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Migration News and Policy Review

11.5. - 17.5.20

Week In Summary

This week, reports on several actual or potential legal actions in Greece highlight again the predicament of refugees in the country. In addition, developments in the relocation of unaccompanied refugee children from the Hellenic camps to other EU states seemed to indicate progress, with Portugal announcing its willingness to welcome 500 minors. In Czechia, as the state of emergency was coming to an end, the Ministry of Interior offered guidelines for foreigners covering until mid-July. Furthermore, a new Czech initiative to support unaccompanied refugee children in Lesbos reached 40% of its target in just four days.

Among other legal developments, the Italian government managed to pass a long-time-sought regularisation for the agricultural and care sectors, the European Commission referred Austria to the CJEU to challenge the indexation of family benefits and the CJEU ruled that Hungary had illegally held migrants in a transit zone. 

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


  • First Covid-19 cases among migrants in Lesbos, yet not in Moria camp
  • Italy passes regularisation covering thousands of migrant workers
  • Czech initiative to help refugee children in Lesbos reaches 40% of its objective to assist 144 minors in just four days

 DEVELOPMENTS IN CZECHIA


Ministry of Interior releases guidelines for foreigners' residence and reminds about measures in place after the end of the emergency state

 

The Czech Ministry of Interior published on 12 May a document clarifying the situation "concerning the handling of of foreign nationals' residence-related matters […] from 18 May to 16 July 2020". The document touches upon the conditions for legal status, border crossing, applications for residence, employment, as well as a few other administrative matters.

 

The update was published on the website of the ministry, which, at the time of writing, could be found on this page (in Czech) and this page (English) [a PDF version of the document can be directly downloaded in Czech and in English from the ministry's server].* 

 

In addition, the Ministry reminded through a note (available here at the time of writing) that 17 May marks the end of the state of emergency. From now on, the conditions of entry into the country and quarantine procedures will be regulated by these protective measures published by the Ministry of Health.  
 


*The button "New obligations and information for foreign nationals" at the English landing page of the Ministry's coronavirus website seemed to be down at the time of writing, but the above-mentioned information could be accessed through the 'Immigration' button on the same site.

New initiative: Help for Children on the Run 


A new Czech initiative under the name "Pomoc dětem na útěku" (i.e. Help for Children on the Run) was launched this week, with the support of some of the Consortium's member organisations (PLNU, OPU, SIMI) and Dobrá Rodina. 

The goal is to find donors for the monthly support of the needs of 144 unaccompanied refugee children that the Greek organisation Iliaktida attends to on the island of Lesbos. After four days since the call was launched, the initiative had already achieved support for 60 children, more than 40% of the intended number. 

Public debate around the relocation of unaccompanied minors and the situation of Greek refugee camps continues in Czechia

 

This week, several articles covered the situation of unaccompanied children in Greek refugee camps, as well as the worrying conditions in the latter:
 

 
  • Eliška Kubátová published an interview with Dalimil Petrilák (PLNU) for iRozhlas in which the analyst comments on the overall situation of the Greek camps or the Balkan route, the state of the EU-coordinated scheme for unaccompanied minors, or the potential as well as the actual contributions of Czechia to alleviate the present circumstances.

Poles trapped at the Ruzyně airport
 

iRozhlas reported this week the case of a Polish man who was trapped for four days at the transit zone of the Prague airport until the Czech consul picked him up for a land transfer across Český Těšín. The traveler had flown in from the Netherlands and wanted to continue the trip from Prague to Poland by land. The consul reportedly told the PAP agency that he picked up another traveler on that same trip and that there are several other Poles at the airport in a similar situation who will probably have to return to the Netherlands.

 

This week, Poland extended the current closure of its borders until, at least, 12 June.

Several Czech MEPs welcome referral of Austria to CJEU over discrimination on family benefits
 

On 14 May, the European Commission referred Austria to the European Court of Justice (CJEU), after having opened an infringement procedure against the country last year. The case concerns the possible discrimination of EU foreign workers resulting from the so-called indexation of family benefits. According to the latter, EU foreign workers in Austria would receive family benefits in an amount relative to the cost of living in the country where their children live.

