COVID-19 Global Immigration Detention Platform

This platform reports how countries are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in their migration control policies, with a particular focus on detention and deportation, in addition to providing comparative information on measures implemented in prisons and other places of confinement. The platform is regularly updated to reflect evolving circumstances on the ground.

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07 April 2021

Mali

M. Konaté, “Dans la Prison Centrale Surpeuplée de Bamako, La Menace Inquiétante du COVID-19,” Carnetdusud, 8 May 2020, https://carnetdusud.wordpress.com/2020/05/08/dans-la-prison-centrale-surpeuplee-de-bamako-la-menace-inquietante-du-covid-19/
M. Konaté, “Dans la Prison Centrale Surpeuplée de Bamako, La Menace Inquiétante du COVID-19,” Carnetdusud, 8 May 2020, https://carnetdusud.wordpress.com/2020/05/08/dans-la-prison-centrale-surpeuplee-de-bamako-la-menace-inquietante-du-covid-19/
The Republic of Mali is a landlocked country in West Africa with a population of more than 19 million people. Following the confirmation of the two first COVID-19 cases in the country in March 2020, the country was placed under a state of emergency and a curfew was imposed. On 18 March 2020, the government suspended flights from affected countries, closed schools, and banned large public gatherings. As of 6 April 2021, the country had recorded 10,620 cases of COVID-19 and 393 related deaths.

According to UNHCR, as of February 2021, there were 47,581 refugees, 974 asylum seekers, and nearly 350,000 internally displaced people in the country. UNICEF reports that it has provided hygiene promotion materials that have been used in 315 health care facilities, 633 schools, and benefitting 70,659 households. The country ordered 9.4 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to vaccinate 4.2 million people, around 20 percent of the population, and received its first batch of 396,000 doses on 6 March 2021.

In December 2020, UNHCR reported that conflict, insecurity, COVID-19, and deteriorating economic conditions were leading to a rise in trafficking of children, forced labour, and forced recruitment by armed groups in Mali. With schools closed, children are increasingly susceptible to being pushed to work in gold mines, particularly in Gao and Kidal. UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection said that “as a result of conflict and socio-economic deterioration worsened by the pandemic, we are seeing some of the most egregious human rights violations in the Sahel. … Children are being forced to fight by armed groups, trafficked, raped, sold, forced into sexual or domestic servitude, or married off.”

The GDP has been unable to establish the extent to which detention facilities are used in Mali as part of immigration enforcement procedures or to obtain details on COVID-19 related measures taken to safeguard people in immigration or criminal custody, or those in international protection situations.

According to Article 20 of Law 04-058 of 25 November 2004, relating to the conditions of entry, stay and establishment of foreigners (Loi n°04-058 du 25 Novembre 2004 relative aux conditions d’entrée, de séjour et d’établissement des étrangers), non-citizens without a relevant authorisation or that stay after the expiration of their authorisation, may be sentenced to imprisonment from 3 months to 3 years and given a fine of 200,000 to 500,000 CFA francs. Non-citizens expelled from the country are also handed a re-entry ban and according to Article 22, non-citizens that return during their ban may be imprisoned for three years and be given a fine of 500,000 to 1,000,000 CFA francs.

The country has ratified several human rights treaties, including the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICMW) and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). In its concluding observations in 2014, the Committee on Migrant Workers (CMW) noted the Malian delegation’s comments that migrant workers are very rarely detained for violating migration legislation, but nonetheless remained concerned by the lack of statistics produced by the country. In consequence, the Committee on Migrant Workers recommended that Mali “(a) Indicate in its next periodic report the number of migrants, disaggregated by sex, nationality, and/or origin, who are currently being detained for having violated the legislation on migration, specifying the location, average duration and conditions of detention, and providing information on the decisions taken regarding such migrants; (b) Consider decriminalising irregular migration and envisaging appropriate administrative penalties for migrants who have violated the legislation on immigration (...); (c) Detain migrant workers for immigration offences only in exceptional circumstances, as a last resort, and ensure in all cases that they are held separately from ordinary prisoners and that women are held separately from men and minors from adults.”

During its review for the third cycle of the UN Universal Periodic Review, Mali received several human rights recommendations including: adopting “all measures necessary to ensure the right to education in emergencies and conflict situations, and ensure that education is available to all, in particular migrants, refugees and asylum-seeking children (Honduras) (para. 114.81)”, “adopt concrete measures in favour of migrants and asylum seekers (Haiti) (para. 114.131),” and “improve conditions in detention centres (Zambia) (para. 114.54).”

As regards the country’s prison facilities, in April 2020, the country’s president pardoned 1,200 prisoners in a bid to decongest overcrowded prisons and avoid an outbreak of COVID-19. The Bamako prison for instance, has a capacity of 400 places, and yet holds more than 2,400 prisoners. A further 400 prisoners were pardoned by the President on 20 May 2020. To fight the spread of the virus within the country’s prisons, the International Committee of the Red Cross delivered 10 tons of hygiene and sanitary products and installed 48 hand washing facilities in 11 prisons for 5,400 prisoners. In May 2020, a visitor that entered Bamako prison said that guards were not wearing masks, in direct contradiction of the administration’s instructions, and stated that hygiene products were missing.

30 March 2021

Zimbabwe

Pindula News, “110 Inmates at Mutimurefu Prison Contract Coronavirus,” 27 January 2021, https://news.pindula.co.zw/2021/01/27/110-inmates-at-mutimurefu-prison-contract-coronavirus/
Pindula News, “110 Inmates at Mutimurefu Prison Contract Coronavirus,” 27 January 2021, https://news.pindula.co.zw/2021/01/27/110-inmates-at-mutimurefu-prison-contract-coronavirus/
Zimbabwe, which has a population of approximately 14 million, had recorded 36,822 cases of COVID-19 and 1,520 related deaths as of 29 March 2021. Although there have been reports indicating the use of immigration detention measures for many years in Zimbabwe, in particular for migrants en route to South Africa, the Global Detention Project has not found any information concerning measures taken by the government to prevent the spread of infection amongst people in immigration custody since the onset of the pandemic.

According to UNHCR, in 2020, there were 9,115 refugees, 11,760 asylum seekers, and 270,000 internally displaced persons in Zimbabwe. As part of its COVID-19 response in the country, UNHCR has helped install hand-washing stations in the Tongogara refugee camp and supported more than 1,200 children and young people with home-based learning.

The country has ratified several human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. However, at the time of writing, the country had not yet ratified other important human rights treaties, including the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

During its review for the second cycle of the UN Universal Periodic Review, Zimbabwe received several relevant recommendations, including: to “improve detention conditions in prisons and in police holding cells (Burundi) (para. 131.75)” and “ratify other human rights conventions, particularly the Convention against Torture and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (Congo) (para. 132.2).”

Zimbabwe’s prisons are notorious for being unsanitary, overcrowded, and lacking basic amenities like running water in cells. In March 2020, the government acknowledged that Zimbabwe’s prisons, with a capacity of 17,000 had a population of 22,000 people. In consequence, between March and June 2020, the government released 4,208 prisoners under presidential amnesty order. Yet, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), far too many remained behind bars to allow for social distancing. Lawyers who had visited prisons in Harare in July 2020 told HRW that while masks were being provided, inmates and certain guards did not use them partly due to the lack of information on protective measures against COVID-19.

In October 2020, the Zimbabwean Human Rights NGO Forum and a former prisoner lodged a High Court application seeking to compel the country’s finance minister, Mthuli Ncube, to release funds for prison facilities. The claimants argued that the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) failed to comply with basic COVID-19 regulations such as the provision of facemasks, hand sanitisers and social distancing and requested that the state provides water, food, vehicles, COVID-19 tests, and medical supplies. On 2 December 2020, the High Court ordered the government to ensure that every inmate at the Chikurubi Prison gets 60 litres of water daily and ordered the finance minister to release funds for supplementary water and food supply. The Court also ordered the country’s prison authority to separate healthy inmates from those who are ill and to provide essential medicines.

On 27 January 2021, 110 detainees tested positive to COVID-19 at the Mutimurefu prison, one of the most overpopulated in the country. Two weeks prior, a senior officer of the Chikurubi prison died from the virus and 15 guards in that prison tested positive for COVID-19.

29 March 2021

Marshall Islands

A quarantine centre in Majuro. Photo: Giff Johnson (RNZ,
A quarantine centre in Majuro. Photo: Giff Johnson (RNZ, "Marshalls Increases Repatriation Numbers, Readies Vaccine," 1 April 2021, https://www.rnz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/439667/marshalls-increases-repatriation-numbers-readies-vaccine )
The Marshall Islands, an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean located between Papua New Guinea and Hawaii, had recorded only four COVID-19 cases as of 17 March 2021. The country has also grappled with another infectious disease, dengue fever, having experienced three outbreaks since 2019. As of March 2021, two deaths and 3,884 cases of dengue-like illness were recorded, of which 1,987 have been lab-confirmed. An associated state of the United States, the Marshall Islands has benefited from US good ties by receiving enough vaccine doses to be able to vaccinate its entire adult population, who make up around 40-50 percent of its 70,000-80,000 inhabitants, no later than June 2021.

The Marshall Islands has experienced significant emigration, as approximately one third of the population has relocated to the United States. The IOM has argued that the labour migration from the islands to the United States is symptomatic of the increasing strain that climate change and environmental disasters are putting on local economies and livelihoods in the Pacific islands.

According to the U.S. Department of State, Marshall Islands prison conditions, government corruption, and domestic violence have constituted the main human rights challenges. Other human rights violations included lack of legal provisions protecting workers’ rights, child abuse, and sex trafficking. Foreign workers make up about a third of the workforce (excluding agroforestry). Prison conditions have been described as harsh and at times degrading — infrastructure at Majuro jail was lacking proper ventilation, lighting, and sanitation. Another jail in Ebeye has been described by observers as degrading for detainees due to its cramped cells.

The GDP has been unable to establish whether foreigners are detained in the Marshall Islands, for immigration-related reasons. According to the Immigration and Emigration (Amendment) Act of 1991, detention for up to 14 days may be ordered for anyone facing deportation measures. The country also has no asylum or refugee protection legislation or programmes in place.

24 March 2021

Comoros

Dormitories inside Moroni prison © Faïza Soulé Youssouf (Mayotte la 1ere, “L'actualité régionale 16 Février,” 16 February 2021, https://la1ere.francetvinfo.fr/mayotte/l-actualite-regionale-16-fevrier-935446.html)
Dormitories inside Moroni prison © Faïza Soulé Youssouf (Mayotte la 1ere, “L'actualité régionale 16 Février,” 16 February 2021, https://la1ere.francetvinfo.fr/mayotte/l-actualite-regionale-16-fevrier-935446.html)
Comoros is a small country comprising a set of islands off the southeast coast of Africa, located between Madagascar to the east and Tanzania to the West. It also shares maritime borders with Mozambique, Seychelles, and the French overseas territory Mayotte. One of the smallest countries in the world, with an estimated population of less than 900,000, Comoros is nevertheless a source of asylum seekers and international migrants, including in Europe.

Comoros was one of the last countries to record a case of COVID-19, which occurred on 30 April 2020. It reportedly managed to restrict transmission during 2020 by banning international flights from March until September, shutting schools and mosques, and imposing strict curfews and mask obligations. By the end of December 2020, the country had recorded 823 cases and 10 related deaths. Observers have also pointed to poor testing measures and censorship as reasons for the country’s apparently low infection rates. In early April 2020, Reporters Without Borders condemned the prosecution of a local journalist who was reporting on the lack of testing of the first suspected cases on the island, as well as a government’s attempts at censoring independent information on COVID-19.

The situation dramatically worsened in early 2021 as cases rose to 2,834 by mid-March and 136 deaths were reported. The more recent wave has hit the island of Mohéli particularly hard, in part because of the spread of new COVID variants. The island is also isolated from the other islands and lacks medical infrastructure. This has spurred many residents to attempt to travel to neighbouring Mayotte in kwassas-kwassas (speedboats), which as the Global Detention Project has reported has high immigration detention rates (see the GDP’s France Country Report).

In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, the usual movements of irregular migrant workers from Comoros to Mayotte reportedly ground to a halt and led to large numbers of people returning to Comoros as workers were unable to find work in the French territory’s agriculture and fishing sectors due to restrictions. Fearing imported cases of COVID-19 from Mayotte, the Comorian authorities started intercepting kwassas-kwassas, detaining people onboard and placing them in quarantine.

Perhaps due to the strict border regime of Mayotte, asylum applications from Comoros nationals rose by 50 percent in Europe during 2020 compared to 2019.

In February 2021, officials announced that the population in the Comoros national prison in Moroni would be cut by 50 percent as a part of a COVID-19 mitigation effort. Photographs published in the media showed the prison’s dormitory packed with many men lying on a cell floor close together, revealing overcrowding in the prison, which housed 200 prisoners with a capacity of around 100. Criticism of prison conditions are long standing. These include reports of dirty, non-ventilated, mouldy and dark cells, infested with cockroaches and rats (F. Soulé Youssouf, 14.09.2020).

Allegations of ill-treatment also persist. In 2019 the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture was refused access to detention sites in Moroni and Anjouan and prevented from interviewing detainees.

The Global Detention Project has been unable to establish whether prisons are used to hold immigration detainees. In October 2014, 7.7 percent of the prison population was made up on foreign citizens for various unreported charges.

22 March 2021

Suriname

Suriname Herald, “Suriname Closes Borders for Travelers from Midnight,” 13 March 2020, https://www.srherald.com/suriname/2020/03/13/suriname-sluit-vanaf-middernacht-grenzen-voor-reizigers/
Suriname Herald, “Suriname Closes Borders for Travelers from Midnight,” 13 March 2020, https://www.srherald.com/suriname/2020/03/13/suriname-sluit-vanaf-middernacht-grenzen-voor-reizigers/
Suriname, with an estimated population of approximately 590,000, is located on the northeastern Atlantic coast of South America and is the smallest country on the continent. The country faces a complex situation as a country of origin, transit, and destination for human trafficking and irregular migration. As of 22 March 2021, the country had recorded 9,066 cases and 176 COVID-19 deaths. Following the confirmation of the first COVID-19 case in Suriname on 13 March 2020, the country shut down its airports, limited social gatherings, and closed schools. A year later, borders remain closed, non-nationals may not enter the country--save in certain circumstances, arriving travellers must carry a negative PCR report carried out 120 hours before departure, and in addition to quarantine upon arrival, arriving travellers are tested and medically screened.

The GDP has been unable to establish the extent to which detention facilities are used in Suriname as part of immigration enforcement procedures or to obtain details on COVID-19 related measures taken to safeguard people in immigration or criminal custody, or those in international protection situations.

According to data from the UNHCR, in 2020 (mid-year data), there were 47 refugees in the country and 1,852 asylum-seekers, compared with 44 refugees and 1,426 asylum seekers in 2019. On 5 May 2020, the World Bank provided US$ 412,000 to Suriname in order for the country to purchase essential medical supplies for the country’s emergency response to COVID-19.

The country has ratified several human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, at the time of writing, the country had not yet ratified other important human rights treaties, including the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

During its review for the second cycle of the UN Universal Periodic Review, Suriname received several human rights recommendations, including: adopting “effective measures to ensure conditions of detention that respected the dignity of prisoners in particular the revised United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules) (South Africa) (para 135.34),” and “ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (Honduras) (para. 135.15).”

17 March 2021

Guinea-Bissau

DW, “COVID-19: Presidente da Guiné-Bissau Renova Estado de Emergencia,” 26 April 2020, https://www.dw.com/pt-002/covid-19-presidente-da-guin%C3%A9-bissau-renova-estado-de-emerg%C3%AAncia/a-53251830
DW, “COVID-19: Presidente da Guiné-Bissau Renova Estado de Emergencia,” 26 April 2020, https://www.dw.com/pt-002/covid-19-presidente-da-guin%C3%A9-bissau-renova-estado-de-emerg%C3%AAncia/a-53251830
Guinea-Bissau, with an estimated population of some 1,800,000 people, is located in West Africa and shares borders with Senegal and Guinea. As of 16 March 2021, the country had recorded 3,447 cases and 52 COVID-19 deaths. On 28 March 2020, shortly after the first case was confirmed in the country, a state of emergency with night-time curfew was introduced and international flights were suspended. Certain measures have since been lifted and borders have been reopened with additional requirements for arriving passengers, including having proof of a negative PCR test.

