Parliamentary Tracker: European and national parliaments debates on the (third) Reform of the Common European Asylum System (28-02-17)

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NOTA BENE : THIS IS NOT AN OFFICIAL RECORDING  See the LIBE official page (with background documents – webstreaming) here                   

by Luigi LIMONE (FREE Group trainee)                                                                                                                                                                        

UP TO THE CHALLENGE

Opening remarks by Claude Moraes, Chair of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs of the European Parliament :  According to Claude Moraes this meeting was taking place at very crucial moment of the reform which will  be needed to overcome the crisis which erupted at the EU external borders  in 2015 under the mass influx of migrants coming notably from the war zones in Syria and Iraq. Since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty it should be now a common parliamentary endeavor to succeed in reforming these sensitive policies.

FIRST SESSION: Challenges related to the Common European Asylum System – Chaired by Claude Moraes, LIBE Committee Chair

a) Intervention of Hon. Carmelo Abela, Minister for Home Affairs and National Security, Maltese Presidency Council.  According to Hon. Carmelo Abela, when it comes to asylum, the EU is facing significant challenges like the urgent need to define future approaches for the solution of the migration crisis. The current EU legislative framework does not address the problem as it should do. Several amendments have been proposed by the Commission in order to reform the package on asylum legislation. The December 2016 Council conclusions on solidarity within the Dublin system provided that the EU should create a system built on solidarity, equal responsibility and based on political legitimacy. Discussions on the proposals already started and the Maltese presidency has already done some important efforts, but the road is still long.  The Minister confirmed that the reform was a priority for the Maltese Presidency. For him, the EU and the Maltese Presidency itself are facing significant challenges which should be addressed decisively and conclusively. He stated that the Maltese presidency would make every effort to achieve its objectives. However, it is worth noting that the presidency cannot succeed alone, it needs the help of the national Parliaments in order to create a durable and successful system of asylum.

b) Intervention by Dimitris Avramopoulos, European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship. Avramopoulos said that the reform of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) remained a key priority of the EU. For this reform to be successful the EU needs to build a constructive dialogue between the Union and the representatives of the national Parliaments. According to him, purely national measures do not bring positive results, since nationalist approaches simply undermine the common strategy the EU wishes to adopt. A true spirit of solidarity and shared responsibility is required in order to: define a functioning system for asylum seekers; protect the EU external borders; dismantle the trafficking system; regulate irregular migration; manage return and readmission; accelerate the relocation process. The EU should face the challenge of the large amount of unaccompanied minors as well, together with the fight against secondary movement and asylum shopping. The renovated CEAS would help strengthen mutual trust among Member States, which is necessary not only for the efficiency of the system but also to provide asylum applicants with dignified treatment. The reform is therefore necessary to obtain a higher degree of harmonisation and greater convergence of measures, as well as an equal repartition of responsibilities among Member States.  The success of this reform depends on the implementation of solidarity mechanisms. A clear, predictable and efficient Dublin system is fundamental for the realization of a Union without internal borders. In this respect, sanctions for non-compliance with the rules are necessary, especially to fight secondary movement. Furthermore, resettlement and relocation should become compulsory for all Member States, especially with regard to unaccompanied minors. Ultimately, Avramopoulos proposed to have a Union resettlement framework for persons in need of international protection, which would enable to eliminate differences among national practices. Member States have to show their political willingness to work together and the EU needs to achieve a common understanding on how the future CEAS should function. This should happen through the support of the Maltese Presidency. It is the time to move on with this proposal and look at the migration phenomenon in a more strategic, comprehensive and positive manner. The sooner migrants and refugees are integrated in the host societies and in the labor markets, the more the Union can take advantage of their inclusion. In order to accomplish these goals, the EU needs the involvement of all stakeholders and EU citizens.

c) Interventions of National Parliaments representatives and of MEPs.

According to a representative of the NP of Poland, what is happening in Europe with regard to terrorism is due to the fact that the EU is receiving a huge amount of asylum seekers with some of them being hidden terrorists. European Citizens are no more safe because EU asylum,  migration and  border protection are intertwined and CEAS reform risks to make things even worse.

According to a representative of the NP of Lithuania, the EU should preserve the main elements of the current CEAS, even if some aspects should be modified. The system must be complemented with solidarity and border control measures and the decisions on the activation of solidarity measures should be consensual. He also stated that all Member States should participate all together in solidarity measures, but that each Member State should be given the possibility to decide to what extent it wants to contribute.

