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Migration News and Policy Review

18.5. - 24.5.20

Week In Summary

This week, several investigations shed light on alleged pushbacks and illegal deportations conducted by Greek and Maltese authorities. In the meantime, 300 migrants remain in touristic ferries contracted by Malta waiting to be relocated by other EU member states (IOM and UNHCR have urged them to end this situation). In Greece, the asylum service has resumed its operations, new boats arrived into Lesbos and Human Rights Watch has called on the Greek government to provide shelter to unaccompanied children refugees that are under police custody. Furthermore, the European Commission has unveiled new details about the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, Hungary has abolished its transit zones and migrant farmworkers in Italy have gone on strike. 

In Czechia, there are talks about relaxing the border regime with neighbouring countries for the summer tourism season. Additionally, hundreds of Czech Roma residing in the UK are returning to the country, cross-border workers from Poland have contracted Covid-19 while working at a Czech mine and a new series of articles about the situation of refugees in Greece is being published by Deník Referendum. 

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


  • Investigative reports: Greece conducts pushbacks and illegal deportations, Malta pushbacks and failure to assist  at sea
  • HRW urges Greece to liberate children refugees from police custody
  • EU Commission says New Pact on Migration and Asylum should be ready by June

 DEVELOPMENTS IN CZECHIA


A new series of articles covers the situation of migrants and asylum-seekers in Greece

 

On 17 May, the first in a series of articles covering the situation of migrants and asylum-seekers in Greece was published by Deník Referendum. The author of the series, that bears the title "Mezi moři: ostrovy výjimečného stavu", is Michal Pavlásek. In this introduction, he discusses the concept of the hotspots, drivers behind international migration via Greece, the situation in the camps or EU policy.

 

A second article from the series was published on 24 May. This time, the piece describes in great detail the state of life at the refugee camps on the Greek islands with a wealth of insights from the ground.

A father with his son cooking lunch by Michal Pavlásek

The Consortium shares clarifications from the Ministry of Interior

 

On 20 May, the Consortium shared a series of clarifications provided by the Ministry of Interior regarding the situation of foreigners after the end of the state of emergency. Among these, there are specifications about the right administrative procedures to follow when applying for residence permits, the need for having valid health insurance, as well as issues concerning the current state of border crossing.

 

The publication also recommends following up the announcements related to foreigners made by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

New horizon for Czech border regime
 

On 18 May, the Czech interior minister announced via Twitter that the government had agreed to further open the Czech borders from 26 May, by enabling new crossings and enforcing controls only randomly [while Covid-19 tests were still expected to be mandatory]. According to ČTK, the minister said that more details would be disclosed on 25 May. The country's health minister, Adam Vojtěch, also confirmed the plans and further announced that by 8 June the border regime will be similar to that prior to the state of emergency, when some countries were rated at different levels of risk, thus subjecting travel to and from these states to specific conditions.

 

On 19 May, the Czech prime minister expressed that it would be ideal if borders between Czechia, Slovakia, Germany and Hungary all opened at the same time on 15 June. The leaders of the V4 countries want to meet in Brno in June to discuss this. In the meantime, the Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs suggested that the Czech-Austrian border might be open for tourists without the need for a Covid-19 test by mid-June and that a similar arrangement was being discussed with Slovakia. Slovakia, on the other hand, announced that it will re-evaluate its current border regime only by mid-June.

 

While Croatia (a popular holiday destination for Czechs) opened its borders to tourists, an article from iRozhlas explains how the procedure of border crossing for Czechs travelling by land via Austria and Slovenia to Croatia would look like right now. The article provides further general information about the current situation of international travel and tourism from Czechia.

Hundreds of Czech Roma return from UK
 

This week, Romea, ČTK, Lidovky.cz and iDnes reported how hundreds of Czech Roma residing in the UK have returned to Czechia, following concerns overer the situation of the pandemic in the UK. Some families have been in the UK for a long time, which means that their children were schooled in the British system and will now have to be integrated into the Czech one, facing, inter alia, language barriers. It is reported that fraudsters have been spreading disinformation to push returns, as well as overcharging and robbing those who want to make the trip to Czechia.

