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Migration News and Policy Review

30.3.20 - 5.4.20

Week In Summary

This week we pay special attention to how the measures against COVID-19 have affected migrants in countries neighbouring Czechia, as well as in Hungary. For the latest updates on the situation in Czechia, check out the Consortium's update from 4 April: Informace týkající se epidemie Covid-19 (nejen) pro cizince.

If you need a recap, take a look at our previous:


 TOP STORIES


  • Germany approves plan for seasonal harvest foreign workers
  • CJEU establishes that Czechia, Hungary and Poland broke EU law by not implementing relocating mechanisms
  • Portugal gives temporary residence to all migrants and asylum seekers until 30 June

 COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS EFFECS ON MIGRANTS IN CZECHIA'S NEIGHBOURING COUNTRIES AND HUNGARY



Slovakia

 

According to the Slovak Ministry of Foreign Affairs' website, the country's borders remain closed, except for Slovak nationals, diplomats, foreigners who hold a valid residence permit or are close relatives of Slovak citizens, foreigners with a residence permit in neighbouring states who can justify regular transit into Slovakia (including across the Ukrainian border through the so-called malý pohraniční styk or local train service) or commercial drives with valid permits.

 

A new decree, passed on 4 April, requires everyone travelling to Slovakia (including nationals) from 6 April onwards to be isolated in state quarantine centres for 14 days. Registration forms have been made available on this website, so people can be allocated to a centre close to their declared place of residence in advance. There are a number of exceptions to the state quarantine centres (e.g. pregnant women, people with severe health conditions) and for those cases, domestic isolation is to be observed instead.

 

At the time of writing, the foreigners' police offices were working at a reduced capacity. EU citizens and family members were allowed to register their residence by post. Third-country nationals could only renew existing residence permits. However, the government has prepared amendments to the Act on the Residence of Foreigners, following guidelines from the Human Rights League, that are meant to be discussed shortly by parliament. If approved, any person entering the country "legally" will be allowed to stay until one month after the state of emergency has expired. For more information about the new amendments, click here.

 

In order to request social benefits, people are directed to this website (in Slovak). Materials and information for online schooling, including those for language schools, can be found here.

 

IOM offers a comprehensive information sheet on COVID-19 national restrictions in Slovak, English and Russian. NGOs Mareena and the Human Rights League are offering constant updates for migrants on their Facebook pages. Radio Slovakia offers updates of diverse nature in English about COVID-19. The official COVID-19 website from the public health authority is only in Slovak, and the Ministry that is communicating the new measures in English is that of Foreign Affairs.

 

Information in Ukrainian regarding the state of Ukraine's border restrictions can be found on the website of the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


Poland

 

Most people entering Poland need to undertake a 14-day quarantine at a specific address that they need to report to border authorities. Foreigners without a residence permit are generally not allowed into the country, except in some instances (e.g. close relatives and dependents of residents in Poland), as well as individual exceptions upon a decision of an officer at a Border Guard outpost. A programme for repatriation, coordinated with the airline LOT called "Flight Back Home" conducted its lasts flights on 5 April.

 

On 31 March, a series of special solutions for foreigners entered into force. One of the most relevant measures postpones the application for extensions of expiring residence and work permits, residence cards for people with international protection, or visas, until the 30th day after the conclusion of the state of emergency. Third-country nationals whose permits are expiring will not be allowed to travel within the Schengen area but they could still exercise their awarded rights following their recorded purpose of stay (e.g. work, study). Voluntary returns are also to be postponed. A detailed document in English explaining the measures can be downloaded here. Customer service at the state's offices for foreigners is suspended but telephone consultations can be made from Monday-Friday (for contacts, see here).

 

Diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19 are free of charge for everyone in Poland, yet, there are fears that not all foreigners are aware of this. The National Health Fund reiterated the right of all foreigners to receive these services free of charge. On 27 March, the Polish Migration Forum shared a FB publication denouncing some of the situations of exclusion faced by foreigners. These included lack of access to state housing solutions (as shelters are over capacity), the inability of foreigners under specific permits to find a new employer after being laid off from work, or limited help for non-Polish-speaking families to oversee their children's online schooling tasks.

There is an official government's website on coronavirus in English. The Polish Office for Foreigners offers regular updates about the new measures in English and Russian on their website. The office has also shared leaflets for health and safety measures in several languages. The Ministry of Health informs, also in several languages, in its news section and also has produced informative videos for foreigners.

Was sollten Sie über die Selbst-Quarantäne wissen? - from a series of videos produced by the Polish Ministry of Health.


Germany

 

Border controls are in place at the country's borders with Austria, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, and Denmark up to, at least, 14 April 2020. Between these countries, specific crossing points have been established. Beyond the transport of goods, only working commuters and foreigners with "urgent reasons" are allowed to enter the country through these borders. Urgent reasons include the death of a relative or medical treatment, and are to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Citizens of the European Economic Area and third-country nationals with residence permits there can transit through Germany on their way back home. EU students, researchers and intra-corporate transferees can still enter the country after their host has notified migration authorities. Other foreigners, with no "urgent reason" to enter Germany are expected to be turned back at the border. According to the Czech Ministry of Interior, at the country's borders with Czechia, Poland, the Netherlands and Belgium, border health checks are being carried out.