For Ana Gomes (MEP from Portugal – S&D), it should not be forgotten that most of the terrorist attacks in Europe are the result of home-grown terrorism and the consequences of the policies of segregation these ‘domestic terrorists’ are subject to in some Member States. Moreover, EU Member States should give priority to assistance to unaccompanied minors. In particular, special measures regulating the support to unaccompanied minors should be included in the reform and attention should be given to vulnerable people and to their special needs. The EU, for its part, should provide a plan to assist Member States to ensure that social integration is achieved and secondary movement is discouraged. She concluded that solidarity should be considered the crucial point, whereas externalisation measures, such as the EU-Turkey agreement and the negotiations with Libya, do not represent the best solution to put an end to the current migration crisis.

According to another representative of the NP of Poland, solidarity should come from a voluntary choice and every State should be given the opportunity to decide how and to what extent it wants to contribute if needed with money and other form of assistance. In his opinion, the EU is going beyond the liberal respect of EU citizens’ free willingness, because it is imposing its visions on Member States without respecting the will of European citizens.

According to a representative of the Romanian Senate, Romania is supporting the implementation of the existing measures of the CEAS, but it hopes to see more efficient measures for the relocation of asylum seekers as well as stronger cooperation with third countries. The renovated CEAS should be able to implement different levels of solidarity and ability among Member States and, since the EU external borders are a vital element of the common asylum system, the EU should adopt a joint approach aiming to control external borders and stop human trafficking and illegal immigration. Migrants should be discouraged to take the journey through the improvement of the living conditions in their home countries.

Carlos Coelho (MEP from Portugal – EPP) raised some rhetorical points on whether the EU should talk about the Mediterranean as a ‘Mare nostrum’ or a ‘Mare mortum’. According to him, in 2016 the EU saw the highest number of dead people in the history of the  Mediterranean sea and at the heart of this humanitarian crisis stands the fact that some States are working in the right direction whereas others are not.

According to a representative of the NP of Spain, the first victims of terrorism are refugees who are fleeing their countries. EU Member States should, therefore, work together to adopt a common asylum policy. This holds particularly true with regard to existing relocation and redistribution agreements, which are not being correctly implemented by all Member States. EU Member States must respect international law and the EU institutions should find an efficient way to respond to this European crisis in the best way possible.

According to a representative of the NP of Sweden, insufficiently concrete measures have been adopted so far, in order to find an efficient solution to the migration crisis. Sweden is taking a huge number of migrants, due to secondary movement and relocation measures, but the EU cannot force its Member States to take new people if the society is not ready to do so. Therefore, the EU should confine itself to simply support those Member States who are more exposed to migration and assist them in the reinforcement of their external borders. It is true that refugees are not to be automatically considered as terrorists, but evidence shows that criminal and terrorist networks are increasingly exploiting migrants for their purposes.

Tanja Fajon (MEP from Slovenia – S&D) said that EU Member States should be much more ambitious when discussing asylum. For her, the EU needs to make relocation and redistribution mechanisms efficient if it doesn’t want to loose its Schengen system. Neither  borders, nor fences can be instrumentalised as solutions to the migration crisis. As regards  unaccompanied minors, she said that a new action plan should be urgently adopted at the European level, since the previous plan on unaccompanied minors had already expired in 2013.

According to a representative of the NP of Estonia,  the EU cannot impose its idea of ‘true solidarity’ on its Member States, since the EU is a union of countries and not a federal state.  Members States should, therefore, be respected in their right to decide on their own migration policies and the EU cannot continue to limit their sovereignty.

For Jussi Halla-Aho (MEP from Finland – ECR), the credibility of the EU asylum system is undermined and the future of the Schengen area is jeopardised by asylum shopping and secondary movement. He stated that international protection should be sought in the first country of arrival, relocation should not be admitted and the responsibilities and duties of asylum seekers should be increased, especially when it comes to cooperation on data and information release.

According to a representative of the NP of Slovenia, the EU has been discussing the reform of the CEAS for three years without considering that there are some countries which have long experience in migration and asylum (Italy, Germany, Sweden), whereas other European  countries, such as Slovenia, are completely new to the topic. By refusing to accept migrants and putting into place measures of deterrence, some of these countries are not addressing the issue in the correct manner. Therefore, the EU should first deal with the internal defaults and gaps of its own asylum system.

According to a representative of the NP of Finland, the majority of migrants who arrive in Europe are not real refugees, but they are just looking for better economic conditions. Contrary to what is sometimes said, current migration flows are not enriching European societies. As a result, the EU must work on the reinforcement of the living conditions of these people in their home countries, in order to make them wish to stay there and deter them from taking the journey to Europe.

Cecilia Wikström (MEP from Sweden – ALDE) coordinating the EP working group on asylum and rapporteur for the reform of the Dublin mechanism, said that all EU Members State should  follow EU law and that the principle of solidarity should not only be applied to the reception of refugees but also to EU budget and environmental issues related to migration.