Six cross-border workers from Poland among Covid-19 cases in Darkov mine

 

An outbreak of Covid-19 was detected at the Darkov mine in the region of Karviná this week. By 24 May, 158 workers and 54 of their relatives had tested positive for the virus. There were six Polish cross-border workers among them. In an article by Saša Uhlová, the decision to leave the mine in operation was strongly criticised.


 DEVELOPMENTS IN GREECE


UK scheme by Nicholas Winton's rescuee which relocated unaccompanied children from several EU countries (including Greece) discontinued
 

On 21 May, the UK government decided to discontinue the so-called Dubs Amendment after having relocated 480 unaccompanied children from Greece, France and Italy since 2016. This amendment to the Immigration Act 2016 was named after Lord Alf Dubs, one of the Jewish Czechoslovak children refugees transported to the UK by Nicholas Winton. According to the International Rescue Committee:

"[the scheme] was designed to ensure that the Government would continue to allow unaccompanied and separated refugee children in Europe the opportunity to be reunited with family members here in the UK after the Brexit process was completed".

The scheme was conceived to relocate thousands of children, yet it was capped by the government at 480. According to Lord Dubs, the government's move comes despite local authorities having pledged willing to relocate 1,400 vulnerable unaccompanied children.

Human Rights Watch urges Greek PM to shelter detained unaccompanied children refugees
 

On 19 May, Human Rights Watch (HRW) sent a letter to the Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, urging him to provide shelter for an estimated 276 unaccompanied children who find themselves under police custody in the country. The letter refers to previous calls from the international community to end child detention, it encourages the government to reflect those calls into legislation, it suggests a series of known alternatives to detention, it calls for an expansion of the existing facilities and proposes the establishment of a functioning government-run foster family system.

 

HRW already launched a related campaign under the name #FreeTheKids that encourages supporters to tweet to the Greek PM.

Several investigative teams report pushbacks and illegal deportations by Greek authorities (including through raids and tent-like rafts)
 

On 20 May, Bellingcat published a joint investigation by journalist Bashar Deeb in cooperation with Deutsche Welle, Trouw and Lighthouse. It evidences how a pushback by the Greek coast guard was conducted on 28 April. The case concerns a group of 22 migrants who, after arriving on Samos, were forced onto a raft by the Greek coast guard and taken back to international waters, where the Turkish coast guard rescued them. According to the investigation, this specific case was easier to reconstruct due to the fact that many open-access materials concerning it were available [an unusual thing, as it is reported that migrants generally get their phones confiscated when pushbacks take place]. Nevertheless, the team claimed this type of pushback to be a recurrent practice and they have also substantiated a similar accusation of pushback from Chios on 30 April. Just Security has provided evidence about several other pushbacks via sea conducted by Greek coast guards pulling migrants in tent-like life rafts.

Migrants being rescued from a life raft on the Aegean Sea on 28 March. Source: Turkish Coast Guard Command Official Website (via Josoor)

Turkish Coast Guard video of a maritime pushback via Bellingcat (2m 37s)

As part of the above-mentioned investigative team, Deutsche Welle reports findings that would show how Greek authorities have been illegally deporting migrants back to Turkey via land. This concerns mostly young males who entered Greece from Turkey since late February. Reportedly, Greek police vans have been repeatedly raiding the Diavata camp since late March to pick groups for deportation. Allegedly, those deported would have been lured into thinking that the vans were taking them to a police station where their papers would be renewed.


Further evidence of these raids, including audiovisual materials, is provided by Trouw. Additionally, an extensive compilation of cases of pushbacks and illegal deportations has been collected in this article by Josoor (including the story of a disappeared minor abandoned on an island in the Evros river or that of a man who claims to have been pushed back 15 times across different borders).

Police taking people from Diavata camp to unknown location via Are You Syrious? (1m 41s)

Greek asylum service resumes operations (at least, partially)
 

On 18 May, the Greek asylum service resumed its operations after an 11-week impasse. Despite this, half of the staff is expected to work from home. In order to avoid a sudden excess of procedures being processed by the service, the government automatically renewed expiring residence permits. This means that cards of international protection that would have expired between 13 March and 30 June were automatically extended for six months.

