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'Excessive red tape' prevents refugees from reuniting with their families says Red Cross

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450883188The European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) and the Red Cross EU Office, along with several members of both networks are releasing the report Disrupted Flight - The Realities of Separated Refugee Families in the EU. The report examines national practices across Europe in relation to family reunification, revealing that beneficiaries of international protection in the European Union (EU) often face excessive red tape when seeking to reunite with their families.

Getting family members to join them in their new host country is key to the well-being and integration of people fleeing war and persecution. Many refugees are forced to leave their home alone because of conflict, violence, persecution or repression, and often undertake a perilous journey to reach safety in the EU. The constant worry for the family that they have left behind, as well as the absence of any relatives who could support them in their country of asylum, increase the vulnerability of these migrants, that have already been exposed to extremely traumatic experiences. Hawa, a Somali refugee who fled her war-torn country said: "I think that I may have lost my children. It feels like I am on fire.” For Hawa, the battle to be reunited with her children has become a Kafkaesque tale of red tape. For her, the family reunification procedure is nearly as painful as the violence she had to flee: "I no longer know what is worse to endure.”

"Current family reunification procedures in the EU tend to lead to further isolation and separation of families,” said Director of the Red Cross EU Office Leon Prop. "Lengthy and costly procedures are a burden for families that are already living in a precarious situation.”

"In times of trouble, our first concern is to make sure that families are together and safe”, said ECRE’s Secretary General Michael Diedring. "The anguish of refugees who have found asylum in Europe is deepened by lengthy delays and requests for documents that are impossible to attain, amongst other insurmountable hurdles that prevent them from bringing their families to safety”, he added. "How can we expect people to rebuild their lives in Europe with the constant fear that their family is still in danger?”

Drawing on the experience and expertise of ECRE and Red Cross EU Office member organizations, the report Disrupted Flight - The Realities of Separated Refugee Families in the EU sheds light on the specific problems faced by refugees and their family members. In France for example, unaccompanied children that are recognised as refugees can be reunited with their parents, but not with their siblings. This restriction forces families to choose to either leave some of their children behind, or not join one of their children in Europe.

The report also highlights the inadequacy of the procedure when compared to the realities of refugee flight. Requiring family members to travel back to a country they were forced to flee and approach the embassy of the relevant Member State in that country is often extremely difficult, especially in regions of conflict where embassies are closed or overwhelmed. Such administrative requirements also increase the vulnerabilities of refugees as it is often costly and dangerous.

The report covers the family reunification process in 12 member states: Austria, Belgium, Estonia, France, Finland, Hungary, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Current procedures tend to lead to further isolation and the separation of families, which is contrary to the stated objective of the Council Directive of 22 September 2003 on the right to family reunification and in breach of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. ECRE and the Red Cross EU Office recommend that a protection-oriented approach to family reunification procedures is applied, in order for the right to family reunification to be effective. Finally, we recommend further reflection so as to ensure effective access to embassies and consulates abroad, without unnecessary obstacles such as disproportionate documentary evidence or unjustified presence requirements.

The report is available online here.

coronavirus

Britain pressed to follow French and German lockdowns as COVID rates surge

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Britain resisted pressure on Thursday (29 October) to impose a second nationwide lockdown after France and Germany ordered sweeping restrictions on social life to contain a surge in coronavirus infections that has pushed health services to their limits, write and .

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has so far tried to avoid a nationwide lockdown, opting instead for a tiered system of local controls intended to tighten measures in affected regions while leaving others less restricted.

A new study by Imperial College in London underlined the dire situation facing Britain, the country with the largest number of coronavirus deaths in Europe, showing cases in England doubling every nine days.

Steven Riley, the author of the study, said the government should decide quickly if it wanted to follow France and Germany.

“And sooner is better than later for these,” Riley, a professor of infectious disease dynamics, told the BBC.

However Housing Minister Robert Jenrick said he did not think it was inevitable that the UK would follow France and Germany in imposing nationwide restrictions.

“The judgement of the government today is that a blanket national lockdown is not appropriate, would do more harm than good,” he told Times Radio.

Europe’s economies were plunged into their deepest recession on record by the blanket lockdowns imposed at the start of the crisis in March and April and the latest restrictions have snuffed out the faint signs of recovery seen over the summer.

Financial markets steadied somewhat on Thursday after a brutal selloff a day before as the prospect of a double dip recession came ever more clearly into view.

Governments have been desperate to avoid a repeat of the spring lockdowns but have been forced to move by the speed of new infections and a steadily increasing mortality rate across the continent.

While the French and German lockdowns will leave schools and most businesses open, they severely restrict social life by closing bars, restaurants, cinemas and the like and impose strict limits on people’s movements.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who addressed parliament on Thursday, said her government had moved quickly to prevent intensive care facilities being overwhelmed.

“We are in a dramatic situation at the start of the cold season. It affects us all, without exception,” Merkel told the Bundestag lower house of parliament, adding new restrictions to reduce social contact were “necessary and proportionate”.

However she warned of difficult months ahead and said: “The winter will be hard.”

After heavy criticism of a lack of coordination and planning in the initial phase of the crisis, European Union leaders aim to make progress on common testing and vaccination strategies at a video conference on Thursday.

The latest surge in new cases has put Europe back at the centre of the global pandemic, which has so far seen more than 44 million infections and 1.1 million deaths worldwide.

According to figures from the World Health Organization this week, the region accounted for almost half of new global infections in the previous seven days.

The United States has also seen a surge in new coronavirus cases in the run up to next week’s presidential election, with more than 80,000 new cases and 1,000 deaths reported on Wednesday.

By contrast, many Asian countries have begun to relax controls as the disease has been brought under control, with Singapore announcing it would ease restrictions for visitors from mainland China and the Australian state of Victoria.

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Commission approves prolongation of the Polish resolution scheme for cooperative and small commercial banks

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The European Commission has approved, under EU state aid rules, the prolongation of the Polish resolution scheme for twelve months until 29 October 2021. The scheme was initially approved in December 2016. It has been prolonged four times, last time in April 2020. This fifth prolongation does not introduce any changes to the previous scheme. The measure will continue to be available for cooperative banks and small commercial banks with total assets below €3 billion, only if they are placed in resolution by the competent national authorities.

The objective of the scheme is to facilitate the work of the Polish resolution authorities, should a concrete case and need arise for it. The Commission found the prolongation of the scheme to be in line with EU state aid rules, in particular the 2013 Banking Communication and EU banking rules. More information will be available on the Commission's competition website in the case register under the case SA.58389 once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.

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coronavirus

Commission approves €7.7 million Greek scheme to support cultural activities in the Municipality of Athens in context of coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission has approved a €7.7 million Greek scheme to support micro and small companies active in the cultural sector in the Municipality of Athens in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. The measure was approved under the state aid Temporary Framework. The public support will take the form of direct grants and it will be co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund. A list of costs incurred by these companies in 2019 will be taken as a reference point to calculate the aid amount per undertaking, which may be between €10,000 and €200,000.

The purpose of the measure is to mitigate the sudden liquidity shortages that these companies are facing due to the measures that the Greek government had to impose to limit the spread of the virus and to ensure continuity of their economic activity. The measure will help companies organise cultural events that promote the cultural assets of the city of Athens. The Commission found that the Greek measure is in line with the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework.

In particular, the support (i) will not exceed €800,000 per company as provided by the Temporary Framework; and (ii) will be granted no later than 30 June 2021. The Commission concluded that the scheme is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a member state, in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the conditions of the Temporary Framework.

On this basis, the Commission approved the measure under EU state aid rules. More information on the Temporary Framework and other actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here. The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.59033 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.

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