In reply to the previous interventions, Avramopoulos said that NPs should go out of their national perspective.  Member States should work as a Union to find a common ground to address the migration crisis. Solidarity is very clearly stipulated in the founding treaties of the European Union and MEPs and Members on National Parliaments are called to act as defenders and guardians of the Treaties. EU Member States cannot respond to EU challenges alone but they have to work together with the EU institutions and in harmony with their citizens’ views. Avramopoulos also stated that terrorism should never be amalgamated with migration, since the recent terrorist attacks have been perpetrated by home-grown terrorists. For him, this should make EU Member States think: these home-grown terrorists are, in fact, people who came to Europe around 40 years ago and who experienced some problems of integration within European societies, resulting in radicalisation due to poor living conditions and social exclusion. Avramopoulos also mentioned the relevant results of the ‘hotspot approach’. In his opinion, thanks to this approach EU borders are better protected, and some Member States like Italy and Greece are working in the right direction, supported by Frontex. The EU should continue  to support Member States in their activities for external border control and management. On unaccompanied minors, Avramopoulos said that the proposal for a renovated CEAS would reinforce the already existing special procedure guarantees for vulnerable people, and in particular the respect for the principle of the best interest of the child.

Hon. Carmelo Abela replied as well. He stated that EU Member States should accept that migration is a challenge for all Member States taken together as a Union. Member States should take the burden and share equal responsibilities to tackle migration all together, both in the internal aspects and in the external ones. Solidarity has to be put into practice and not only to be à la carte. For him, it cannot be accepted that solidarity is considered as an act to be done on a voluntary basis and according to the willingness of each Member State.  As regards relocation from Italy and Greece, he said that the process should be stepped up, since only a small number of people has been relocated up to now. In conclusion, he said the EU would still have to face an infinite number of challenges, such as tackling the situation of countries of origin and transit, reinforcing protection of external borders, giving more attention to the internal aspects of migration (especially relocation); implementing solidarity within the renovated Dublin system.

SECOND SESSION: Ensuring access to asylum and fair distribution of asylum seekers in the EU – Chaired by Cecilia Wikström

Cecilia Wikström (MEP from Sweden – ALDE) briefly introduced the session. She said that the events which had happened in 2015 had definitely shown the gaps of the CEAS and the needs for its reform based on shared responsibility and mutual trust as well as on a fair distribution of asylum seekers among Member States.

a) Contribution by Sophie Magennis, UNHCR Bureau for Europe on ensuring access to asylum and fair distribution in the EU: rebuilding trust through better management, partnership and solidarity.

Sophie Magennis commented on UNHCR’s proposals to rebuild trust among Member Sates and made some observations on the shortcomings of the current Dublin system, with a special focus on external aspects, the sovereignty clause and the relocation of asylum seekers from one Member State to another. She made specific recommendations based on UNHCR’s concrete proposals for the strengthening of cooperation and solidarity. Four strategic areas of cooperation among Member States have been identified by UNHCR’s proposals: contingency planning, migration management, definition of humanitarian and legal pathways and   solidarity building. According to these proposals, the system must function properly in terms of assistance to and protection of those in need of international protection. Relocation must be implemented as well and, as a consequence, a stronger commitment is required from all Member States and the European agencies involved with them. Furthermore, EU Member States need to make sure that family reunification becomes the priority within the new system. Family reunion procedures should, in fact, be prioritized, since family reunification is one of the primary reasons why people move irregularly towards Europe. Unaccompanied minors and, in general, vulnerable categories should be safeguarded as well. In particular, the best interest of the child should be really put at the heart of the renovated CEAS.

b) Contribution by Kris Pollet, European Council for Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), on the use of an automated system for crisis relocation.

According to Kris Pollet, there is a need for a fundamental reform of the asylum system but a  lack of ambition emerges from the proposal of the Commission. Improving solidarity among Member States is one of the key objectives of the reform. Under the Commission’s proposal, responsibility for an asylum applicant becomes perpetual, it does not elapse after a certain period of time, contrary to what is currently provided by the Dublin III regulation, and this could be a starting point. Nevertheless, a corrective relocation mechanism based on solidarity has to be included in the provisions of the new asylum package if the EU wants the system to function effectively. The EU also has to delimit the amount of refugees each Member State should host.

c) Contribution by Anastasia Christodoulopoulou, 3rd Vice President of the Hellenic Parliament and member of the Greek Delegation in Parliamentary Assembly of CoE.