 

ECRE reports that the opening has resulted in chaos in the Greek capital, where hundreds of asylum-seekers qued outside offices in short distance of each other for hours without success. In addition, a complaint has been filed with the Ombudsman by several organisations that denounce that 1,789 asylum-seekers in Lesbos who had received a rejection of their claim, have been given only 10 days to submit their appeals. The complaint further denounces the fines that some asylum-seekers residing in Moria have received after leaving their compulsory confinement in order to seek legal aid from civil society organisations in the city of Mytilene, as the regional asylum service does not offer free assistance for drafting the appellate brief.

Three more boats with migrants arrive to Lesbos and Greece asks Frontex for support
 

As reported in last week's review, after a month without reported arrivals of migrant boats to Lesbos (as a result, in part, to a more aggressive strategy by the Greek coast guards), two vessels reached the island's Northwestern shores on 6 and 10 May.


This week, new arrivals led Greece to ask Frontex for an extension of the presence of the Rapid Border Intervention Teams that have been working in the country since March. One vessel (36 people) arrived on 17 May and two more (67 people) on 21 May. The newly arrived have been put into quarantine and at least the first group is housed in the camp in Megales Thermes.

Lawsuit: man beaten in Crete for looking 'Pakistani'

 

On 21 May, a group of lawyers filed a criminal complaint after a man had been beaten up repeatedly and abused by the police in Crete. The policemen thought that he was a Pakistani migrant after whom they were after. The grounds for the high level of violence on behalf of the police seemed to be the perceived 'Pakistani' identity of the abused man. Therefore, the accusation argues that the crime is racially motivated.
 

The full report of the case in Greek can be found here.


 CENTRAL MEDITERRANEAN


Reports show Malta fails to assist migrants in distress (leading to deaths) and pushed migrants at gunpoint to Italy

 

On 19 May, The Guardian reported the story of a migrant woman who was onboard of a boat in which 12 people died after having been repeatedly ignored by nearby Maltese vessels. Migrants were eventually picked up by private vessels coordinated by Malta and taken back to Tripoli. Maltese officials have acknowledged that the office of the prime minister tasked them with coordinating pushbacks to Libya.

 

On 20 May, Alarm Phone released a detailed report showing how the Maltese coast guard not only failed to assist a boat in distress but performed endangering maneuvers and later facilitated at gunpoint the boat's re-direction to Italy. Alarm Phone equated this facilitation to smuggling practices.

Malta’s Dangerous Maneuvres at Sea via Alarm Phone (1m 17s)

Migrant jumps off quarantine ship in Italy and drowns - protests ensue
 

On 20 May, a young Tunisian man who had been observing quarantine at a ferry off the coast of Italy jumped into the water. Despite wearing a life vest the strength of the sea caused him to drown. The day after, a very tense protest erupted within the ship. 14 of the most agitated people were allowed to disembark, while 105 migrants remained onboard. The boat was expected to pick up a further 136 people to be quarantined.

UN and HRW urge European states to stop confining migrants on Captain Morgan cruises (300 await relocation)
 

Maltese authorities have been paying Captain Morgan cruises since 30 April to keep migrants on the high seas in two tourism vessels. Migrants are deprived of their liberty and prevented from disembarking in Malta while the latter is asking other EU member states to welcome those onboard instead. So far, only Portugal and France responded to the call by accepting to relocate 30 migrants. On 23 May, the Maltese coast guard rescued a further 140 people, who were transported to the cruises. By then, there were an estimated 300 people on the ships.


This week, before the latest rescue, a joint letter by IOM and UNHCR had already urged European states to disembark the remaining migrants.


 EU (+ SERBIA) NEWS


European Commission unveils further information about New Pact on Migration and Asylum
 

On 18 May, commissioner Ylva Johnasson in conversation with Friends of Europe unveiled details about the EU's forthcoming New Pact on Migration and Asylum. Johansson said that she hoped that the plan would be unveiled by the beginning of the summer (13:40), that she wanted to include forms of 'sponsored asylum' whereby local communities or NGOs could coordinate relocation efforts (18:00) and that she had taken the initiative to start an informal expert group within the Commission that would ensure migrants are stakeholders within the policy-making process (41:39).

