Open Letter to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen: The European Commission must prioritise addressing police violence and structural racism in the EU

CC to: Vice-President Margaritis Schinas, Commissioner Helena Dalli

Dear Ms. von der Leyen,

As organisations working for an equal and inclusive Europe, we would like to raise our serious concerns regarding the lack of real reaction of EU leaders regarding police brutality against people of colour in Europe as well as institutional and structural racism, following the killing of George Floyd in the United States and ensuing solidarity protests in Europe and across the world. We were appalled by the statement by EU Commissioner Schinas which delegitimises the public outcry against police brutality and institutional racism in Europe.

On 3 June 2020, Commissioner Schinas was quoted in the Financial Times as saying that events such as the killing of African-American man George Floyd in Minneapolis, and the wave of demonstrations against it, were “not likely . . . to happen in Europe at this scale”. “I do not think that we have issues now in Europe that blatantly pertain to police brutality or issues of race transcending into our systems. But we do have an issue in Europe, which is the issue of inequalities and income distribution — making the best for everyone of what we have.”

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Joint letter to the Prime Minister regarding the on-going detention of 9 men

Hon. Prime Minister,

We the undersigned NGOs, all of whom are actively involved in the field of migration, are writing this open letter to express our grave concern about the situation of the nine Malian nationals who are currently in detention supposedly awaiting to be returned to Mali.

We firmly believe that their continued detention is unlawful, for all of the reasons outlined below, and we call upon the government to release them from detention immediately.

 All nine have been in detention since November 14, 2016, after they were apprehended with a view to deportation when they went to the Immigration Office to extend their stay in Malta, as they were required to do.

According to information provided by government spokespersons, all nine were positively identified as Malian nationals, albeit only verbally, by the delegation from Mali that visited Malta on the 6th and 7th December to conduct interviews for the purpose of identification.

In spite of this, to date, over 2 months after their visit, the Malian authorities have not yet issued the documents required for repatriation to take place. It is therefore clearly impossible for the Maltese authorities to affect the removal of these individuals, at least in the near future.

EU and national law clearly state that a government’s power to detain migrants for the purposes of removal is not absolute. Detention should only be used as a measure of last resort, where it is strictly necessary and where it is not possible to use other less coercive measure to effect return, particularly because of a risk of absconding or lack of cooperation on the part of the individual concerned.

Further, the law clearly states that detention should be for the shortest time possible and, where removal cannot take place due to legal or other considerations, the individual concerned should be immediately released. These legal requirements are also clearly included in the right to liberty protect in Article 5 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

In our view these legal provisions raise serious questions about the lawfulness of the ongoing detention of these nine men, especially in the light of the conditions in which they are detained.

We also wish to underline that these nine individuals have always abided by the law: they were honest about their nationality from the day they were apprehended by the Immigration Police, they did not apply for asylum elsewhere, and they reported regularly to the immigration authorities as they were required to do in order to extend their stay. In the circumstances, we believe that it is indeed difficult to argue that it is not possible to use less coercive measures in order to affect their removal.

Ultimately, the above-mentioned legal provisions clearly require government to demonstrate that individual assessments have been undertaken in order to reach the conclusion that detention is, in fact and in law, both necessary and proportionate. It is not clear whether such individual assessments have been carried out in this present context, raising further questions as to its compliance with human rights, EU and national law.

Together with the legality or otherwise of this continued detention, we believe that it is an affront to human dignity to treat in this way law-abiding persons who have lived in our midst for several years and contributed to our society. They have done nothing to deserve to be treated like criminals, deprived of their liberty in difficult conditions and carted around in handcuffs, portraying them as posing a great danger to our society.

While we acknowledge that the State has the right to affect the removal of those who have no legal permission to stay, we strongly underline this must be done in a way that respects the fundamental dignity of each individual.

Achieving what is possibly a legitimate end in any other way undermines not only the humanity of the individuals directly impacted, but also our own.

We therefore reiterate our request for the immediate release of the nine Malians currently held in detention.