According to Anastasia Christodoulopoulou, Dublin III has not been implemented effectively. The attempt to apply the Geneva convention has given rise to several exceptions and in the end the system has simply been overwhelmed. It should become a more legal, equal and effective system. EU Member States cannot continue to talk about ‘flexible solidarity’. Solidarity should not be considered as a flexible or voluntary element. Solidarity means full and equal participation of all Member States. A CEAS can exist only providing that Member States agree to put into practice common measures, without thinking about their own ideological, economic or historical point of view. Differences among Member States must be eliminated, and the core objective of the reform must be the refugee itself. Particularistic views deriving from nationalist ideologies should be eliminated and xenophobia, populism and radicalism should be challenged. Humanitarian visas and safe, legal corridors towards Europe represent a key priority upon which the EU should base its strategy to reform the CEAS.

d) Debate with representatives of NPs and EP.

According to a representative of the NP of Romania, solidarity is a paramount element for the establishment of a system which aims to efficiently help those in need of international  protection. However, it is crucial to make a distinction between those in real need of protection and economic migrants. It is also important to acknowledge that redistribution of refugees among Member States causes a lot of problems today.

Cornelia Ernst (MEP from Germany – GUE/NGL) raised some concerns on the differences between ‘voluntary solidarity’ and ‘structured solidarity’. The latter is fundamental for the reform of the European asylum system and should be constructed by using funding and mutual assistance from Member States. As regards the redistribution mechanism, she asked to what extent such mechanism could really exclude secondary movement, since in the redistribution measures adopted up to now the EU is mainly ignoring the wishes of refugees.

According to a representative of the NP of Lithuania, the EU is trying to seize more power from the Member States. The issue of resettlement is managed solely by the Commission and it cannot be admitted that the Commission holds the position of deciding the number of refugees which should be relocated from one Member State to another.

According to a representative of the NP of Poland, it is true that conservative forces have started to spring up in Europe but it should be acknowledged that these conservative forces have been elected in a democratic way. He said he was proud of these democratic results and of the fact that Trump had been elected in a democratic way as well. For him, democratic elections must be respected and solidarity is not possible in Europe, because every Member State should focus on its own problems.

According to a representative of the NP of the Czech Republic, the draft proposals for the reform of the CEAS do not reflect the primary laws of the European Union or even contradict them. The EU should recognize that during a crisis temporary measures can be resorted only as exceptional measures. Moreover, the EU cannot decide how many migrants can be received by each member States since the EU is not a federation.

Elly Schlein (MEP from Italy – S&D) recalled Article 78 and 80 of TFUE which establishes the principle of solidarity, in order to show that solidarity and mutual responsibility are provided by the treaties. In her opinion, the European Parliament has proposed an automatic and permanent mechanism for responsibility sharing and solidarity and this must be accepted and respected by Member States. She also talked about the notion of ‘safe country’: for her, it is a vague concept which is used as a way to further externalise migration policies, but it cannot be accepted that countries like Libya are considered safe.

THIRD SESSION: The safe countries of origin and the safe third country concept, experiences from the Member States – Chaired by Jean Lambert (MEP).

Jean Lambert (MEP from the UK – Greens/EFA) introduced the session. She recalled that Articles 36-38 of the asylum procedures directive (Directive 2013/32/EU) define the concept of ‘safe country of origin’. She also recalled that in September 2015 the Commission had proposed to define a common EU list of safe countries of origin including all the Western Balkans and Turkey. Currently, lists of safe countries of origin and transit exist at a national level. In fact, some Member States have elaborated their own list of safe third countries, but a common EU approach has not been introduced yet. The aim of the session was to listen to the opinions of national Parliaments on this topic. (NOTA BENE The adoption of a common list of third countries was already discussed during the LIBE Committee of 23 – 24 January 2016, for a brief review of what was said on that occasion click here).

a) Presentation by José Antonio Moreno Díaz, Member of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) on the Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a EU common list of safe countries of origin.

José Antonio Moreno Díaz said that the draft report on the proposal for the establishment of a EU common list of safe countries of origin approved by the LIBE Committee in December 2016 aims to create a common list of safe countries and to define a common European framework for the concept of safe countries of origin and transit. He said that the he fully supported the proposal, but the question of safe countries could have serious consequences on asylum seekers. The proposal provides for accelerated procedures for asylum applications lodged by people coming from countries considered safe. This can have very serious implications for vulnerable categories. Applications presented by vulnerable people cannot be examined under accelerated procedures only for the fact that these people come from a country considered safe.

Moreno Díaz also raised some concerns on Kosovo, which has been included in the draft list of safe third countries. Kosovo has not signed the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and, therefore, some doubts arise on whether the country could be considered safe with regard to human rights protection. The situation holds true for some other Balkan countries: for instance, several violations of human rights have been reported in Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Turkey and recent judgements by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) have shown that there are still numerous cases in which human rights are violated in some Balkan countries. This is exemplified by the case of Turkey, where freedom of expression is undermined and a huge number of journalists are now in prison.