 

Transfers of refugees to Germany through the Dublin system have been halted (i.e. postponed) until further notice, yet new applications for asylum can still be done remotely. While the Ministry of Labour answers general questions about the rights of employees under COVID-19 in other languages, it is the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees who clarifies questions regarding the legal status of migrant workers. Regional offices are following different protocols when attending to expiring residence permits, so foreigners are directed to consult their assigned office.

 

The Ministry of Interior announced a new plan to recruit about 80,000 seasonal harvest workers from, mainly, Eastern EU countries during April and May. The state-coordinated recruiting process will fly workers in. The latter will have to follow a new type of 14-day quarantine which allows them to work while keeping a series of health and safety measures. An additional 10,000 harvesters are to be recruited within the country from the unemployed, students and asylum seekers.

 

Meanwhile, thousands of foreign sex workers have lost their accommodation after brothels closed. Following German regulation of sex work, many have been able to claim benefits and find an alternative residence, while many others have been left homeless and struggling to return back home.

 

The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees updates materials on different formats (e.g. podcasts, information sheets, videos) about the situation in almost 15 languages. Official information in English can be found on the websites of the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Health, the Robert Koch Institute or the Federal Foreign Office. The Ministry of Interior has created a comprehensively-structured FAQ section covering plenty of issues related to COVID-19.


Austria

 

There are border controls with Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Slovenia and Hungary. In order for foreigners to cross through these borders, they need to present a standardised medical certificate that shows negative results on the virus. The country allows Austrian citizens and foreigners with valid residence permits to enter the country but they should keep a 14-day home quarantine. Most third-country nationals without a valid residence permit are not allowed to enter.

 

Information on residence/work permits can be found at the Ministry of Interior's website in German. Documents relating to residence permits need to be sent by e-mail or post, including applications for renewal. Overall, it seems that most processes are still functioning remotely. A new legislative package, approved on 3 April, approved, among other things, a ban on eviction of tenants not paying rent over the next three months (although payments will have to be made before the end of the year) and extended funds for short-time working schemes.

 

In a recent televised address, President Alexander Van der Bellen called for unity and togetherness by constantly addressing "Austrians and everyone who lives here".

 

The most comprehensive compilation of official information in languages other than German is to be found at the Austrian Integration Fund website. The Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer protection offers further health-related information in seven languages. The English-speaking magazine Metropole shares detailed daily updates on the situation in the country. A brief guide can also be found on one of the public broadcaster's radio station's website.


Hungary

 

NGO Menedék reported on 2 March on the impact of the government measures on third-country nationals. The present situation comes as a result of a law passed on 30 March, which, among other things, extends the state of emergency indefinitely and allows the Prime Minister to rule by decree.

 

Menedék reports that borders are closed, allowing only for the entry of Hungarian citizens, those bringing in supplies and EEA citizens holding a permanent residence card. Third-country nationals can receive exceptional permits from the chief of police after testing negative in COVID-19. Hours-long transits are allowed in some border points for Romanian and Bulgarian nationals.

 

Foreigners who do not comply with health and safety regulations may be expelled from the country. Menedék communicated to the Consortium that, by 31 March, up to 13 Iranian nationals had requested a judicial review of such decisions. The validity of identity documents and driving licenses expiring under the state of emergency is extended until 15 days after the end of such a state. However, it is not specified that this applies to third-country nationals or EEA citizens without a permanent residence card. 

 

Residence permits, on the other hand, must be renewed, according to a notice from the police for foreigners, during the state of emergency through an electronic portal. Menedék communicated to the Consortium that, the immigration authority requested not to apply for permanent residence permits or for the official endorsement of the invitation letter while the state of emergency lasts. Face-to-face services with the immigration authorities are reserved for exceptional cases and, only, by appointment.

 

All schools, except for some nurseries and kindergartens, are closed. The government has not adopted special measures to assist those who lost their jobs after the COVID-19 impact yet.

 

Information in English is provided through some notifications by the National Directorate General for Aliens Policing. Otherwise, Menedék offers updates to migrants in seven languages, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee informs regularly in English and the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union has a FAQ on COVID-19 website section, also, in English.


Other events across the EU

 

On 31 March, Portugal gave all migrants and asylum seekers in the country full citizenship rights through a temporary residence permit lasting until 30 June. The measure aims at reducing the administrative burden for foreigners and authorities, but also at giving foreigners full access to health care and social services.

 

This week, the EU Commission published two key documents touching on the free movement of workers across the Union. One is a series of guidelines for member states concerning the free movement of workers in critical sectors, the other is an information factsheet for frontier and posted workers.

 

An array of The Guardian correspondents have reported how farmers across the EU are warning about the potential loss of crops if foreign seasonal workers are not allowed to travel. They are trying to create pressure on their governments by highlighting the potential for food shortages. The same need for foreign seasonal workers is applicable to Czechia, according to an analyst speaking for Aktualně.cz.
 

