Migration News and Policy Review

23.3.20 - 29.3.20

Week In Summary

From now on, the review is expected to be released weekly rather than bi-weekly.

This week has been mostly defined by concerns about the rights of migrants and refugees in the context of the COVID-19 restrictions. In this edition, we put the focus on individual states' events, both within the EU and its immediate neighborhood (Libya, Bosnia and Turkey).

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


  • UN publishes Global Humanitarian Response-Plan to COVID-19 
  • Turkey evacuates migrants from the border with Greece
  • Refugees in Bosnia to be transferred to a "tent camp"


International response


The UN published a Global Humanitarian Response-Plan to COVID-19 on 25 March. Drafted in an interagency-coordinated effort across a multitude of IGOs and NGOs, the plan appeals for next to $2 billion from the UN Member States, on the basis of the following strategic priorities:


  • Contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and decrease morbidity and mortality;
  • Decrease the deterioration of human assets and rights, social cohesion and livelihoods; 
  • Protect, assist and advocate for refugees, internally displaced people, migrants and host communities particularly vulnerable to the pandemic.


Furthermore, the document outlines a series of country-tailored plans, including Regional Refugee Response Plans (see image below). As one of the partners, IOM appealed for $100 million to cover its corresponding activities. According to IOM, the funding will also help to implement their recently-revised Global Strategic Preparedness Response Plan, which is aligned with the World Health Organisation and their February IOM Global Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan.

Source: UN's Global Humanitarian Response-Plan to COVID-19

The Council of Europe and the EU Fundamental Rights Agency launched a joint communication on 27 March, addressing the fundamental rights of refugees and migrants at their member states' external borders in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a press release, the communication focuses on:


  • What duties do Member States have when protecting their external borders?
  • Which remedies should be in place in case of excessive use of force at the borders?
  • What are the rules in place when people cross borders unlawfully?
  • Can access to asylum be suspended?
  • How to respect the principle of non-refoulement ?
  • What can be done to help the most vulnerable, in particular unaccompanied children?



Sally Hayden wrote an appalling article describing what the recent UNHCR retreat from the country could mean in case of a COVID-19 outbreak. Following the agency's closure of its once-promising Gathering and Departure Facility earlier this year, and faced with a lack of protective equipment against the disease, UNHCR announced that it would halt its activities at its Sarraj Registration Centre, as well as at a Community Day Centre in the country between 18 and 24 March. According to the agency's latest update on 27 March, while operations at the Community Day Centre were partly resumed, the Registration Centre activities are being conducted via a hotline until further notice.


Hayden's article raised concerns about already existing sprouts of tuberculosis among refugee populations, which, in combination with COVID-19, could not only be extremely dangerous for their health but also contribute to rising stigmatisation from the local population. On 25 March, the Libyan Government of National Accord's Health Minister confirmed the first COVID-19 case in the country (a currently-isolated 73-year-old man who had returned from a trip to Saudi Arabia via Tunisia on March 5). Since 26 March, IOM  Libya has been documenting on its Twitter account their "comprehensive health and sanitation campaign in detention centres in Libya".




ABC News chronicles how, on 27 March, Turkish interior Minister communicated the country's decision to evacuate about 5,800 migrants and refugees that had been waiting next to the Greek border in order to cross into the EU. This came as the country had reported 3,629 cases of COVID-19. Reportedly, those evacuated will be re-settled into guest houses where they will be quarantined. Greek authorities acknowledged what seemed to be a fire across the border that was thought to be the result of Turkish authorities burning the tents and belongings of migrants that were being left behind. 


Der Spiegel claimed on 27 March, to have had access to information from the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) that would prove that Turkish forces infiltrated groups of refugees during the Greek-Turkish border crisis in order to incite riots. Der Spiegel acknowledges that Turkish authorities reject this claim and that the BND declined to comment on the issue. Meanwhile, the Turkish state-run agency Anadolu published two (vague and identical) stories on 27 March and 28 March with unnamed sources, accusing Greek coast guards of boarding refugees on rubber boats and sending them towards the Turkish coast twice this week.




On 24 March, a series of recommendations appealing to the protection of asylum seekers and migrants in Greece within the context of the present pandemic was launched. Signed by 24 organisations, including Amnesty International or the International Rescue Committee, the document appeals to the reduction in congestion in the islands' Reception and Identification Centres or "hotspots". The main recommendations include:


  • Safely moving people from the islands' hotspots into smaller centres on the mainland, such as hotels or apartments, in a way that responds to each individual's particular needs.
  • Making sure that universal and free access to healthcare is in place, including when it comes to the testing, prevention and treatment for COVID-19, in line with the measures adopted for Greek citizens.
  • Supplying adequate sanitary and hygiene products for reception centres, as well as ensuring continuously running water and disinfection of common areas.  
  • Providing multilingual information about COVID-19 to the residents of the reception centres.
  • Urgently addressing the situation of people living in informal settlements adjacent to the camps.
  • Appropriate staffing of health personnel in the centres, even if some services need to be provided remotely.


On Thursday 26 March, an article for Voice of America recalled how the Turkish interior Minister had recently claimed that over 150,000 migrants had crossed from Turkey into Greece since the border crisis started in late February. At the same time, Greek and UN data refuted those numbers by claiming that less than 9,500 migrants had crossed into Greece since the beginning of the year.