According to Moreno Díaz, a revision of the concept of ‘safe country’ is needed and discussions should be accelerated to reach a standard definition of the concept, in order to eliminate the many different interpretations existing among Member States. It is not admissible that different approaches toward safe third countries continue to exist among Member States. However, the concept of ‘safe country’ should never be applied automatically. Every single applicants’ case should be examined and the principle of non-refoulement should always be respected.

b) Intervention  by Jose Alberto Martin-Toledano Suarez, Spanish Congress of Deputies.

According to Jose Alberto Martin-Toledano Suarez, the proposal of a common list of safe third countries has been presented in bad times, because the EU is now working under pressure from the necessity to find a rapid solution to the migration crisis, without paying any attention to the relevance of the ‘safe country’ notion. The EU needs to approach things in a more sensitive way, keeping in mind that it is dealing with human beings who are in danger. The most important elements of the proposal for the new regulation should be the introduction of a clear definition of the notion of ‘safe country’ and the application of this definition by all Member States. The EU is trying to deal with the crisis with ad hoc measures and this is not the right approach to solve the problem on the long term. Another relevant aspect is the permanent obligation to examine each individual case and to asses case by case whether the country fits the ‘safe country of origin criteria’.

Martin-Toledano Suarez affirmed that European citizens were feeling a lack of guarantees in the way Europe was dealing with migration and that this could lead to phenomena of xenophobia and populism all around Europe. He therefore concluded that the EU should be able to provide its citizens with a well-structured scheme for the management of the migration crisis.

c) Debate with representatives of NPs and EP.

According to a representative of the NP of Slovakia, Member States have their territories, their own budget, their instruments and their borders and they can, therefore, decide if they want to receive migrants and cooperate. Since the EU does not possess neither a budget nor a territory, it cannot oblige Member States to receive migrants. In his opinion, the EU institutions are trying to take over rights which they are not entitled to, by using the pretext of the migration crisis. Each Member State has the right to decide and manage its own migration procedures, including the definition of the concept of ‘safe country’ and the establishment of its own national list of safe third countries of origin and transit.

According to a representative of the NP of Estonia,  people flee for different reasons and these different reasons have to be faced in different ways: there are people fleeing persecution, war, natural disasters, and so on. These people need temporary aid until the situation in their countries of origin gets back to normal. The EU must, however, ensure that these people (those who are entitled to political asylum and humanitarian asylum) are kept separate from all the other people who migrate for economic reasons and, therefore, do not need protection nor help.

Juan Fernando López Aguilar (MEP from Spain – S&D) underlined once again the importance of building legal pathways for migrants and the need to introduce humanitarian visas and humanitarian corridors which would enable migrants to enter into Europe legally and seek the international protection they need afterwards.

According to a representative of the NP of Croatia, the CEAS should be better structured and the EU should find more pragmatic solutions. It is also essential that the EU starts taking concrete initiatives in order to ameliorate the conditions of people in their countries of origin.

According to a representative of the NP of Slovenia, some relevant aspects relating to the EU Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) have not been taken into consideration appropriately. Discussions should go on, but national parliaments have to stop thinking about their own interests because without a common thinking on these aspects there won’t be a common Union.

For Kristina Winberg (MP from Sweden – EFDD), there is a lot of talk on solidarity in Europe, but the most important thing is not solidarity right now but the need to assist refugees in their home countries. The priority is to work in home countries in order to reduce the amount of people migrating to Europe.

According to a representative of the NP of the Netherlands, discussions for the reform of the asylum package are attempting to find a solution for an existing problem inside the EU. Member States must show solidarity and increase their efforts to work to this reform. Countries who are not open to solidarity should remember that just a few years ago they received the same solidarity from the then EU Member States.

WORKSHOP: Prevention of trafficking in human beings – Chaired by Cornelia Ernst.

a) Speech by Zoi Sakelliadou, office of the European Anti-Trafficking Coordinator.

According to Zoi Sakelliadou, there is strong evidence that the current migration crisis has been exploited by smugglers and criminal organization. Trafficking in human beings is a grave violation of fundamental rights and it is a form of transnational crime which needs to be  stopped. Approximately 600,000 victims of trafficking in human beings were registered between 2013 and 2016 and the number of non-registered victims makes the total much higher. According to the statistical data, 65% of these victims are EU nationals. It should be therefore recognized that trafficking in human beings already existed before the migration crisis and independently from it. Two of the most serious implications of trafficking in human beings are sexual exploitation (mainly for children and women) and labour exploitation (mainly for young boys). However, trafficking in human beings is also linked to organ removal and involvement in criminal activities, such as drug trafficking.