The GDP has been unable to establish the extent to which detention facilities are used in Guinea-Bissau as part of immigration enforcement procedures or to obtain details on COVID-19 related measures taken to safeguard people in immigration or criminal custody, or those in international protection situations.

According to UNHCR, as of 28 February 2021, the country hosted 7,803 refugees and 38 asylum seekers. In December 2017, the government announced that it would naturalise 7,000 refugees in the country and in 2018, UNHCR began registering the refugees and working with a local contractor to produce and distribute ID cards and naturalisation and birth certificates. UNHCR’s chief of mission at the time said: “They were facing the risk of being stateless because of having no documents. It can be a lesson to others: how Guinea-Bissau managed to get rid of its caseload.” A major obstacle to naturalising refugees at that time was the large payment the government proposed per person--900,000 CFA (1,700 USD)--whcih was eventually reduced to to 150,000 CFA (270 USD).

The country has ratified several human rights treaties, including the Convention against Torture, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the Convention the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. However, at the time of this publication Guinea-Bissau had yet to submit its first state report to many treaty bodies. During its review for the third cycle of the UN Universal Periodic Review, Guinea-Bissau received several human rights recommendations, including: Improving “conditions of detention by overcoming prison overcrowding and improving sanitary conditions (France) (para. 119.50),” and appointing and empowering “a prison ombudsman to address complaints of inhumane treatment and poor conditions in prisons and detention centres (United States of America) (para. 119.51).”

As regards the country’s penitentiary system, according to the World Prison Brief, the country now has three prisons: Bafata, Mansoa, and a pre-trial detention centre in Bissau, with a capacity of 196 spaces. Guinea-Bissau used to have four jails, but they were destroyed during the 1998 civil war. In 2010, the UNODC and the country’s Ministry of Justice rehabilitated two prisons, which became the country’s first penitentiaries.

16 March 2021

Yemen

M. MacGregor, “Yemen Detention Center Fire Highlights Dangers for Migrants,” InfoMigrants, 8 March 2021, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/30723/yemen-detention-center-fire-highlights-dangers-for-migrants
M. MacGregor, “Yemen Detention Center Fire Highlights Dangers for Migrants,” InfoMigrants, 8 March 2021, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/30723/yemen-detention-center-fire-highlights-dangers-for-migrants
Amidst an ongoing conflict that has led to hundreds of thousands of deaths and widespread famine, migrants and refugees in Yemen--most of whom are from Ethiopia or Somalia--continue to face detention and physical threats in the country, in part because of rumors that they are spreading COVID-19 (see the 4 August 202 update on this platform for more background). According to the IOM (27 July 2020), “the spread of COVID-19 has increased discriminatory attitudes and behaviours and further compromised migrants’ access to essential services such as food, water, shelter and health assistance. Additionally, migrants stranded in Yemen are facing increased detention and are being subjected to forced transfers across frontlines. IOM is concerned that COVID-19 restrictions are being instrumentalied to implement migrant encampment, detention and forced relocation agendas.” In December 2020, the IOM estimated that at least 6,000 migrants were detained in centres across Yemen.

Unable to cross Yemen’s northern border into Saudi Arabia, many migrants are returned to southern territories and subsequently held in detention facilities. These centres have then been targeted by armed forces. On 7 March 2021, for example, “scores of migrants burned to death ... after Houthi security forces launched unidentified projectiles into an immigration detention center in Sanaa,” reported Human Rights Watch (16 March 2021). The facility, which was the Immigration, Passport and Naturalization Authority (IPNA) Holding Facility at Sana’a airport, was detaining around 900 detainees, 350 of whom were in the hangar-like building that caught fire. The 44 killed and hundreds of surviving migrants were of African, mostly of Ethiopian, origin. Before the fire, detainees had been staging a hunger strike over their living conditions at the facility — cramped cells, a lack of mattresses, limited food and drinking water, unsanitary conditions, and abuse from guards. According to surviving detainees, the guards responded by identifying and isolating the organisers outside, beating them, locking them in the hanger, and calling Houthi security forces, who threatened that they would hear their “final prayers.” Afterwards, they said that two projectiles were launched into the hangar room by the security forces, which produced gas, exploded and started a fire.

Detention conditions and violent abuses of migrants have been criticised for years by human rights bodies, including the UN Human Rights Council’s Group of Independent Eminent International and Regional Experts. In 2018, they reported sexual abuse, physical violence, and killings of women and boys at the hands of guards in the Bureiqa migrant detention centre in Aden, where hundreds of Eritrean, Ethiopian, and Somali migrants, asylum seekers and refugees were held. In 2019, Security Belt forces arbitrarily detained around 5,000 migrant men, women, and children, placed them in ad-hoc facilities with “appalling conditions” in Lahij and Aden, and subsequently subjected them to sexual violence. According to the Group of Experts, “these sexual violence acts were situated in a broader context of structural discrimination against the survivors, all of whom were Ethiopian migrants. The caste-like system in Yemen reinforces the ‘subordinate’ status of black African communities.”

Although the sea route from the Horn of Africa to Yemen remains a busy and dangerous maritime migration route, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to dramatic decreases in migrant traffic. According to the IOM (23 February 2021), there has been a “nearly three-fourths decline in migration from the East and Horn of Africa regions towards Gulf Council Countries during 2020. … Data released by IOM show that the number of migrants crossing via Yemen from the Horn dropped from a high of 138,213 in 2019 to 37,537 in 2020. Forced returns from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia were also significantly reduced, passing from nearly 121,000 Ethiopian migrants in 2019 to 37,000 in 2020.”

Despite this downward trend, the route continues to be used, often with tragic consequences. On 4 March 2021, smugglers on a boat carrying 200 migrants from Djibouti to Yemen threw 80 people into the sea, killing at least 20. This was the third incident in the last half year, leading to more than 70 migrants deaths. After arriving in Yemen by boat, migrants are often kidnapped and taken to informal captivity camps in Lahj, of which there are reportedly around 80 in Ras al-Ara, where they are further subjected to abuse and violence in the absence of state protection.

Wracked by war, Yemen was unprepared to respond effectively to the COVID-19
pandemic. Only around half its health facilities were functional but under equipped, and the government and de facto authorities adopted inadequate measures. As of 16 March 2021, the country had recorded 2,912 cases and 699 deaths. The pandemic has also increased food insecurity in the malnourished population and restricted humanitarian access and response. The UN Group of Experts received reports that COVID-19 measures were used as a cover to commit further violations on vulnerable communities such as detainees and migrants.

12 March 2021

Somalia

UNSOM, “Somalia’s COVID-19 Response: Internally Displaced People Especially at Risk,” 23 June 2020, https://unsom.unmissions.org/somalia%E2%80%99s-covid-19-response-internally-displaced-people-especially-risk
UNSOM, “Somalia’s COVID-19 Response: Internally Displaced People Especially at Risk,” 23 June 2020, https://unsom.unmissions.org/somalia%E2%80%99s-covid-19-response-internally-displaced-people-especially-risk
Somalia, a war-torn country located in the Horn of Africa, has a population of approximately 15 million. The population is considered to be particularly vulnerable to the spread of infectious diseases because of its poor public health infrastructure that was damaged during years of civil war, ongoing conflicts, and economic underdevelopment. At the same time, multiple crises have contributed to the massive displacement of Somalis within and outside the country: persistent conflict, climate disasters, diseases, and desert locust infestations. By the end of 2019, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimated that around 5.2 million inhabitants were in need of assistance. The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded the challenges faced by the general and displaced population: food insecurity has increased and the response to environmental disasters has been slowed down by higher shipping costs of necessary equipment and goods.

The first case of COVID-19 in Somalia was reported on 16 March 2020 from a returning citizen, prompting a halt of international flights for two weeks, with exceptions for humanitarian flights. Other measures imposed to curb the spread include movement restrictions and reduced business activity. In 2020, Somalia recorded a total of 4,714 COVID-19 cases and 130 deaths. A considerable spike was reported in the first two months of 2021, when nearly the same number of positive cases and deaths were recorded as during the entire previous year. Its health system is severely underdeveloped and cannot cope with the second wave. In the capital Mogadishu only one hospital has an isolation centre. It is also possible that the low recorded cases in 2020 can be attributed to the limited testing capacities of the country (Al Jazeera, 28 April 2020).

A UNHCR update from 21 May 2020 reported only two active cases among its population of concern (one refugee and one IDP), which includes 2,648,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), 130,510 returning refugees, 15,358 asylum seekers, and 14,666 refugees. However, Amnesty International reported a lack of testing facilities within camps in July 2020, as well as reduced healthcare provision due to lack of funding and movement and overcrowding restrictions. The effect of the pandemic and restriction measures on the numerous and overcrowded IDP camps was also assessed by a CCCM Cluster Feedback Assessment. The findings show that a majority of respondents faced economic difficulties due to a loss of their livelihoods, 36 percent believed they had adequate access to health services, and only 23 percent had access to COVID-19 testing.

The extent of COVID-19 transmission in Somali jails and other detention centres is still unclear. The conditions for a mass outbreak are present, as reported by the ICRC in April 2020: “Overcrowding, shared sanitation facilities, poor hygiene, limited ventilation and access to common areas are examples of structural and organizational factors that can favour the spread of diseases. … The good news is that several handwashing stations are being set up in the detention facilities. Detainees and staff have also been informed on measures they can take to prevent the spread of COVID-19. … Some detention facilities in Somalia have already halted family visits to reduce the risk.”

In April 2020, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) donated personal hygiene goods, cleaning products, medical goods, masks, and gloves, and provided guidelines for coping with infectious diseases to several prisons in Somalia (Mogadishu Central Prison, Mogadishu Prison and Court Complex, Baidoa Central Prison, Garowe Prison, Kismayo Prison, Beledweyn Prison).

The United Kingdom Home Office, in a 2015 Document on Prison Conditions in Somalia, reported that “Conditions in most prisons in Somalia, Somaliland and Puntland, including those administered by Al Shabaab, are harsh with reports of poor levels of sanitation, overcrowding and disease; inadequate medical facilities; extensive use of lengthy pretrial detention and the use of torture and other forms of ill-treatment.”

It is unclear how many detainees are non-citizens, and whether they are detained due to their migration status. In 2012, Mogadishu Central Prison had no foreign prisoners out of 950.

11 March 2021

Malta

InfoMigrants, “Malta: Mistreatment Claims, Ongoing Pressure Despite a Drop in Migrant Arrivals,” 14 January 2021, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/29626/malta-mistreatment-claims-ongoing-pressure-despite-a-drop-in-migrant-arrivals
InfoMigrants, “Malta: Mistreatment Claims, Ongoing Pressure Despite a Drop in Migrant Arrivals,” 14 January 2021, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/29626/malta-mistreatment-claims-ongoing-pressure-despite-a-drop-in-migrant-arrivals
Following its ad hoc visit to Malta in September 2020, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture has expressed serious concerns regarding the country’s detention of migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees--particularly during the pandemic. At the time of the visit (17-22 September), Malta was experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases while also witnessing increasing numbers of irregular sea arrivals.

Of particular concern to the committee was the fact that COVID-positive migrants had not been separated from other detainees--something that the CPT argued “may well raise issues not only under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) but also as regards Malta’s positive obligation to protect life under Article 2 of the ECHR.” The committee thus urged Malta to ensure that all detainees who test positive are immediately isolated from non-positive detainees.

Describing Malta’s immigration detention system, the committee notes that it “purely ‘contained’ migrants who had essentially been forgotten, within poor conditions of detention and regimes which verged on institutional mass neglect by the authorities.” Migrants were found to be locked in facilities with little--if any--access to time outside, centres were reported to be severely overcrowded, and recreational activities were not provided to detainees. Noting this, the committee urged Malta to ensure that as a minimum during the pandemic, all detainees have at least one hour of outdoor exercise (and preferably more).

The committee also reported that many migrants were being detained for unlawful and arbitrarily long periods without review under public health orders: at the time of the committee’s visit, more than 90 percent of detainees were being detained on public health grounds. However, the CPT notes, “There were no registers of the detention orders or copies of the detention orders kept at the Detention Services or IRC establishments, and management did not appear to know who was being held on which grounds.”

In January 2021, a detainee held at Safi Barracks wrote to InfoMigrants, describing his detention: "We are in a miserable condition and … lack the most basic rights to live. …. We are held for 16 months… (some people) suffer from serious physical and psychological diseases to the extent that (they) tried to commit suicide several times. We have abstained from eating for several days.”

In a separate report recently published by the Council of Europe, Malta’s failure to assist migrants and refugees at sea was also condemned: “Failures to respond and delays in attending to distress calls, or to provide information to relevant bodies that could conduct the rescue, have risked jeopardising the right to life of people at sea.”

10 March 2021

Seychelles

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
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
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.

09 March 2021

Equatorial Guinea

Daily News Egypt, “Equatorial Guinea President Receives 1st Dose of Chinese COVID-19 Vaccine,” 17 February 2021, https://dailynewsegypt.com/2021/02/17/equatorial-guinea-president-receives-1st-dose-of-chinese-covid-19-vaccine/
Daily News Egypt, “Equatorial Guinea President Receives 1st Dose of Chinese COVID-19 Vaccine,” 17 February 2021, https://dailynewsegypt.com/2021/02/17/equatorial-guinea-president-receives-1st-dose-of-chinese-covid-19-vaccine/
The Republic of Equatorial Guinea, a small country that is located on the west coast of Central Africa that also includes nearby islands, has a population of approximately 1.4 million people. As of 9 March 2021, it had recorded 6,371 cases and 96 COVID-19 deaths. On 22 March 2020, a week after the first case of the virus was confirmed in the capital Malabo, which is located on the islands of Bioko, the country declared a state of alarm and implemented a series of security measures, including border closures, intended to contain the spread of the virus. Certain measures have since been lifted and the borders have been reopened with additional requirements for arriving passengers, including having proof of a negative PCR test taken no longer than 48 hours prior; undergoing a rapid COVID-19 test upon arrival; staying in quarantine for 5 days and taking an additional test once the five days have passed.

In late July 2020, Vietnamese migrants working at Sendje Hydropower Plant tested positive and were repatriated to Vietnam. According to Reuters, of the 220 onboard the aircraft, 140 had tested positive for the virus.

The country does not appear to host many refugees. However, according to UNHCR, the country has nationals abroad who are recognised as people requiring international protection. Observers have long condemned the authoritarian government of committing widespread human rights abuses. The UN refugee agency reports that as of 2019, there were 156 mandate refugees and 167 asylum seekers from Equatorial Guinea around the world.

While the country is not a party to the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, in 2002 it ratified both the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment as well as the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. In 2019 UNHCR welcomed Equatorial Guinea’s accession to the Kampala Convention on internally displaced persons, becoming the 29th African Union member state to do so.

According to the U.S. State Department, during 2019 both legal and irregular immigrants were arbitrarily arrested, physically abused, detained, and extorted in some cases. It also states that the government was uncooperative in granting protection to forcibly displaced populations registered with the UNHCR. “Diplomatic representatives in the country criticized the government for the harassment, abuse, extortion, and detention of foreign nationals and for not renewing residence and work permits in a timely manner, making foreign nationals vulnerable to abuse.”

However, the GDP has been unable to establish the extent to which detention facilities are used in Equatorial Guinea as part of immigration enforcement procedures or to obtain details on COVID-19 related measures taken to safeguard people in immigration custody. The country’s laws, however, provide enforcement measures and criminal penalties for immigraiton violations. According to Article 46(a) of Organic Law Number 3/2010 of 30 May, Regulating the Rights of Foreigners in Equatorial Guinea (Ley Orgánica Número 3/2010, de fecha 30 de mayo, Reguladora del Derecho de Extranjería en Guinea Ecuatorial), it is a “serious offence” to be in an irregular situation in Equatorial Guinea. Article 48 provides fines for serious offences from “500.001 F.cfas to 3.000.000 of F.cfas.” In addition, under Article 50(1), non-citizens can be expelled from the country for committing “serious offences,” including for being in the country without authorisation. Moreover, according to Article 51(1), people who are expelled from the country under this law are prohibited from re-entering for a period of 10 to 15 years.

