Italy and Bulgaria start taking measures to address their needs.

Although Bulgaria has received only about 3,000 asylum applications this year, this is three times the yearly average of the past decade and the existing accommodation centres are overcrowded. According to UNHCR, all available spaces have been converted into dormitories, and people often have to sleep in the corridors with nearly 100 persons having to share a single bathroom.

UNHCR has underlined that to address the accommodation shortage, the Bulgarian authorities are relying on two detention centres designed to house irregular migrants awaiting deportation: Lyubimets, close to the Turkish border, and Busmantsi on the outskirts of Sofia. In these detention centres, which are also hosting numbers way beyond their capacity, asylum seekers are incarcerated for up to three months waiting for the authorities to move them to an open centre.

The government has committed to providing an additional 1,000 places in accommodation centres and has appealed for European solidarity.

UNHCR estimates that around 4,600 Syrians have arrived in Italy by sea since the beginning of 2013. About two thirds of these arrivals were in August. According to the UN Refugee Agency, almost 21,900 asylum seekers have arrived in Italy this year.

According to UNHCR, an increasing number of asylum seekers, including Syrians, ‘avoid fingerprinting in Italy and try to reach other European countries in order to apply for asylum there, reportedly due to poor reception conditions and integration prospects in Italy’.

UNHCR has welcomed the decision this week of the Italian authorities to increase the reception capacity of the System of Protection for Asylum-Seekers and Refugees (SPRAR) from 3,000 to 16,000 over the next three years.

Earlier this year, Amnesty International reported that Greek authorities are acting in flagrant violation of international law by pushing back migrants and refugees to Turkey, without any consideration of their protection needs. Karl Kopp of ECRE Member Pro Asyl said: “Europe needs to open legal escape routes. Currently, Europe asks Syria’s neighbours to open up their borders, while its own borders remain closed”.

As access to the procedure is extremely difficult in Greece and as the system is seriously dysfunctional, most Syrians who manage to enter the Greek territory do not claim asylum there: only 275 Syrians claimed asylum in Greece in 2012, while close to 8,000 arrests of Syrian nationals for irregular entry were recorded by the Greek authorities.

With almost no legal routes to enter Europe, Syrians are resorting to irregular means of entry, risking their lives through dangerous routes and putting themselves in the hands of smugglers to reach safety. A 6-year old Syrian girl who drowned trying to reach Greece in May and a nurse from Damascus who died this month during the crossing are among the latest victims losing their lives trying to reach Europe.

More than 97 per cent of the 2 million refugees who have fled Syria’s civil war are hosted by neighbouring countries Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey. 40,000 Syrians have been granted protection in Europe.

UNHCR is seeking 10,000 places for humanitarian admission and 2,000 places for resettlement of Syrians in acute need. Germany and Austria have committed places for humanitarian admission, 5,000 and 500 respectively.  Norway has announced this week that it will resettle 1,000 refugees from Syria. Last week, the first group of 107 Syrian refugees arrived in Germany from Lebanon under the humanitarian admission programme announced by the German government.

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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 20 September 2013.

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