Letter sent by the following NGOs:

aditus foundation, African Media Association, The Critical Institute, Integra Foundation, International Association for Refugees, JRS Malta, KOPIN, Malta Emigrants’ Commission, Migrant Women Association Malta, Migrant Network for Equality, Moviment Graffitti, Organisation for Friendship in Diversity, People for Change Foundation, SOS Malta, Spark15.

Background Note

On 14 November 2016 and the days following, some 33 Malian migrants were apprehended by the immigration authorities as they went to the Central Immigration Office to extend their stay in Malta.

All were adult men who had arrived in Malta by boat from Libya between 2007 and 2015. All had been issued with a Removal Order within days of their arrival and had subsequently applied for asylum. All had their asylum applications rejected. All spent some time in detention following their arrival in Malta – the duration of their detention varies but most spent between 12 or 18 months in detention.

Following their release from detention all enjoyed tolerated stay – this means that, although they were still subject to a removal order and therefore still considered ‘prohibited’ immigrants in term of the Immigration Act, the immigration authorities granted them temporary permission to stay until removal could be effected in terms of law.

All of them worked, most of them regularly. Those who worked regularly paid tax and national insurance contributions.

On the 6 and 7 December 2016 a delegation from Mali visited the detainees for the purposes of identification, with a view to issuing the documentation required for repatriation. In the days that followed the visit it emerged that only 10 of the individuals in detention were positively identified as Malian nationals by the delegation, and this only verbally.

One of these 10 was released from detention on 23 December, following a decision of the Court of Magistrates (dated 22 December) declaring his detention unlawful.

The 15 migrants about whose identity doubts were expressed were also released from detention on 23 December.

There are currently 9 men left in detention, supposedly pending deportation. In the week before Christmas, they instituted legal proceedings before the Constitutional Court challenging, among other things, the lawfulness of their detention. Their lawyer also asked to court to release them from detention pending the outcome of the proceedings, however this was refused on 4 January 2017.

The case is currently on-going.


Meanwhile, people are still dying: Refugee and migrant communities call to all European citizens

We, people from migrant and refugee backgrounds, workers, parents, students, soon-to-be or already European citizens, are joining our voices to all those ashamed of how Europe is treating refugees and migrants. What’s wrong? Is Europe so poor that it cannot provide a shelter to just 1.7% of the refugees and displaced in the world?

There are 59.5 million forced migrants in the world, the overwhelming majority of whom don’t ever get to Europe. Is Europe so scared that it cannot open legal ways for other migrants to come and go? Is it so difficult that the EU has to agree a deal with a country like Turkey, with such a low human rights record, to do what we should not do?

Can we tell our children that while Western countries are giving lessons to the world about human rights and equality, the same countries allow children to be detained on European soil, sometimes without enough food, and no school, that people are to be deported to an uncertain future without being listened to, and all sorts of human rights are being violated in the name of migration “management”, with the sole obsession of “reducing” numbers?

We, the people behind the numbers, are witnessing and experiencing everyday, almost everywhere in Europe, how these policies and aggressive discourses are affecting the lives of all of us. In Greece, we see families torn apart, often with one family member already in northern Europe and the others en route, now in danger of being deported back to Turkey. Little girls crying for their father whom they have not seen for months – and whom they will not meet again any time soon, if the plans of the EU to keep everyone out go ahead.

We have seen suicide attempts in Idomeni, as parents find the suffering of their children unbearable. In Bulgaria, we have seen people who have been beaten up by the police, and a man who was shot last year. In Hungary, a 14 year old boy imprisoned with adults , for-who-knows-how-long, is terrified by the other detainees speaking about committing suicide. He has 10 minutes of internet access per day to speak to the outside world.

In Germany, we see people fleeing a reception center attacked and set on fire. 300 centers have been attacked this year alone. In Sweden, we see parents desperate. The government has stopped allowing most separated refugee families to come together. They do not know when they will see their loved ones again, and what will happen to them in the meantime.

Many of us, everywhere in Europe, are witnessing the rise of xenophobia and racism. We are afraid that one day we may not be safe in Europe anymore. We are raising our voices now to defend what we were taught to be European values: democracy, justice, tolerance, Human Rights and equality. We should not forget why people are coming to Europe.