 

The measure particularly affects Eastern European workers. Several Czech MEPs, who had repeatedly referred the problem to the Commission, welcomed the claim. MEP Martina Dlabajová (ANO) has been reported to be at the forefront of this cause.

 

The Commission's press release can be found here.

17 Covid-19 cases, mostly foreigners, in a hostel in Mělník

 

On 15 May, iDnes reported that 17 cases of Covid-19 had been identified at a hostel in the Mělník region. According to regional hygienists, most of those affected were foreigners who had remained within the facility in the last 14 days. Therefore, the risk of contacts was low. However, among the cases there are also workers who were commuting to Prague so cooperation between the capital and the Central Bohemia regional authorities has been established in this regard. The building has been disinfected now.


 DEVELOPMENTS IN GREECE


First Covid-19 cases among migrants in Lesbos

 

On 12 May, two asylum-seekers that had arrived on Lesbos on 6 May tested positive for Covid-19. They were keeping quarantine in the camp in Megales Thermes (70 residents), with no reported connection to that in Moria. Despite the lack of available details, it is understood that two more cases were identified within the same camp on 15 May. 

Relocation of unaccompanied minors: Portugal to take in 500, 23 relocated to Switzerland and Finland prefers girls
 

On 12 May, Portugal's foreign minister announced that Portugal will relocate 500 unaccompanied children to its territory, up from 60, as previously stated by a Portuguese MEP. Relocations are expected to take place once the movement restrictions imposed to contain Covid-19 are lifted. The country is discussing how to adapt its reception model for the task, as the first 25 children are reportedly expected to arrive in June.

 

23 unaccompanied minors were relocated to Switzerland on 16 May. As previously announced, the minors will join relatives living in the country.

 

The Finnish Immigration Service announced that a group of 25 children from 'Mediterranean refugee camps' will arrive in the country by June, with another 25 making the journey in July. According to the body's internal relocation coordinator, the country has expressed its preference for as many of the children to be young girls, despite recognising that there are fewer unaccompanied girls than boys in the camps.

Criticisms over Greece's new asylum law continue

 

Criticisms to the ammendments on the Greek asylum law passed on 9 May continued this week, with 20 NGOs signing a joint petition to the country's migration minister, adding up to previous condemnations expressed by the Greek Council for Refugees, Oxfam or Amnesty International.

 

Reporting Democracy published a piece describing how the new law allows for the creation of a "black fund" for secret payments. According to the article, the fund will operate at the request of the migration minister under the oversight of three public servants and all documentation related to it destroyed every six months. Only payments over €25,000 will need to be reported to parliament. Some analysts expressed their concerns about the possiblity of the fund being used to appease protesters who oppose the presence of asylum-seekers in their areas.

Communication: short documentary about teenage asylum-seekers in Samos and podcasts for migrants
 

On 15 May, as part of its series Op-Docs, the New York Times published a short documentary about the existential agony and journeys of asylum-seeker teenagers in Samos after having escaped war. The movie, 'Container', is directed by Daphne Matziaraki whose short documentary '4.1 Miles' was nominated at the Oscars in 2017.

Ekathimerini reports on a series of podcasts for foreigners during the pandemic created by UNHCR, Solidarity Now and Pod.gr. Some of the episodes have already been produced. They will mostly target migrants and refugees and will be available in 5 languages.

The previous Oscar-nominated short documentary from Daphne Matziaraki '4.1 Miles' (21m20s) about a Greek coast guard captain was also published in the New York Times Op-Docs section in early 2018.

Two migrants to be jailed for rioting at a detention centre
 

On 15 May, two young men were sentenced to more than 6 years in jail each and a fine, after participating in riots earlier in the week. The disturbances took place on 12 May at a holding site near the Turkish border over delays in the processing of asylum claims. 25 people were arrested after containers in the facility were damaged (no injuries were reported).

