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Migration News and Policy Review

27.4. - 3.5.20

Week In Summary

During the week, the relocations of unaccompanied minors from Greek refugee camps to other EU countries have continued to take place and, following an EU Council meeting on 28 April, more information about individual countries' relocation plans has been disclosed. The public debate about Czechia participating in the EU scheme by taking in some of these children has been revived. In addition, many of the discussions of previous weeks about policies aimed at responding to the pandemic continue to be relevant, including the need to regularise and attend to the circumstances of undocumented migrants, to urgently respond to the uncertain situation of migrants in distress in the central Mediterranean, or to provide real and effective support for overcrowded refugee camps in Greece.

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:
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 TOP STORIES


  • Relocation of unaccompanied minors from Greek refugee camps sees progress
  • Foreigners in Czechia with expiring residence permits given 60 days to leave after the state of emergency is over
  • Malta holds 57 rescued migrants at sea until other EU countries agree to take them

 DEVELOPMENTS IN CZECHIA


Will Czechia accept unaccompanied minors from Greek refugee camps?
 

On 27 April, Češi Pomáhají, together with Organizace Pro Pomoc Uprchlíkům and Amnesty International, sent an open letter to the Czech interior minister, Jan Hamáček. The letter reminds the previous appeal to the government for welcoming unaccompanied children from Greek refugee camps into the country. This time, under the urgency brought by the Covid-19 pandemic, Czechia is invited to join the efforts of other EU countries that have already started relocating these children as part of a scheme coordinated by the European Commission.

Writing for Aktualně.cz, Martin Fendrych, refers to the letter and makes the case for the country to show a gesture of solidarity by accepting "at least 100, at least 50, at least 10" of these unaccompanied minors, for which there is already a solid mechanism put forward by civil society organisations. On 1 May, the Czech public broadcaster gave further coverage to the relocation mechanism and the situation of minors in Greek refugee camps on Studio ČT24, where Dalimil Petrilák (PLNU) comprehensively briefed on the case.

Holders of residence permits expiring during the state of emergency will be given 60 days to leave Czechia once the state of emergency is over

 

On 30 April, the Czech Ministry of Interior announced a new regime for those foreigners whose permits to stay in Czechia had expired during the present state of emergency. According to the press release, foreigners with an expired residence permit will have 60 days to leave the country once the state of emergency has ended, presumably on 17 May.

From 4 May onwards, those leaving the country with an expired residence permit will be given a stamp at the border that reads 'Exceptional Situation Covid-19 Pandemic' about which Czechia has informed other countries. It was not clear from the ministry's communications which authorities will be in charge of giving these stamps or how will these be given in, for example, land borders without controls. 

Additionally, this measure does not seem to cover those foreigners whose residence permits expired before the state of emergency was declared but could not manage to leave the country due to the imposed mobility restrictions. 

The update in English could be found here at the time of writing.

Islamic veiling case dropped due to constant harrasment despite support from Supreme Court
 

This week, several newspapers reported on how a long legal dispute on the right of a  Muslim woman to wear a headscarf at a Prague medical school had come to an end. Despite the fact that the Supreme Court had ruled in her favour last December, Deník N reported that the woman had decided to withdraw the lawsuit after facing continuous threats and discrimination as a result of the ongoing case.


 REFUGEE CAMPS IN GREECE

Relocation of unaccompanied minors from Greek refugee camps to other EU countries continue

 

On 28 April, EU commissioner Ylva Johansson informed that Portugal will be the next country to accept unaccompanied minors from Greek refugee camps after the first relocations to Luxembourg and Germany had taken place the previous week. EU sources claimed Portugal will be welcoming 50 children during May.

 

According to the Slovenian Ministry of Interior, Slovenia will be relocating four unaccompanied minors during the second half of May. The Slovenian Press Agency (STA) reported that the ministry had asked for these children to be younger than ten.

 

On 30 April, Finland announced that the country will be relocating 130 refugees from Greek camps, 100 of which are unaccompanied children. According to Ekathimerini, these will be family reunifications. Earlier in the week, the Finish Immigration Service had announced that the country was doubling its reception capacities, as the country is expecting to receive about 175 "vulnerable asylum-seekers from the Mediterranean region". These people were expected to be mostly unaccompanied children relocated from Greece, but could also include asylum-seekers in Cyprus, Malta and Italy. 

 

On 30 April, the German Ministry of Interior announced that the 47 children relocated to Germany on 18 April were about to finish quarantine on 1 May. Furthermore, the minister stated that 18 of these children had relatives in six German states and were expected to join their families soon. The remaining 29 minors will be relocated to the states of Lower Saxony (13 children), Berlin (8) and Hamburg (8).