All the EU Member States have transposed the EU anti-trafficking directive (Directive 2011/36/EU) into national law. However, greater efforts for its implementation as well as more participation and cooperation are required from all the Member States. In particular, further efforts are required in the field of child protection, with the necessity to provide accurate age assessment of the victims as well as support to their families.

Sakelliadou clarified that trafficking in human beings was not only linked to migration but also to the EU security agenda and she recalled that it had been discussed during the recent Valletta meeting (3 February 2016) as one of the key priorities to be addressed within the framework of the cooperation with third countries. She also noted that IOM Italy had estimated that 80% of the Nigerian women who migrated to Europe were victims of trafficking, sexual exploitation in particular, and that such a trend was mainly connected to  Libyan smugglers.

According to her, trafficking in human beings is mainly driven by different factors and by economic profit in particular. Trafficking is directly linked to the issue of migrants’ identification: efficient procedures of identification and screening can, in fact, help identify potential victims of trafficking. Therefore, a reinforcement of the Schengen Information System (SIS) is required, and this holds particularly true especially for children, since an accurate identification of children could help counter the phenomenon of child missing, which is very widespread in Europe today. One of the problems relating to trafficking in human beings is that identification and assistance to victims come to late. The EU should start working on prevention.

Sakelliadou also stated that trafficking in human beings represented one of the most profitable organised crime in Europe and in the world. She recalled that Europol had estimated a total profit of around 29.4 billion Euro from trafficking of human beings, of which the highest percentage is covered by sexual exploitation. For her, trafficking in human beings brings money not only to the illegal sectors but also to the legal sectors of EU Member States’ economies, for instance to the supply chain.

In conclusion, she said that the EU anti-trafficking directive should work on prevention and on sanctions in order to stop the exploitation of human beings and that those who knowingly exploit victims of trafficking in human being should be criminalised. Victims of trafficking should be treated as holders of rights: they must be assisted and protected and their families must be supported.

b) Debate with representatives of NPs and EP.

According to a representative of the NP of Greece, restrictions and legal bans on migration are showing that the EU is not working in the right direction and that it should intervene more efficiently. In 2015, Greece experienced a huge increase in the number of refugees with  serious negative impact on registration and identification of migrants, worsening of reception centres conditions and fingerprinting. Trafficking in human beings is linked to overcrowding of prisons and detention centres: most of the time these centres are overpopulated and this has negative consequences especially on children who might go missing or fall into the hands of criminal organisations.

According to a representative of the NP of the UK, migrant children, especially if they are unaccompanied, should have a guardian appointed at the earliest stage as provided by EU law. In practice, this does not happen and, consequently, a lot of children, lacking protection, go missing or become the target of criminal organizations.

According to a representative of the NP of Estonia, trafficking in human beings is driven by demand and this demand comes not only from criminal or irregular activities but also from regular ones, such as agriculture, industry, the supply chain and so on. Trafficking in human beings will continue to be profitable until European societies are willing to accept black labour. In order to face the problem, the EU should first work on salaries and regular labour.

According to a representative of the NP of Slovenia, abuse of people is perpetrated by Europe itself and it is mainly a cross-border socio-environmental issue. The EU has to clash against some cultural practices, such as child labour among Roma populations across Europe.   It is not only an issue linked to criminal organisations but something deep-rooted in some layers of the Member States’ societies.

Birgit Sippel (MEP from Germany – S&D) asked which European countries were most affected by trafficking in human beings and which were working most efficiently against it. She also asked for some clarifications on labour exploitation and organ trafficking.

In reply to the previous interventions, Zoi Sakelliadou provided some additional  information on the latest findings about the phenomenon. She said that in May 2016 the Commission had published the first report on the progress made in the fight against trafficking in human beings and that an increase in child trafficking were reported. She explained that children were increasingly becoming victims of trafficking and new purposes for human being exploitation were reported, including forced marriages, exploitation of people with mental disabilities for sexual or economic purposes, trafficking for the purpose of illegal adoption and exploitation for crime commission, in particular drug crimes. She added that according to Eurostat, no European country was reported to be immune to trafficking in human beings.

