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Migration News and Policy Review

4.5. - 10.5.20

Week In Summary

This week, the Czech government relaxed the country's border regime, as well as allowing for the entry of certain categories of third-country nationals. In Greece, asylum-seekers started to be relocated from the islands' camps onto the mainland. As the relocations took place, there were disturbances in the Northern provinces where they were meant to be accommodated. In addition, a joint investigation has concluded that it is "highly probable" that the Greek authorities shot live rounds against migrants along the Greek-Turkish border in early March, which could have lead to the death of Muhammad Gulzar. Additionally, migrant boats from Turkey reached the Greek shores for the first time since 1 April. In the Central Mediterranean, both Italy and Malta continue to assert that their reception capabilities for migrants are over capacity, with Malta withdrawing from operation IRINI to exert pressure on the EU. 

If you need a recap, here are some of the Consortium's publications you can consult:

Migration news and policy reviews (2020):
 
From the Consortium's website:
Newsletters:
 

 TOP STORIES


  • Investigation concludes "highly probable" that Greek authorities shot dead migrant along the Turkish border
  • Some categories of third-country nationals allowed to enter Czechia once again
  • Migrant boats reach Greek shores for the first time since 1 April

 DEVELOPMENTS IN CZECHIA


(Some) third-country nationals allowed to enter Czechia again from 11 May…
 

On May 4, the Czech government passed a new decree that allows certain categories of third-country nationals without previous residence in Czechia to enter the country from 11 May onwards. These categories are seasonal workers; key and research workers and their family members; healthcare and social workers and their family members. Employers will have to ensure these migrants things like accommodation or transport to the working place.


As in other instances, these workers will have to provide a medical test before their entry to the country, and, under certain circumstances, they can be allowed to have the test made upon arrival in Czechia.  

 

The Ministry of Interior made available an unofficial English translation of the decree which can be downloaded here, as well as an updated schema in English describing the conditions for mobility of each category of migrant (here).

 

According to an inquiry made by ČTK to firms recruiting seasonal workers for agriculture or forestry, the consulting firms claimed that so far they have more or less managed without the lacking foreign workers by relying on unemployed staff from the hospitality sector. However, they expressed fears that once the latter go back to work there will work shortages that foreign seasonal workers would have to cover.

… and there are more options for border crossing
 

On May 4, the government approved further changes to the border regime while, at the same time, extending border controls until, at least, 13 June.


Since 11 May the existing border crossings, as well as three additional ones open along the German border, allow for crossings under any purpose. Under this new regime, several forms of international collective transport will resume operations partially by 11 May, always in line with demand and the restrictions established by bordering countries (updated information about EU+ countries' regimes can be found here). Some companies, like Regiojet or Czech Airlines, already confirmed that they will start resuming part of their operations in the coming days.

Pensioner in Czechia faces charges for allegedly financing the Islamic State
 

On 7 May, Deník N published a story about a pensioner of Iraqi origin living in Czechia who is facing charges for financing the terrorist organisation the Islamic State. In 2017, the man sent over 54 thousand Czech crowns in financial support to his only son, who had left for the territories controlled by the Islamic State in 2014. The defendant declares that his son had asked for money to support his wife and child, while the family found itself under siege in Mosul. The man said that he was concerned about the wellbeing of his only grandson and that he has no direct links to the terrorist organisation. The last time the pensioner was in contact with his son was in 2017, days before Mosul was re-captured by the Iraqi forces.

Commentary: "Greece and Europe cannot continue to treat this people worse than convicted criminals in prisons"
 

On 8 May, doctor Hana Pospíšilová published a commentary on Deník Referendum reflecting on the shameful state of refugee camps in the EU, on the eve of the Union's commemoration of Europe Day. Using her own personal experience in Moria camp, she recalls a series of personal stories of asylum-seekers she encountered during her recent work. She reflects on the reasons that the protagonists of the stories had for leaving their countries behind, the need for Europe to humanly attend to these people who the continent is in need of, as well as what is to be done to alleviate the poor sanitary and safety conditions in the Greek camps.


 DEVELOPMENTS IN GREECE


Investigation: killing of Muhammad Gulzar at the Greek-Turkish border "highly probable" to have been at the hands of Greek security forces

 

The results of a joint investigation on the killing of a migrant at the Turkish-Greek border in March by Bellingcat, Lighthouse Reports and Forensic Architecture, with reporting from Der Spiegel, and research from Pointer and Sky News were released on 8 May. Using extensive evidence, the analysis concluded that:
 

  • Live rounds were fired on 4 March at the border
  • At least seven people on the Turkish side were wounded within 37 minutes of each other, all retreating or being carried away from Greek forces to ambulances near the Turkish border crossing
  • One of the wounded, Muhammad Gulzar, died of his wounds
  • The type of bullet that caused his death, according to Turkish medical reports, matches that which could be fired by the type of guns carried by Greek authorities deployed on that stretch of the border
  • Based on the above, it is highly probable that the shots were fired from the Greek side

A detailed report on the investigation can be read here and the video summarising the results here.