A so-called operational turnaround is to be performed at the Unipetrol chemical plant in Záluží u Litvínova (Czechia) from 9 April to 14 June 2020 with up to 595 foreign workers. As part of the country's critical infrastructure, the company has been given an exception to bring from abroad skilled workers that Czechia is in a short supply of. Despite having to be subject to extraordinary health and safety measures, iDnes reported that the local population feels resented and is demanding from the municipal authorities an even stricter oversight over the movements of these foreign workers.

The Greek one-month interruption on the processing of asylum applications ended on 1 April. Nevertheless, COVID-19-related restrictions on the operations of the Greek Asylum Service mean that until, at least, 10 April, it will not be possible to process new asylum applications.

If you are interested in the impact that COVID-19 and the government responses has had over migrant communities across the EU, check out this country-report list compiled by PICUM from its member organisations.

 

In addition, the Czech Ministry of Interior offers a brief summary of the situation regarding international mobility in most EU countries.


 EU MIGRATION NEWS


European refugee camps under quarantine in Greece and Malta

 

Over the week, up to 20 refugees living in the Ritsona camp, near Athens, have tested positive for coronavirus. For the next two weeks, the camp will remain under quarantine. On 5 April, another case of COVID-19 was detected in the camp of Malakassa, also near Athens. The camp will also remain under lockdown for 14 days.

 

Similarly, in Malta, a COVID-19 outbreak was detected on 5 April in the Hal Far camp, after eight refugees tested positive. Over 1,000 people have been put under lockdown in the camp for the next 14 days.

 

Concerns continue to be particularly high about the Moria camp in Lesbos, where asylum seekers are sewing face masks for the wider country's population. The initiative #SOSMoria is collecting signatures from doctors and citizens in order to urge EU leaders to respond to the pressing situation in the camp.

CJEU concludes that Czechia, Hungary and Poland failed to implement the 2015 relocation mechanisms

 

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled on 2 April 2020 against Czechia, Hungary and Poland in a joint case brought to the court by the European Commission (EC). The case concerned an infringement procedure launched against the member states by the EC following their failure to implement the 2015 mechanisms for the relocation of applicants for international protection from Italy and Greece. The new CJEU verdict confirms that the countries have indeed failed to fulfil their obligations under European Union Law.

 

A brief summary of the case's conclusions can be found on the Consortium's website.

Czech Prime Minister dismisses the work of NGOs during the pandemic

 

Britské Listy made public on 2 April a letter by Prime Minister Andrej Babiš in response to a previous address made to him by activist Anežka Polášková from the initiative Europe Must Act. The original letter, signed by about 100 Czech activists, was submitted within the framework of the international initiative, which calls for a safer and fairer asylum process in Greece, as well as an EU-wide relocation of asylum seekers. In response, the Prime Minister defended the position of the government by referring to different types of aid sent to Greece. Nevertheless, the letter made headlines as Babiš also dismissed in it the work of NGOs done in response to the pandemic.

 

In face of such a statement, Polášková put together a letter reivindicating the work that NGOs had been conducting and collected over 80 signatures from different organisations in a few days. Several publications, like Deník N or Alarm,  also gave visibility to the work that NGOs have been performing since the outbreak of the pandemic. Equally, Greenpeace posted a Facebook comment listing some of the different forms of assistance that NGOs had been providing over recent weeks. The latter received a reply from the Prime Minister's Facebook account in which he asked for forgiveness for his dismissal after admitting that he had made that statement without having much information about all the work the organisations made, which he now praises and thanks.

New maritime missions in the Mediterranean

 

The migrant rescue boat Alan Kurdi, whose name honours a three-year-old Syrian child who drowned in the Mediterranean in 2015, departed from Spain on 31 March. The new mission, operated by the NGO Sea-Eye, is, for now, the only of its kind operating in the central Mediterranean.

 

On the same day, the EU launched its new naval mission to Libya. Operation Irini has as its main goal the enforcement of the UN arms embargo against Libya in the Mediterranean and, secondarily, the training of Libyan coast guards and the disruption of other criminal activities like oil smuggling. Initially, Austria and Hungary had opposed the mission arguing that it could serve as a pull factor for migrants. Even if Irini is not explicitly tasked with rescue operations, as operation Sophia was, international maritime law will require it to assist boats in distress. Under requests to disclose more information about the handling of migrants by the mission, the Commission replied that the operational plan is confidential.

Migrant children in the EU (2019)

 

The EU Agency for Fundamental Rights has published a 2019 report on the situation of children in migration within the EU. It covers three areas of concern, namely reaching and entering the EU; arrival and stay in the EU; and detention and return.

"In 2019, over 140,000 migrants were apprehended after crossing the EU’s external land or sea borders in an unauthorised manner. Among them, about 33,000 claimed to be children, including over 5,000 who were unaccompanied.3 Compared to 2018, the number dropped from some 150,000 detected migrants, one in five of whom claimed to be under 18.4 Some countries, like Greece, received significantly more children than other countries, underscoring the urgent need for realistic burden sharing and solidarity among EU Member States"

EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (Children in Migration 2019)

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