Observers have reported a grim picture of Equatorial Guinea’s prisons and detention centres. The UN Human Rights Committee noted in 2019 concern about overcrowding in prisons with no separation of men, women and minors, no food provision, poor sanitary and healthcare conditions, arbitrary arrests and imprisonments, and incommunicado detention. Amnesty International documented extensive torture of prisoners between the years 1988 and 2009, and the U.S. State Department reported in 2019 “harsh and life threatening” conditions “due to abuse, overcrowding, disease, inadequate food, poorly trained staff, and lack of medical care.” There have also been numerous reports about the spread of diseases--including malaria, typhoid, tuberculosis, hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS--posing a serious problem in prisons, suggesting vulnerability to COVID-19 outbreaks.

On 24 April 2020, the political party, “Convergencia Para la Democracia Social” called on the government to decongest police stations and penitentiaries. It also called for the release of those detained for non-violent offences and political prisoners. A day earlier, a nurse was released from the Black Beach prison after having been imprisoned for telling a friend via Whatsapp that the hospital where coronavirus patients were being treated had no oxygen.

On 17 February 2020, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has been in office since 1982, received the first dose of the Chinese COVID-19 vaccine. On this occasion, the president appealed to the entire population to get vaccinated. 100,000 Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine doses were donated by the Chinese government to certain African countries, including Equatorial Guinea.

02 March 2021

Saint Lucia

Bordelais Correctional Facility in Saint Lucia, (S. Gaillard,
Bordelais Correctional Facility in Saint Lucia, (S. Gaillard, "Bordelais inmate dies: COVID-related death confirmed," Loop News, 4 February 2021, https://www.loopslu.com/content/bordelais-inmate-dies-covid-related-death-confirmed)
Saint Lucia, with a population of approximately 180,000, recorded 3,390 cases and 36 related deaths of COVID-19 as of 1 March 2021. The Caribbean country, similar to many neighbours, appeared to fare well with managing the number of cases during the initial months of the pandemic, reporting only 353 cases and 5 deaths by the end of 2020. However, a sudden rise in positive cases and deaths occurred in January 2021, and the country declared a State of Emergency on 3 February 2021.

Saint Lucia reported its first case on 13 March 2020, after which it ceased allowing entry of international arrivals, schools were closed, and non-essential business was halted. Its borders were opened again on 4 June 2020, but only for those willing to provide a negative COVID-19 test result and stay in government-mandated quarantine. Officials made arrests of people seeking to enter on unauthorised boat arrivals throughout much of the year, and officials explicitly linked the dangers of unregulated migration to COVID-19. Accordion to one news article (Loop News 13 November 2020), the president blamed “Illegal or ‘backdoor’ entry … for the recent spike in COVID-19 cases on the island” even though there had been “no conclusive links of any COVID-19 positive cases to illegal entry.”

The recent outbreak has particularly impacted people in prisons. Eight cases and one death had been confirmed at Bordelais Correctional Facility (BCF) as of February 2021. The reported lack of information and perceived lack of protection provided to inmates has led to strife inside the prison: a hunger strike by inmates was reported on 1 February 2021 after reports of positive cases linked to kitchens. Inmates in possession of mobile phones voiced COVID-related frustrations on social media livestreams and complained about the length of their pretrial detention. The Director of Corrections of BCF responded saying that “COVID-19 was the least of their priorities. They took advantage of this COVID-19 period to highlight some of their issues.”

Saint Lucia has not established a national human rights institution (NHRI) in accordance with the Paris Principles, but in 2019 it set up a National Mechanism for Reporting and Follow Up (NMRF) called “National Coordinating Committee for Human Rights.” Human rights issues have been reported in the island’s prisons, namely of violence perpetrated by prison and police officers against detainees, as well as allegations of lacking clean drinking water, and general mistreatment. Prolonged pretrial detention, lasting from six months to six years, has also been noted as a problem.

Saint Lucia does not have legal provisions for providing protection to asylum seekers and refugees.

01 March 2021

Sao Tome and Principe

R. Graça, “São Tomé e Príncipe: Mortes por Covid-19 disparam e população ignora a doença,” DW, 25 February 2021, https://www.dw.com/pt-002/s%C3%A3o-tom%C3%A9-e-pr%C3%ADncipe-mortes-por-covid-19-disparam-e-popula%C3%A7%C3%A3o-ignora-a-doen%C3%A7a/a-56699946
R. Graça, “São Tomé e Príncipe: Mortes por Covid-19 disparam e população ignora a doença,” DW, 25 February 2021, https://www.dw.com/pt-002/s%C3%A3o-tom%C3%A9-e-pr%C3%ADncipe-mortes-por-covid-19-disparam-e-popula%C3%A7%C3%A3o-ignora-a-doen%C3%A7a/a-56699946
The island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe, a former Portuguese colony located in the Gulf of Guinea in Western Africa, had reported a total of 1,786 COVID-19 cases, representing less than one percent of its population (215,000), as of February 2021. There is little information available about the impact of the pandemic on migrants in the country, who in 2015 made up a mere 1.3 percent of its population, or with respect to immigration detainees or prisoners. The country does not have a functioning asylum procedure.

The U.S. State Department’s 2019 Country Report on Human Rights Practices in São Tomé and Príncipe reported that the country had overcrowded prisons that lacked medical services and infrastructure, and failed to separate pretrial and convicted detainees, and children and adults. It also reported that roughly 25 percent of the imprisoned population were pretrial detainees.

The country recorded its first four COVID-19 cases on 6 April 2020, the last country in Africa to do so. The country announced a state of emergency in March, before it reported its first case of infection, which included an international travel ban except for citizens. On 6 May 2020, a new lockdown was imposed, which only allowed exceptions for essential businesses, shift workers, and food service providers, until 17 May 2020. The state of emergency was downgraded to a “state of alert” in June, and then upgraded again to a “state of calamity” in November 2020, which remained in place as of February 2021.

26 February 2021

Guinea

Fraternité Des Prisons Members Along with the Dubréka Prison and Coyah Prison Directors, (GuinéeMatin,
Fraternité Des Prisons Members Along with the Dubréka Prison and Coyah Prison Directors, (GuinéeMatin, "COVID-19 : Fraternité des Prisons de Guinée offre des kits aux détenus de Dubréka et Coyah," 20 June 2020, https://guineematin.com/2020/06/20/covid-19-fraternite-des-prisons-de-guinee-offre-des-kits-aux-detenus-de-dubreka-et-coyah/)
Guinea, located on the west coast of Africa, declared a state of emergency on 26 March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which included several emergency measures like the closure of borders and schools. By 26 February 2021, the country had recorded 15,789 cases of COVID-19 and 88 related deaths. On 14 February 2021, the Ministry of Health informed the WHO of a new cluster of Ebola infections in the Gouécké Nzérékoré region.

There is little information available about the impact of the pandemic on refugees and migrants in Guinea. According to UNHCR, as of 31 January 2021, there were 5,561 refugees and 305 asylum seekers in the country. As of 15 February, there were 511 Ivorian arrivals to the country, and registration and border monitoring were on-going. According to UNHCR, most of the new arrivals in Guinea had entered through unofficial points, not subject to COVID-19 precautions. In addition, due to the recent outbreak of Ebola in areas of Guinea bordering Côte d’Ivoire, sensitisation campaigns are taking place amongst refugee communities to raise awareness and prevent the spread.

In December 2020, the country began vaccinating its population with the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine. Government officials were the first to receive the vaccine at a vaccination centre in Conakry. Dr Sakoba Keita, the Director-General of the National Health Security Agency said: “We have ordered 2 million doses (from Russia) to be able to vaccinate vulnerable people and we have also placed orders in the People’s Republic of China, all that in order to show the commitment of the government to go onto the offensive to use this latest strategy that served us well during the Ebola (outbreak).”

The GDP has been unable to establish the extent to which detention facilities are used in Guinea as part of immigration procedures or to get details about COVID-related precautions or restrictions officials may have adopted vis-à-vis foreigners in administrative procedures.

Articles 73 and 75 of Act No. L/94/019/CTRN on the conditions of entry and residence for foreign nationals in the Republic of Guinea provide criminal penalties for foreigners who remain in Guinea irregularly and those who overstay their visas. In its concluding observations in 2015, the Committee on Migrant Workers (CMW) noted the government’s statements that the act is not applied and that migrant workers in an irregular situation are not usually placed in detention. The Committee nonetheless recommended that Guinea: “(a) Indicate in its next periodic report the number of migrants, disaggregated by age, sex, nationality and/or origin, who are currently being detained for having violated the law on migration (...); (b) Amend Act No. L/94/109/CTRN to decriminalise irregular migration, since the Committee considers that, in accordance with general comment No. 2 (2013) on the rights of migrant workers in an irregular situation and members of their families, staying in a country in an unauthorised manner or without proper documentation or overstaying a residence permit should not constitute a criminal offence.”

As regards the COVID-19 situation and protective measures adopted in the country’s prisons, on 29 April 2020, Guinea’s National Health Security Agency told AFP that authorities had discovered a positive case of COVID-19 inside Conakry’s central prison, without specifying whether an inmate or a guard had been infected. By 28 August, there were reportedly 86 cases in the country’s prisons and three prisoners had died from the disease. Rights groups say the country’s prisons are often disease-ridden and overcrowded. For instance, according to Amnesty International, Conakry central prison has capacity for 500 inmates, but currently holds around 1,700.

Humanitarian and civil society organisations have been providing support to the country’s prisons. In June 2020, Prisonniers Sans Frontières provided 20 bags of rice and 48 liters of oil for detainees at Conakry central prison. In addition, on 20 June, Fraternié des Prisons de Guinée installed 27 hand-washing stations, 10 soap cartons and two bleach cartons to the Dubréka and Coyah prisons. On 31 May 2020, the Minister of Social Action, Promotion of Women and Children announced the release of children in detention. The minister also said that 42 children had already been released from the prisons of Conakry, Labé, and Kankan.

25 February 2021

Malaysia

An immigration truck believed to be carrying Myanmar migrants from Malaysia back to their homeland (Getty Images,
An immigration truck believed to be carrying Myanmar migrants from Malaysia back to their homeland (Getty Images, "Malaysia Deports Myanmar Nationals Despite Court Order," BBC, 24 February 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-56178270)
In the face of mounting international outrage, on 23 February Malaysian authorities proceeded with the deportation of 1,086 people to Myanmar, who included suspected refugees as well as many children (see the 18 February update below for additional details). The deportations took place as the COVID-19 pandemic has severely hurt the job prospects of migrants in Malaysia, effectively turning many documented workers into undocumented ones and potentially subject to immigration enforcement measures.

The mass deportation to Myanmar was in defiance of a court order to delay the move until a judicial review could be completed, a legal move that had been initiated by the Malaysian chapters of Amnesty International and Asylum Access, who provided evidence of refugees and asylum seekers being among the group. The deportation was carried out without assessing the people’s claims for asylum, or allowing the UN High Commissioner for Refugees access to the people while in detention before their deportation. Human Right Watch’s Asia Advisor commented: “Malaysia’s immigration authorities have shown a blatant disregard both for the basic rights of Myanmar nationals and an order by the Malaysian High Court. The immigration director-general has put lives at risk by sending people back to a country now ruled again by a military that has a long track record of punishing people for political dissent or their ethnicity.”

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also condemned the deportations, saying: “The Malaysian authorities in defiance of the court order breached the principle of non-refoulement, a rule of jus cogens, which absolutely prohibits the collective deportation of migrants without an objective risk assessment being conducted in each individual case. Children should not have been separated from their family, or returned without determining that their return is in their best interests.”

Responding to the concerns about the identity and status of the deportees, the Malaysian director-general of immigration claimed that none of the deportees were Rohingya refugees or asylum seekers. However, on 22 February the UN refugee agency claimed that at least up to six of the people to be deported were registered refugees, and 17 were children with at least one parent in Malaysia. Various refugee rights groups had also contended that approximately one hundred Muslim and Chin refugees were among the group initially slated for deportation. These refugees may have been among the group that were not ultimately deported, though Amnesty International reported as of 24 February that the identities of these people remained unclear. The High Court of Kuala Lumpur ruled on 24 February that they should not be sent back to Myanmar, extending the stay order until 9 March 2021.

The government claimed that all deportees voluntarily agreed to their return. However, it was unclear how many people in fact agreed, and under what conditions. There are concerns that many of the deportees may not have been informed about the political volatility in the country after the coup due to limited information being available during detention.

24 February 2021

Eswatini

IOL News, “Eswatini Suspends Prison Visits, Restricts Hospital Visits as Covid-19 Fears Mount,” 18 March 2020, https://www.iol.co.za/news/africa/eswatini-suspends-prison-visits-restricts-hospital-visits-as-covid-19-fears-mount-45117235
IOL News, “Eswatini Suspends Prison Visits, Restricts Hospital Visits as Covid-19 Fears Mount,” 18 March 2020, https://www.iol.co.za/news/africa/eswatini-suspends-prison-visits-restricts-hospital-visits-as-covid-19-fears-mount-45117235
The Kingdom of Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland), one of the smallest countries in Africa, is a landlocked country in southern Africa with a population of 1.1 million people. Similar to other countries, Eswatini restricted the movement of refugees after the onset of the pandemic as a purported measure to stop the spread of COVID-19.

In its 17 March 2020 declaration of national emergency, the government announced a series of measures at its main refugee site, the Malindza Refugee Centre in the Lubombo region, which accommodates several hundred refugees. A government announcement said:

“MALINDZA REFUGEE RECEPTION CENTRE

“The Ministry will create a control management system for Refugees and Asylum seekers to restrict movement in and out of the Reception Centre.

“The Ministry will create sensitization/education programs for refugees and asylum seekers at the Malindza Centre.

“The Ministry will provide sanitization buckets in strategic points, residential blocks and toilets at the Centre.

“An isolation room will be reserved for those Refugees and Asylum seekers that present symptoms of COVID-19 at the Centre before they are referred for medical attention.

“All planned events at the center are hereby cancelled with immediate effect.”

In 2005, nearly 30 years after the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) opened an office in Eswatini to help with an influx of refugees fleeing apartheid in South Africa, the refugee agency transferred all refugee services to the government. According to UNHCR, as of 31 January 2021, there were 1,765 refugees and asylum seekers in the country. UNHCR reported that as part of its COVID response in Eswatini, “public health information campaigns on COVID-19 have reached 425 individuals at Malindza refugee camp, while the clinic at the reception centre has received 1,500 gloves to help prevent the spread of COVID- 19.”

Also as part of its emergency measures, the government temporarily closed six land border posts with South Africa (Lundzi, Bulembu, Sandlane, Nsalitje, Sicunusa and Gege); prohibited non-essential travel, and revoked visas issued to citizens of countries identified as COVID-19 high risk.

The GDP has been unable to establish the extent to which detention facilities are used in Eswatini as part of immigration enforcement procedures or to obtain details on COVID-19 related measures taken to safeguard people in immigration custody. Nonetheless, the Immigration Act of 1982, which entered into force in 1987, provides fines and imprisonment for immigration offences. Under section 14(1)(h) of the Act, any person who is a “prohibited immigrant” who enters or remains in the country or fails to comply with an order of an immigration officer to leave Swaziland can be prosecuted and liable to a fine and/or up to a year’s imprisonment. Section 3(1)(e) of the act stipulates that a “prohibited immigrant” is “a person who, upon entering or seeking to enter Swaziland, fails to produce a valid passport to an immigration officer on demand or within such time as that officer may allow.” In addition, under 14(2)(c), any person who unlawfully enters or is unlawfully present in Swaziland may be fined up to five hundred Emalangeni or imprisoned for six months, or be both fined and imprisoned.

Eswatini’s Refugee Law of 2017 specifically precludes the detention of refugees and decriminalises illegal entry or presence for refugees in the country. According to section 8 of the law, “a person claiming to be a refugee, who has illegally entered or is illegally present in Swaziland, shall not be declared a prohibited immigrant, detained, imprisoned or penalised in any other way merely by reason of that illegal entry or presence of that person.”

