• The suspension of Syrians’ asylum requests in Cyprus is reportedly aimed at pressuring the EU to designate some parts of Syria as a safe country.
  • Malta continues to co-operate with the so-called Libyan Coast Guard despite well-documented violations against migrants in the North African country.
  • Further documentation of obstacles to accessing asylum procedures, socio-economic rights and inhumane treatment has been revealed in two recent reports.
  • Several Hellenic Coast Guard officers in Karpathos are being investigated for a range of offences including bribery, drug trafficking and illegally selling confiscated migrant boats.

Cyprus has suspended the processing of all asylum applications by Syrian nationals due to an increase in the number of Syrian refugees arriving from Lebanon. According to the Cypriot government, more than 2,000 Syrian refugees arrived from Lebanon by sea in the first three months of 2024, compared to just 78 in the same period in the previous year. The government also said that the move was intended to pressure the EU to designate some parts of Syria as a safe zone to facilitate deportations. “On account of the latest mass arrival of Syrian political asylum seekers by sea, processing of applications from persons of Syrian origin has been suspended,” Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides wrote in a post on X on 13 April without mentioning the duration of the suspension. The decision came after a recent statement by EU commissioner Margaritis Schinas in which he said that the EU could strike a deal with Lebanon to stem arrivals of migrants following pressure from Christodoulides on the Lebanese authorities to stop migrant departures from their shores. A spokesperson for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said: “While we recognize the challenges that increased arrivals can pose to host countries, we urge the Republic of Cyprus to continue upholding its international obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention and the principle of non-refoulement”. The executive director of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, Fadel Abdul Ghany, told the New Arab that Syrian refugees in Lebanon face significant challenges obtaining official documents, particularly residency permits, and that this limits their mobility and access to essential services. He added that discrimination, racism, and exploitation further exacerbate their vulnerability, underlining that “some are seeking refuge in other countries to escape Lebanon’s challenging conditions”. Ghany’s concerns were reinforced by a recent increase in racist attacks and violence against Syrian refugees in Lebanon. “It’s like house arrest,” 43-year-old Syrian refugee in Lebanon Abed told Syria Direct. “It has become very frightening for Syrians to leave their houses,” he added, especially after the government announced a “roadmap to regulate the status of displaced Syrians” which called for the organisation of a “voluntary return” convoy. On 15 April, as a result of the “consultative ministerial” meeting held in Beirut, new recommendations were issued to “classify Syrian refugees into legal and illegal categories” and deport Syrian detainees to deal with the overcrowding crisis in prisons without addressing the recent wave of xenophobia and racism to which Syrian refugees have been subjected. Meanwhile, the Cypriot authorities have been accused of obstructing the arrival of five migrant boats carrying around 300 migrants who had departed from Lebanon and Syria. According to Alarm Phone, the authorities refused to provide assistance, food or water to the migrants and forced three of the boats to return to Lebanon. They also refused to share any information with Alarm Phone, which was in contact with the boats in distress.

Following reports by reports Alarm Phone, 83 people who were forcibly intercepted and taken to Libya by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard on 8 April, 23 NGOs, including ECRE member organisation the aditus foundation published a joint statement in which they called on the Maltese authorities to stop pushing people back to Libya. “The awful situation for non-Libyan nationals living in Libya is very well-documented, including by United Nations expert observers. Human rights violations of the most egregious nature occur on a daily basis. Migrants and refugees are not safe in Libya,” the statement read. The director of the aditus foundation, Neil Falzon, also said: “Malta’s declared prevention policy must not result in loss of life or in human rights violations. Illegal actions cannot be part of Malta’s strategy to control its borders”. According to the International Organization for Migration, the so-called Libyan Coast Guard intercepted and returned 584 migrants to Libya between 7-13 April. (Total for 2024: 4942).

Elsewhere, solidarity events and the international campaign for justice for the El Hiblu 3 are continuing. On 6 April, the fifth anniversary of the three teenagers’ arrival in Malta after preventing their pushback to Libya in 2019, protestors gathered outside the court in Valletta to condemn their treatment. In a speech outside the court, President Emeritus Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca blasted the authorities over their violation of El Hiblu 3’s rights. “Is it a crime, because one mediates to calm and restore some peace of mind to frightened people who were terrified to death to be taken back to torturous detention camps, which Pope Francis has described as Nazi camps?”, she said. On 13 April, the Coalition for the El Hiblu 3 presented Abdalla Bari, Amara Kromah and Abdul Kader with the Human Rights Defenders Award “in recognition of the bravery and solidarity they demonstrated when faced with the threat of a pushback to Libya in 2019.”  Announcing the award, the Coalition said: “While their youth has been stolen and they have had to endure court hearing after hearing, they have built lives and livelihoods in Malta. They have studied, worked, raised a child, made friends and allies. In their struggle against injustice, they have been joined by an international campaign that demands that the charges will finally be dropped”.

A new open-source database launched by Border Criminologies, Mobile Info Team and the Border Violence Monitoring Network has provided evidence of systemic abuses in Greek reception and detention centres. The research, which was conducted between 2020-2024, has revealed appalling conditions in prison-like facilities and overcrowded police stations, physical and verbal violence, lack of access to material conditions and healthcare, and mass arbitrary detention. Researcher Mary Bosworth from Border Criminologies said that the project was intended to “bring to light the conditions and abuses happening within secretive detention sites – ultimately so that perpetrators and governments can be held to account”. The research has also shown that there are 48 facilities in Greece where foreign nationals might be detained for administrative reasons and documented 101 incidents of human rights violations in those facilities. The database includes 83 testimonies from people with first-hand experience of immigration detention and a number of other resources providing useful information on immigration detention practices. Separately, ECRE member organisation PRO ASYL and Refugee Support Aegean have published a new report on the conditions faced by people receiving international protection status in Greece. According to the report, recognised refugees in Greece face chronic legal and practical obstacles in accessing documents and socio-economic rights. “These barriers, coupled with a policy expecting immediate autonomy and self-sufficiency, expose many holders of international protection to situations of homelessness and destitution,” it read. The authors have also argued that the conditions faced by refugees in Greece “continue to create potent risks of breach of the minimum standards set by Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 4 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights according to jurisdictions throughout Europe”.

On 18 April, the European Court for Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that the conditions in the “hotspots” on the Greek islands of Chios, Kos and Samos constituted inhuman or degrading treatment for three people. The Court ruled that the lack of information in detention also constituted a violation of the right to information in detention under Article 5(2) of the European Convention on Human Rights . Commenting on the ruling, the NGO Equal Rights Beyond Borders, which represented two of the applicants, said: “What those affected have experienced cannot be undone. Nevertheless, the decision clearly shows that human rights are inalienable, that they must be protected and must always be the maxim of state action”. “And yet the reform of the Common European Asylum System plans more camps, more border procedures, more detention. This will lead to the conditions that the ECtHR has now described as degrading or inhumane”, the NGO added.

A number of Hellenic Coast Guard officers in Karpathos are reportedly being investigated for a range of offences including bribery, drug trafficking and illegally selling confiscated migrant boats. Separately, the appeal trial of Homayoun Sabetara, an Iranian refugee who was arrested in 2021 while driving a vehicle across the Turkish-Greek border and consequently sentenced to 18 years in prison after being convicted of alleged smuggling, is due to start on 22 April. According to the Free Homayoun campaign, “at the time of his escape from Iran, Sabetara had no legal and safe passage available to travel to Germany, where his daughters currently reside”. Campaigners and supporters are calling for Sabetara and all other migrants who are convicted on spurious charges of “smuggling” to be acquitted.

For further information: