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Migration News and Policy Review

13.4.20 - 19.4.20

Week In Summary

This week there has been much talk about shortages of foreign seasonal agricultural workers in the EU, as well as their probable solutions. As a result, this weekly review collects some of the most relevant stories. In addition, we draw attention to the highly perilous situation of refugees at sea, as coast guards and national authorities try to avoid disembarking migrants drifting at sea. In addition, Germany and Luxembourg have welcomed the first unaccompanied children from Greek refugee camps as part of a larger EU scheme that aims at relocating 1,600 minors. Finally, different solutions are being put on the table for asylum seekers and undocumented migrants in Europe to have their situations regularised and cover some positions in key sectors during the lockdown.

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


  • Eastern European seasonal agricultural workers arrive in Western Europe, as initiatives for the recruitment of nationals seems insufficient.
  • The EU Commission launches guidelines for asylum procedures and migrant returns.
  • First unaccompanied children from Greek refugee camps arrive into Luxembourg and Germany

 FOREIGN WORKERS IN THE EU DURING THE PANDEMIC


"Romanians to the Rescue" - need for foreign workforce changes British tabloid discourse as food wastage is likely to become inevitable…
 

On 16 April, 150 Romanian farm workers arrived in the UK. As skilled workers, they will be useful in training the newly recruited and unexperienced UK ones. The same airline company that flew them in, had already flown 1,000 workers to Germany. UK farmers said that they need to cover 70,000 positions. While there are some UK volunteers and UK workers, they are far from enough, plus, despite showing initial interest, many of the UK applicants are not accepting the job offers that they receive. Even the tabloid Daily Mail, usually vilifying Eastern European migrants, published a headline that said "Romanians to the Rescue" and gave an extensive coverage highlighting how they all wore gloves and masks (not compulsory in the UK), as well sa how the 'critically important' workers were joining the "fight to save the UK's harvest".

Caption from The Daily Mail. Source: Scram News.

 

As reported by the Financial Times (FT), most of the UK seasonal agricultural workers are foreigners, with UK nationals representing less than 1% (see graph below). Under the present restrictions, according to FT, Germany can be a much more enticing destination for seasonal workers, as the country is conducting more COVID-19 tests and is less severely affected by the virus. In addition, since the 2016 EU referendum, the UK has suffered a lack of staffing in agriculture. The article predicts that this year, food wastage will be inevitable.
 

Source: Financial Times

…other EU countries are also likely to be short of seasonal agricultural workers
 

This is, of course, not only a concern for the UK. Many EU countries depend on the labour of Eastern EU citizens in times of the harvest:

 

 

 

  • Italy might be needing about 250,000 foreign workers in its farms, according to members of the campaign Ero Straniero (I was a Foreigner). The campaign is a joint initiative by several organisations (NGOs, political parties, religious associations, think tanks, mayors) and has been active since a law proposal entered the Italian parliament in late 2017. They have been advocating for regularising the status of irregular third-country foreigners in Italy by providing them with a temporary one-year work permit to be conceded upon the offer of a contract. In the face of the work shortages in agriculture, the campaign has been cooperating with the current government. On the basis of this cooperation, a decree was drafted this week. While the draft is covering the agricultural sector, Ero Straniero reminds the government that the aim of their campaign is not to cover just this economic activity.
 

 

A recent article from The Guardian, reflects on some of the systemic injustices leading to the recruitment of Romanian seasonal workers in the Western EU. According to the article, the fact that the Romanian government was unable to provide enough income support for its citizens during lockdown was a key factor when accepting the German recruitment offer. Eastern Europeans are allegedly "willing" to work under tougher conditions than German or British citizens, and that is why farmers have repeatedly claimed to prefer them. The article further warns that, eventually, it will be the Romanian health care system that will have to cope with the treatment of workers potentially bringing back any diseases from Germany.

In addition, hundreds of Romanian and Bulgarian caregivers, as well as doctors, have been flown into Austria since the state of emergency was declared. In some instances, caregivers were unable to keep social distance during the flights and had their passports withdrawn by Austrian authorities while keeping quarantine. Under the previous status quo, thousands of Romanian part-time carers were living between Romania and the houses of their patients in Austria. Once the Romanian borders closed on 16 March, many have become stranded, either in Romania or Austria. The precarity of their previous working arrangements means that many have been left unable to claim benefits and without suitable housing solutions in Austria. The situation of these Romanian carers and other Eastern European workers stranded in Western countries in the EU has been covered in this other recent article for The Guardian.

"In many ways the asparagus cutters, salad pickers and care workers represent the most efficient form of labour in Europe: cheap, highly productive, untaxed even if humiliated and a potential public health hazard. Europe’s political economy has created the post-communist universal soldier, capable of converting from farm labourer to caregiver to construction worker as the the season changes. Freedom of movement has morphed into migration for survival and even that privilege is reserved for the physically fit".

 

Costi Rogozanu and Daniela Gabor for The Guardian

Asylum-seekers to work across European hospitals?
 

As reported in last week's review, some European countries, like France or Spain had allowed asylum seekers to be hired as health personnel. On Monday, the Council of Europe (CoE) and UNHCR encouraged other European states to follow their example. In this regard, the CoE reminded the usefulness of the European Qualifications Passport for Refugees (EQPR) in speeding up the process of the recognition of qualifications. The EQPR is a CoE document that aims at assessing the qualifications of refugees, based on existing documentation and a personal interview, as well as documenting their professional experience and skills.

