AYS News Digest 20/06/2023: World Refugee Day — but what do refugees think?

Civil vessel The Aurora detained in Lampedusa // Testimony from inhumane detention in Serbian transit camps // Pylos shipwreck: what really happened in the words of survivors? // Updates from the EU-Tunisia deal // Rescues and deaths on the Niger-Libya border // Rise in anti-migration violence in Germany // Frontex’s ‘pilot operation’ in Romania avoids Asylum Procedure Regulation & much more

Are You Syrious?
9 min readJun 20


FEATURE — World Refugee Day, according to refugees

The UN-designated World Refugee Day is a praiseworthy initiative. It is a reminder of hardship, a day to advocate for rights, and promotes visibility, as well as celebrating the achievements and resilience of displaced people.

But what do refugees think of it?

Via Amnesty International

Eric Reidy (in The New Humanitarian) has spoken to authors of Flipping the Narrative, allowing refugees to put their voices first.

Although some refugees see the positives of visibility — wider recognition of their existence for example — the ‘symbolic’ aspect of the day rings hollow.

Joyeux Mugisho, a Congolese refugee in Kampala, told Reidy that World Refugee Day didn’t mean much:

“We are still considered a burden and seen as people who need to be taken care of, rather than as people who can work.”

Sana Mustafa, for example, a Syrian refugee and CEO of NGO Asylum Access, suggests the day lacks pro-active, solution-based conversation. The intention behind World Refugee Day, perhaps, doesn’t match the reality:

“Many actors put on symbolic events without really taking long-term action or pushing for solutions to shift power back to refugees so they actually have the strength, dignity, and resources they need to thrive.”

Celebrating refugee-hood is an odd phenomenon for Joyeux Mugisho:

“We do not celebrate being refugees. When someone is forced to flee their country, all they need is a durable solution to live their lives with dignity in the country where they sought refuge.”

The overwhelming impression is that symbolism predominates over activism and commitment to change or solidarity on World Refugee Day. Refugees would like to see action accompany the visibility and vocalisation afforded by the day, hoping for practical change and action. Then it would mean something. Refugee leaders in Uganda picked their own theme for World Refugee Day: “Nothing about us, without us”.

To that end, we encourage everyone to attend Europe Must Act’s workshop this evening!

Reminder: How Can I Be A Better Activist? — Tonight at 7pm (CEST)


The Aurora seized by Italian Authorities

Civil fleet vessel ‘The Aurora’ — operated by Sea Watch — has been detained on Lampedusa. Why? For ‘disregarding a government decree’ — the order for sea rescuers to proceed immediately to an assigned port once a rescue operation is complete.

The Aurora, with 39 people on board, was assigned the port of Trapani. This journey would require a 32-hour passage, preventing access to medical attention in the near future. The vessel is only 14m long, and unfit for such long passages with so many people on board.

Italian authorities have also assigned Open Arms a Place of Safety in Livorno, a passage 4x the distance to the nearest safe port in Sicily.

This morning 29 people were rescued in the Central Mediterranean by a merchant vessel — Greta — and are now waiting to disembark in Malta. RCC Malta were inactive, and discouraged a different merchant vessel from helping the people in distress. Shocking in the wake of the events in Pylos last week.

103 people were rescued on Saturday by the Italian Coast Guard, 185km off the coast of Calabria. The people on board disembarked safely in Roccella.

via Info Migrants


Testimony from Obrenovac Transit Camp: 12 hours of detention without food, medical care, space, bedding or clean water

No Name Kitchen have reported the conditions met by people arriving in Serbia from Bulgaria. Here’s the story of ‘B’, from 12/06/2023:

“B. told us he was one of approximately 100 people being held in a locked room. These people had mostly newly arrived in Serbia, after their travel from Bulgaria. They were told that they would be in “quarantine” for 12 hours. The reason given to these people for their detention was coronavirus. The WHO declared an end to the public health emergency on 04 May 23.

Via No Name Kitchen

As shown in the shocking images, the conditions were awful. There were no beds, just a small number of cots, so many people had to sit and sleep on the floor. The only available running water was from the dirty bathroom, and we are told for the duration of the detention, no food was given.

Most people being held had arrived that day in Serbia after their journey through Bulgaria. What we know about this journey is that it most often takes several days of walking through forests. People had arrived in unwashed and damaged clothing and did not get a chance to properly wash themselves after this ordeal. Also when people finish this part of their journey towards Europe, they often have medical complaints, especially in their feet because of all this walking, but also often from violence they have encountered by police and border forces on the way.

During this quarantine (AKA detention) the people held had no access to basic medical care.”


The Survivors of Pylos: “ I swam for about half an hour near the ship. I stayed in the vicinity of the ship and was watching the #Greekcoastguard. They were watching and did not move.”

A Syrian survivor of the shipwreck off Pylos has given his testimony of events. Initially towed by the Greek Coast Guard, the vessel then overturned, and the coastguard watched:

Other journalists have corroborated this version of events, in which the Greek authorities were involved in the ship’s capsize — whether deliberate or not — and then distanced themselves from the victims drowning in the water.


