26 March 2016

In response to the failure of Europe to find a proper, sustainable response to the humanitarian situation faced by refugees and migrants in the Western Balkans, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Committee on Migration has called for collective action and equitable sharing of responsibilities with full respect for human rights and international law.

On 22 March 2016, the Committee adopted a draft resolution, based on a report by rapporteur Tineke Strik which details the increasingly restrictive measures taken by countries along the Western Balkan route: Greece, FYROM, Serbia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia and Austria. The report describes the evolution of the human rights situation over the past few months, leading to the current situation of closed borders and thousands of refugees and migrants trapped in Greece, which lacks reception capacity and has a dysfunctional asylum system.

It describes the discriminatory practice of nationality screening, arbitrary denial of access to protection based on asylum caps and failures to comply with the principle of non-refoulement. Excessive force against refugees and migrants has regularly been documented in FYROM, Croatia and Hungary. People are also vulnerable to other exploitation, trafficking and abuse along the route. The Committee condemns Hungary’s asylum procedures and detention policy as incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), EU law and the 1951 Refugee Convention.

 It also criticises the European response to the situation in the Western Balkans, in particular regarding the failure to implement the decisions on relocation from Greece, given that only 322 refugees had been relocated over six months. The follow up to commitments on reception capacity made at the Western Balkans Route Leaders’ Meeting in October 2015, has been undermined by unilateral action and a focus on border control and containment in Turkey, the report argues.

The draft resolution therefore calls on Western Balkans countries, Greece and Austria to ensure compliance with the principle of non-refoulement for asylum seekers at their borders, to refrain from implementing policies that deny access to protection on discriminatory grounds or administrative convenience, and to ensure that border forces do not use excessive force. It further urges them to take necessary measures to ensure that national asylum systems meet applicable legal standards and that national reception capacity is sufficient. It calls on the EU to ensure that human rights are given priority in its policies on the Western Balkans, to ensure the full implementation of previous decisions and to reform the Dublin system with a view to more equitable sharing of responsibility.

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This article will appear in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 25 March 2016. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.