The Killing of Muhammad Gulzar by Forensic Architecture (16m 18s)

 

After sending a list of questions to the Greek government, one of the co-authors of the report, Giorgos Christides, tweeted a summary of the Greek government's response. From the summary, it is understood that the Greek authorities were commanded with using non-lethal force to deter irregular entries through the border and that the government denies the existence of any evidence that would show that its forces shot migrants. He shared a caption from the government's spokesperson alleged official reply.

Relocations from Lesbos to the Greek mainland commenced…
 

On 3 May, 395 asylum-seekers were relocated from Moria camp (Lesbos) to  the Greek mainland. After arriving to the Piraeus port in Athens, they boarded buses to be taken to new accommodation facilities. Another 2,000 asylum-seekers from the camp are expected to be relocated to the mainland in the coming weeks.

… relocations were met with ('non-representative') groups presenting violent opposition in the region of Pella
 

On 6 May, buses carrying 57 asylum seekers being relocated from the islands were met with violent opposition from groups of protesters in the Northern region of Pella [their actions had already started on 5 May]. First, a group of about 150 protesters blocked the buses from reaching a hotel in Panagitsa, where they were supposed to be sheltered, by throwing stones and other objects at the buses. The protesters also set fire to one of the hotel rooms on the ground floor.


The buses were then redirected to another hotel in the town of Arnissa, where about 250 protesters set fires to block the roads and vandalised the newly identified hosting facility by throwing objects at it. The police finally redirected the buses to a third facility in Chalkidona, Thessaloniki.


The major of Edessa (capital of Pella) condemned the incidents and stated that such expressions do not represent the feeling of the majority of inhabitants of Pella.

 

Additionally, smaller protests reportedly took place in the Northern region of Kilkis where another 250 asylum-seekers from Lesbos were being relocated to.

 

In an article by Katy Fallon published this week, she offers an extensive coverage showing how recent tensions turned Lesbos last March into a platform for far-right activists, both Greek and German.

Lockdown extended for Greek refugee camps
 

On 10 May, the Greek government announced that the lockdown measures for the country's refugee camps were to remain in place until 21 May. This contrasts the easing of measures that are being put in place for the rest of Greek citizens who, from 11 May, with some shops starting to open and last year pupils returning to schools.

Portugal and Belgium to relocate unaccompanied children, UK continues family reunification and #CitiesMustAct receives first city pledge
 

On 9 May, a Portuguese MEP from the ruling Socialist Party confirmed that Portugal will be taking in 60 unaccompanied minors from Greek refugee camps in "the next few weeks". Furthermore, Belgium's migration minister confirmed on 8 May that the country will be relocating 18 unaccompanied vulnerable children from the Greek islands' refugee camps. 

 

In addition, the Greek Prime Minister granted an exception to conduct a flight for 52 asylum-seekers, including several children, for the purpose of family reunification in the UK. The flight is meant to depart from Greece on 11 May in the return leg of a repatriation flight for Greeks stuck in the UK.

Finally, on 4 May, Europe Must Act announced the first active city pledge for their initiative Cities Must Act, which aims at creating a network of European towns and cities to pledge their support for the immediate relocation of asylum seekers on the Greek islands. The city of Landau (Germany) reportedly offered to take in 50 refugees

Two boats with migrants reach Lesbos despite strict coast guard control
 

In a commentary on the the Greek daily Ekathimerini on 6 May, it was stated that:

A stricter approach by the Hellenic Coast Guard, involving the systematic enforcement of a new dogma of “aggressive surveillance” and deterrence, has effectively stopped the influx of undocumented migrants from Turkey, Kathimerini understands

The article mentions how the Greek coast guard has, since 1 April, stopped 17 attempts by "smuggling vessels" to approach Lesbos. Additionally, it is reported that since the previous week, 50 Greek coast guard boats have been deployed along 10 navy vessels and 24 different assets provided by Frontex. The piece concludes with fears over new migration legislation being drafted further securitising the government's approach. This reportedly aggressive strategy matches recent communications by Alarm Phone pointing at Greek vessels attacking migrant boats at sea this week, as well as other abuses taking place in early March.

 

Despite this deterrence model, two vessels reached the island of Lesbos this week for the first time since 1 April:

 

 

Journalist Katy Fallon reported on Twitter that the first group had been taken to this settlement for quarantine and that the second one was likely to be transported to the same place.

Frontex expects more migrants to enter Greece from Turkey
 

In an internal Frontex report seen by Die Welt this week, it was stated that great migration flows from Turkey into Greece were expected to resume. The document reportedly states that once the bans on mobility in great Western Turkish cities are lifted the movements could be expected. It also mentions that an additional 262 Greek police officers have been mobilised preventively along the Evros river and that more officers could join them if the situation so required it.


 CENTRAL MEDITERRANEAN


Migrants stuck on container ship off Lampedusa finally disembark 
 

By 5 May, it was reported that the situation of 79 migrants onboard a container ship off Lampedusa who had been rescued the weekend before was highly critical, with impending food shortages and the potential for violence mounting. Italy and Malta had repeatedly refused to offer the ship a safe port for disembarkation. On 7 May, the boat suffered an engine failure and eventually, on 8 May, it was allowed to offload migrants in Sicily.