Asylum-seekers arrested for fires in Vathy (Samos) that left 200 homeless and new camp to be constructed on the island
 

On 27 April, the Greek migration ministry estimated that the fires in Vathy camp (Samos) that had been ignited the previous evening had left 200 people homeless. The fires were believed to be a result of ethnic conflicts within the camp, as reported by several Greek media. The migration minister, Notis Mitarachi, stated on 28 April, that Vathy will be closed by the end of the year and asylum-seekers transferred to a new facility to be built on the island. Furthermore, 22 asylum-seekers were detained by the police and are expected to face charges for the arson. While Mitarachi argues that those arrested should be subject to trial, IOM Greece defended that the ultimate legal responsibility for asylum-seekers within the facility falls under the managing authority, i.e. the Ministry of Migration and Asylum.

Austria leases containers for housing asylum-seekers in Greece

 

On 29 April, Austria announced that it will be leasing 181 containers for housing asylum-seekers in Greece for two years. After having suffered fires earlier in the week, Vathy camp in Samos was expected to have priority over other facilities. It was reported that the first batch of 60 containers left for Greece on 1 May, while the remaining were expected to arrive the week after.

Protests calling for action in Moria, both within and without

 

A sit-up protest by asylum-seekers in Moria (Lesbos) took place on 29 April, demanding better protection against Covid-19. Calling for action in Moria was also one of the main issues at a May Day protest joined by over 1,000 people in Berlin, celebrated in breach of the mobility restrictions imposed to control the expansion of Covid-19.

Greece accuses Turkey of escorting migrants at sea

 

On 29 April, Greece accused Turkish coast guards of escorting a boat with migrants towards the island of Lesbos. According to the Greek coast guard, despite the efforts of their Turkish counterparts, the escorted boat did not manage to enter Greek territorial waters following continuous warnings from the Greek side to intercept the boat.


 EU MIGRATION NEWS


A new EU Asylum and Migration regime to be discussed soon

 

On 28 April, both the Croatian minister of interior and commissioner Ylva Johansson announced that the New EU Asylum and Migration Pact will be discussed at the next EU council meeting. The commissioner said (min 9:05 of the video) that the European Commission was ultimating the final amendments to the proposal which will contemplate the reality created by the present pandemic.

 

On 30 April, the EU Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee informed through a press release that they had sent a letter to the European Commission in which they asked for the New Pact to be comprehensive, and to address safe and legal migration. Among other things, they asked for an EU Resettlement Framework and humanitarian corridors to be put in place, as well as the creation of legal paths for third-country nationals to fill gaps in the EU labour market with all legal guarantees. The committee is, at present, working on a report on New Avenues for Legal Labour Migration.

Asylum applications in EU+ dropped dramatically in March

 

On 30 April, EASO informed that the applications for asylum filed in the EU+ in March had dropped by 43% from the previous month. However, they remind that during January-February 2020, the number of applications had increased by 16% compared to the same period last year. The dramatic decrease was thought to be mostly due to travel restrictions resulting from measures against the spread of Covid-19.

#COVID19: #Asylum applications down by 43% in March by EASO

Regularisation of undocumented migrants and their access to public services during the pandemic

 

As the Italian government is considering a regularisation for, mostly agricultural, migrant workers, this week, Pope Francis expressed on a letter addressed to an Italian workers' union the need for these regularisations to take place in order for this vulnerable group to be able to exercise both their rights and duties, as well as to avoid social tensions. The NGO ActionAid criticised the present draft bill, as it places "market interests before the rights and lives of foreign citizens". The organisation asked for the bill to create a more ambitious structural legalisation that is not just temporary and focused on the needs of the agricultural sector, as well as to consider the specific situation of women migrants.

 

It was also reported this week that the governor of the Caserta province had asked the Italian government to identify undocumented migrants in the wider area in order to be able to provide them with adequate healthcare assistance, should this become necessary.

 

On 28 April, Al Jazeera published a story shedding light on the situation of Eastern European domestic care workers doing irregular work in Italy. According to the piece, the majority of domestic workers in Italy work without a 'proper contract', and Eastern European women are overrepresented in the sector. During the pandemic, many such workers were unable to carry out their work, due to, for example, the internal mobility restrictions or the health risks to which the patients would have been exposed. Unable to return home, many of these women have ended up homeless or in shelters for rough sleepers.