 

On 20 May, the Commission's Vice-president, Margaritis Schinas, gave further information on the new pact. Schinas described the structure of the pact using the following allegory:

"We imagine this pact as a three storey building, with a first floor being a very strong external dimension that would allow Europe to build robust relations with countries of origin and transit that are crucial in managing migratory flows. We have to create the conditions for these countries to offer opportunities to their citizens instead of — keeping them there — instead of forcing them to put their lives in the hands of the smugglers in the Mediterranean. The second floor of the building would be a common and robust management of our external borders, as we saw recently in Evros. There is the possibility for Europeans and Frontex to mobilise very quickly to help guard our external borders, especially in times of crisis. And we're hopeful that this will be a central feature of the pact. And the third, and probably the most important floor, would be of course, solidarity and burden sharing. We can call it the new Dublin"

Hungary abolishes transit zones and relocates 300 people
 

On 21 May, Hungary shut down its border transit zones for migrants, transferring 300 captive people to open or semi-open facilities. The move follows a recent ruling by the European Court of Justice that concluded that detention within the transit zones was unlawful.

Testimonies by those who were recently freed from the transit zones via 444.hu (2m 59s - English & Hungarian)

Migrant farmworkers in Italy go on strike after regularisation
 

Last week, a regularisation affecting thousands of migrant agricultural and care workers in Italy was passed. This week, ANSA raised the voice of several migrants covered by the measure. Some were relieved at the much sought after security provided by the measure and others complained about its temporary scope (i.e. 6 months). On 21 May, a farmworkers trade union organised a strike to protest the market-driven logic and temporary scope of the scheme.

21 May strike by migrant farmworkers led by activist Aboubakar Soumahoro (9m 20s - Italian)

Covid-19 hits German refugee centre

 

On 18 May, news emerged of 70 residents of a refugee centre in the town of Sankt Agustin, near Bonn (Germany), testing positive for Covid-19. By 20 May, the number of cases had risen to 165, out of a reported population of 312.

UK uses mission for deportation across English Channel
 

On 21 May, The Guardian reports that the UK's Home Office would have started a new operation under the name Sillath that has been deporting asylum-seekers who had crossed the English Channel by boat back to France. The article's informants suggest that the applicants are being returned to France without having their status properly evaluated (i.e. without having checked that their fingerprints are registered in Eurodac, or whether they had effectively filed an asylum claim in France or not).

Serbia deploys troops to secure migrant camps near Croatia
 

On 18 May, Balkan Insight published an article questioning the claims made by the Serbian government to justify deploying the army around some of the country's refugee centres. Despite the end of the state of emergency, on 16 May the army was deployed in the city of Sid (at the Croatian border), where there are three refugee centres with about 1,500 residents. While the justifications behind the move were diverse, one of the arguments was that the government wanted the city residents to feel calmer in the face of the potential trouble and crimes that could be caused by the centres' residents.

 

According to Balkan Insight, the move is part of the ongoing parliamentary election campaign, where migration is being highly politicised. According to an activist quoted by Balkan Insight, the camps are overcrowded, pushing many residents to spend their time outside. On top of this, there are fears that the lifting of the restrictions might push more migrants in Serbia to travel to Sid to attempt the crossing into Croatia. This could mean that even more people would be entering the centres in Sid. 
 

Dalimil Petrilák (PLNU) discussed the situation on Česká Televize on 22 May (min 9:44).

The Consortium's weekly Migration News and Policy Reviews provide information about developments concerning migration that took place during the preceding week. The reviews cover those areas that, at any given moment, are considered to be relevant to track by the Consortium's member organistions. Therefore, news about the Europea Union and Czechia are monitored much more closely. 

The reviews aim at pointing the reader to the relevant sources of information [which can be accessed by clicking the links in red], as well as to presenting a very brief summary of the reported events.
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