Regarding COVID-related measures in the country’s prison system, in March 2020 officials suspended prison visits and restricted prisoner hospital visits to halt the spread of COVID-19 (IOL News). The UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported providing hygiene and sanitary supplies to the Correctional Services Department in order to reduce the risk of spread of COVID-19 among the prison population.

While many countries around the world have begun vaccinating their populations, Eswatini had yet to receive a single dose as of late February 2021. The country recently experienced a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases. On 3 February 2021, Médecins Sans Frontières reported that there were 200 daily cases and that deaths were around four times higher than in the first wave. As the country’s health facilities became overwhelmed, MSF teams set up temporary wards at the Nhlangano health centre.

23 February 2021

Norway

L. Fransson, “Norge behandlet meg som et dyr,” Dagbladet, 9 December 2020, https://www.dagbladet.no/nyheter/norge-behandlet-meg-som-et-dyr/73098707
L. Fransson, “Norge behandlet meg som et dyr,” Dagbladet, 9 December 2020, https://www.dagbladet.no/nyheter/norge-behandlet-meg-som-et-dyr/73098707
The supervisory board of Norway’s Trandum Detention Centre, in its annual report about operations at the facility, expressed concern about the implementation of certain COVID-19 measures. Of particular concern are isolation measures imposed on all newly arriving detainees, who are required to quarantine for 10 days upon arrival. During this period, they are locked in their rooms and unable to interact with others. Food is provided four times a day, and detainees are allowed outside for 1.5 hours a day--the same amount of time provided to non-quarantining detainees. During their time outdoors, they may speak to others at a distance and they are encouraged to wear masks.

According to the supervisory board, the isolation measure is “disproportionate” and the legal basis for the practice is “questionable.” They pointed out that detainees appear to have no ability to legally challenge their isolation. The board urged the facility to reassess its quarantine policy and investigate increased testing to reduce detainees’ isolation time. They pointed to the Norwegian National Human Rights Institution (NIM) which, in November 2020, affirmed that isolation in prison for the purposes of quarantine has a significantly different impact than “stay at home” orders and should be assessed in light of this distinction. The Trandum supervisory board urged similar consideration for isolation in immigration detention.

The board also noted a need to improve health services at the centre--both in terms of access and quality of care provided; to reduce the penal nature of the facility; and to ensure that detainees are provided with more varied, and culturally appropriate, food. As the Global Detention Project highlighted in its 2019 report, “Harm Reduction in Immigration Detention,” these concerns have been raised by observers for years. Recently, in December 2020, Norwegian media reported the case of an Ethiopian woman suffering from a number of health problems who was detained at Trandum from 16 August - 11 December 2020. According to the County Governor, her medical conditions significantly worsened because she was not provided with adequate medical care during her time in the facility.

With the number of detainees low in 2020 (on 8 September, 36 detainees were recorded in the facility)--and an expectation that numbers will remain low in 2021--the board held that now is an “opportune time for establishing new routines.”

22 February 2021

Dominica

Police Headquarters, Roseau, Dominica (The Sun Dominica, “
Police Headquarters, Roseau, Dominica (The Sun Dominica, “"I Prefer Go in a Pig Pen": Man Who Spent Time in Roseau and Portsmouth Police Cells,” 16 October 2016, http://sundominica.com/articles/i-prefer-go-in-a-pig-pen-man-who-spent-time-in-ros-3889/ )
Dominica, a Caribbean island nation with an estimated population of 70,000, has legal provisions regulating detention and deportation of “prohibited immigrants” in its Immigration and Passport Act. The act also provides detention measures for “any person certified by a medical officer to be suffering from a contagious or infectious disease which makes his entry into the State dangerous to the community.” These provisions took on added importance during the COVID-19 pandemic when authorities threatened to “round up all undocumented Haitian nationals and have them returned to their country as soon as possible,” accusing the migrants of spreading disease.

In August 2020, Dominica News Daily reported that some 60 undocumented Haitians had been detained by the police. The police chief said, “Some of them are using Dominica as a transhipment point to travel to other countries through illegal means. I have warned against entering and leaving Dominica through illegal means. Some of our citizens are overseas and want to return home however, they must do so legally by coming in at a designated port of entry. The government of Dominica, the police and the Ministry of Health have worked very hard to make Dominica COVID-19 free.” The National Security Ministry added: “Those coming in illegally are coming from hotspots and therefore pose a very serious threat to all of us. … These people are dangerous and wicked. … When someone comes through the back door you don’t know what they are carrying, it could be drugs or COVID-19.” Shortly after these pronouncements, however, the deportation of 38 Haitian nationals, who were being detained in various police stations, was halted by an application for habeas corpus by their lawyer. Subsequently, it was reported that 42 Haitians were to be deported on 18 August 2020. It is unclear if these deportation took place or if any precautions were taken to check for COVID-19.

The Dominican government, to the concern of the UN Human Rights Committee, has to date failed to enact legal protections for non-citizens, including refugees and asylum seekers, and it provides little information about their presence or treatment in the country. The government states that despite the lack of a legal framework, they have supported the protection of refugees and asylum seekers by granting Haitian migrant workers permanent residency and citizenship. The island had an estimated population of 8,300 international migrants as of mid-2020.

The situation in Dominican prisons and detention centres appears to be mixed. The U.S. State Department, in its 2019 country report on human rights practices, mentioned there were improved sanitary conditions, some upgraded facilities, no reports on lacking conditions, yet also some credible allegations of physical abuse. The UN Human Rights Committee noted the high proportion of pretrial detainees — 46 percent according to the official statistics — and the above average length of detention. It is unclear what percentage of the incarcerated population are non-citizens detained for immigration or asylum reasons. The Haitians detained in August 2020 were reportedly held in police stations in Roseau, St. Joseph, and Portsmouth.

Dominica had recorded 134 cumulative COVID-19 cases as of 21 February 2021. The island nation recorded a relatively low transmission rate after its first recorded case on 22 March 2020. Its borders were closed from 28 March, including repatriation flights for its citizens. Citizens were allowed to return from 15 July 2020; other travellers were allowed entry from 7 August 2020. In Fall 2020, after Hurricane Maria hit the island on 18 September, coronavirus transmission rates started steadily increasing . From September until December 2020, the government imposed night curfews to contain the spread.

22 February 2021

Russian Federation

28 Pro Navalny Protestors Held in a Cell Meant for 8 People in Sakhrovo Detention Centre, (Protestny MGU,
28 Pro Navalny Protestors Held in a Cell Meant for 8 People in Sakhrovo Detention Centre, (Protestny MGU, "Nothing Special About It: Take a Look Inside the ‘Special’ Detention Center Where Arrested Pro-Navalny Protesters are Being Held," Meduza, 4 February 2021, https://meduza.io/en/feature/2021/02/04/nothing-special-about-it)
In December 2020, the Russian government issued a presidential decree extending several COVID-19-related measures affecting foreigners in the country. Measures, which were extended until 15 June 2021, include the suspension of forced expulsions and deportations, as well as the suspension of cancellations of refugee status, visas, work permits, residence permits, and other documents. Certain people are exempt from these measures, including those who disturb public order and security (including people who participate in non-sanctioned rallies and meetings, and those who support extremist activities). Reports suggest that “public danger” and extremism can be broadly interpreted in Russia, leaving large numbers of people vulnerable to deportation despite the COVID-19 measures. In mid-February 2021, 118 people were being held in the Saint Petersburg Detention Centre, awaiting removal.

After 90 days from the date of this decree, the above-mentioned suspensions will also not apply to people from states that, as of 15 December, have reopened traffic links with Russia. As a result, observers predict an increase in expulsions from 15 March onwards.

Russia has reportedly used immigration detention centres to confine people who are not migrants or asylum seekers - including Russian citizens protesting the treatment of Alexei Navalny. With so many protesters in custody, authorities could not find sufficient places within Moscow prisons. Thus, many were placed in immigration detention centres (Centers for the Temporary Detention of Foreign Nationals). At least two facilities appear to have been used for this purpose: the Sakharovo Centre (southern Moscow suburbs), and the facility in Yegoryevsk (to the south-east of Moscow).

Footage from inside the Sakharovo facility, coupled with recent detainee testimonies, have renewed concerns about conditions inside Russia's immigration detention system and have prompted debates regarding migrants rights in the country. One detainee, the editor-in-chief of the independent news outlet Mediazona, described conditions in the centre as “hellish.”

Detainees were confined in rooms with iron beds but no mattresses; there were complaints about inadequate food provisions and drinking water; rooms appeared to be dirty and rarely cleaned; and cells were reportedly excessively hot in the day and cold at night.

A particularly contentious issue were sanitary facilities, with detainees forced to use squat toilets separated from their living area by a small, waist-high wall. Campaigners have for many years called on Russian authorities to remove squat toilets from detention facilities and ensure proper privacy is provided, and while most Moscow remand facilities are now equipped with adequate toilet stalls, updates to toilets do not appear to have been made in migrant facilities.

After detainees protested the poor detention conditions--and at least one detainee reportedly went on a hunger strike--conditions have reportedly improved, with detainees provided with mattresses, improved food supplies, and some hygiene items. Discussing the conditions in the centres, Sergey Abashin (Professor of Anthropology at the European University at Saint Petersburg) argued that many of the practices first used on migrants are soon often carried over to Russian citizens. “It's all very simple: there can be no human rights and the rule of law of even a single group is taken out, first with common consent, outside of these rights and laws, sooner or later these exceptions are extended to everyone else.”

18 February 2021

Malaysia

Malaysian Immigration Officers usher Detainees into a Truck after a Raid in 2018, (Getty Images,
Malaysian Immigration Officers usher Detainees into a Truck after a Raid in 2018, (Getty Images, "Malaysia sticks to deporting Myanmar detainees despite UN pressure," Nikkei Asia, 17 February 2021, https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics/International-relations/Malaysia-sticks-to-deporting-Myanmar-detainees-despite-UN-pressure)
Despite strong criticism from civil society organisations and the UN, Malaysian authorities are preparing to deport 1,200 people to Myanmar on 23 February even as the crisis in Myanmar spurred by the recent military coup there continues to deepen. Observers are particularly concerned that refugees and asylum seekers will be amongst those deported by Malaysia.

Deportees are due to be returned by military vessels, provided by Myanmar’s navy. Although Malaysia claims that the deportees are not refugees or asylum seekers, organisations such as Amnesty International have questioned the validity of such statements. They point to the fact that Malaysia has denied UNHCR access to immigration detention centres to identify asylum seekers and refugees since August 2019. “UNHCR must immediately have full access to the 1,200 people,” said the Executive Director of Amnesty International Malaysia in a statement on 18 February. “Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin must instruct the immigration department to work closely with UNHCR to ensure not a single person seeking asylum, refugee or anyone who may be at risk of human rights violations is forced to return to Myanmar. To do so would be in violation of the principle of non-refoulement, which applies to Malaysia as part of customary international law.”

Several refugee support organisations, including Myanmar Muslim Refugee Community and Alliance of Chin Refugees, have also confirmed that they have been contacted by members of the refugee groups they represent who are facing deportation, and claim that nearly 100 asylum seekers--including women and children--are amongst the group due to be deported. As of 18 February, UNHCR had yet to verify this claim.

Malaysia has faced condemnation for its roundups and detention of migrants during the COVID-19 pandemic (see 3 May Malaysia update on this platform), with reports indicating that many non-nationals are reluctant to come forwards for COVID-19 testing or treatment out of fear that they too will be arrested and detained (see 25 November Malaysia update). On 17 February, however, the minister responsible for immunisation coordination (Khairy Jamaluddin, Minister for Science and Technology) claimed that undocumented migrants would not be arrested if they presented themselves for vaccination. In a press briefing, the minister said, "We will work with civil society organisations to assist us in reaching out to undocumented foreigners with the assurance that they will not be detained. They can come forward freely.”

Despite the minister’s statement, a former deputy defence minister - Liew Chin Tong - believes that undocumented migrants and refugees will refuse to come forwards to receive the vaccine unless they receive stronger assurances from the immigration department and police themselves. He said: “It’s important that everyone is vaccinated, particularly those in high-risk groups such as migrant workers and refugees. But I don’t think the illegal migrants will come out for it. They will not trust Khairy’s words until and unless there is a rethink on the part of the Immigration Department, the police and all other security agencies.”

The country’s DAP Socialist Youth party has also questioned whether such promises will reassure non-nationals. The party’s deputy chairman argues that verbal promises from a minister unconnected to immigration will fail to reassure migrants and refugees, and instead urged the government to conduct a legalisation programme for undocumented foreigners parallel to its vaccination programme. “Some employers and migrant workers might be worried that the government might talk the talk but not walk the walk due to uncoordinated government responses,” he said.

17 February 2021

Barbados

Loop News, “HMP Dodds Following Health Protocols During COVID-19,” 19 April 2020,” https://www.loopnewsbarbados.com/content/hmp-dodds-following-health-protocols-during-covid-19
Loop News, “HMP Dodds Following Health Protocols During COVID-19,” 19 April 2020,” https://www.loopnewsbarbados.com/content/hmp-dodds-following-health-protocols-during-covid-19
The small Caribbean island of Barbados, part of the British Commonwealth, has recently experienced a sharp spike in the number of COVID-19 cases. As of 14 February 2021, Barbados had 2,061 positive cases of COVID-19. Nearly 80 percent of these cases have been reported since the start of 2021; Barbados had reported only 383 positive cases as of 31 December 2020.

An outbreak in early January 2021 in HMP Dodds Prison has been called the nation’s largest COVID-19 cluster, and counted 363 infected persons at its peak: 261 inmates, 85 officers, and 17 staff. Reports indicated that as of 1 February the situation had been stabilised because of “extensive sanitation, preventive scanning, testing, quarantining, […] isolation of prison officers, civilian staff, and inmates at Dodds,” in addition to expanding medical facilities and ventilation capacities (Nation News, 01.02.21).

The government’s policies to curb the pandemic from March until May 2020 included widespread testing and a curfew — initially a night curfew, which was later extended to be a 24-hour curfew. The measures in HMP Dodds Prison included quarantining newly entering prisoners for 14 days, temperature-taking, isolation of people with symptoms, testing, and banning external visits. In the light of the new surge in cases in 2021, new measures were introduced in the country on 1 January and tightened on 3 February, including a curfew, limited shop openings, banning public gatherings, and mask obligations.

The government did not close its borders after the onset of the pandemic and received a limited number of international commercial flights from the U.S. and UK in particular. Cruise ships were also allowed to dock on or anchor around the island while awaiting further operations. However, the government imposed mandatory quarantine for travellers entering the country and there have been numerous instances of non-citizens who broke it being ordered to pay a fine of BAD$6,000 before being allowed to leave. One recent case has gathered attention for its particular severity — a 49-year-old Jamaican was sentenced to 6 months in prison after not being given enough time to gather money for the fine.

The country’s Immigration Act (February 1976) provides that “A person who is refused permission to enter Barbados may be detained in custody by an immigration officer or a member of the Police Force in such place as the Minister approves until he is removed from Barbados.”

The U.S. Department of State 2018 Human Rights Practices Report for Barbados mentions that the country does not have legal provisions for granting asylum or refugee status.

There is little available information about how many people are detained for immigration- or asylum-related reasons or the extent to which the country imposes migrant-related detention measures.

16 February 2021

United States

New Immigration Detention Beds Operated by Private Prison Companies Diagram, (Human Rights Watch, American Civil Liberties Union, and National Immigrant Justice Centre, “Justice-Free Zones: U.S. Immigration Detention Under the Trump Administration,” April 2020, https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/supporting_resources/justice_free_zones_immigrant_detention.pdf)
New Immigration Detention Beds Operated by Private Prison Companies Diagram, (Human Rights Watch, American Civil Liberties Union, and National Immigrant Justice Centre, “Justice-Free Zones: U.S. Immigration Detention Under the Trump Administration,” April 2020, https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/supporting_resources/justice_free_zones_immigrant_detention.pdf)
New U.S. President Joseph Biden issued a series of immigration-related executive orders that roll back signature--and highly controversial--programs of the Trump administration. At the same time, reports have surfaced about how guards at privately operated immigration detention centres--which greatly expanded under Trump--threatened detainees with exposure to COVID-19 if they resisted being deported, adding fuel to criticism of the Biden administration’s failure to include immigration detention centres in an executive order ending private management of federal prisons.

