The Seychelles, an archipelago of 115 islands off the coast of East Africa, reported its first case of COVID-19 in March 2020; as of 10 March 2021 the country has reported a total of 3,032 cases and 15 related deaths. Measures Seychelles adopted to curb the spread of the virus included suspension of air travel from 31 March 2020 and temporary extension of migrants’ permits.
In June 2020, at least 59 members of a Spanish fishing fleet–which arrived from Senegal and the Ivory Coast–tested positive for the virus. The country’s Public Health Commissioner confirmed that all those who tested positive were to be isolated in the fleet’s ships rather than onshore, as the fleet had its own doctor, PPE, and ability to monitor patients’ temperatures.
For many years, the Seychelles has relied upon foreign migrant workers. Between 2006 and 2016 the number of migrant workers increased from 4,160 to 15,074, and according to the UN Committee on Migrant Workers, migrants represented 25 percent of the country’s labour force in 2015. The majority of migrant workers are employed in the construction sector, followed by the tourism and manufacturing sectors. They are required to possess a Gainful Employment Permit (GOP). During the pandemic, expired work permits were extended to legalise the stay of non-Seychellois workers while borders were closed, with employers required to provide food and shelter during this period. However, in February 2021 authorities revised the country’s framework for the GOP in order to increase local workers’ access to the labour market. Amongst various changes to the framework was the cancellation of COVID-19 related concessions, including the extension of the GOP work permits.
Although Seychelles’ laws provide for immigration detention, the Global Detention Project has been unable to determine whether people in immigration procedures, including detention and deportation, have been vulnerable to COVID-19 or whether officials have taken steps to mitigate the spread of this disease amongst detainees or other vulnerable non-citizens.
In the past, there have been numerous reports of immigration detention and deportation, sometimes in apparent violation of the country’s international legal commitments. For example, the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, in its report about its 2014 visit to the Seychelles, said that “information received indicate that foreign women and girls identified as prohibited immigrants are reportedly detained and summarily deported directly from the airport by immigration officials on suspicion of prostitution. In most cases, there is no identification process or proper assessment as to whether they were trafficked or whether their return would be safe. It is further alleged that the police are not informed about such cases until after the potential victims have left the country. Such lack of coordination in the process of identification of potential victims between immigration and police officials is a further cause of concern.” The Special Rapporteur further noted, “The absence of shelters and psycho-social supports for victims of gender-based violence, including trafficking, perpetuates their victimization. There are no holding facilities for irregular migrants, who are currently and inappropriately kept in police cells. The speed with which prohibited migrants are deported may not allow for thorough investigations and possible identification of trafficked persons and traffickers. Labour inspections are limited by resources to effectively overseeing businesses.”
According to Articles 22 and 23 of the Immigration Decree, immigration officers may detain persons who they suspect are “prohibited immigrants.” Article 19 provides various grounds for identifying a non-Seychellois as a “prohibited immigrant,” including: persons infected or inflicted with, or who are carriers of, a prescribed disease and who are capable of infecting others; any person whose permit under the Decree has expired or been revoked; any person who has concealed any information from an immigration officer which is relevant to their entry into, or stay in, the Seychelles; and any person who “in the opinion of the Director of Immigration is not of good character.” Article 27 also provides that any person who unlawfully enters the country will face a fine and three years’ imprisonment.
Detainees can be placed in specialised immigration detention facilities, prisons, or “any other place where facilities exist for the detention of persons” (Article 24 (2)). In 2016, only two years after the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons noted the lack of “holding facilities for irregular migrants,” the country opened a dedicated immigration detention facility at Seychelles International Airport, with capacity for five persons. According to a Seychelles Civil Aviation Authority (SCAA) press release, the opening of this facility was prompted by an increase in the number of arrivals declared as prohibited immigrants.
In 2018, a local NGO–the Association for Rights Information and Democracy (ARID)–reported that it had recorded numerous cases of rights abuses against migrant workers in the country, including deplorable living conditions and delays in the payment of wages. The NGO called on the country’s employment department to monitor conditions and ensure that foreign workers are not subject to inhumane treatment. In its 2019 human rights report, the U.S. State Department noted that it had received credible reports of forced labour in the fishing, agriculture, and construction workers.
There appears to be limited publicly available information concerning COVID measures or outbreaks in prisons in the Seychelles. However, the Seychelles Prison Service does refer to special measures taken to protect staff and detainees, which appear to include setting up sanitising stations at the entrance to the country’s main prison (Montagne Posee), and temporarily suspending visits. UNDP reportedly also provided funding via its Prevention, Response and Early Recovery Project (PREP) to support high risk groups, including prisoners.
In early March 2021, President Wavel Ramkalawan announced that he expected 70 percent of the country’s 100,000 population to be vaccinated by mid March and that as such, the country’s borders could re-open on 25 March.
- The Republic of Seychelles, “Seychelles – Decent Work Country Programme, 2019-2023,” November 2018, https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_mas/—program/documents/genericdocument/wcms_674580.pdf
- Africanews, “Coronavirus – Seychelles: Update as of 25th June 2020,” 27 June 2020, https://www.africanews.com/2020/06/27/coronavirus-seychelles-update-as-of-25th-june-2020//
- UN Committee on Migrant Workers (CMW), “Committee on the Protection of Migrant Workers Considers Situation in Seychelles,” 3 September 2015, https://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16380&LangID=E
- Seychelles Nation, “Violations of Migrant Workers’ Rights,” 16 April 2018, http://www.nation.sc/archive/258476/violation-of-migrant-workers-rights
- Seychelles Prison Service, “@SeychellePrison – Twitter Account,” Twitter, https://twitter.com/SeychellePrison
- Seychelles Nation, “Fourth Consultative Session Chaired by President Danny Faure with Key Representatives of Government and Private Sector,” 3 June 2020, http://www.nation.sc/articles/4865/fourth-consultative-session-chaired-by-president-danny-faure-with-key-representatives-of-government-and-private-sector
- Today in Seychelles, “New Detention Facility at Airport for Illegal Immigrants,” 11 January 2016, https://www.facebook.com/todayinsey/photos/aviationnew-detention-facility-at-airport-for-illegal-immigrantson-average-25-pe/925330944171383/
- Government of the Seychelles, “Immigration Decree,” 1 January 1981, https://seylii.org/sc/legislation/consolidated-act/93
- UNDP, “COVID-19 Government Response in Mauritius and Seychelles,” 20 March 2020, https://www.undp.org/content/dam/rba/docs/COVID-19-CO-Response/Government_COVID_Responses_Mauritius_Seychelles_29March2020RB-2.pdf
- K. Warren, “Seychelles is Opening to Tourists with no Quarantine or Vaccine Required, and it’s Following the Same Model the Maldives Used to Launch its Tourism Success Story,” The Insider, 10 March 2021, https://www.insider.com/seychelles-travel-covid-no-quarantine-or-vaccine-2021-3