In April and May 2017, the Italian and Greek Council for Refugees undertook research to provide updates, in Italy and Greece, on the “hotspot approach”. The concept was originally envisaged as a model of operational support by the EU agencies to Member States faced with disproportionate migratory pressure, with the aim to help them swiftly identify, register and fingerprint migrants, support the implementation of relocation and returns.
The original study, produced in 2016, was part of a project led by the Dutch Council for Refugees, in partnership with ECRE, the Italian Council for Refugees (CIR), the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) and ProAsyl that aims to support monitoring of hotspots in Greece and Italy and the strengthening of legal assistance provision by local NGOs. The following is an introduction to two updates, undertaken in Italy and Greece.
In addition to the Hotspots, EASO had announced eight additional Hotspots in preparation; thus indicating an ongoing commitment to the concept (the corresponding update details the locations of these new Hotspots, as well as the numbers of people who were transferred to them). Significant numbers of people were moved to Hotspots in Sicily; as many as 181,000. The numbers have seen an ongoing increase, for example, between January and April 2017 there was a 33% increase. Notably, a significant number of these were unaccompanied minors.
Also, a salient observation was a 62% increase in asylum requests up to March 2016. (20,245 in total.) Correspondingly, year by year asylum rejections have similarly increased.
On a more positive note, in March 2017 a law was approved that aimed to improve measures for unaccompanied minors; including a ban on border rejections and returns, establishing a list of legal guardians, extending health care. These reforms represent a genuine attempt to further protect the large numbers a children and teenagers entering Italy.
Another development was the adopting of legislation that accelerated the procedure for the recognition of international protection and counteracting irregular migration.
Unlike Italy, no additional Hotspots have been added to the existing group, that included Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos. In Greece the arrivals remained low. By April 2017 the number of people reaching the Greek territory though the Aegean island, numbered 4,900.
There is much concern relating to proper assessment of vulnerabilities within the scope of Reception and Identification Service’ s (RIS) procedure. In several islands, the Reception and Identification Services could be completed without the registered person having been assessed for potential vulnerabilities. This situation has become even more complicated due to problems regarding the continuation of the collaboration between RIS and the NGOs providing medical and psychosocial services within its scope.
Unlike the past, applicants of all nationalities have access to the Asylum Procedure and thus they have their applications registered and examined. However, the procedure under which applications are examined differs depending on the nationality of the applicants. Since January 2017, the Asylum Service has notably increased its capacity to register and examine asylum application. The registration and examination within a very short time period -especially if conducted before the vulnerability assessment is completed- is raising various concerns. EASO’s role in decision making procedures has been further increased, as the agency is involved also in the second instance asylum procedure.
Even more concerning, detention as an administrative measure has been applied even more extensively. According to the Joint Action Plan on the on the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement, detention capacity on the islands is to be increased. To this end, in February 2017, a pre-removal detention facility was established on the island of Kos.
Finally, the conditions of reception centres remain below acceptable standard. reception conditions remain far below standard. Overcrowding is serious, general living conditions can be described as inhumane and provision for winter care is woefully inadequate.