Among the targets of Biden’s executive orders was the Trump administration’s controversial children separation policy. One order established an Interagency Task Force on the Reunification of Families tasked with reuniting children separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border; another order revoked the Trump administration’s executive order justifying the child separation policy.

The Biden administration has also sought to end some of the roadblocks put up by the Trump administration that prevented people from Central America from seeking asylum in the United States. Biden ordered the development of a strategy to address irregular migration and amend the existing asylum system, including by ensuring that Central American refugees and asylum seekers have access to legal avenues to migrate to the United States. He also directed the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to review mechanisms for better identifying and processing individuals from the so-called Northern Triangle, who may be eligible for refugee resettlement.

The order also addressed “the underlying factors leading to migration in the region and ensure coherence of United States Government positions'' and directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to “promptly review and determine whether to terminate or modify the program known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP).” The administration subsequently announced that it had stopped enrolling people in the MPP, which required asylum seekers to wait for their court hearings in Mexico. Reuters reported that, in total, under the MPP, 65,000 asylum seekers were sent back to Mexico to wait out their asylum claims, many languishing in degrading and dangerous situations just across the border.

In a separate though related development, President Biden signed an executive order curtailing privatization of federal prisons. The order provides that the “Attorney General shall not renew the Justice Department of Justice contracts with privately operated criminal detention facilities.” During a White House press briefing, Susan Rice, the president’s domestic policy adviser, stated that the new policy only applies to Justice Department contracts with private prisons and not immigration detention centres operated on behalf of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Rice said that the order “addresses the Department of Justice prisons in the first instance, it is silent on what may or may not transpire with ICE facilities.”

The failure to include ICE facilities has been widely criticised. During the final three years of the Trump administration, the use of private prisons to detain migrants increased significantly, including at least 24 facilities and adding more than 17,000 beds. A report published by the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, and the National Immigrant Justice Centre, found that private prison companies house 91 percent of all people detained in immigration detention centres opened under the Trump administration. Of the immigration detention beds added under Trump, CoreCivic holds 28 percent, GEO Group holds 20 percent, LaSalle corrections holds 37 percent, and Management and Training Corporation holds 6 percent. By comparison, the county jails operate a mere 9 percent.

Commenting on the Biden administration’s failure to include privately operated ICE facilities in its privatization order, Jelena Aparac, Chair-Rapporteur of the UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries, said: “Ending the reliance on privately run prisons for federal prisoners is an encouraging step, but further action is needed. Given the magnitude of mass incarceration in the U.S., this decision will benefit only the very small percentage of federal prisoners who are held in private prisons and specifically excludes vulnerable people held in migrant and asylum centres who are at particular risk of serious human rights violations.”

A 6 February report in The Intercept highlights the inhuman conditions that migrants can face in privately operated immigration detention centres. It describes the mistreatment of migrants held at the Pine Prairie ICE Processing Centre in Louisiana, operated by the private prison company GEO Group. Three Cameroonian asylum-seekers were reportedly threatened with exposure to COVID-19 if they resisted transfer orders. The guard threatened to move the migrants to the Bravo-Alpha detention unit, where detainees who have tested positive to COVID-19 are held. One detainee said that “they were forcing us out of the dorm, pushing and dragging us. … They threatened to call the SWAT team. They said they were going to put all of us into Bravo-Alpha, which is for quarantine, where they keep everyone with coronavirus.” After being threatened, the migrants were placed in a van with other detainees and transferred to a centre in Alexandria, prior to their scheduled deportation flight. However, their deportation flight was put on hold after a coalition of NGOs submitted an affidavit to the DHS Office of Inspector General detailing violent tactics employed by officials to pressure detainees to submit to deportation.

Some observers have expressed concerns that President Biden’s executive orders have not adequately addressed abuses in the U.S. deportation system. DHS issued a memorandum ordering a 100-day moratorium on deportations and revoked a Trump administration policy directing federal authorities to prioritise the arrest and deportation of undocumented migrants (PBS 20 January 2021). The memorandum sought to prevent the deportation of migrants for low-level criminal charges. Advocates have nonetheless raised concerns as the memorandum was weakened by a court. On 25 January, a federal judge in Texas, barred the U.S. government from enforcing the deportation ban for 14 days as the judge considered that the Biden administration had failed “to provide any concrete, reasonable justification for a 100-day pause on deportations.” Yet, according to the Associated Press, while the order barred enforcement of the moratorium for 14 days, it does not require deportations to resume at their previous pace. This order was subsequently extended on 9 February for an additional 14 days.

On 1 February, the Associated Press reported that ICE had deported 15 people to Jamaica on 28 January and 269 people to Guatemala and Honduras on 29 January. According to the report, some of the people on board those deportation flights may have been expelled under a public health order invoked by former President Trump during the COVID-19 crisis (for more information, see 21 November and 10 November USA updates on this platform).

12 February 2021

Colombia

Beritza Colina, who travelled from Caracas to Bogotá, Waits with her Children to be Evacuated at a Clinic for Migrants, (Joe Parkin Daniels,
Beritza Colina, who travelled from Caracas to Bogotá, Waits with her Children to be Evacuated at a Clinic for Migrants, (Joe Parkin Daniels, "'I can build a real life': Colombia to grant legal status to Venezuelan migrants," The Guardian, 11 February 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/feb/11/i-can-build-a-real-life-colombia-to-grant-legal-status-to-venezuelan-migrants)
On 8 February 2021, Colombian President Iván Duque announced that the country would give protected status to almost one million undocumented Venezuelan migrants present in the country, a move that contrasted sharply with the government’s previous declarations opposing vaccinations for undocumented migrants. President Duque said that the protective status would last 10 years, enabling migrants to “normalise” their situations in the country. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees described the move as an “historic gesture” and “an example to the region and the rest of the whole world.” The measure will enable undocumented Venezuelan nationals to apply for temporary protected status, allowing them to work, seek permanent residency, and obtain access to health services in the country.

The new measure will now also allow Venezuelan migrants to receive COVID-19 vaccinations. In his announcement on 8 February, Duque urged the international community to help fund vaccination efforts for migrants. Colombia has been hard-hit by the pandemic. As of February 2021, it had recorded over 2.1 million cases of COVID-19 and almost 57,000 related deaths related. (For more information about Colombia, see the GDP’s December 2020 Colombia country report: “Immigration Detention in Colombia: At the Crossroads of the Americas,” https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/americas/colombia).

11 February 2021

New Zealand

S. Kilgallon, “No Crime, no Charge - the Asylum Seekers Welcomed to NZ with Jailtime,” stuff, 27 December 2020, https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/123786697/no-crime-no-charge--the-asylum-seekers-welcomed-to-nz-with-jailtime
S. Kilgallon, “No Crime, no Charge - the Asylum Seekers Welcomed to NZ with Jailtime,” stuff, 27 December 2020, https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/123786697/no-crime-no-charge--the-asylum-seekers-welcomed-to-nz-with-jailtime
New Zealand has received fresh criticism for the prolonged detention of people in asylum and immigration enforcement procedures since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Asylum Seekers Support Trust and other civil society observers have criticised the government’s handling of detained asylum seekers, as well as the lack of support provided those granted status. During the pandemic, many people have been unable to apply for benefits or employment. Prison detainees facing deportation, as well as long-term overstayers, have also reported facing longer periods in confinement stemming from COVID-19 travel restrictions.

New Zealand’s migration-related detention procedures have received criticism since before the pandemic started. In early 2019, Amnesty International reported: “As of March [2019], there were eight asylum seekers held in a correctional facility alongside criminal remand prisoners. Under law, asylum seekers could be detained if they were considered to pose a risk to national security or if there were doubts as to their identities or risks of them absconding. Lawyers and support agencies remained concerned about their safety, well-being, and length of time in detention”.

While New Zealand appears to place comparatively few people in immigration detention, detention stays are often extremely long. According to one report, during 2015-2019, “the average detention of the 86 people held in these situations was 166 days. Eleven of those have spent more than 400 days in prison. The longest period an asylum-seeker has been held in a New Zealand prison is 1178 days – or just over three years” (S. Kilgallon, 27.12.20).

In December 2020, 1News reported on the case of a man detained for three years: “1 NEWS can reveal the man spent three years and one month in prison while waiting for his claim to be processed, which turned out to be valid. In 2017, he was arrested and sent to Waikeria Prison to be processed for deportation. That’s when he claimed asylum. He was never charged and was held in the remand wing of the prison. Applications for asylum were twice rejected and Immigration New Zealand deemed him at risk of absconding. In a statement, it said the man’s detention was drawn out because he had made multiple appeals. It said the system is meant for people claiming asylum on arrival, or while they’re legally here. [Amnesty International] put pressure on Immigration NZ and in March of this year the man was released. Out of jail, the man found it much easier to gather evidence for his claim, and in September, on his third appeal, he was granted protected person status by the Immigration and Protection Tribunal.”

Another case, of a 29-year old Somali called Yayha who had claimed asylum at Auckland International Airport, was reported in the New Zealand Herald, where he described the trauma he experienced at the hands of the prisoners at Mt. Eden Correctional Facility during his 6-month detention. Newshub reported a case of a person detained for 17 months at Mt. Eden, in contrast to the 28 days that his lawyer had told him.

After 13 March 2020, the government stopped accepting its yearly quota of refugees. In October 2020, a small number of emergency priority refugee cases were accepted, 50 of whom had arrived by 26 January 2021. On 5 February 2021, Immigration New Zealand announced the limited resumption of the quota refugee resettlement, starting with 35 arrivals in February to be housed in the Māngere Refugee Resettlement Centre.

10 February 2021

Haiti

J. Charles, “COVID-19 has reached Haiti’s overcrowded prisons. Some fear a human rights disaster,” Miami Herald, 27 May 2020, https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/haiti/article243018516.html
J. Charles, “COVID-19 has reached Haiti’s overcrowded prisons. Some fear a human rights disaster,” Miami Herald, 27 May 2020, https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/haiti/article243018516.html
Haiti reported its first two positive COVID-19 cases on 20 March 2020. As a response, the government implemented policies such as the closing of airports, ports, schools, and factories, limits on gatherings, and a curfew. The shared border with the Dominican Republic (DR) was also officially closed, yet border crossings persisted in practice and were recorded by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). They report that from 17 March 2020 to 30 November 2020, 602,352 cumulative movements were recorded into Haiti from the DR and 389,645 movements out of Haiti into the DR.

Haiti reportedly has one of the most overcrowded prison systems in the world, with around two thirds of the prison population being in pretrial detention. According to the National Human Rights Network, prisons may house around 80 people in small rooms where 10 to 20 people should be living under normal circumstances. The rooms tend to have poor ventilation, there have reportedly been mask shortages for staff, and prisoners are often not allowed to leave their rooms due to staff shortages. In April 2020, the director of the National Prison System began to decongest prisons by preparing a list of prisoners to be released to the Justice Ministry. According to the Miami Herald, with international pressure from the United Nations and the United States building up, the country released 459 prisoners from 19 March to 15 April 2020. By the end of May 2020, some 800 had reportedly been released in total. The National Human Rights Network considered these insufficient, since the prison population was over 11,000 at the time. In mid-May 2020, the first cases of COVID-19 were recorded in the Port-au-Prince penitentiary, with 11 out of 12 tested individuals being positive. Subsequently, they were kept away from the rest of the prison population. However, there was a lack of further testing within the prison, where dozens of people reported symptoms. On 28 May, a 72-year old man with COVID-19 symptoms died without having been tested.

It is unclear to what degree non-citizens are detained in Haitian prisons, and whether anyone is detained for purely immigration-related reasons. Due to its several political, economic, and environmental crises in the last decades, Haiti has long been a critical country of origin in the Caribbean, which has experienced successive waves of refugees and migrants, many heading to the United States. Haiti hosts a very small number of refugees and asylum seekers, with no more than five in any given year since 2015, who come from Cuba, Ethiopia, Yemen, and Nigeria.

09 February 2021

Spain

Camp Canarias 50 Viewed from Above in Gran Canaria on 26 January 2021, (Borja Suarez, Reuters,
Camp Canarias 50 Viewed from Above in Gran Canaria on 26 January 2021, (Borja Suarez, Reuters, "Spain: New migrant camps in the Canary Islands," InfoMigrants, 27 January 2021, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/29909/spain-new-migrant-camps-in-the-canary-islands)
During the past year Spain’s Canary Islands, situated off the western coast of North Africa, have witnessed a surge in migrant and asylum-seeker arrivals, a recurring situation that emerges when migration routes elsewhere in Africa are blocked. According to the Spanish Interior Ministry, the number of maritime arrivals during 2020 was eight times higher than in 2019: 23,023 compared to the previous year’s 2,687. In the first two weeks of 2021, 1,069 arrivals were registered. With Spanish authorities refusing to transfer arrivals to mainland Spain during the pandemic, thousands have found themselves trapped on the islands.

Responding to the restrictions of movement imposed on asylum seekers on the Canaries, the Spanish Ombudsman (Defensor del Pueblo) sent a “reminder of legal duty” (or “recordatorio de deber legal”) to the Interior Ministry in early February, stating that the police could not limit the right to freedom of movement for people seeking international protection, as established by law in 2009 and reaffirmed by several Supreme Court decisions. The Interior Ministry has pointed to increasing pressures on Spain’s asylum system, reporting that between January-November 2020, the country received nearly 85,000 asylum requests, with the majority of requests submitted by people from Venezuela, Colombia, and Honduras.

With the number of maritime arrivals in Gran Canaria on the rise, authorities have opened two new reception centres in unused military facilities, replacing a makeshift camp on Arguinéguin Pier. However, according to various reports, rather than providing arrivals with safe and dignified open accommodation, officials are detaining many new arrivals for 10 days at the newly opened Barranco Seco CATE (not to be confused with the long-term detention facility, Barranco Seco CIE), which has had freezing and cramped tented conditions. This far exceeds the 72-hour detention limit in place at the facility. It is unclear whether arrivals placed in the second facility--the “Leon School” in Las Palmas--are facing similar detention situations. However, reports indicate that many migrants and asylum seekers are unable to leave the school out of fear of attacks from the local community (several have complained of locals threatening them with knives and guns).

According to media reports, the opening of these new sites has fueled frustrations and fears amongst the migrant and asylum seeker community, and protests, hunger strikes, self harm, and suicide attempts have been growing increasingly frequent. El Pais reports that on 5 February, a group of 80 people--mostly from Morocco and Mauritania--were sent to a new Tenerife camp called Las Raíces. When they arrived, they found tents filled with mud and water, and were forced to take refuge on bunk beds under blankets. A Moroccan man scheduled to be moved to the camp and interviewed by the newspaper said, “The center in Tenerife is a freezer. And it’s a way of holding us all together in order to deport us to Morocco. We don’t want to go back. Ever.”

A COVID-19 outbreak has been reported at Tenerife’s Hoya Fría CIE detention centre, which re-opened in November 2020 following a nine month closure. As of 3 February, 21 detainees were reported to have contracted the virus--a figure that represents 31 percent of the facility’s current population (67 detainees)--and one detainee with underlying health conditions has been transferred to hospital for treatment. The centre was previously criticised for its conditions, and Cáritas Diocesana de Tenerife--which visits the facility--has stated that CIEs such as Hoya Fría are “places that violate human rights.” In January, conditions reportedly worsened in the wake of Storm Filomena, which caused flooding in corridors and the collapse of several areas of roof. The Spanish National Police Union (JUPOL) in Tenerife has called for Hoya Fría’s immediate closure.