MEPs ask for investigation into the killing of a migrant at the Greek-Turkish border

 

Over 100 MEPs have sent a letter to the European Commission asking for an investigation into the death of Muhammad Gulzar, who was shot at the Greek-Turkish border in early March. The request comes after a recent report had concluded that it was 'highly probable' that Gulzar had been shot dead by Greek authorities.

Criminal complaint filed against pushbacks in Greece

 

On 11 May, a criminal complaint against pushbacks committed by the Greek coast guards was filed. The claim, supported on reports by Alarm Phone, refers to a 10 May incident in which a flagless ship with Greek alphabet stole the fuel of a migrant boat to then leave it adrift. The vessel was eventually rescued by Turkish coast guards. Further evidence for similar refoulment practices is offered by reference to other reports from the UN and CoE.


 EU NEWS


European Commission recommends opening internal borders to stimulate tourism during Summer

 

On 13 May, the Commission presented a package of guidelines and recommendations for gradually lifting travel restrictions and allowing for tourist activity over the summer.

Italy passes regularisation covering thousands of migrants

 

After weeks of negotiations and political infighting, Italy passed a law regularising the situation of thousands of migrants in the agriculture and care sectors on 13 May. Agricultural associations in the country had complained about a shortage of 200,000 seasonal workers and fears of losing about 25% of the harvest. The newly conceded residency permits will last for six months.

Accusations against Croatian police for spray painting undocumented migrants 

 

UNHCR asked the Croatian government to investigate allegations of police using spray paint over asylum-seekers' heads and clothes. According to a recent report by the Border Violence Monitoring Network, supported on evidence provided by No Name Kitchen, the practice has been used to mark migrants who had entered irregularly from Bosnia before being pushed back across the border. Some of the migrants reported that the Croatian authorities had also stolen their money, phones and shoes.

 

The Guardian reported the voices of NGO workers who claimed that the purpose of the spray paint could be to humiliate and identify repeat border crossers, as well as to offend their religious identities, as crosses were painted over the heads of, mostly, Muslim migrants.

Photograph obtained by The Guardian

CJEU rules Hungary illegally held asylum-seekers
 

On 14 May, the European Court of Justice (CJEU) ruled that four migrants were illegally detained by Hungary in a transit zone at the country's border with Serbia. After Hungary had rejected the asylum applications of these four people, they were instructed to return to Serbia, but the latter country did not accept them. The country of return for the plaintiffs was then changed to those of their respective origin. They decided to initiate a legal procedure to, among other things, challenge their return decisions. In the meantime, they were forced to remain within the transit zone, which, according to the CJEU, amounts to a deprivation of liberty.

 

The judgment can be consulted in full here (French/Hungarian) and a brief summary of the ruling in English can be read here.

Covid-19 changes asylum patterns: Spain receives more asylum applications than Germany
 

According to Deutsche Welle, the daily Die Welt accessed data from EASO to be published soon on numbers of asylum applications in the EU from January to April 2020. According to Die Welt, Spain would have become the country processing the largest number of claims within the EU, topping Germany. The change is believed to be a result of a change in migration patterns brought by Covid-19. According to the article, while refugees come to Germany, mostly, from Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan, those that seek asylum in Spain come mostly from Latin America.


 INTERNATIONAL


UN says forced returns must be suspended during the pandemic


The UN Network on Migration called states to suspend forced returns during the pandemic, after having received several concerning reports. The network reiterates the existence of preferable alternatives such as granting temporary residence to migrants or imposing a moratorium on deportations and other forced returns.

Forced returns can intensify serious public health risks for everyone – migrants, public officials, health workers, social workers and both host and origin communities. Forced returns place additional strain on countries of return. Many health systems are already stretched and lack capacity to protect returnees and their communities, including through testing upon arrival and quarantine and self-isolation measures that preserve family unity and ensure the best interests of children. Returnees may face additional risks during transfer and upon return, such as lack of access to adequate health care, poor water and sanitation systems, halted ground transportation, additional restrictions on movement and violent discrimination and stigma in communities of return. 

Statement by the United Nations Network on Migration (13 May 2020)
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