Italy confiscates two NGO rescue ships
 

On 5 May, two NGO search and rescue ships conducting missions in the Central Mediterranean, the German Alan Kurdi and Spanish Aita Mari, were seized by Italian authorities. The Italian coast guard argued that the confiscations had to do with "technical and operational irregularities", while the organisations conducting the missions claimed that the real motivation was to stop them from conducting further rescues.

OHCHR deeply concern about Central Mediterranean and calls for a moratorium on returns to Libya
 

On 8 May, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed the office's deep concerns about recent reports detailing the failure to assist and coordinated pushbacks of migrant boats in the Central Mediterranean as the number of crossings from Libya have increased. UNSMIL was able to verify that, on 15 April, a Maltese private vessel had rescued 51 migrants in Maltese waters to then return them to Libya. They called for a "moratorium on all interceptions and returns to Libya" over the duration of the pandemic.

 

They also referred to the practice of impeding the work of humanitarian rescue vessels, referring to the recent impounding of the Alan Kurdi and Aita Mari missions. They called for the restrictions on these vessels to be "lifted immediately".

Malta pulls out of IRINI arguing lack of EU solidarity with migrants
 

On 8 May, Malta announced that it will not be participating in the recently launched Operation EUNAVFOR MED IRINI, operationally tasked with enforcing the UN arms embargo on Libya. The Maltese decision came after the country had criticised other EU member states for a lack of solidarity in the redistribution of newly arrived migrants coming from Libya. Furthermore, Malta threatened with vetoing decisions concerning the mission's funding.

Italy's Southern reception capabilities over capacity
 

On 5 May, Italy's guarantor for the rights of detainees reiterated that the state of the reception centres for newly arrived migrants in the country's shores were concerning. The hotspot in Lampedusa has reportedly been full for almost a month. Nevertheless, between 4 and 5 May, three vessels reached the island with a total of 146 people on board. The mayor of Lampedusa has asked the Italian authorities for a ship where migrants could be quarantined at, as NGOs denounced the inadequacy of the existing centre to allow for safe health conditions under the threat from Covid-19. In addition, the mayor expressed that it was unfair that the Italian mainland was not offering its facilities to host some of the newly rescued people.

 

It was estimated by 6 May that about 700 migrants had reached Italy since the lockdown was declared, with half of the arrivals taking place in those 6 days of May alone. On 5 May, a boat with 50 people had arrived autonomously to the Sicilian shores (29 of which were subsequently arrested to observe quarantine) as another ship with 156 people was being rescued off the coast of Lampedusa that same day.


 EU NEWS


The Commission recommends to keep external borders shut

 

On 8 May, the European Commission invited EU+ members to extend the restrictions on non-essential travel to the EU until 15 June as they advocated for the phased lifting of travel restrictions as it was suggested on the Joint European Roadmap of 15 April.

Refugees sue Germany for law against data privacy
 

Three refugees based on three German cities have decided to sue the German state, through the NGO Society for Civil Rights, challenging a 2017 law that allows authorities to examine asylum-seeker's phones to prevent asylum fraud. The plaintiffs argue that, due to this law, they suffered an unnecessary invasion of their privacy.

German government calls again for refugee distribution system
 

On 7 May, the German foreign affairs minister accused EU member states of not doing enough to solve migration issues within the Union. He underlined that problems that emerged in 2015 remain unsolved and called for the need to establish a distribution mechanism.

Research: foreign workers tend to be overrepresented as key workers across the EU

 

In a summary from a paper by Francesco Fasani and Jacopo Mazza, it is concluded that following their definition of 'key workers' based on the EU response to Covid-19:

 

  • 31% of all EU workers, on average, are key workers
  • 13% of key workers are migrants [with significantly lower percentages in Eastern Europe]
  • Third-country nationals tend to be professionally overrepresented in key sectors, except for four countries (Czechia, Greece, Croatia, Slovenia) where they are slightly underrepresented.
  • The first three key occupational categories for EU mobile workers are cleaners and helpers (20.9% of total workers in the sector), personal care workers (12.5%) and teachers (11.1%).
  • The first three key occupational categories for third-country nationals are cleaners and helpers (27.8% of total workers in the sector), personal care workers (16.6%), as well as drivers and mobile plant operators (9%).
  • Third-country nationals tend to have lower educational qualifications than EU mobile workers, but the distribution trends of migrants across the Union mean that Southern EU states host third-country nationals with the lowest qualifications

Single-day record numbers of irregular crossings across the English Channel into the UK

 

On 8 May, Sky News reported that a single-day record of 145 migrant irregular crossings across the English channel was detected, with a further 82 people making the crossing on 9 May. The British Secretary of State stated earlier in the week that so far, 1,200 people had been detected in such crossings this year alone (a surge from 1,900 people in the whole of 2019). Since the British lockdown started on 23 March, reportedly, 853 migrants have been intercepted by UK authorities, in a surge that NGOs blamed on the lack of access to asylum channels.

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