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Migration News and Policy Review

20.4. - 26.4.20

Week In Summary

This week, the lockdowns imposed on the overcrowded Greek refugee camps led to several tense scenarios, which included protests, fires, escapes and panic amid the confirmation of new cases. Meanwhile, in Czechia, the parliament rejected a bill that would have allowed third-country nationals without already-validated qualifications to work in the health services during the pandemic. Other developments in the country included a new international mobility regime or the recognition of the Czech Constitutional Court that extraditions to China could lead to human rights abuses.

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 TOP STORIES


  • Tensions at several overcrowded Greek refugee camps as fears of the spread of the pandemic grow among residents.
  • New international mobility regime in Czechia
  • Germany allows asylum-seekers to work in agriculture

 GREEK REFUGEE CAMPS


Česko pomáhá
 

Responding to the call of the Greek migration minister, the Czech government approved on 23 April an assistance package with materials for Greek refugee camps worth 4,3 million Czech crowns (157,000€). The donation includes hygiene products, inflatable mattresses, sleeping bags, blankets and towels. The interior minister, Jan Hamáček stated that the aid was especially aimed at helping the children in the camps.
 

The decision is financed through the Czech government's medical humanitarian MEDEVAC programme, coordinated by the Ministry of the Interior, and the materials will be transported to Greece by the Fire Rescue Service of the Czech Republic.

Relocation of unaccompanied children from Greek refugee camps 

 

An open letter to the Swedish Minister of Justice and Migration by Sweden-based NGOs was published on 22 April in English. The appeal encourages the government to join the EU-coordinated programme to relocate 1,600 unaccompanied children from the Greek islands' refugee camps into other EU countries.

 

A similar open letter was addressed to Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte by Human Rights Watch, also on 22 April. On 23 April, dozens of Dutch politicians, public figures, scientists, activists and spiritual leaders published a full-page advertisement further pressuring the government on the NRC newspaper. The ad can be downloaded in PDF here. Dutch NGOs already have put an online petition in place to accept 500 children within a 'coalition of the willing' formed by several municipalities. Despite the pressure, on 24 April the Dutch junior justice minister expressed only the willingness of the government to support transfers and accommodation for children from the Greek islands to the mainland. However, she discarded that children would be relocated to the Netherlands for the time being.
 

On 24 April, the Swiss migration minister confirmed that his country will be taking in 22 unaccompanied children, as well as providing over a million Swiss francs (1€ million) in aid. On the same day, the Danish minister of development cooperation announced an aid package for unaccompanied refugee children in Greece worth 22.4 million Danish crowns (3€ million).

 

On 23 April, ten European cities announced a new 'coalition of the willing' through the Eurocities network, declaring their determination to shelter unaccompanied children from Greek refugee camps. However, they depend on the previous approval of their national governments. According to The Guardian, seven of the ten cities belong to countries that have not joined the EU-coordinated scheme for relocation. The participating countries confirmed to date, according to the newspaper, being Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Croatia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Portugal, Luxembourg, Lithuania. Switzerland has also been reported to be part of the scheme.

´Education crisis' in Greek camps
 

Research conducted by the NGO Theirworld concluded this week that 20€ million are needed to keep key education programmes for children in Greek refugee camps running. The existing funding covers up to the end of the present school year -i.e. June. According to the NGO, by late 2019, less than a third of refugee children in Greek camps were receiving any schooling. Their full report can be read here.

Riots at the Vial camp (Chios)
 

On 21 April, ten asylum seekers were arrested in Chios and six more are wanted by the police for rioting at Vial refugee camp on 19 April. The unrest erupted after an asylum seeker, suspected of having the coronavirus, was declared dead at the island's hospital. She had first gone into the hospital with a fever on 16 April, but after being treated and testing negative for Covid-19, she was returned to the camp, where she would eventually pass away. The riots resulted in fires, which damaged many of the camp facilities (e.g. housing containers, warehouses, EASO offices, a canteen), leaving hundreds of asylum seekers homeless. UNHCR donated tents to host the latter, while the damage was being assessed.

In Moria (Lesbos), overcrowding leads to protests and coordinated local initiatives to raise health awareness
 

On 22 April, asylum-seekers in Moria staged a protest amid fears that the extremely high population density of the camp might lead to an uncontrolled spread of Covid-19. Protests were in part fueled by the news, released on that same week, that the Greek government had announced a plan to relocate 2,380 vulnerable residents from the camp into the mainland (1,500 people should have been transferred already on 25 April). Some of the protesters considered that this was still insufficient. While the protests took place, two asylum-seekers who reportedly broke the quarantine restrictions were shot and injured. Reports about the suspected shooters were conflicting at first. On 26 April, the civil society organisation Beyond Europe reported that it had been a local civilian who had fired a shotgun against these and two other asylum-seekers and was meant to sit in court by 27 April.

 

Over the same week, a group of volunteers from among the camp population formed the Moria Corona Awareness Team, whose goal is to spread awareness and help protect the camp, while another group of asylum-seekers released a video campaign to raise awareness about the spread of the disease in the camp.

 

In an investigative piece released this week by Al Jazeera, seven interviewed children from the camp declared that after spending months there they had not been able to apply for asylum, as the service has been overwhelmed.

Greece: Refugees Working to Protect Moria Camp from Covid-19 via Human Rights Watch

Another case of Covid-19 at Malakassa (Attica) from a man who denounced the rape of his child
 

On 24 April, five asylum-seekers were arrested at an Athens metro station after having fled the quarantined camp of Malakassa. The day before, a resident of the camp had tested positive for Covid-19. He had recently visited a local police station to report the rape of his ten-year-old child within the camp. The alleged perpetrator has been sent before a prosecutor as ten policemen who entered in contact with the accuser were put under quarantine. The camp has been under "full sanitary isolation" since 5 April, after the first case of Covid-19 was detected.

Porto Heli Hostel in Kranidi (Peloponese)
 

By 21 April, 150 of the 497 of the people who live and work at an IOM-run hostel facility for asylum-seekers in Kranidi had tested positive for the coronavirus, yet remained asymptomatic. The hostel had been under quarantine since a case of the disease was identified on 16 April. IOM has been assisting the residents through coordinators, psychologists, interpreters, a legal counselor and social workers. Restrictions for movement have been established for the whole city of Kranidi between 8 pm and 8 am for 15 days.

Fires at the Vathy camp (Samos)
 

On the evening of 26 April, a fire broke out at the Vathy camp in Samos, leaving 100 people without housing. MSF reported at night that, while the first fire had been extinguished, there were two additional fires within the camp. MSF has so far been offering provisional shelter, blankets and first aid to those injured. The source of the fire remains unknown at the time of writing, despite early rumours claiming that ethnic conflict among the residents had led to arson.

Fire in Samos camp via Forba Angafor

 DEVELOPMENTS IN CZECHIA


The Czech parliament does not consider the need for counting on foreigners as medical personnel (at least for now)

 

After several ammendments, on 22 April, the Czech Chamber of Deputies  finally droped out a proposal that would have allowed people who obtained their health qualifications outside of the EU to exercise their profession during the time of the pandemic. It came after the Senate rejected it as 'superfluous'. Despite being drafted by the health minister, Adam Vojtěch (ANO), members of his own party opposed the bill. 

 

You can consult the history of the law here and read the transcription of the relevant session at the Senate here.

The Czech international mobility regime relaxes from 27 April onwards
 

On 23 April, the Czech government approved a series of measures that make travel into and from the country easier. The new regime will be in place from 27 April. Among the changes, the Ministry of Interior's press release highlights:

 

  • Czech citizens and foreigners with residence permits in the country will not have to observe a 14-day quarantine as long as they can produce a negative test for Covid-19 that is not older than four days.
 
  • Cross-border workers and students are allowed to cross in and out of the country daily. However, in order to avoid quarantine, they will have to present a negative test for Covid-19 that is not older than four days.
 
  • There is a wider spectrum of EU citizens who can now enter Czechia, including those with the purpose of conducting economic activities or university studies (oftentimes, upon producing a negative Covid-19 test).

 

The (self-financed) tests will have to be presented upon arrival to the country and never later.

Czech Constitutional Court sees reason to protect Taiwanese citizens from extradition to China
 

On 20 April, OPU reported that the Czech Constitutional Court had concluded that the complaints made by eight Taiwanese people, who argued that their extradition to mainland China would expose them to human rights violations, were justified. China had originally requested their extraditions through international arrest warrants on charges of participating in an organised criminal network against the Chinese people. The Czech Ministry of Interior had preventively granted the accused subsidiary protection while their case was being studied by the Czech courts. The Constitutional Court's press release and full judgment can be found here.

Hate speech comes out cheap for Czech MPs
 

On 21 April, the Committee on Mandates and Immunity of the Czech Chamber of Deputies unanimously rejected a motion that would have stripped Czech deputy Karla Maříková (SPD) of her immunity for prosecution. This comes as the police opened an investigation against the deputy for comments made in January 2019, in which she linked Muslim migrants to "invading species". The vice-chair of the committee, Petr Gazdík (STAN) did not see the police claims as convincing enough, with politicians from other parties publicly expressing the same view. One of the members of the committee is Miloslav Rozner, whose immunity was protected by the committee in March 2019 after he made Holocaust-denying comments in reference to the concentration camp for Romani people at Lety u Písku.

 

Walter Kraft, (self-described as "assistant to deputy Jaroslav Foldyna"), recently (re-)published a text online in which, among other things, he calls for shooting at refugee boats at sea or deportations based on ethnic principles of the "members of the invading culture back to their countries of origin" (i.e. "Muslims"). In an article from Deník N, Kraft confirmed that he stands behind every word he produced in that article and Foldyna (SPD, until recently ČSSD) confirmed Kraft to be his acquaintance, with whom he often discusses several issues but does not always agree with (including this time). Nevertheless, Foldyna said that he was not bothered by the article.


 EU MIGRATION NEWS


Allowing undocumented migrants and asylum-seekers to work in Germany, Italy or France

 

On 22 April, Infomigrants reported that the German Federal Ministry of Agriculture had agreed with the Federal Employment Agency that asylum-seekers shall be allowed to work in agriculture from 1 April to 1 October 2020. In the meantime, the Italian Ministry of Interior has expressed its openness to respond to calls from the Ministry of Agriculture to allow undocumented migrants to work in agriculture and fishing. FAQ about the likely outlook of the measure can be found here.

 

On 24 April, Infomigrants published a story about migrant health workers in France who expressed their willingness to help during the pandemic. While many had responded to the government's call for foreign doctors to work in metropolitan France and its overseas territories, none of the contacted asylum-seekers or refugees had been given a positive answer yet.

Refugees rescued by the Alan Kurdi have tested negative for Covid-19

 

On 23 April, it was confirmed that the 180 people rescued at sea by the Alan Kurdi maritime rescue mission had tested negative for Covid-19. Since 19 April, they had been forced to quarantine on a boat off the coast of Palermo (Sicily). In parallel, the church sea rescue alliance United4Rescue donated almost 80,000€ to the Alan Kurdi.

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