoption of a public legal aid system for asylum-seekers, accelerated examination of the back-log of cases, a review of humanitarian statuses and better access to procedures for unaccompanied children through the strengthening of escorting and traveling arrangements. Lastly, reference is paid to integration, with the UNHCR urging Greece to expand the scope of family reunification to subsidiary protection status holders, improve processing time of reunification requests as well as ensuring that the renewal of residence permits are swift and effective.
The UNHCR has published its position paper on returns to Yemen. Finding the situation in the country to be highly fluid and uncertain, the UNHCR calls on all countries to allow civilians fleeing the country access to their territories. Moreover, the publication urges countries to suspend forcible returns of nationals or habitual residents of Yemen to the country, specifying that this is a minimum standard and should not be used to deviate from international protection obligations. In reaching this conclusion the UNHCR highlights the deterioration of political stability, an increase in air strikes, leading to a sharp rise in civilian fatalities, and fears that Yemen is on the brink of civil war with continuous armed conflict prevailing between the government and Houthi forces.
Indeed, the UNHCR reports that by the end of 2014, more than 330,000 Yemenis were internally displaced. Protracted rates of displacement are made worse by the fact that Yemen is already hosting more than 250,000 refugees, mostly from Somalia and countries from the Horn of Africa. Additionally, the publication details “an acute humanitarian crisis in Yemen caused by years of conflict, drought, and chronic poverty” with two thirds of the population in need of humanitarian assistance. The current instability has exacerbated already strained facilities with aid agencies reporting difficulties in accessing those in need. Lastly, the UNHCR reports that the mixture of conflict and weak rule of law has led to human rights abuses, gender-based violence, violations of children’s rights, trafficking, smuggling and military recruitment of children.
The case concerns a Nigerian national from the Edo State who was forced into prostitution after being trafficked into France. She later reported to the police the names of those involved in the prostitution network and applied for asylum. Fearing that if returned she would be suspected of prostitution, illegal in Nigeria, the applicant further claimed that she would be ostracised by her social and familial network, that she had breached the social contract given that she had not repaid the debt for her journey to Europe and that she would be viewed as being cursed by the community in light of a ritual ceremony in Nigeria which marked her allegiance to the trafficking network. Finding that whilst the victims of trafficking would be viewed upon disapprovingly by Nigerian society, given that the majority of female victims were later prostitutes in Europe, the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless People (OFPRA) found that this was not enough to constitute a particular social ground in accordance with the 1951 Geneva Convention and the Qualification Directive. Moreover, the Office considered that no information had been furnished to suggest that the victims of trafficking were submitted to persecutory acts if returned to Nigeria and, thus, refused the applicant’s asylum application.
Turning first to the question of particular social group, the French National Court of Asylum considered that in order to enter into a trafficking network, and thus prostitution, one must undergo a ritual in Nigeria which scars the body. Once in Europe the person is submitted to exploitation and threats if they try to leave the network. The Court finds that such women have a common background that cannot be changed. Secondly, the Court notes that credible international reports document that where a young female Nigerian returns home from Europe without any money, they are immediately suspected of prostitution, which is perceived extremely badly by local communities. This social alienation leads the Court to conclude that female victims of human trafficking from the State of Edo share a distinct identity, which they are unable to rid themselves of and thus such females should be considered as a particular social group in accordance with international and European law.
Lastly, the Court turns to the debt owed to a highly respected cult in the community, which has threatened the applicant’s physical integrity, as well as the discrimination faced if returned, and the severe risks presented to the applicant for denouncing the prostitution ring. Highlighting that such actors enforce a customary justice in the region, the Court further considers the lack of effective administrative and judicial protection as placing the breaks on any real investigation into criminal activities, such as trafficking. On account of her membership in a particular social group and her actions against the network, the Court sets aside OFPRA’s decision and grants the status of refugee to the applicant.
Based on an unofficial ELENA translation.
Going beyond what is prescribed for in law, the report details the long periods of detention that asylum seekers face in Cyprus. In this vein the publication highlights that since the end of 2014, asylum claims of persons in detention ought to be processed within 30 days, while appeals should take no more than 15 days, following the introduction of a fast-track procedure. If the applicant is granted international protection or the decision is delayed, he or she must be released. However, research gathered by Future Worlds Center, the authors of the report, suggests that the prescribed time-limits are not being followed by the authorities.
Furthermore, the report details that Cyprus continues to detain asylum seekers for deportation purposes as soon as their protection claims have been refused at first instance without affording them the opportunity to effectively exercise their right to appeal before the Supreme Court. Indeed, an appeal to the Supreme Court does not have suspensive effect and thus an applicant is subject to deportation during proceedings.
The report, however, notes that asylum seekers returning to Cyprus under Dublin procedures pending a final decision on their application are not detained in practice, in a break away from the country’s previous detention policy.
Lastly, the report indicates that approximately 65% of the persons applying for international protection in Cyprus are granted subsidiary protection. According to current statistics the majority of subsidiary protection status holders are Syrians. Given that current domestic legislation does not allow beneficiaries of subsidiary protection to apply for family reunification, many Syrian families are separated, leaving children unaccompanied and liable to exploitation.
ECRE/ELENA would like to express our appreciation to Amanda Taylor for her invaluable contribution to the ELENA Weekly Legal update and the ELENA and ECRE’s work over the past seven months. Amanda has contributed her energy and time in order to make the EWLU interesting, up to date and informative. She has also made a significant input to improve the newsletter and her excellent translation skills have made informing the EWLU subscribers of many important national judgments possible.
As of next week Amanda will be working on AIDA/EDAL databases, managed by ECRE, and we are sure that her commitment and professionalism will help us to improve these. We hope that Amanda continues her engagement with the ELENA network in her new role and wish her best of luck in her future endeavours.
Supported by the Fundamental Rights and Citizenship Funding Programme of the European Union and UNHCR