It seemed that, by 20 March, the plans of several EU states to willingly accept over 1,500 refugee children from Greek camps was coming to a halt in light of concerns about the spread of COVID-19. Nevertheless, on 29 March,  in a press release from the German government, there was a confident indication that the process is still moving forward, reported ANSA Med.




This week, according to Infomigrants, the German government has expressed its willingness to relax employment bans for refugees, with the expectation that up to 150,000 refugees in the country, including asylum seekers, could be filling in job shortages. The positions concerned are mostly in the agricultural sector, where there is a dependency on foreign seasonal workers who, following mobility restrictions resulting from COVID-19, might not be able to fill in the positions this season.





Thousands of refugees in Bosnia will soon be transferred to a makeshift "tent camp" in Lipa, near the Croatian border, as part of measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, according to The Guardian. The decision comes after the autonomous Bosniak-Croat Federation declared a 'state of disaster' on 16 March. The Guardian claims to cite a document that they had access to, stating that local authorities have imposed “a complete restriction on the movement of migrants beyond temporary reception facilities”, and that “[i]t is also forbidden to transport migrants by train, bus, vans, taxis and all other means of transport”.  The article reports fears that the facility will not be suited to cover basic health and safety requirements. The Committee for the Protection of Serb Rights has filed a criminal complaint against the construction of the camp, claiming that the arrival of migrants will worsen the lives of Serb returnees inhabiting the area, by potentially spreading the disease or leading to Christian-Muslim tensions.


United Kingdom


On 25 March, following BBC's account, six light boats carrying 96 migrants were intercepted by the British Border Force in the English Channel. Earlier in the week, French authorities had also intercepted 74 migrants who had left for the UK. The UK Home Office claimed that it was fully prepared to continue to respond to the interception of boats even under the coronavirus outbreak. By 28 March, NGO Care4Calais was asking for donations to alleviate the vulnerable situations faced by refugees on the French side of the Channel, whose deprived living conditions made it hard for them to self-isolate. The organisation was also calling on the UK government to label their UK-based volunteers as 'key workers' to exempt them from the national lockdown restrictions that do not allow them to cross into France.


Increasing violence against refugees at the EU borders


A Financial Times' The Big Read report, built upon interviews with 25 refugees and several aid organisations, was published on 29 March. The work reveals how severe beatings and pushbacks have now become "systemic" at the EU's external borders, including at the less-reported ones of states like Croatia or Romania. Force used against migrants is not only conducted by national security forces and FRONTEX personnel but also through an ever-growing technological border-control complex that tracks, impedes and deters entries (e.g. "drone swarms", robotic camera and sensor systems). 

Source: The Financial Times

International migration as the main contributor to Czech demographic growth


The Czech Statistical Office published this week the figures for population change in the country during 2019. Findings suggest that the population did indeed grow in ten of the fourteen regions in Czechia, mostly thanks to international migration. The biggest regions, the Central Bohemian Region and Prague, saw an increase of 6 and 14,8 thousand registered international migrants, respectively. In all fourteen regions, Ukrainians constitute the majority of foreign nationals, representing between 30-57% of all registered foreigners. Methodologically, the Statistical Office considers international migrants those with long-term or permanent residence, as reported by the Directorate of the Foreign Police.

ECtHR judgement on collective expulsions against Slovakia released


On 24 March, the European Court of Human Rights gave its verdict on the Asady and Others v. Slovakia case (application no. 24917/15). The case concerns 19 Afghani nationals who were deported from Slovakia to Ukraine on the same day of their arrival. The applicants argued that their expulsion was collective in nature and without effective remedy through which to challenge their expulsion. This would have been in breach of Article 4 of Protocol No. 4 to the European Convention of Human Rights.


In a summary of the judgement by  EU Law Live, it is reported that the applicants have lost the case and that, according to the ruling, Slovak authorities did not subject the Afghani citizens to a collective expulsion. The conflicted ruling argued that the applicants had the opportunity to make their individual circumstances known to the authorities through individual interviews and, consequently, theirs was not a collective expulsion.

"Free El Hiblu 3" campaign release

On 28 March, a network of NGOs launched a campaign under the name "Free El Hiblu 3". The campaign addresses the case of three refugees facing charges before Maltese courts, after they participated on the hijacking of oil tanker El Hilbu 1 in March 2019. After a rescue mission coordinated by Eunavfor Med, El Hilbu 1 was instructed to return the migrants to Libya, provoking the revolt of the rescued passangers, who forced the crew to take them to Malta. Three teenage migrants were subsequently arrested and imprisoned until finally released on bail in November 2019.

Ten-minute video summarising the Free #Elhiblu3 case

Attacks on refugees in Germany:
little change since 2018 but better picture than in 2016

On 27 March, Deutsche Welle shared the results of the German government's records on attacks suffered by refugees in 2019, made public at the request of Die Linke. The figures show that 1,620 refugees suffered attacks, with 128 of those cases recording the refugee shelter as a victim and 118 being perpetrated by right-wing extremists. In 2018, the attacks recorded had been slightly higher, totaling 1,775, and in 2016 the number of attacks was 2,500.


64 men found dead in a shipping container in Mozambique


IOM reported on 24 March, how the bodies of 64 Ethopian men were found asphyxiated in the back of a truck. The driver was stopped at a control in Tete, Mozambique, on his way to South Africa, where the men would have disembarked. There were 14 survivors in the same container, for whom immediate medical assistance was provided. IOM's press release reminds that the so-called Southern Route to South Africa is often used by Ethiopian and East African migrants pursuing protection and better socioeconomic opportunities.

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