Hotspots, Rights Denied: The lack of a legal framework is threatening the rights of migrants reaching Italy | Refugee | European Migrant Crisis

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The flow of migrants into Italy continues to be dealt with as an ‘emergency’ situation.  The EU’s ’hotspot’ approach, outlined in the European Agenda for Migration of  May 2015 as a short-term measure, has been implemented in Italy and Greece  and is an approach involving EU officers, in collaboration with national authorities, in the identification, fingerprinting and registration of migrants. This paper from Oxfam Italia examines the hotspot approach in Italy through the experiences of humanitarian agencies and civil society organizations on the ground, and through the voices of migrants themselves. It concludes that, due to the lack of a legal framework, the hotspot approach seriously violates the fundamental rights of people reaching Italian shores.  Oxfam calls for the Italian government and the European Union to define hotspot procedures and activities in EU and national regulations and to take medium-term action to expand the capacity of the receiving and support systems in Italy.
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  OXFAM BRIEFING PAPER MAY 2016 www.oxfam.org  Landing in Lampedusa, 2015. Photo: Michele Borzoni/Oxfam   HOTSPOT, RIGHTS DENIED The lack of a legal framework is threatening the rights of migrants reaching the Italian shore The flow of migrants into Italy continues to be dealt with as an ‘ emergency ’  situation. The EU’s ’ hotspot ’  approach, outlined in the European Agenda for Migration of May 2015 as a short-term measure, has been implemented in Italy and Greece and is an approach involving EU officers, in collaboration with national authorities, in the identification, fingerprinting and registration of migrants. This paper from Oxfam Italia examines the hotspot approach in Italy through the experiences of humanitarian agencies and civil society organizations on the ground, and through the voices of migrants themselves. It concludes that, due to the lack of a legal framework, the hotspot approach seriously violates the fundamental rights of people reaching Italian shores. Oxfam calls for the Italian government and the European Union to define hotspot procedures and activities in EU and national regulations and to take medium-term action to expand the capacity of the receiving and support systems in Italy.  2 SUMMARY The European response to the refugee crisis is proving ineffective and dangerous. Ineffective, because it is failing to hold back the migratory flows, which was its main objective, and to ensure appropriate management of incoming migrants. This briefing describes the situation in Sicily. The response is dangerous because, as was easily foreseeable, the political response  –  and the media coverage often linked to it  –  was initially about the necessity to avoid future tragedies like the shipwrecks of 3 October 2013 and 18 April 2015; or the three-year-old Syrian child found dead with his mother and brother on the Turkish beach of Bodrum in September 2015. However, within a few months this response had given way to an increasingly rigid attitude and a policy of exclusion. The EU  – Turkey agreement of March 2016 was just the latest step in a process in which Europe and its Member States have put the security of their external borders before the protection of human rights. 1  This approach is not helping to preserve internal unity and cohesion among Member States: for the first time in the European Unio n‟s history, the Schengen system is being questioned and some countries are considering, or actually implementing, a „ selective ‟  border blockade. The ‟ hotspot ‟  approach, included in the European Agenda for Migration of 13 May 2015 as short-term measure, was implemented in Italy and Greece a few months later. It is a new approach involving EU officers, in collaboration with national authorities, in the identification, fingerprinting and registration of migrants. In the four hotspots presently operating in Italy  –  Lampedusa, Trapani, Pozzallo and Taranto  –  activities officially started between September 2015 and February 2016. Oxfam believes that, due to the lack of a legal framework, the hotspot approach seriously violates the fundamental rights of people reaching Italian shores. The system has no defined legal framework because activities taking place in the Italian centres are not regulated by any Italian or European standard and are often in clear contrast to the provisions of laws concerning international protection and the infringement of personal freedom. Over the last few months, the Italian police, supported by Frontex representatives, have been operating an arbitrary distinction between asylum seekers and irregular migrants at border crossings. This process is not established by the relevant legislation since police forces are merely entitled to „ receive ‟  asylum applications. 2   Activities to provide legal information are mandatory by law but have been largely inadequate. Residence in the centres can last between several days or weeks, although the facilities were designed for a much quicker turnover. Witnesses report episodes of violence and intimidation during fingerprinting operations, and the European Union has been pressuring Italy for months to introduce in these regulations the ability to use prolonged detention and forced fingerprinting on migrants refusing to comply with identification procedures. 3  Worst of all, soon after disembarkation a large number of migrants have been given return orders, based on hurried and inaccurate interviews showing an inconsistent legal basis and many errors in process (for example, none of these migrants have received a copy of the signed declarations containing the details upon which return orders are based). As a consequence, the responsibility for people abandoned in the streets by the police falls on civil society. Some migrants receive aid, material support and legal assistance from associations and private citizens; the others simply disappear.   