 

The advisory Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration published a report on 28 April, proposing a cash-for-visas system for African migrants. The idea, that aims at curving down the number of irregular migrants in Germany, is that the applicants would have to leave a cash deposit while they work on a temporary work visa in the country. Once the visas expire, the applicants would be able to recover their deposit if leaving Germany in due time. The report argues that these deposits create an incentive for migrants to return, and that African states would benefit from receiving returnees with newly acquired skills and capital that could be invested in their countries of origin.

 

The Guardian published an article on 1 May, recounting the situation of thousands of migrant agricultural workers, many undocumented, trapped in settlements under dire conditions in Spain. While the settlements existed and were denounced before the pandemic, the lack of protection against the virus has increased the concerns of several NGOs. A recent visit to Spain by the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights concluded with a report that, among other things, expressed serious concerns about the extreme conditions suffered by the inhabitants of these settlements.

"In Huelva, I met with workers living in a migrant settlement in conditions that rival the worst I have seen anywhere in the world. They are kilometers away from water, and live without electricity or adequate sanitation. Many have lived there for years and can afford to pay rent, but said no one will accept them as tenants. They are earning as little as 30 euros per day, and have almost no access to any form of government support. One person told me, “When there’s work, Spain needs migrants, but no one is interested in our living conditions.” According to civil society, 2,300-2,500 people live in similar conditions during the strawberry season"


Statement by Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, on his visit to Spain, 27 January – 7 February 2020

European Commission praises frontline migrant workers

 

In a tweet on 30 April, commissioner Ylva Johansson praised the work of frontline migrant workers during the pandemic citing a study that shows that 13% of essential workers in the EU are 'immigrants'.

Image from tweet by Ylva Johansson (30 April 2020)

 CENTRAL MEDITERRANEAN AND LIBYA


Illegal expulsions and dangerous detention practices continue in Libya during the pandemic

 

In a press briefing on 28 April, a spokesperson for the OHCHR expressed the office's concerns about the expulsion of about 1,400 migrants from Eastern Libya during 2020. Reportedly, Libyan authorities have been carrying out deportations without any legal procedures or safeguards that would be in breach of Libya's international human rights law commitments, as they would have been collective expulsions infringing the non-refoulment principle. The office had recently recommended the halting of forced returns during the Covid-19 pandemic.

 

During the briefing, the spoksperson expressed the office's "serious concerns" for the welfare of migrants "held in crowded and unhygienic official detention facilities, and unofficial sites, across the country, where they are at risk of serious human rights violations and abuses, amid the spread of COVID-19". While the UN had already called for the closure of Libyan detention facilities, the office stressed that, in the context of the pandemic, the transfer of migrants to a safe place should be urgently prioritised.

Complaint filed before the EU Court of Auditors against EU programmes infringing migrants' rights in Libya

 

On 29 April, three Italian civil society organisations filed a complaint before the European Court of Auditors in which they called for the suspension of EU programmes that fund the blockade of migrants in Libya, as well as their pushbacks to the country. The EU Trust Fund for Africa, financing most of these activities, should only finance activities connected to development, rather than security and border control, they argued. One of the organisations, GLAN, has published a comprehensive report explaining the case that can be consulted here.

Accusations against Malta: employing clandestine private flotilla to conduct pushbacks, holding and sabotaging migrants at sea

 

An investigative article from The New York Times reported on 30 April on how Malta relied on a clandestine fleet of private vessels to carry out pushbacks in the Mediterranean. The piece recounts how the boats departed from Valletta on 12 April, within hours of each other (allegedly, at the request of the Maltese government), and turned off their satellite tracking after departure. Once at sea, they were directed to rescue a boat with migrants that had been sending mayday calls for about 48 hours. One of the private vessels rescued the survivors and took them to Tripoli (disguised as a Maltese government ship despite being registered in Eastern Libya) on 15 April, while a second boat from the, allegedly informal, flotilla transported to the same port food and water provisions that would have been given to the Libyan authorities as a sign of appreciation.

 

On 30 April, Malta rescued 57 migrants that had been stranded at sea. The group first boarded a fishing vessel and were later transferred to a tourist boat off the Maltese coast. The Maltese government called on other EU countries to take in the rescued migrants, as their reception facilities are over capacity and under lockdown. On 1 May, the prime minister said that migrants will remain on the tourist boat until another EU country decides to take them. The Maltese premier argued that "hundreds of thousands" of people were waiting to cross the Mediterranean in Libya and that the ports of the country had been declared closed as a result of the pandemic, which should also apply to vessels with migrants.

 

Alarm Phone published a detailed report on 3 May, in which they recount how Maltese authorities sabotaged a boat in distress earlier in April.

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