For her, it is clear that an effort is required at a European level. In fact, even though all the EU Members States have transposed the EU anti-trafficking directive into national law, they still need to do more for its implementation, especially when it comes to protection of children in order to prevent them from being exploited or falling into the hand of criminal organisations. The EU is therefore called to work together with its Member States for better implementing the directive and for a better data collection to protect victims and prevent them from being exploited. According to her, the EU possess an interesting framework for victim support and assistance, but if victims are not identified as such they cannot be assisted. Therefore, one of the key priority the EU should work on is to link asylum application procedures to an accurate identification of possible victims of trafficking activities. She recalled once again that trafficking in human beings did not only come form the outside of Europe and that 65% of victims of this phenomenon were European nationals. Trafficking in human being, in fact, existed before the migration crisis and will continue to exist after it. Moreover, trafficking in human beings should not be equated to smuggling, since the former is a phenomenon which involves grave violations of fundamental rights and which goes beyond the simple fact of being smuggled.

c) Conclusions by Cornelia Ernst.

Cornelia Ernst (MEP from Germany – GUE/NGL) said that the EU should have more data and statistics on trafficking in human beings, in order to better face the issue and find appropriate solutions. For this reason, greater cooperation among Member States is required to put into place specific strategies and actions in order to fight against these criminal networks.

FOURTH SESSION: Protection of children in migration, Experts’ and Member States’ contributions – Chaired by Anna Maria Corazza Bildt.

Anna Maria Corazza Bildt (MEP from Sweden – EPP), introduced the session. She said that children and unaccompanied minors represented a very crucial issue which should be effectively regulated at a European level. She also clarified that the group of protection of children’s rights, to which she belongs, was trying to mainstream the best interest of the child and it was doing a lot of work concerning this issue.

a) Contribution by Vincenzo Bianco, Mayor of Catania and rapporteur of the Committee of the Regions on the Reform of the CEAS.

Vicenzo Bianco said that lots of children, coming predominantly from Syria but also Afghanistan, Eritrea and other Sub-Saharan countries, had recently arrived in Catania in complete solitude. He explained that Italy had already put into place several measures in order to receive and protect unaccompanied minors. He then said that over the course of the past three years, an increase had been reported in the portion of minors among the total number of arrivals and that one-third of them had been presumed to be unaccompanied minors.

In his opinion, it is absolutely essential that Member States try to deal with this emergency. To do so, the EU needs to put a common policy into place and, therefore, proper economic cooperation with countries of origin is required in order for people to have a proper source of salary in their countries of origin. The EU cannot continue to deal with unaccompanied minors as an urgency, because they are a consistent part of the current migratory flows. In particular, children should be protected from exposure to violence. In conclusion, he said that Italy had showed examples of good practices in dealing with child reception and protection.

b) Intervention on the German approach to the protection of children arriving in the EU, by Martina Erb-Klünemann, Judge at the District Court Hamm and member of the European Judicial Network in civil and commercial matters (EJN).

Martina Erb-Klünemann presented some figures regarding the situation of minor asylum seekers in Germany. She said that, as of 15 January 2015, there were around 45000 unaccompanied minors in Germany. She then provided a definition of ‘minor’: a minor is a person below 18, who has a limited capacity to contract and, therefore, needs a legal representative for the declaration of consent.

According to her, unaccompanied minors should be treated fore and foremost as minors in need of protection and then as foreigners. Under the German approach, when an unaccompanied minor arrives, he is taken into provisional care. Within one month the child is relocated inside Germany. Then, the family court starts the custodial proceedings after receiving information by the Youth Authority of reallocation. The family court tries, if possible, to bring in the parents and it checks documents, even if in most cases there are very few documents available.

Two of the problems linked to unaccompanied minors are the lack of documents, which leads to some difficulties in the assessment of age, and the fact that most of the time parents are not able to exercise the parental custody for a long period and the court, therefore, has to appoint a guardian. The guardian, paid by the court, has to fulfil the following requirements: pedagogical knowledge, cultural knowledge, language skills, knowledge of alien law and the different sorts of application. The situation becomes more difficult when dealing with married minors.

c) Intervention  by Gerard Frans Martin Verstegen, General Manager of the NIDOS Foundation (Dutch guardianship organisation for unaccompanied minor asylum seekers).

Gerard Frans Martin Verstegen talked about the way guardianship for unaccompanied minors is managed in the Netherlands. He said that nearly 85% of minor migrants living in the Netherlands were coming from countries at war, such as Syria, Iraq and Eritrea. The portion of minor asylum seekers in the Netherlands is, therefore, much higher compared to the number of economic child migrants.

According to him, guardians are responsible and accountable for children, they have the power to act in place of their parents and they have to take care of children in a wide range of activities, such as schooling, juridical procedures and so on. The role of the NIDOS Foundation is to assure that guardians work in the proper way. The organisation is an independent NGO and its guardians are supervised by the Youth Guard Inspectorate.

The NIDOS Foundation is also involved in professional training. Guardians receive methodological training, they work in teams, they are supervised by the manager and they are provided with psychological and legal support.