08 February 2021

Congo (Republic)

NHRC and UNDP Training Seminar in Brazzaville on 28 January 2021, (T. Bosley,
NHRC and UNDP Training Seminar in Brazzaville on 28 January 2021, (T. Bosley, "La CNDH et le PNUD Congo Lancent la Plateforme de Monitoring des Droits de l'Homme," Panoramik-Actu, 29 Janvier 2021, http://panoramik-actu.com/la-cndh-et-le-pnud-congo-lance-la-plateforme-de-monitoring-des-droits-de-lhomme/)
According to UNHCR, as of mid-2020 the Republic of Congo (RoC)--which is facing the double threat of COVID-19 and Ebola--was hosting 43,656 refugees and asylum seekers and 304,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs). Refugees and asylum seekers are primarily from the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Central African Republic, and Rwanda.

On March 15, 2020, the first positive case of COVID-19 was reported. As of 31 January 2021, the RoC had recorded 7,887 cumulative COVID-19 cases and 117 deaths.

The government’s COVID-19 response included the establishment of a State of Health Emergency on 31 March 2020 and nationwide lockdown measures from 1 April 2020, which included movement restrictions, curfews, and shutdowns of schools and non-essential businesses. UNHCR reported that asylum seekers and refugees faced difficulties coping with surging food prices and decreased business activity, depriving people of their incomes, as well as the geographic inaccessibility of COVID-19 testing sites.

UNHCR’s health-related activities included: “[installing] 20 refugee housing units (RHUs) at the Bouemba site to serve as a reception centre for suspected COVID19 cases, equipping the facilities with beds, water supply and latrines. In Gamboma, UNHCR also supported the rehabilitation of the COVID-19 patients isolation site. Overall, UNHCR equipped and supported 8 health centres during the COVID-19 response, as well as established four isolation and quarantine centres, with room for a total of 60 patients. UNHCR also equipped an additional three isolation centres in areas hosting refugees and asylum-seekers.” The refugee agency also gave out core relief items and cash assistance to vulnerable populations.

In September 2020, a meeting on preventing the spread of COVID-19 pandemic in private places took place with the participation of civil society, humanitarian actors, the penitentiary, and doctors, amongst others. At the meeting, the Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture in Congo (ACAT) and its International Federation (FIACAT) called for improved conditions for prisoners in the country in order to curb the spread of COVID-19. They denounced the conditions in prisons, which include poor health, transport, drinking water, and electricity provision. The director general of the prison administration also conducted a presentation on the problems of managing the response to COVID-19, where he stated that as soon as positive cases were reported in the country, a crisis unit was set up as part of the strategy against the virus in prisons (maisons d’arrêt). He further claimed that no new detainees had been received in the prisons (maisons d’arrêt) and outlined the activities within the centres. These included employing detainees in making masks, the continued education and preparation for state exams, as well as the disinfection and fumigation of centres.

On 28 January 2021, the RoC’s National Human Rights Commission and the UNDP held a seminar in which they launched a human rights monitoring platform, responsible for documenting and disseminating material on human rights, as well as training librarians and archivists. The president of the National Human Rights Commission said that the platform would serve the monitoring of recommendations made by the Universal Periodic Review, CEDAW and other international mechanisms for the protection of human rights. It is not yet clear to what extent this monitoring mechanism will seek to review the treatment of refugees and other vulnerable non-citizens in the country.

04 February 2021

Lebanon

R. Hodzic, “Plight of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon Must Not be Ignored,” Al Jazeera, 26 January 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2021/1/26/plight-of-syrian-refugees-in-lebanon-must-not-be-ignored
R. Hodzic, “Plight of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon Must Not be Ignored,” Al Jazeera, 26 January 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2021/1/26/plight-of-syrian-refugees-in-lebanon-must-not-be-ignored
Lebanon, which is currently under a strict lockdown that includes a 24/7 curfew, recently witnessed a surge in COVID-19 cases. On 27 January, the country’s interim health minister announced that every person in the country---regardless of their nationality--would receive a COVID-19 vaccination. Questions remain, however, whether many refugees will be willing to present themselves for vaccinations, given their vulnerability to arrest and detention.

Previously, health officials had stated that the government would only take responsibility for vaccinating Lebanese nationals, and that UN agencies would be responsible for distributing the vaccine to the country’s large refugee population. Some social media users--riled up by xenophobic political rhetoric--have openly called for the distribution of vaccines “exclusively” to Lebanese citizens, with some using the hashtag “#اللقاح_للبناني_أولاً” (vaccine for the Lebanese first). One Twitter user wrote: “No country in the world allows any person on its soil to be vaccinated before its citizens are vaccinated. The United Nations must complete its delivery of the vaccine to all Lebanese before we allow any doses to be delivered to a stranger.”

Human Rights Watch has responded to this rhetoric by re-affirming that “Discrimination on the basis of national origin or residency status is contrary to international law, and in particular would violate Lebanon’s obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).”

As previously reported on this platform (see 2 June 2020 update), refugees face significant barriers in Lebanon. A large proportion lack legal status, leaving them with limited access to essential services including health care, and vulnerable to arrest and detention. Some local authorities also allegedly used the pandemic to further isolate refugees from the general population, introducing restrictions that do not apply to Lebanese citizens. This, coupled with a deteriorating economic situation--with Lebanon suffering its worst economic crisis since the Civil War, a situation exacerbated by the pandemic and the August Beirut port explosion--has seen frustrations rise amongst refugees, 90 percent of whom reported to UNHCR in July that they had lost their incomes or witnessed salary reductions.

The country’s social, economic, and political woes have also prompted growing frustrations amongst Lebanese nationals. Since August, the number of irregular boats attempting the journey from Lebanon to Cyprus is reported to have significantly risen. (The UN reports that it tracked 30 boats between July and October 2020, compared to 17 throughout 2019. For more, see 12 November Cyprus update on this platform.) Numerous reports have alleged that Cypriot authorities have denied Lebanese asylum seekers the opportunity to lodge applications, instead immediately returning them to Lebanon.

04 February 2021

United Kingdom

J. Shenker, “Locked in Barracks with Covid Running Rampant. Is This Any Way to Treat Asylum Seekers?” The Guardian, 27 January 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/jan/27/locked-covid-asylum-seekers-napier-barracks-kent
J. Shenker, “Locked in Barracks with Covid Running Rampant. Is This Any Way to Treat Asylum Seekers?” The Guardian, 27 January 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/jan/27/locked-covid-asylum-seekers-napier-barracks-kent
Since opening as asylum accommodation in October 2020, the UK’s Napier Barracks--formerly military barracks operated by the Ministry of Defence--have been the subject of intense criticism. Run by a private contractor (Clearsprings, which stands to make £1 billion in ten years from its government contracts to run asylum centres in Wales and South East England), Napier is not officially a detention centre. However, newly arrived asylum seekers are transferred to the facility before any determination of their status has been made, and they are “effectively forced to remain while their refugee claims are considered.” The facility has been regularly criticised for overcrowding, limited access to healthcare and legal advice, and unsuitable accommodation conditions, with several images showing bedsheets hung up to create privacy, and overflowing toilet blocks. One Iranian asylum seeker told the Guardian, “The first impression I had was it looked like a prison. There were fences, security guards walking around, I was really depressed. … There is no support for mental wellbeing. We have one nurse on site, in case you get a cold or flu. People are getting more and more frustrated.”

In mid-January the facility witnessed a large COVID-19 outbreak during which more than 120 asylum seekers contracted the virus. Accounts from those inside the facility paint a bleak picture: the centre’s management allegedly failed to adopt health measures to protect against infection and instead treated the entire facility as “one big house”--allowing the virus to spread rapidly and seemingly uncontrollably.

Activists and rights advocates, calling for the immediate closure of the facility, have held frequent protests outside the barracks. A freelance photographer who photographed one such protest on 28 January was arrested on suspicion of criminal damage--and had his camera and memory card confiscated. The photographer, 46 year old Andy Aitchison, commented, “It feels like a light has been shone on them and they’ve got the sledgehammer out. It’s censorship: if you don’t toe the line, we shut you down.”

The day after Aitchison’s arrest, a fire started in one of the barracks’ blocks, leaving the rest of the facility without electricity, heating, and drinking water. Charities who offered to provide blankets were reportedly turned away. Responding to the fire, the UK’s Home Secretary Priti Patel immediately condemned the event and warned that the Home Office would take action against those “vandalising property” while also justifying the continued use of the military space for accommodating asylum seekers. She tweeted, “The site has previously accommodated our brave soldiers and army personnel - it is an insult to say that it is not good enough for these individuals.” However, as one lawyer representing an asylum seeker in the facility responded, “My client, a victim of torture, having fled the civil war in Darfur is not being ‘accommodated’ - he is being detained in a military camp, in ear shot of regular gun fire from MoD [Ministry of Defence] firing range, trapped with 400 other ppl, at least 120 of whom have covid, and no proper healthcare.”

02 February 2021

Switzerland

Frambois Detention Centre Seen From Outside in 2011, (Fernand Melgar,
Frambois Detention Centre Seen From Outside in 2011, (Fernand Melgar, "Le directeur de la prison genevoise de Frambois sous enquête administrative," RTS, 3 April 2013, https://www.rts.ch/info/regions/geneve/4790749-le-directeur-de-la-prison-genevoise-de-frambois-sous-enquete-administrative.html)
On 26 January 2021, the SRF/RTS reported that the Asylum Departure Centre in Aarwangen was placed under quarantine by the Canton of Bern because 19 of its 100 inhabitants had tested positive for COVID-19. They also closed the facility’s kindergarten and school. On 29 January 2021, the Canton reported that the number of positive cases had increased to 32, one of which a mutated version of the virus (it was not explicitly stated that the mutation was the B117 strain).

Asylum seekers at the Aarwangen centre have said that there has been over-congestion, as well as mismanagement of early isolation orders and sanitary conditions. An article in Berner Zeitung (30 January 2021) reported that a woman and her five family members, who all tested positive for COVID-19, were not receiving food, and that the woman had to go to the closest town herself to shop. Residents were reportedly provided with just one mask a week. A former centre employee confirmed that even though several people had warned them early on, the centre management ignored the impending danger of infections and let the situation escalate until the canton had to intervene and pay for the inhabitants’ food.

A SRF/RTS journalist, after exchanges with operators of the asylum centre, described how the quarantine situation (in terms of respecting hygiene rules and cohabitation) largely depends on the actions of those housed in the centre. For young men at the centre who face negative asylum decisions and deportation, the added health crisis worsens the difficult situation they find themselves in. A spokesperson ORS Service AG, which operates the centres, denounced criticism of operations at the centre. He argued that there is a tense atmosphere there even including attacks on staff, as well as instances of quarantined residents failing to follow internal health and safety regulations and instead mingling with other people.

The Swiss National Commission for the Prevention of Torture published a report on 18 January 2021 on the situation in the Federal Asylum Centres in Boudry, Balerna, Chiasso, Geneva Airport, Kappelen, Kreuzlingen, "Via Motta" (Chiasso), and ”Halle 9 Oerlikon," which is operated by the city of Zurich. According to their findings, the accommodation of asylum seekers by the federal government conforms with human and fundamental rights, and they welcomed initiatives like primary school lessons and addiction consultations. Moting areas where improvement was needed, including better conflict prevention and resolution, and responding to complaints, they also reported that there is room for improvement in the identification of vulnerable people, access to basic psychiatric care, disciplinary measures and, infrastructure.

The cantonal authorities in Bern re-opened four centres for asylum seekers in 2020 in order to cope with the pandemic, in Gampelen, Enggistein (Worb), Konolfingen and Beatenberg, according to a 16 July 2020 letter from the Office for Population Services.

Irrespective of the pandemic, new centres are also planned in Switzerland for other purposes. On 2 February 2021, SRF/RTS reported that Neuchâtel would open two new reception centres for migrants in the coming months, aiming for their professional and social integration into local society. A “Special Federal Asylum Centre” in Les Verrières (Neuchâtel) is also to be reopened by the federal authorities in mid-February 2021. According to a press statement by the State Secretariat of Migration (2 February 2021), it will be reopened to house disruptive male asylum seekers from other federal asylum centres and will have stricter exit and safety rules. These developments follow media coverage of apparent increasing criminality around federal asylum centres (C. Liechti, 7 January 2021).

Deportations continue to be carried out by the Swiss authorities. Most recently, the planned forced return of five people to Ethiopia on 27 January 2021 was criticised by Amnesty International, AsyLex, and Migrant Solidarity Network. On 25 January 2021, Amnesty International demanded a halt in all forced returns to Ethiopia from Switzerland in light of the tense security situation and human rights violations in the country. On 26 January 2021, RTS reported that the deportations of two of the Ethiopians represented by AsyLex were suspended by the UN Committee against Torture (CAT) and the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

30 January 2021

South Sudan

UN News, “South Sudan: Coronavirus Cases Confirmed Inside UN Civilian Protection Site,” 13 May 2020, https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/05/1064012
UN News, “South Sudan: Coronavirus Cases Confirmed Inside UN Civilian Protection Site,” 13 May 2020, https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/05/1064012
South Sudan is one of the largest countries of refugee origin in Africa. An , westimated 2.2 million South Sudanese have fled the country. At the same time, it hosts a considerable refugee population. According to the UNHCR, South Sudan was hosting 310,006 refugees as of November 2020, 98 percent of whom were living in camps and settlements. They primarily come from neighbouring Sudan (93 percent), with smaller numbers from Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, and Central African Republic. The country also faces large internal displacement. UNHCR estimates that there were 1.66 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) as of February 2020.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (RJMEC) reported that the already perilous economic situation and food insecurity in the country had been magnified by the COVID-19 lockdown measures. It also noted that voluntary returns of refugees were cut short by the pandemic, as borders to neighbouring Uganda and Sudan were closed. The Protection of Civilian (PoC) sites, which house a significant number of displaced people, had also been classified as locations at risk of COVID-19 due to their large and congested populations.

On 5 April 2020, the first case of COVID-19 in South Sudan was announced. Fearing that the virus would spread uncontrollably in the PoC sites for which UNMISS was responsible, the UN’s Special Representative of the Secretary General in South Sudan called for site residents to return to their villages voluntarily in a radio interview on 7 May 2020.

The first two positive COVID-19 cases in PoC sites were recorded on 13 May 2020 in Juba. The subsequent closing of the site by the government, even to humanitarian actors, prompted criticism for the deadly consequences for its inhabitants. The Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM) Cluster in South Sudan reported as of November 2020 the following confirmed COVID-19 cases of IDPs in PoC sites: 6, including staff, in Juba (Population 29,658), 11 in Bentiu (Population 99,052) and 40 in Malakal (Population 27,930).

By December 2020, several UN agencies warned about the acute hunger crisis in the country, which is driven by “insecurity, the effects of COVID-19, the economic crisis, and the impact of flooding”. As of 28 January 2021, South Sudan has recorded 3929 COVID-19 cases in total.

28 January 2021

Syria

N. Ahmado, “Syrian Activists Fear COVID-19 Outbreak in Syria's Underground Prisons,” Voice of America, 21 November 2020, https://www.voanews.com/extremism-watch/syrian-activists-fear-covid-19-outbreak-syrias-underground-prisons
N. Ahmado, “Syrian Activists Fear COVID-19 Outbreak in Syria's Underground Prisons,” Voice of America, 21 November 2020, https://www.voanews.com/extremism-watch/syrian-activists-fear-covid-19-outbreak-syrias-underground-prisons
According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 have steadily risen across Syria - in large part because key parties (both regime and opposition) have failed to take adequate steps to protect against the virus. By the end of 2020, 39,728 cases had been reported (11,434 in areas under the control of the regime; 20,270 in areas under the control of the Syrian National Army; and 8,024 in areas under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces). SNHR reports however, that the true number of cases is expected to be far higher due to insufficient testing.

The country’s large population of internally displaced persons (IDPs) - currently estimated to number 6.4 million - is particularly vulnerable to the virus, with many living in overcrowded camps in which social distancing is impossible. In October 2020, a doctor in Idlib told the BBC that COVID was already “out of control” in the region’s IDP camps. “We don’t have many places for people in camps, we don’t have many medikits for this.” As in many areas of Syria, healthcare services in Idlib Governorate have repeatedly been targeted by regime airstrikes - leaving them overwhelmed and underprepared for the new crisis.

