The conference, “What holds the future for Europe’s migration and asylum? Making the case for solidarity and integration”, was hosted by Asylum Protection Center (Centar za zaštitu i pomoć tražiocima azila,) in Belgrade, Serbia on March 2-3, 2017.
Fifteen organizations from various countries throughout Europe attended, and Legis was represented by its president, Jasmin Redzepi, and Erin Traeger.
The main subject and focus was on both solidarity and the current situation for refugees in Europe. Over five (5) panel discussions, topics ranged from the future of the Common European Asylum System, to EASO and FRONTEX, and to common challenges and concerns with the current treatment and perception of refugees, integration, and solidarity.
Throughout these two days, many experiences were exchanged and contacts made, resulting in a broadening of knowledge and a further strengthening of networks.
Jasmin Redzepi, Legis’ representative, spoke about the level of solidarity in Macedonia during the refugee crisis and on an ongoing basis, pointing out the importance of close coordination on the state level, as well as on the regional level. He stated that an important role of NGOs is to support the country, but also that there must be coordination for that to happen.
Many of the speakers discussed concerns regarding the shift away from human rights and towards securitization and even militarization of Europe, in particular by the European Commission. It was discussed how to solve the problem, that first we must ask ourselves, “what is perceived as the problem? Is it refugees, or is it the shakeup of the European identity? Who is it that needs protection?” People are coming here because they are in need of protection, yet we are making changes to protect ourselves from these very people. As well, the speakers echoed the sentiment that we must work together both locally within our countries, and transnationally for civil society to address our way of thinking and how it can change.
With regards to the future of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS), Olga Mitrovic, a migration consultant in Belgrade, discussed the changes and that it will be power politics when it comes to what countries will agree/be forced to do. As well, there are 28 member states, and all have their own laws; they can very easily blame other EU mechanisms for failures. Daniel Witko, of Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Warsaw, discussed the state of affairs in Poland, including that refugees were not given info about Dublin or their rights until after legal action had been taken. Hana Frankova from the Organization for aid for refugees, Prague, also gave examples of violations of refugee rights.
Leonhard den Hertog, Center for European Policy Studies, Brussels, discussed EASO and FRONTEX, and that realistically EASO is still FRONTEX. Many interesting points were made, including that a review of EU border practices occurring is needed with respect to accordance to the law. He also made the point that, “if there is no proper functioning asylum system, that what is the point of all this border control?”
Georgi Voynov, of Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Sofia, discussed the government using the refugee card to divert attention from other political issues. He also pointed out that fences have holes, resulting in people paying money to get through. In Bulgaria, there is no integration program, and generally only Syrians get status. There are problems with the asylum procedure, and detention isn’t used for its main purpose. Rather, detention has the main purpose of forcing those inside to sign for voluntary return, chiefly because the system doesn’t work, so Bulgaria can’t return them without a signature for voluntary return.
Sanja Mileknovik from Macedonian Young Lawyers Association, Skopje, discussed the recent return of many in Tabanovce, Macedonia to Greece, and that the refugees there were told by the police to prepare to go to Greece, where they would then be taken to Germany (clearly not true.) She also discussed the problems with lack of public interaction in Macedonia, with media coverage only on things like police action, and there being no public debate. There is a new project between MYLA and USAID to make refugees aware of their options, and to also arrange meetings so the general public can see that refugees don’t pose a threat.
Milica Svabic, Asylum Protection Centre, Belgrade, discussed the pushbacks to Serbia from Hungary and Croatia, including severe beatings, broken arms, etc. She also discussed the problem of police telling people that they were going to one place, such as Subotica, and then sending them to Presevo or elsewhere; serious setbacks to asylum procedures also exist, such as the police telling people to come back for days upon days when they attempted to register.
Lilla Prontvaj, MigHelp, Budapest, addressed the issues in Hungary. The media in Hungary is covering the refugees every day, for political reasons. It was noted that this coverage does not generally extend to religious affiliations of the refugees, but rather refugees in general. In terms of support, while earlier refugees received ~300€/mo., there is now no such support for them there. Now, there are ~3,400 refugees in Hungary who have recognition; approximately 1.5% of claims are approved, and this is not only due to strict government rules, but also because many people move on to Western Europe.
Lea Horvat, Centre for Peace Studies, Zagreb, echoed much of what was stated by others. In Croatia, there was a negative climate, with a law against solidarity. While on the positive side, refugees were never presented as an issue/excuse at the forefront of governmental issues within Croatia, but there is a negative picture of them. Unfortunately, advocacy is almost all on the short-term level and not long-term. There have been pushbacks, including with refugees’ personal belongings taken, and there are no complete plans nor measures for integration; most integration efforts have been done by NGOs. Examples of those integration efforts include A Taste of Home and Zagreb 041 (a team that plays football with refugees.)
Miha Nabergoj, the representative from Pravno-informacijski center nevladinih organizacij – PIC, Ljubljana, felt that we can’t move forward due to xenophobia. As a lawyer in international protection, he felt that we must put our focus on xenophobia. “Civil society needs to come together as much as possible…and needs to tell the truth in a way that makes sense to people”, thereby combatting xenophobia. He also brought up technology: that it made many of the refugees’ journeys possible, yet also was a tool of mass hysteria.
The representative of CEI, Stefano Volpicelli, argued that spread reception is a good idea, and that it works well. (In Italy, refugees are spread throughout the country, with their distribution based upon the percentage of people in the region. The more populous a region, the more refugees that are sent there.) He stated that we’re lost in procedures and forgetting solidarity, compassion, etc.
As Stefano Volpicelli summed it up so well, “I can have all these ideas about people far away, but when they’re sitting at my table, it all goes away.“
- There were 15 organizations, plus a migration consultant:
- Balkan Refugee Train (Interkulturelles Zentrum), Austria
- Helsinki, Warsaw
- Organization for aid for refugees, Prague
- Migration consultant, Beograd
- Asylum Protection Center, Beograd
- Center for European Policy Studies, Brussels.
- MigHelp, Budapest
- Centre for Peace Studies, Zagreb
- MYLA, Skopje
- Bulgarian Helsinki, Sofija
- ICS Ufficio Rifugiati, Trieste
- Legis, Skopje
- Pravno-informacijski center nevladinih organizacij – Ljubljana
- Greek Council for Refugees, Athens
- Think-Difference, Vienna