The FRA is the organisation responsible for monitoring the protection of people’s fundamental rights in the EU. It has been examining the fundamental rights of those entering the EU for the European Commission in the seven countries most affected by the migrant crisis. In October 2016 the FRA published a summary of the key migration issues one year on from reporting, the results of which are outlined below. For more information, download ESN’s briefing on the refugee crisis here, which provides the perspective of local social service providers.
Safety & protection in facilities
The countries analysed by the FRA have various measures in place to ensure the safety and protection of vulnerable migrants in reception facilities. These include separate accommodation for women and families, psychological support, and female security personnel as well as other measures. However, most EU member states do not have specific mechanisms in place to prevent gender-based violence. For example, the German Ministry of the Interior recorded 128 attacks against women and children in German reception centres between January and September 2016.
As a positive example of protection, Sweden has succeeded in developing safe and sensitive procedures for LGBTI persons at reception facilities. The country has established three dedicated safe houses, introduced LGBTI certification in accommodation centres and implemented a ‘zero tolerance’ policy regarding discriminatory behaviour by staff.
Unaccompanied children seeking asylum must be provided with a guardian to help them in the asylum process and defend their rights. However, there are significant delays in the appointment of guardians (up to eight months in Italy). In Bulgaria, Greece and Italy authorities often start the asylum procedure without the presence of a guardian, while in Sweden, there are reports of guardians who are responsible for 50 children.
Progress has been made in improving the number of available accommodation places for unaccompanied children (fivefold increase in Sweden over 2016). Overall however, the number of places available in specialised facilities is still insufficient. As a result, many children remain in inappropriate and crowded first reception and transit facilities. According to the FRA, the majority of children who go missing are those placed in these inappropriate facilities.
Despite these problems, the FRA identified a promising example of an approach to protecting unaccompanied children. The city of Jönköping, Sweden, actively involves children in decisions on the design and implementation of policies concerning them, such as housing. The city is also conducting a long-term evaluation of their strategy using focus groups to monitor their progress.
Reaction of local people
ESN’s briefing revealed that in various countries there is a sense of enthusiasm among local people for volunteering in activities to help refugees.
However, FRA reports that there are also many racist incidents against refugees reported, some of which are very violent. Local vigilante groups have emerged with an anti-refugee agenda. In Hungary, there are cases of refugees who try to cross the border from Serbia being captured by these groups before being beaten and turned back to Serbia.
Worryingly, there is endorsement for this type of behaviour from some national governments. The Hungarian government has maintained a media campaign which degrades refugees and portrays them as terrorists. The Bulgarian Prime Minister meanwhile, has thanked vigilante groups for detaining refugees at the border.
The FRA observes that in many of the countries victims are afraid to report to the police because of distrust and possible implications for their asylum application.
Overall, the FRA reports that despite progress being made since the start of the migrant crisis, the fundamental rights of migrants are often not translated into practice. ESN’s own briefing echoes many of the FRA’s concerns, specifically regarding the protection of unaccompanied children. In addition, ESN highlights housing, language training and staff training as the main challenges for local services.