EU-Tunisia Migration Proposal: people on the move left behind

The EU is hoping to ‘partner’ with Tunisia to tighten its asylum policy, strengthening its external borders. This represents a huge threat to the living conditions of people on the move in Tunisia.

The EU funds would strengthen Tunisian security forces and the national guard at sea, whose serious abuses of people on the move have been documented in the past.

“Earlier this week, von der Leyen proposed a €900 million ($971 million) economic aid package for Tunisia as well as another €150 million in immediate budget assistance and a further €105 million for border management and anti-smuggling activities.

The last part of the offer, in particular, highlights Tunisia’s potential role as a gatekeeper of migration from North Africa to Europe.

“The proposed EU-package would stabilize the Tunisian economy,” Hamza Meddeb, a Tunis-based research fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center think tank, told DW.

“But the deal would come at the price of Tunisia’s full cooperation on the issue of migration as well as a re-admission of [asylum-rejected] Tunisian and Sub-Saharan migrants,” Meddeb added.” — Via Info Migrants


Rescues and deaths on the Niger-Libya Border

via Alarmphone Sahara

Alarmphone Sahara have been observing migratory flows on the Niger-Libya border, carrying out a number of rescue missions in recent weeks.

The number of people crossing into Libya has increased along the Nguigmi-zoo-baba-Bilma route.

The explosion claimed eight lives.

Two days later, a vehicle with 15 people on board broke down in the desert, 30km from Tizeri. The route — deliberately chosen to avoid authorities — is more remote, more dangerous. When the vehicle broke down, four people died of dehydration before rescue arrived.

The Niger Red Cross and local volunteers have cleaned nine wells on the Niger-Libya route in Achigour, Latai, Ziguidine and Madam, hoping to provide clean water to those risking their lives in the desert.


Frontex launches pilot ‘operation Centurion’ in Romania on the Moldova/Ukraine Border, bypassing Asylum Procedure Regulation

Frontex claims it is testing a new command structure to strengthen the effectiveness of its operations.

“The new command structure will allow the agency to react faster and more efficiently to operational needs in a more transparent and accountable manner,” — Deputy Head of Frontex Lars Gerdes

This structure will be extended to all Frontex operations by 2024, as they aim to deploy 10,000 officers on Europe’s borders by 2027.

Statewatch have reported that the real aim is to speed up asylum and deportation procedures:

“Pilot projects” intended to beef up border controls, accelerate asylum and deportation proceedings, and reinforce the role of EU agencies in Bulgaria and Romania have just begun — yet EU legislation intended to do the same is yet to be approved.”

Chris Jones, Statewatch Director, writes:

“A key feature of the pilot projects in both Bulgaria and Romania is the “acceleration” of asylum and deportation proceedings. This acceleration is evidently aimed at mowing down the existing procedural rights of people seeking international protection.

But accelerated procedures are also a key element of the Asylum Procedure Regulation, a law that is yet to be agreed — and so the implementation of the accelerated procedures is itself being accelerated through the projects. The plan to construct more “reception capacity” at the borders also seems to pre-empt the plan for more border procedures — and thus more detention at the borders.

Why wait for EU-wide legislation to undermine people’s rights when you can brand it as a “pilot project” and go ahead anyway?”


Rise in crimes against asylum seekers

Info Migrants have reported a worrying trend in Germany: the number of reported crimes against asylum seekers is rising.

“In total, in the first three months of 2023, there were 45 attacks on asylum seeker accommodation registered, and 42 of these had a far-right motive. In the same time period in the previous year, 19 such attacks were registered, and 16 of them had far-right motives.”

Info Migrants have also distilled the latest information from Germany’s Federal Migration Bureau (BAMF) last updated in May 2023:

“135,961 people are currently applying for asylum in Germany. The majority come from Syria, followed by people from Afghanistan, Turkey, Iran and Iraq.

From January to May 2023, reports BAMF, 125,566 people applied for asylum for the first time in Germany. In the same time period last year, 71,122 submitted a first application.

The number of people applying from Syria rose by 75.1% and from Afghanistan by 81.4%. Applications from Turkish nationals increased by 226%.”

Antira have investigated the issue further here.


  • Solomon Investigates — how have the Greek authorities allocated the €819 million in EU Funding due from 2021–2027?

Only 0.07% is invested in border management and SAR. The rest? It’s invested in tech, security, externalisation and dissuasion tactics.

  • Who profits from brutal and murderous pushbacks?

An English-language podcast from Lesvos: who pays for pushbacks, and why?

  • Schengen States have again called on the European Commission to fund border walls in Europe — Statewatch Report:

“In a joint statement (pdf) that, until now, has remained secret, the members of the Ministerial Forum for Member States of the Schengen area with external land borders:

“…agree that physical infrastructure as [sic] an effective means of protection supporting the activities of border services, especially in the situation of instrumentalisation of migration. Therefore we encourage EU to look for a solution to finance physical infrastructure (including physical barriers) from EU Funds.” (emphasis added)” — via Statewatch.

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Are You Syrious?

News digests from the field, mainly for volunteers and people on the move, but also for journalists, decision makers and other parties.