Since the start of the pandemic, there have been growing concerns over the safety and well being of people incarcerated in the country, including the thousands of Syrians arbitrarily detained during the conflict. In early March, Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned that an outbreak within prisons would be “catastrophic.” As of August 2020, some 100,000 Syrians remain “disappeared” having been arrested by different parties. A large number are believed to remain within the regime’s network of prisons, which are notorious for their abysmal conditions and widespread and systematic use of torture. “The Syrian Network for Human Rights can confirm that most of the detainees, especially in the four main security branches and military prisons, have a space per person not exceeding 70cm2 in cells that lack any ventilation or the most basic standards of cleanliness.” To-date, the regime has failed to clarify whether it has taken any steps to protect detainees, or to report on the number of COVID cases within its cells. However, in a security leak from Damascus in March 2020, 816 persons in Adra prison were reported to have contracted the virus and 204 were alleged to have died.

Although there is little available information regarding the use of immigration detention in Syria, significant numbers of foreigners are known to be detained in locked camps by authorities in the northeast of the country. Foreign nationals who traveled to join IS, or to live within its “caliphate,” were rounded up by the Syrian Democratic Forces and have since been detained in conditions described by HRW as “filthy and often inhuman and life-threatening.” In June 2020, HRW highlighted the detention of 47 Canadians (including 26 children) in makeshift prisons, and urged Canadian authorities to facilitate their return home and initiate their trial for ISIS-related crimes. In August 2020, the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in Al-Hol detention camp, which was holding some 65,000 people at the time.

27 January 2021

Liechtenstein

UNHCR, “Asile au Liechtenstein,” https://www.unhcr.org/dach/ch-fr/nos-activites/asile-au-liechtenstein
UNHCR, “Asile au Liechtenstein,” https://www.unhcr.org/dach/ch-fr/nos-activites/asile-au-liechtenstein
One of the smallest countries in Europe, Liechtenstein had recorded 2,454 cases of COVID-19 as of 26 January 2021. Following confirmation of the first COVID-19 case in the country on 3 March 2020, the government imposed various restrictive measures, including a ban on all public and private events, a prohibition for more than five people to gather in public spaces, and the closure of all bars and nightclubs.

There is little available information regarding the treatment of migrants and asylum seekers during the crisis. The country receives just a handful of asylum applications each year (39 in 2019). According to UNHCR, many of these applications are found to be inadmissible, largely on Dublin III grounds, but also due to controversial admissibility grounds provided in the Asylum Act (see below for more information).

According to UNHCR - which describes Liechtenstein’s asylum system as “similar to the Swiss system” - applicants are initially placed in a reception centre in Vaduz (or other accommodation provided by the State) during asylum proceedings. Applicants are provided legal advice from government-commissioned lawyers following the first instance decision.

Following a recommendation from Brazil during the second cycle of the UN Universal Periodic Review in 2012 urging Liechtenstein to “Reduce the permissible length of administrative detention of asylum seekers, especially children,” the state party rejected the suggestion. It noted, “The Asylum Act and the Foreigners Act set out the maximum duration of administrative detention of asylum-seekers. For adults, it is six months. For minors between the ages of 15 and 18, it is three months. Younger persons may not be placed in administrative detention. In Liechtenstein's view, the maximum duration of administrative detention complies with international standards and is not disproportionately long.” In 2008, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture reported that non-nationals are detained in Vaduz Prison. The GDP does not have evidence about whether this facility continues to provide this function today.

In January 2017, Liechtenstein introduced new asylum admissibility grounds following amendments to the Asylum Act. Some of the grounds were heavily criticised. For example, Article 20 Para. 1 (g) provides that an applicant will be found inadmissible if their behaviour shows that they are unwilling or unable to integrate. In its 2017 submission on Liechtenstein to the Universal Periodic Review, UNHCR noted that it was “concerned that some of these new admissibility grounds will lead to exclusion from refugee status beyond the exclusion clauses of the 1951 Convention (Art. 1F).

25 January 2021

Cyprus

Two Children and an Official at the Pournara Migrant Camp, (Cyprus Mail,
Two Children and an Official at the Pournara Migrant Camp, (Cyprus Mail, "Children in Migrant Centres Denied Basic Human Rights, Says Top Official," 20 January 2021, https://cyprus-mail.com/2021/01/20/children-in-migrant-centres-denied-basic-human-rights-says-top-official/?fbclid=IwAR08eiFY6AYhv_zNpf3KZXqUdS9kZdiq00DkuovB-qA8-5fpWV0L9HzQ3Hg)
As of late January, the prolonged forced quarantine of migrants and asylum seekers continued at the Temporary Accommodation Centre in Kokkinotrimithia (“Pournara”) and the Kofinou Reception and Accommodation Centre, under strict lockdown since mid-November 2020. This has caused tensions among the migrants in the already overpopulated centres, and put unaccompanied children at the facilities at increased risk of harm.

Several positive COVID-19 cases have been confirmed at both centres. On 17 November 2020, 16 people at the Kofinou centre tested positive. Riots erupted after they refused to be transferred elsewhere to prevent its spread, though authorities were eventually able to transfer 14 to the Eden Resort rehabilitation centre and the remaining two to Famagusta hospital. The Interior Minister characterised the riots as an “unfortunate cultural phenomenon” in a televised interview. In contrast, an adviser to the Cyprus Refugee Council said that the migrants’ reactions can be understood in the light of the strict lockdown. As many of these people have been living at the centre for years, many feared that they would be deported.

On 4 December 2020, the Cyprus Ombudswoman and Commissioner for Administration and Human Rights conducted a visit to Pournara Centre. In her 14-page report, she called for permits to be given immediately to 200 individuals (including 13 unaccompanied minors) who were eligible to exit the camp facility, but were previously prevented by the lockdown decree. She also criticised the detention of the migrants in isolation areas for longer than 14 days, and the poor hygiene, electricity (some sections had none), and safety provisions in the quarantine areas. She reported that there were 968 people residing at the centre, of whom 365 were in the main area and the remaining 603 in the designated isolation and quarantine spaces (in contrast, media reports have claimed that there are more than 1,500 people at the centre). There is an additional guarded safe zone in the main area, where families and unaccompanied minors live. In the quarantine/isolation wing, there is no security zone. Additionally, 865 persons were adults and 103 were confirmed or self-reported minors. The ombudswoman reported that soap and shampoo were being provided to everyone, and that a doctor is present three days a week, while one nurse is present at all times, which the nurse said was insufficient for such a large population. At the time of the visit, 23 people with positive COVID-19 test results were living in the quarantine wing, which had only one toilet and no showers. According to the report, the overpopulation conditions at the centre are an environmental factor contributing to the increased exposure risk to COVID-19 of the detained migrants.

The extended lockdown in the centres is exasperating tensions at the centres and creating new problems and dangers. During 11-12 January, a large fight broke out between groups of Syrians and people from different African countries at Pournara, which reportedly lasted seven hours. According to the Interior Ministry, there was extensive damage to the windows, beds, furniture, and a section of fencing around the camp. The police said that over 600 people were involved, many of whom were “holding steel rods, throwing rocks, and breaching a fence that was erected earlier to keep different ethnic groups separate.” Reportedly 25-35 people had minor injuries and eight people were placed under arrest. UNHCR’s Cyprus representative said: “Overcrowded conditions at the centre and the ensuing pressure on existing infrastructure, along with the uncertainty regarding when and under what conditions they would be able to exit often triggers tensions. … Those at the centre report that they are without basic goods required for dignified living, such as warm clothes and personal hygiene products.” More recently, the detained migrants have been protesting within the camp for their rights and their immediate release. One protest happened on 23 January 2021 (Video footage: https://www.facebook.com/102876444850062/videos/445050286529794 ) and another on 25 January 2021 (Photo and video footage: https://www.facebook.com/generationforchangeCY/videos/3227711600662143 and https://www.facebook.com/KISACYPRUS/posts/5236711569687242). According to the NGO KISA Action for Equality, Support, Anti-Racism, around 1,300 of the estimated 1,500 camp inhabitants took part in the protest on the 25th.

The lockdown has led to the detention of minors in the Centres. On 18 January 2021, the Cyprus Commissioner for the Protection of Children’s Rights sent a letter to the interior, health, and education ministries and the ombudswoman, condemning the continued detention of children due to the COVID-19 lockdown in the two reception centres, Pournara and Kofinou. She said that she does not support the decision to convert the reception centres into closed detention centres through the lockdown decree, since this constitutes a violation of the provisions of International Conventions and national laws in relation to the treatment of asylum seekers including families with children and unaccompanied minors. She writes how in Pournara, there are currently reportedly 60 unaccompanied minors, yet their safe zone is overcrowded and there are no separate quarantine areas for them. The general exit ban from the camp has also led to a stagnation of the necessary procedures for the minors to be moved outside the Centre. Turning the centre in Kofinou into a closed one has also had adverse and disproportionate effects for the children living there, depriving them of the right to attend their school from mid-November to mid-December. The commissioner said: "Based on oral information received from the Municipal and Middle Directorate of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports and Youth, efforts were made for children to receive distance education. However, distance education involves multiple technical and practical difficulties which are still more intense for these children, and in no case can it replace the education through the physical presence of the children in the school and its benefits in their psychosocial development.”

22 January 2021

Australia

A. MC, “Medically Vulnerable Refugees in Australia Hotels Finally Freed,” Al Jazeera, 22 January 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/1/22/medically-vulnerable-refugees-in-australia-hotels-finally-freed
A. MC, “Medically Vulnerable Refugees in Australia Hotels Finally Freed,” Al Jazeera, 22 January 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/1/22/medically-vulnerable-refugees-in-australia-hotels-finally-freed
After more than a year of detention inside Melbourne hotels, 65 medically vulnerable male asylum seekers have been released. Previously confined in offshore detention facilities, the men were transferred to mainland Australia in 2019 under the now-repealed Medevac laws, so that they could receive urgent medical treatment. Since their arrival however, they have been held in hotels, including the Park Hotel and the Mantra Hotel, where they have been denied sufficient access to open space or appropriate food, subjected to “prison-like conditions” and “mental torture,” confined in rooms without adequate ventilation, and potentially exposed to COVID-19. In July 2020 a staff member working at the Mantra Hotel tested positive for the virus.

One of the detainees said of his release in a tweet: “This is the most beautiful moment of my life and one that I would like to share with you all. After 2,737 days locked up in detention – I am free. Thank you to all of the amazing people who helped me to stay strong. #GameOver.”

According to the Home Affairs Ministry, which justified the releases on a purely financial basis, all those released were granted “final departure bridging visas” which allow “individuals to temporarily reside in the Australian community while they finalise their arrangements to leave Australia.” In a statement, the ministry said: “The individuals residing in the alternative places of detention were brought to Australia temporarily for medical treatment. They are encouraged to finalise their medical treatment so they can continue on their resettlement pathway to the United States, return to Nauru or PNG or return to their home country.”

On 5 January, detainees held in the Christmas Island Detention Centre--which was reopened in August 2020 allegedly due to the pandemic’s impact upon the government’s ability to remove asylum seekers--initiated riots in protest of their detention conditions. According to one detainee who spoke to the Guardian, the facility’s management had denied detainees the opportunity to hold a peaceful protest--prompting some to react violently and set two of the compounds alight. Reportedly, detainees had been in lockdown for 22 hours a day and were denied access to workable wifi, leading to many struggling with both their physical and mental health. Describing the conditions in the facility, one refugee said, “It’s worse than jail. In jail, you know when you can go home, in detention they don’t have a timeframe for you to go home. You wait around, and you don’t know what’s happening.” Additional disturbances were also reported on 10 January.

20 January 2021

Greece

A View of the Petropoulaki Camp in Filippiada, (Ministry of Migration & Asylum,
A View of the Petropoulaki Camp in Filippiada, (Ministry of Migration & Asylum, "Facility Filippiadas," accessed on 22 January 2021, https://migration.gov.gr/en/ris/perifereiakes-monades/domes/domi-filippiadas/)
In mid-January, Greece’s Ministry of Migration and Asylum published their annual statistics from 2020, which show a 80 percent decrease in migrant arrivals and a 63 percent decrease in the populations of its reception centres on the islands. Combined with the closure of numerous detention facilities, the ministry proclaimed that 2020 was the year that Greece “regained control” of the migration “crisis.”

In late 2020, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) published a report of the impact of long-term stays at the islands’ Reception and Identification Centres (RICs) on migrants’ mental health. A section on COVID-19 reveals its compounding negative effects on the migrants’ mental health. According to their field research, the scarce access to hygiene services like running water and soap, together with the cramped living conditions have led to further mental distress due to fear of COVID-19 infection.

The enforcement of administrative detention in pre-removal detention centres by the Greek authorities continues, despite shortcomings in healthcare provision in the centres. By mid-December 2020, 2,447 people were detained in the pre-removal detention centres: 877 in Corinth, 541 in Amygdaleza, 380 in Kos and 359 in Paranesti. According to the Refugee Support Aegean, the total number of medical staff of the Health Units Societe Anonyme (SA), which provides medical services in all of Greece’s detention centres, was 37: 8 doctors, 2 psychiatrists, 24 nurses and 3 health visitors. On average, there was one available doctor for 305.9 people. At the same time, merely 12 translators were available for all centres.

In a joint letter released on 22 December 2020, 73 local and international NGOs outline the harsh accommodation problems migrants face in Greece, which are exacerbated by continuing COVID-19 constraints and weather conditions. They condemn how around 11,000 asylum seekers were left homeless after being removed from their ESTIA apartments, FILOXENIA hotel rooms, as well as island and inland accommodation structures. The government justifies the immediate forced exits from the temporary housing structures as a measure that will make the refugees "stand on their own two feet." The letter criticises that the forced removals one month after being granted asylum prevents the asylum seekers from receiving housing, food and financial support from the European Union. Additionally, the civil society organisations are concerned about the large number of vulnerable people removed from their accommodation, including survivors of sexual violence and/or torture, people with health problems, including mental health and some form of disability, single women and single-parent families, and people from the LGBTQI+ community. Transit sites have been offered to a small number of people to offer temporary shelter up to two months.

Outbreaks of COVID-19 have been tackled with varying degrees of success in different migration facilities in the last weeks. In early January 2021, a COVID-19 outbreak was recorded in the facility for refugees and migrants ‘Sparta Inn’ in Sparta. The inhabitants of the facility are 245 officially recognised beneficiaries of international protection, of which 115 are children aged 0 to 15 years. After the first positive case on 31 December 2020, all exits from the building were forbidden until 13 January 2021 and 188 further tests were carried out, of which 21 were positive. The IOM attempted to isolate positive cases in separate floors in order to prevent the further spread of the virus. On 7 January 2021, some of the people inside broke their quarantine, went out on the sidewalks and protested. The protesting migrants were dissatisfied with the management carried out by the competent bodies and especially by the NGO that is responsible. Their complaints included matters relating to their diet and the hygiene items, but also because the healthy are obliged to live with those who have been infected with the coronavirus. They also reported that the pace of completing the procedures and issuing the documents needed to leave Greece is extremely slow. (Video footage of the protest at the Inn: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8_7mx3MwBQ&feature=emb_title.)

Local Greek media positively reported the COVID-19 measures taken in the Reception and Identification Center ‘Vial’ in Chios. In the past two months, only two positive cases were found among the migrant population. To prevent overwhelming the local hospital, a separate doctor's office was set up and equipped accordingly by the camp, and both an isolation and a quarantine area were set up. They also undertook preventative measures for a possible third wave, including improving its isolation area with their own baths and toilets, higher capacity and repaired electrical, plumbing and sewerage infrastructure. These positive developments are however not going to last long, as the Ministry of Immigration and Asylum has been evicted and must return the property since the lease expired in 2019. The Minister wishes to build a new camp this year, yet the local population remains hostile and wishes to decongest the island. (Sources and photos from the centre in Chios: https://www.alithia.gr/politiki/etsi-glytose-skylitseio-ta-kroysmata-koronoioy-tis-vial )

Since 13 January 2021, the Preveza reception centre has been in quarantine after one person tested positive for COVID-19. Out of 35 subsequent tests of the infected person’s close contacts, 18 were positive. The centre is guarded by police forces and meetings in common areas within the camp are forbidden.

