Types of accommodation
Article 18 recast Reception Conditions Directive
Standards on accommodation of asylum seekers are clarified in Article 18 of the recast Reception Conditions Directive, which provides that accommodation centres must guarantee an adequate standard of living. The Directive also offers the possibility of housing asylum seekers in hotels, private houses or other premises. In times of emergency, it also provides Member States with the possibility to derogate from reception standards when "housing capacities normally available are temporarily exhausted", insofar as emergency accommodation covers basic needs of applicants.
Despite these legal provisions, Member States’ interpretations of reception remain highly divergent across Europe. Namely, several countries draw a distinction between first-line for new arrivals and second-line reception as a subsequent step in housing, while such a divide is not pertinent in other countries. In light of this, making a meaningful comparison of the reception capacities is extremely complicated.
With these notions in mind, the following comparison aims to provide a basic overview of the wide array of reception facilities used in the 20 AIDA countries:
Regional differences: This table shows that not only do countries apply different reception standards, but also within countries there are differences in reception agreements. A clear example of this is Germany, where the framework and capacity of reception facilities can vary from one Land to another, due to the federal structure of the country. A similar situation can be observed in Switzerland where the reception centres at cantonal level includes several types of housing, such as collective centres, family apartments and home for unaccompanied children.
Emergency accommodation: Due to the increase in arrivals in 2015, several countries set up emergency accommodation. In most of these countries, these emergency reception facilities are abolished now, or at least decreased significantly in capacity. Cyprus, Germany, France, Greece, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Serbia still have emergency accommodation in one way or another. France has both emergency centres (HUDA, AT-SA) and Reception and Orientation Centres (CAO). Greece has temporary accommodation facilities and a UNHCR accommodation scheme. In Ireland the emergency reception accommodations are named Emergency reception and orientation centres (EROC). In the United Kingdom, emergency reception was provided for in hotels, whereas Switzerland used centres in remote locations.
In 2015, the considerable increase in the number of arrivals for the majority of European countries placed reception capacities under strain. A shortage of reception space, coupled with substandard living conditions, underpinned asylum seekers’ treatment in Europe from the very point of arrival. Overcrowding was reported in various AIDA countries but the pressure on the reception system in most AIDA countries has lowered throughout 2016. However, various countries still face difficulties, among which the United Kingdom, Greece, Italy, Spain, Cyprus and Hungary.
In response to overcrowding, Member States resorted to different types of measures. Most of these measures are now abandoned, such as the use of tents and army barracks in both Austria and Switzerland. Spain focused on including hotels and hostels and codified this possibility in legislation in September 2015.
Makeshift camps: Several other countries failed to react to the increase in arrivals which led to homelessness, destitution and makeshift solutions. The most notorious makeshift camp is evidently the camp in Calais, which saw as many as 6.000 people waiting to cross the Channel tunnel to the United Kingdom. The camp, more commonly known as the Jungle, has been dismantled in October 2016 and most asylum seekers have been relocated to other regions in France in different types of accommodation. Close to Calais, in Grande-Synthe, another makeshift camp arose in 2016 and was populated by over 3.000 people. During the last quarter of 2016, smaller informal camps arose in Paris, which are now populated by 3,000 asylum seekers. Several reports at the end of 2016 and beginning of 2017 have denounced the dire and inhuman conditions in Serbia faced by persons living in makeshift camps in Belgrade mostly populated by mostly asylum seekers reluctant to go to the reception centre in Preševo for fear of deprivation of liberty and deportation. An estimated 1,500 asylum seekers reside in the makeshift camps.