 

Also in last week's review, we covered how Saxony had placed a call to recruit foreign health workers without a license to practice medicine in Germany in their hospitals. An article from Infomigrants, confirms that the initiative has been so successful that even migrants living in other states have applied, only to be encouraged to apply to their regional medical authorities instead. The article also reports that foreign doctors in Bavaria, where there is a bigger incidence of COVID-19, had been offered immediate permission to work as assistants for a year. There are thousands of foreign doctors in Germany waiting for their qualifications to be approved, but the process is relatively slow and requires doctors to pass a German-proficiency test.


 PERIL FOR REFUGEES AT SEA


Inaction in the Mediterranean leads to deaths and a "secret pushback" to what UNHCR considers 'unsafe' Libya

 

On 16 April, UNHCR's special envoy for the Central Mediterranean, Vincent Cochetel, criticised the EU and its member states' authorities for allowing a boat with migrants to be adrift at sea for almost three days. When the vessel was finally rescued by a commercial ship in Maltese waters and under the coordination of Malta, five of the people on board were already dead and seven had gone missing. Survivors, among them three children, were eventually transferred to a Libyan coast guard boat and disembarked in Tripoli on 15 April, where they were taken to a detention centre. The boat is the same that Alarm Phone had been reporting as missing over the previous days. After the operation was concluded, a report by Alarm Phone provided their detailed account of the case. The NGO accuses Malta of having facilitated a 'secret pushback' (i.e. conducted without communicating its decisions with other parties involved in the mission like Italy or Alarm Phone) to Libya from its Search and Rescue area. Malta refused to provide a 'place of safety' for disembarkation, as, last week, they declared their ports unsafe due to COVID-19.

 

On the other hand, on 14 April, the Libyan Government of National accord has dismissed the claims made last week by IOM that the Libyan ports had been closed to migrants. Nevertheless, Cochetel claims that the Libyan authority in charge of the detention centres seems not to be "able or prepared to take more detainees".

A boat with 396 Rohingya refugees rescued after two months at sea

 

This week, the Bangladeshi coast guard rescued a boat with 396 refugees that had been drifting at sea since mid-February, 30 of its passengers are believed to have died at sea. The ship had originally left the massive refugee camp complex in Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh. Like, at least two, other similar vessels with hundreds of refugees before, the vessel had tried to reach Malaysia, across the Bay of Bengal. According to the accounts of those on board, the Malaysian coast guard had repeatedly blocked their boat at sea, as the coronavirus outbreak in Malaysia had made the authorities become stricter. Upon disembarkation, they were returned to the camps in Cox's Bazaar, where they were placed in quarantine.

Cox's Bazaar: Living on the Edge in March 2018 (3m53s) via IOM

 EU MIGRATION NEWS


Relocation begins for unaccompanied children from Greek refugee camps

 

On 15 April, 12 asylum-seeking children were relocated from Greece to Luxembourg. They first travelled from different islands to an IOM facility in Athens, where they were subjected to health assessments and tests, including for COVID-19. The children are being identified by UNHCR, EASO and Greek NGOs (Metadrasi, Praksis), in cooperation with Greek authorities. Another group of 58 minors arrived in Northern Germany on 16 April.

 

The relocation is part of a greater scheme, coordinated by the EU, which aims at relocating 1,600 children. Ten member states and Switzerland have reportedly confirmed their participation. Children will have to keep quarantine once they arrive to their destinations. In the case of Germany, it is confirmed that the children will also receive the psychological assistance they might require before being taken to youth centres, where they will continue to receive individually-tailored support. German states, rather than the Federal Government, are responsible for most of the costs.

Group of 12 children who left Greece for Luxembourg on 15 April. Source: DW

#EUSolidarity: Relocation of Children from Greek Camps (54s) via European Commission

The EU gives guidance on asylum, return and resettlement

 

On 16 April, the Commission published a guidance on the implementation of relevant EU rules on asylum and return procedures and on resettlement in the context of the coronavirus pandemic. Prepared with the support of EASO and Frontex, the document responds to calls from member states.

 

According to the Commission's press release, some of the general directions established for asylum procedures include:

 

  • The need for registration and the processing of applications to continue
  • Personal interviews should continue to take place, even if remotely
  • Transfers of applicants within the framework of the Dublin Regulation should continue, following reasonable health and safety measures contingent on the situation of the particular states involved
  • Quarantine and isolation measures at reception centres must be "reasonable, proportionate and non-discriminatory", and all measures need to be "carefully explained" to the applicants
  • If an applicant's health condition does not allow for fingerprint registration as per the Eurodac Regulation, her fingerprints could be taken at a later stage, but no later than 48 hours after the health conditions cease to exist

 

Regarding resettlement, the EU acknowledges the interruption of resettlement operations by UNHCR and IOM but encourages member states to continue all preparatory work so once these activities are resumed, resettlements can take place as soon as possible.

 

As for return, member states are also encouraged to conduct most of the preparatory work and to give priority to voluntary returns. In the case of pre-removal detention, the prospect of removal should not be understood to automatically disappear due to the restrictions imposed by member states and, on the other hand, cases should be assessed individually.

 

The entire communication containing the guidance can be read here.

Hungary continues deportations of Iranian students

 

The Hungarian police confirmed, through a radio interview on 15 April, that 14 Iranian students will be expelled from Hungary this month. They are accused of displaying "blatantly anti-social, violent behaviour" after having been told to observe quarantine at a Budapest hospital. One of the Iranian patients said the tensions were the consequence of communication problems with the hospital staff, which lead to feelings of panic among some of the Iranian students. Some students claimed that part of this panic came as they found out that they had been preventively isolated for hours next to an infected person, something Hungary's chief Medical Officer denied.

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