People come because they believed in our values. As citizens of Europe we should not only show solidarity but also consider our responsibilities for some of the turmoil in these countries and ask our leaders to promote peace.  We would like to invite all citizens to react with us to stop inhumane policies towards refugees and migrants that will destroy the values so many Europeans and non-Europeans fought and are still fighting for!

We urge European citizens regardless of their nationality to join us to protect the unity and understanding we have been building every day and for many years now. This is the strongest weapon against all forms of terror, be it political, religious or economic.

Please continue to donate your time, heart and intelligence to protect humanity!

Signatories

Refugee and Migrant Organisations

Associação de Refugiados em Portugal
Afghan Academy International (UK)
Afghan Migrants & Refugees Community in Greece
Association of Nigerian Women in Greece
Association of Maghreb Arabi in Crete
Association of Arabic Community of Ampelokipi (Greece)
Association of Cameroonians of Greece
Association of Moroccan Community in Greece
Association of Russian Speakers and Russian Friends of Trikala Region (Greece)
Community of Ukrainians in Greece
Community of Bangladeshi people in Greece
Community of Cameroon in Greece
Community of Ghana in Greece
Congolese Community in Athens
European Campaign for Human Rights for the people of Afghanistan (UK)
Ethiopian Community in Greece
Federation of Albanian Associations in Greece
Greek Forum of Refugees (Greece)
Greek Forum of Migrants (Greece)
Greek-Georgian Union – Dioskouria
Greek-Indian Cultural Association
Greek – Pakistani Association in Greece
Greek – Soudan Friendship Association
Greek-Moldavian Association “Orphev”
Hazra Council (Belgium)
Kenyan Community of Greece
Migrant Voice (UK)
Nigerian Community in Greece
Organization of United Women of Africa (Greece)
Sudanese Refugees Association-Greece
Syrian Expatriates Association of Greece
Syrian Home in Greece
Tabeldiya relief And Development Organisation (UK)
Tanzanian Community of Greece
Union of Egyptian Workers in Greece
Union of Palestinian Workers in Greece
Union of Sierra Leone in Greece
United African Women Organisation
Women’s Ivory Tower Association (WITA-UK)
Zanzibar Community in Greece

Supporters

Aditus Foundation (Malta)
ADRA-Humanitarian Organization (Slovenia)
Akkeri Refugee Support (Iceland)
Association of legal studies on Immigration (ASGI) (Italy)
Asylum Aid (UK)
Asylum Welcome (UK)
Belgrade Centre for Human Rights (Serbia)
British Refugee Council (UK)
Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (Bulgaria)
Canal Refugiados (Spain)
Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe (CCME)
Croatian Law Centre (Croatia)
Dutch Council for Refugees (the Netherlands)
European Council on Refugees and Exiles – ECRE
Future Worlds Center (Cyprus)
Greek Council for Refugees
Initiative Welcome! (Croatia)
Institute Circle (Slovenia)
Integra Foundation (Malta)
International Association For Refugees (IAFR) (International)
Jesuit Refugee Service Europe
Legal-informational centre for nongovernmental organisations – PIC (Slovenia)
Malta Emigrants’ Commission (Malta)
METAdrasi – Action for Migration and Development (Greece)
OVCA – Slovenia
Positive Awareness (UK)
Pro Asyl (Germany)
Red Acoge (Spain)
Romanian National Council for Refugees (Romania)
Scottish Refugee Council (UK)
Sea-Watch (Germany)
Slovene Philanthropy
Society for Human Rights and Supportive Action Humanitas (Slovenia)
Solentra (Belgium)
SOS Racismo Madrid (Spain)
Student Action for Refugees (STAR) (UK)
The Institute for African Studies (Slovenia)
The Peace Institute (Slovenia)
The People for Change Foundation (Malta)
Verein Projekt Integrationshaus (Austria)

Individual Supporters

Bertossi, Christophe, research fellow, centre for migration and citizenship, French institute of international relations (France)
Best, Keith, CEO of Survivors UK, former: CEO Immigration Advisory Service, CEO Freedom from Torture, Vice-Chair of ECRE, British MP.
Frade, Carlos (University of Salford, Manchester, UK)
Tardis, Matthieu, research fellow, centre for migration and citizenship, French institute of international relations (France)