Belgium: Unaccompanied minor given larger benefit of the doubt in refugee proceedings

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 ELENA Weekly Legal Update

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Asylum Information Database: Updated report on Italy

The Asylum Information Database (AIDA) report on Italy provides detailed information on the decree passed last year implementing the EU Qualifications Directive and increasing Italy’s reception capacity to the current 20,000 places provided at the national reception centres (SPRAR).Italian law now grants refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection the same rights to family reunification and residence permits of equal duration, five years.

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.

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