3 Reception centres are chronically overcrowded and cannot offer dignified living conditions, even to unaccompanied minors. They will not be able to cope with the massive wave of arrivals expected in the summer of 2016. Primary and secondary level reception nationally is proving completely inadequate. Italy and Europe must radically change their approach to the management of the pressure of the migration crisis, and prioritize people‟s rights over any other issue.   Oxfam calls on European and Italian authorities to immediately: ã  Define hotspot procedures and operations   in EU and national regulations; ã  Ensure that all migrants are informed about their rights, including the right to ask for international protection, in accordance with law and in a form and language that they can actually understand; ã   Ensure that identification and registration procedures   fully respect human rights. More particularly, an independent supervisory body not subject to the Ministry of Interior must be present in both phases; ã  Guarantee that migrants are not sent back without their individual situations being specifically examined.   Law enforcement officers are not legally entitled to distinguish between international protection seekers and irregular migrants; ã  Ensure that migrants are not   detained in reception centres   for the sole purpose of being identified; ã  Forbid the use of coercive measures (violence, intimidation, prolonged detention) to force migrants to comply with photo-identification and fingerprinting procedures; ã  Guarantee the presence of an adequate number of operators and qualified mediators from civil society organizations on the ships, at disembarkation points and inside the centres where the first identification procedures take place. These people can provide support, facilitate communication and monitor the respect of human rights;   ã  Ensure that national and European parliamentary members, journalists, and civil society representatives can access the centres on request; ã  Create specific protection procedures for vulnerable groups such as unaccompanied minors, pregnant women and women travelling alone, and physically or psychologically traumatized and sick or disabled people. In the medium term: ã  Expand the capacity of the national receiving system,   particularly through the creation of additional SPRAR (Protection System for Asylum Seekers and Refugees) centres, in order to avoid constant overcrowding in primary reception centres; ã  Recognize that migrant flows are a structural component that must be managed through active participation in resettlement   programs, the creation of humanitarian channels and by re-opening the legal working immigration channels   which are now practically closed; ã  Discontinue flow-restriction policies at national and EU levels that include agreements with countries of srcin or transit on the possibility to retain migrants with coercive measures or to return them collectively; ã    Agree on a radical reform of the Common European Asylum System in order to introduce the concept of mutual recognition of positive decisions on asylum.    4 1 THE ORIGIN OF THE HOTSPOT  APPROACH: A SYSTEM THAT DOES NOT PROTECT PEOPLE‟S RIG HTS THE EUROPEAN REFERENCE FRAMEWORK In the European Agenda on Migration published in May 2015, the European Union outlined the main principles of its migration and asylum policy for the years to come. 4  The  Agenda had been in preparation for several months, but the shipwreck of 18 April 2015 near the Sicilian coast, with its tragic death toll of more than 800 people 5   and its impact on public opinion, significantly acce lerated the document‟s publication. The first chapter of the Agenda, „ Immediate action ‟ , focuses on four aspects: search and rescue operations at sea; the definition of mechanisms for distributing people in need of international protection among the EU Member States (the so-called relocation and resettlement mechanisms); the fight against smugglers; and cooperation with third countries. The second chapter  –   „ Four pillars to manage migration better  ‟ –  deals with broader issues: reducing incentives for irregular migration; border management; creating a strong common asylum policy; and promoting legal migration. The first chapter introduces the so-called „ hotspot approach ‟  to managing the European Union‟s external borders. The term hotspot indicates a „ crisis point ‟  and refers to the most permeable borders. The new approach includes the identification, registration and fingerprinting of incoming migrants. These operations are no longer managed exclusively by the national authorities of frontline Member States (presently Italy and Greece), but in collaboration with officers of four European agencies: Frontex (EU Border Agency), EASO (European Asylum Support Office), Europol (EU Police Cooperation Agency) and Eurojust (EU Judicial Cooperation Agency). This initiative has been greeted by many as an encouraging sign of awareness by European institutions of the fact that migrant flows into Greece and Italy are a matter of concern for the whole of Europe and not only for the two frontline countries. However, the Italian Ministry of Interior responded to the news negatively, speaking of a sort of „ compulsory administration ‟  of Italy, 6  in spite of the fact that during the Italian presidency of the EU (1 July  –  31 December 2014), the country had pushed for more homogeneity in managing the migration crisis and a stronger coordination role for European agencies. 7  The impetus for the European Union to take immediate action was probably the high number of people reaching Italy via the Mediterranean route over the last few years who were not identified in Italy and who travelled on to other Member States in order to claim asylum there. Although the reasons for this behaviour obviously vary, they are all linked either to the desire to join family members or friends, or to the desire to live in countries offering better reception conditions in the short term, and better working opportunities in the medium and long terms.
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