In the Netherlands, once children have claimed for asylum, they are transferred to the only specialised centre for unaccompanied minors, which is located in the north of the country. Once there, they receive a guardian. They remain in the centre a few months to wait for the examination of their application for asylum. However, it happens sometimes that some of them disappear before receiving a guardian and this is particularly frequent for girls who often fall into prostitution. Once minor asylum seekers have been assigned to a house, the NIDOS Foundation continues to monitor them and once a month it organises a visit to the place where the child is living. In conclusion, Martin Verstegen said that every relocation of children should have to respect the principle of the best interest of the child.

d) Contribution by Omid Mahmoudi, Founder of Ensamkommandes Förbund (Swedish Organisation for Unaccompanied Minors).

Omid Mahmoudi talked about his life as unaccompanied minor in Sweden. He is an Afghan national belonging to the Hazara ethnic group, which mainly lives at the border between Afghanistan ad Pakistan. The Hazaras are exposed to a lot of discrimination and violence in Afghanistan. They had resisted to terrorism and they were exposed to racism and violence, since they were considered as traitors of the country.

Mahmoudi arrived in Sweden as an unaccompanied minor in 2012. Following his his own experience, he decided to found an organisation for unaccompanied minors. This association is run by young people themselves. They have the opportunity to make their voices heard, as well as contributing to sensitise the Swedish society on the importance of child protection. The organisation has 16 local offices.

Mahmoudi told that when he had arrived in Sweden, he had been placed in a home with 700 young people, all male, who had had no choice but to rely on themselves. Mahmoudi and his companions thought they could represent a positive resource for Sweden. They thought that in Sweden they could see how life lived in equality was like. Mahmoudi said that his primary goal had been to obtain a permanent residence permit and that he had worked hard for that. He added that, after achieving that objective, he had decided to set himself a new goal: to found an organisation aiming to help unaccompanied children.

e) Debate with representatives of NPs and EP.

Barbara Spinelli (MEP from Italy – GUE/NGL) raised some points on the speech by Vincenzo Bianco. According to her, the harmonisation of the procedures on child protection can be a double-edged weapon. It would represent a harmonisation downwards, since the provisions of the EU legislative framework on child protection include the possibility to suspend protection and a period of protection much more restricted compared to the national legislations of some Member States, such as Italy. This harmonisation could therefore lead to a regression compared to the current situation.

According to a representative of the NP of the UK, it could be difficult to recognise the complex challenges which a young person can face in a country like Afghanistan, because some parts of Afghanistan are considered safe today. However, it is fundamental that Member States recognise these challenges and understand that people from Afghanistan, and in particular children, need protection.

According to a representative of the NP of Estonia, one of the problems related to child protection is that children sometimes lie about their age and another one is that minor asylum seekers are mostly going to Sweden to apply for asylum. They pass across all Europe and they do not apply for asylum in the first country of asylum, contrary to what in provided under the Dublin system.

Kristina Winberg (MEP from Sweden – EFDD) said that in 2015 the number of unaccompanied minors in Sweden had amounted to 35000, of which 31000 were boys. For her, there is a problem of imbalance between boys and girls and the EU needs to find a way to solve this gender imbalance.

For Malin Björk (MEP from Sweden – GUE/NGL), there is still a lot to do in Sweden as regards child protection. While something positive has been done, the EU should strengthen its efforts to provide children with safety and a future.

According to a representative of the NP of Spain, it must not be admitted that unaccompanied minors can be subjected to administrative detention while their asylum application is being examined. The EU should also start thinking on how to manage the situation of children who are no longer minors, since sometimes when they come of age they are left in the street and they engage in illegal activities.

According to a representative of the NP of Sweden, age assessment tests should be conducted as soon as possible, in order to understand if a child is a minor or not.

For Ana Gomes (MEP from Portugal – S&D), the story of Mahmoudi confirms that Afghanistan is not a safe country. She said that some Member States sometimes did not have an appropriate framework to address priorities such as the obligation to receive and give protection to minors coming from unsafe countries such as Afghanistan.

CLOSING SESSION – Chaired by Claude Moraes, LIBE committee Chair.

During the closing session, the initiative ‘We welcome young refugees’ organised by the Kraainem Football Club was presented. The Kraainem Football Club is a multicultural club located in Brussels. It includes 300 players coming from 40 different countries and different social backgrounds. The club launched the initiative in September 2015. It is an integration initiative made up of a French course and a football training for refugees. It takes place three times a week and it involves between 6 and 10 refugees. The first season has involved a total of 700 refugees.

The goal of the project is the creation of a network of clubs in Belgium and then in Europe, in order to develop a spirit of exchange and facilitate social integration for child refugees. The project has received the support of the European Commission and the club has been visited by the European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos.

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