Jose Ignacio Garcia, regional director of JRS Europe, said that during 2018 there had been a “lot of insistence” in the media about the return to (migrant) figures “before the time of crisis.”
“In fact, the number of people who have come to Europe seeking protection has decreased substantially compared to previous years,” he said.
He says that 141,472 people sought asylum in 2018, compared to 373,652 in 2016.
“Of course, it is good news that fewer people are forced to seek an alternative to their lives. But the figures cannot hide the fact that behind them there are as many stories of frustration and suffering. People may be reduced to numbers, but their lives cannot.”
He noted that the issue of “protection” was the focus of the annual report.
JRS Europe has now concluded a major, three-year project on the “Protection of External Borders”, focusing on human rights at the EU’s border and seeking to support those considered vulnerable migrants.
Garcia said, “This has allowed us to realise, with concern, that the external borders of the EU are still a grey area in terms of law enforcement and the effective protection of human rights for those who arrive.”
“The external borders of the EU are still a grey area in terms of law enforcement and the effective protection of human rights for those who arrive” Jose Ignacio Garcia, JRS Europe
“Although the EU has been equipping itself with different legal instruments to ensure that protection is carried out with high standards, the reality at border posts, unfortunately, remains clearly ill.”
JRS Europe, in the report, recommends a “fundamental policy shift” at EU level to help people seeking protection. This, it adds, includes a Common European Asylum System “that lives up to its name.”
Other recommendations include the need for more “safe and legal” pathways; an immediate end to “push-backs and violence” at the borders and fair asylum procedures including “dignified” reception conditions.
The report includes details on the migrant situation in Member States, including Belgium where, it says, “many refugees cannot be returned to their country of origin and are consequently left in detention centres for prolonged periods of time.”
JRS visited three of the closed centres for migrants: Caricole in Steenokkerzeel, and the ‘Centres for Illegals’ in Bruges and Merksplas.
The report says, “As of 2018, Belgium is once again detaining migrant children, a practice that has severe impacts on child development. JRS is putting pressure on the Belgium government to ban this practice and together with other organisations launched the campaign ‘You don’t lock up a child. Period.’”
On Germany, it says, “Despite a significant decrease in the number of protection applicants, the German government continued to put pressure on local authorities to increase forced returns, either to the countries of origin or to another Member State. Consequently, new detention centres had been established and the number of detainees is on the rise.”
Turning to Greece, the report points to the aid work the NGO provides, saying, “As the majority of refugees arrive in Greece with nothing but the clothes on their backs, JRS operates a ‘magazi’ (a free store), where refugees and Greek locals in vulnerable situations are given clothes, household items and toys.”