Substandard conditions: In Cyprus the reception conditions, both in the Kofinou reception centre and private accommodation, are often inadequate. The overcrowding in Greece mainly relates to reception in the hotspots on the Aegean Islands. However, destitution is also widespread on the Greek mainland given the temporary accommodation scheme’s short-term nature. In reception facility in Körmend in Hungary, which consists of tents, nearly all accommodated asylum seekers complained about extremely low temperatures in the tents. In Italy the governmental first reception centres are generally overcrowded and conditions are considered worse than those in SPRAR. Similarly, the CAS centres, who are no longer considered purely emergency capacity but have now been included in the normal reception procedure have experienced problems in 2016 such as unsuitable structures reception; lack of hygiene and lack of safety conditions minimally adequate for both guests and workers and lack of preparation of the staff and staff shortages. The remote location of some accommodation centres in Poland is flagged as a problem there. A recent report in the United Kingdom concluded that current compliance regime is not fit for purpose due to the poor condition of a significant minority of properties.
In Bulgaria, at the end of August 2016, following a mass fight between Afghan and Iraqi asylum seekers in Harmanli led to the opening of the first national closed reception facility, while another one was opened after a riot in the same centre in November 2016. These are officially described as “closed reception facilities”, since asylum seekers residing there are not free to exit the premises.
Special reception needs of vulnerable asylum seekers
Article 22 recast Reception Conditions Directive
Article 22 of the recast Reception Conditions Directive requires Member States to assess whether an applicant has special reception needs on account of his or her vulnerability. In such a case, special reception needs must be taken into account in the provision of reception conditions, in particular accommodation. Several issues arise in practice, however:
Identification: Several countries have experienced difficulties due to the increase in arrivals, which in 2015 led to problems with identifying vulnerable asylum seekers in Belgium, Germany, Greece and Croatia. Especially in Greece, these problems have persisted due to the long-lasting pressure on the reception system. Even though there is no mechanism laid down in law in the United Kingdom, there is policy that instructs caseworkers to assess whether the asylum seekers have any special medical needs that will affect dispersal. A 2017 report in Belgium highlighted several barriers to identification of vulnerable persons with specific reception needs. These include a lack of time, language and communication barriers, a lack of information handover and a lack of training and experience related to vulnerable persons. The report also found that the identification tools are not applied in a coordinated manner and strongly influenced by the reception context. Cyprus introduced an identification mechanism in its legislation in October 2016, however in practice there is still no standardised assessment of vulnerabilities. Even though provided for in law, in practice there is no formal mechanism for vulnerability assessment in Croatia. Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Switzerland and Serbia do not have a systemic identification of vulnerable asylum seekers.
Unaccompanied children: Singling out unaccompanied asylum seeking children as a category of vulnerable persons shows that the Calais Jungle in France was hosting over 400 unaccompanied children before the demolition started in March 2016. In Cyprus the absence of basic sanitary products and health care was reported in the state-run centre due to overcrowding. A 2016 report from the Ombudsman in Austria recommended smaller reception facilities for unaccompanied minors, since the current accommodation housed a large number of housed male unaccompanied children of different ethnicity, which lead to regular conflicts. In Belgium, Fedasil issued an instruction in November 2016 that provides for the possibility of accommodating minors who are older than 17 years old, and minors about who there is a test pending to clarify their age, in general collective centres for adults.
Unaccompanied children: A report in Germany has flagged several problems in relation to the reception of unaccompanied children such as inadequate reception facilities, insufficient medical care and long duration of procedures to clarify guardianship. A large amount of unaccompanied children in Greece are on a waiting list and thus deprived of reception conditions. Part of them were detained in either closed reception facilities or by the police. Even though as a rule Ireland does not have specific identification procedures for vulnerabilities, unaccompanied children are an exception to this rule. As the United Kingdom witnessed a rise in arrivals of unaccompanied minors, this resulted in a saturation of the local authorities network. The Immigration Act 2016 included provision for the legal transfer of responsibility from the initial local authority to a second local authority which has volunteered to take over the care. Even though reception conditions for unaccompanied minors are generally better than the general reception system in Serbia, asylum-seeking children are placed in placed in institutions which accommodate nationals of Serbia – primarily underage offenders, and are therefore neither specifically-tailored to the needs of migrants, nor particularly suitable for their housing.