19 January 2021

Germany

German Police Officers Escort a Rejected Afghan Asylum Seeker to Board an Aircraft Heading to Kabul at an Airport in Leipzig in August 2019, (Michael Kappeler, DPA,
German Police Officers Escort a Rejected Afghan Asylum Seeker to Board an Aircraft Heading to Kabul at an Airport in Leipzig in August 2019, (Michael Kappeler, DPA, "Failed Afghan Asylum Seekers Deported from Germany Land in Kabul," Al-Jazeera, 13 January 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/1/13/failed-afghan-asylum-seekers-deported-from-germany-land-in-kabul)
Throughout 2020, Germany conducted numerous removal flights despite concerns regarding the dangers they present for deportees and their home communities as a result of the pandemic. (For more information on deportations from Germany, see 17 July update on this platform). Most recently--and amidst spiralling infection rates in the country--Germany deported 26 rejected Afghan asylum seekers on 12 January, from Dusseldorf to Kabul. Reportedly, this marked the 35th deportation flight to Afghanistan since 2016. Rights advocates condemned the deportation, highlighting the danger that returnees face in the country--both from surging violence and the threat of coronavirus. (Indeed, the UN has warned that five million more Afghans will be in need of assistance in 2021 due to the pandemic and conflict.)

While many countries that are rolling out COVID-19 vaccination programmes have failed to specify when non-nationals might expect to receive the vaccine, in late 2020 Germany announced that asylum seekers living in shelters would be amongst the second group to be vaccinated. It remains unclear, however, when immigration detainees may expect to receive the vaccine.

According to several media reports, several German states have drawn up plans to place German nationals repeatedly flouting self-isolation rules in establishments including detention centres and refugee accommodation facilities. Reportedly, states including Saxony, Baden-Wurttemburg, Brandenburg, and Schleswig-Holstein are in the process of preparing areas in which nationals can be held--including the construction of a new unit within a refugee facility in Saxony. According to the Telegraph, news of these plans has drawn widespread criticism in Germany, with some comparing them to the use of political prisons in communist East Germany.

18 January 2021

Guatemala

Guatemalan Security Forces Clash with a Group of Honduran Migrants, (Esteban Biba, EPA,
Guatemalan Security Forces Clash with a Group of Honduran Migrants, (Esteban Biba, EPA, "Migrant Caravan Trekking North to US Border Clashes with Guatemalan Troops," The Guardian, 17 January 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jan/17/migrant-caravan-trekking-north-us-border-clash-guatemala-troops)
In mid-January, as thousands of mostly Honduran migrants, including many children, began crossing the Guatemalan border as part of a new “caravan” seeking passage to the United States, Guatemalan security forces forcefully repelled them, leading to scenes of violence and chaos near the border. Videos posted on social media and news networks showed scuffles between migrants and soldiers and police trying to block their way using teargas, riot shields, and sticks.

Helping drive this humanitarian emergency are multiple crises that are afflicting Honduras, which has long suffered endemic poverty, widespread gang violence, lawlessness, and political turmoil. Aggravating this situation are the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic and back-to-back hurricanes that struck the country last November.

According to Prensa Libre, Guatemala’s immigration chief, Guillermo Diaz, told the migrants: “You cannot and will not get through. … It is impossible for you to continue your journey. We invite you to return to your country of origin, you will not pass.” A migrant responded: “We have no work. We can’t go back. ... Back home we’re dying of hunger.” Guatemalan authorities reported that on Saturday 16 January, they had deported some 1,000 members of the “caravan,” including around 200 children. Two days later, on 18 January, Guatemalan troops forcibly cleared a road of nearly 2,000 migrants, including many families with children, who had camped overnight after the clashes with security forces. Many of the migrants subsequently returned to the nearby village of Vado Hondo, apparently in search of alternative routes.

This is just the latest in a series of “caravans” that have left Central America in recent years seeking to cross Mexico en route to the United States. However, this one comes as a change of administrations in the U.S. is imminent. Migrant rights advocates have called on President-elect Joe Biden to scrap Trump’s immigration policies, including the “Quédate en México” (Remain in Mexico) programme, officially known as Migrant Protection Protocols (for more about this policy, see the 2 November 2020 United States update on this platform). Between June 2019 and August 2020, some 65,000 people were returned from the U.S. to Mexico despite the COVID-19 pandemic (see 2 November Mexico update on this platform). This programme reportedly exposed tens of thousands of asylum seekers - many of them children - to violence, abduction, and rape by sending them back across the border into dangerous cities in Mexico (Guardian 6 January 2021).

During a press conference on 18 January, Mexico’s President López Obrador said he was hopeful that Biden would carry out reforms of U.S. immigration policies, as promised in his presidential campaign, adding that his administration was “coordinating with Central American governments, current U.S. officials, and those that will be forming the new government.” López Obrador claimed that he had proposed to Biden a development program for Central America so that people would not feel compelled to emigrate and that “Biden agreed with this approach.”

Biden’s domestic policy adviser, Susan Rice, when asked about the new migrant “caravan,” said: “Migrants and asylum seekers absolutely should not believe those in the region peddling the idea that the border will suddenly be fully open to process everyone on Day 1. It will not.”

15 January 2021

Turkmenistan

RFE/RL, “Deadly Prison Outbreak Belies Turkmenistan's 'Coronavirus-Free' Claim,” 16 October 2020, https://www.rferl.org/a/deadly-prison-outbreak-belies-turkmenistan-s-coronavirus-free-claim/30897206.html
RFE/RL, “Deadly Prison Outbreak Belies Turkmenistan's 'Coronavirus-Free' Claim,” 16 October 2020, https://www.rferl.org/a/deadly-prison-outbreak-belies-turkmenistan-s-coronavirus-free-claim/30897206.html
Despite soaring infection rates in many parts of the world, authorities in Turkmenistan continue to deny the existence of Coronavirus within the country and have failed to promote preventive measures such as social distancing. At the end of December, the country extended the suspension of international flights, as well as domestic rail and bus services, until at least 31 January 2021. Land borders with Afghanistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan are due to remain closed until further notice. The only persons permitted to enter the country are Turkmen nationals, diplomats, permanent residents, and workers in critical industries and key infrastructure--all of whom are required to quarantine for 14 days in a state-run facility upon entry. Details of this facility, and conditions within it, remain scarce.

Authorities regularly suppress and retaliate against independent media, which makes it difficult to develop a reliable picture of the situation in the country. However, reports from European-based news outlets with sources inside the country have maintained that prisons and schools have witnessed outbreaks, and that hospitals have become increasingly overcrowded with patients suffering “pneumonia-like” symptoms. In October, for example, RFE/RL reported that the DZ-K/8 Women’s Correctional Facility in Dashoguz had witnessed a “big” outbreak, in which at least three inmates had died. Reportedly, authorities established a quarantine block at the centre housing more than 200 inmates--some of whom were “in grave condition.”

Turkmenistan does not experience significant migratory pressure, and it is unclear whether any non-nationals are confined in detention facilities. Although national law provides for granting refugee status and asylum, no-one has been granted refugee status since 2009, when the Turkmen government took over Refugee Status Determination from UNHCR. No new asylum seekers have been registered since 2005.

The government routinely denies freedom of movement to its citizens. According to Turkmen law, people are to be banned from leaving “if their exit contravenes the interests of the national security of Turkmenistan.” Migration officials reportedly stop non-approved travellers at the airport to prevent them from departing. According to the U.S State Department’s 2020 Trafficking in Persons report, these policies make Turkmen nationals who wish to leave the country unofficially vulnerable to traffickers.

14 January 2021

Libya

B. Trew, “‘Left to Rot’: Inside Libya’s Squalid Detention Centres Where Migrants and Refugees Suffer a ‘Slow Death,’”The Independent, 4 September 2020, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/libya-detention-centres-migrant-refugees-deaths-zintan-tripoli-a9703161.html
B. Trew, “‘Left to Rot’: Inside Libya’s Squalid Detention Centres Where Migrants and Refugees Suffer a ‘Slow Death,’”The Independent, 4 September 2020, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/libya-detention-centres-migrant-refugees-deaths-zintan-tripoli-a9703161.html
Thousands of migrants and refugees continue to be detained in Libya’s network of detention centres, despite rising COVID-19 case numbers. As of 14 January, 107,434 cases and 1,645 deaths had been officially recorded in the country, although real figures are expected to be higher given a lack of testing. According to IOM and UNHCR, as of November 2020, at least 3,200 people were being held in 11 detention centres--although many more were likely also detained in “unofficial” facilities in western Libya.

According to newly released data, in 2020 some 11,891 persons attempting to leave the country were intercepted at sea by the EU-backed Libyan Coastguard--with the majority subsequently placed in already overcrowded detention facilities. (During the first four days of 2021, more than 160 people were returned and detained.) By comparison, 9,225 people were intercepted and returned in 2019.

Detainees in Libya are particularly vulnerable to the spread of disease, due to the fact that detention facilities are dangerously overcrowded and lack even the most basic sanitary facilities. As the Independent revealed in a September 2020 article on the Al Zintan facility, “The refugees sleep in shifts, 25 of them crushed together in a tiny room-turned-prison like knives in a cutlery drawer. There isn’t enough space for everyone to lie down at the same time. They share a single toilet, which is a putrid hole in the ground, and say they have not seen the sun in a year.”

Recognising the acute vulnerability of detainees in Libya during the pandemic, the IOM announced in October that it had provided training--including in infection control, prevention, and management--to 25 health care providers working in detention facilities in Tripoli, Zawiya, Zuwara, and Dhahir Al-Jubail.

13 January 2021

Bosnia and Herzegovina

M. MacGregor, “Refugee Camp Burns in Bosnia,” InfoMigrants, 23 December 2020, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/29296/refugee-camp-burns-in-bosnia
M. MacGregor, “Refugee Camp Burns in Bosnia,” InfoMigrants, 23 December 2020, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/29296/refugee-camp-burns-in-bosnia
The controversial Lipa migrant camp was destroyed by a fire in late December, leaving some 1,400 men homeless. The fire was reportedly started by residents of the camp, many of whom had already begun moving out due to the poor living conditions there. IOM’s Chief of Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) told InfoMigrants: “Suddenly our staff noticed that a small group was setting fire to one of the tents and they repeated this action with the other tents and some of the containers were also on fire in the chaos, looting started of some of the items that were still left in the camp.” Other facilities in BiH for single males are overpopulated, including one in Sarajevo which, though it only has a capacity of 2,400, already houses approximately 3,000 people.

There are more than 3,000 refugees and migrants in the earby Bihac area who do not have access to shelter. Local authorities have reportedly refused government orders to reopen a reception centre that was shut down in October 2020. According to the IOM, people were sleeping in abandoned buildings and makeshift camps in the forest and that “IOM had … been providing assistance such as winterized jackets, sleeping bags, food packages and hygiene packages to the 1,500 migrants already sleeping outside.”

According to Al-Jazeera, on 30 December, the relocation of migrants and refugees from the Lipa camp to army barracks in Bradina was cancelled. Migrants and refugees spent around 24 hours in buses prior to being told to disembark and return to the burnt out camp. People were left stranded without access to food, water, or accommodation.

On 8 January 2021, ECRE reported that there were still around 2,500 people sleeping rough in the northwest of BiH, of which several hundreds remained in squalid conditions at the burnt down Lipa camp. According to ECRE, while “housing capacities and sufficient funding exist, political disagreement between local and national authorities perpetuate this humanitarian crisis.” Since 2018, 70,000 people have travelled through BiH, but reaching the EU remains dangerous and people often face pushbacks and violence at the Croatia border (see 2 August and 22 June Croatia updates on this platform).

Said EU foreign affairs commissioner Josep Borrell in early January: “Over the last weeks, we have witnessed a serious humanitarian crisis concerning hundreds of migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina … largely due to the disfunctioning governance in the country” (InfoMigrants 06/01/20201).

12 January 2021

Colombia

Venezuelan Nationals Carrying an Unconscious Woman as They Try to Enter Colombia, (Schneyder Mendoza, AFP,
Venezuelan Nationals Carrying an Unconscious Woman as They Try to Enter Colombia, (Schneyder Mendoza, AFP, "Alarm at Colombia Plan to Exclude Migrants from Coronavirus Vaccine," The Guardian, 22 December 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/dec/22/colombia-coronavirus-vaccine-migrants-venezuela-ivan-duque)
Colombia is currently under a state of emergency, which has been extended until 28 February 2021. Decree 1550 implementing the state of emergency includes additional restrictions like the closure of land and river borders with Ecuador, Panama, Venezuela, Peru, and Brazil. Colombia’s immigration authority, Migración Colombia, reported in late 2020 that despite the emergency measures there has been an increase in the number of people entering Colombia from Venezuela. According to Migración Colombia’s latest published data, there are approximately 1.7 million Venezuelan citizens in the country.

In late December, President Ivan Duque announced the government’s intention not to vaccinate undocumented non-nationals--including hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan refugees--within the country’s borders. According to Duque’s comments in a local radio interview on 21 December, only Venezuelans who have dual nationality or formal migratory status will have access to the vaccine when it is eventually rolled out. Justifying this decision in terms of prioritising Colombian nationals, Duque stated, “We would have calls to stampede the border as everyone crosses asking for a vaccine.”

Duque’s announcement prompted criticism from humanitarian agencies and rights groups. In a statement condemning the government’s intended policy, Mercy Corps said, “Vaccines will only curb the pandemic if everyone can get them. Leaving Venezuelans out puts them and their Colombian neighbours at risk. Venezuelans, especially those who are undocumented, are among the most vulnerable and hardest hit by the economic effects of the pandemic. Many have lost their only source of income and been forced to live in crowded shelters or on the streets, making them even more susceptible to catching and spreading the virus. People who are most at-risk and vulnerable should be prioritized regardless of nationality or immigration status.”

In the Global Detention Project’s latest report about Colombia, published in December 2020, we detail how Colombia has become an important transit point for migrants and asylum seekers from across the Americas as well as from other parts of the world. For the past several years, it has also been a key destination for Venezuelans fleeing the turmoil in their country. During 2010-2014, a national plan was implemented to “strengthen immigration control in Colombia” and in 2013 the country opened its first temporary immigration holding facilities (“salas transitorias de migración”). During the COVID-19 pandemic, which hit Colombia severely, large numbers of Venezuelans who had lost their jobs became stranded in makeshift camps located in border zones when they sought to return home.

For more information, visit the GDP’s Colombia page at:
https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/americas/colombia

11 January 2021

United Kingdom

Brook House Detention Centre Seen From Outside, (BBC,
Brook House Detention Centre Seen From Outside, (BBC, "Brook House Immigration Detainees 'Held for Years'," 10 March 2017, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-sussex-39221869)
Following the news of a COVID outbreak in Brook House Immigration Removal Centre (see 16 December update on this platform), on 8 January the Home Office announced the centre’s temporary closure (for ten days) due to a number of positive cases amongst staff. A Home Office spokesman confirmed that several detainees had been transferred to an alternative detention centre (Colnbrook, near Heathrow airport)--a move that detainee rights groups immediately condemned. A representative for Bail for Immigration Detention said that “the decision to transfer people to Colnbrook is incredibly dangerous and places the lives of everybody held there in grave danger.”

The facility’s closure comes amidst soaring COVID-19 cases in the UK. As authorities attempt to tackle the new, more transmissible mutation of the virus, a country-wide lockdown is in effect. All persons have been ordered to stay at home and non-essential travel is banned. Despite these measures, however, the Home Office is reported to be continuing to organise deportations. On 6 January, the Independent reported that two deportation flights are due to depart this week: one to Romania on 13 January; and one to Poland on 14 January. When challenged about the safety of these flights, the Home Office said that it would “continue to progress operations with appropriate measures in place.” Lawyers, politicians, rights advocates, and activists have lambasted the decision to continue deportations amidst the new wave of infections. “The Home Office's ramping up of deportation flights during a pandemic is irresponsible & inhumane,” wrote one Labour MP on Twitter. “Rather than putting populism before public health, it should suspend these flights and urgently review its detention & deportation policies.”

06 January 2021

Bangladesh

Rohingya Refugees Aboard Bound for Bhasan Char in December 2020, (Mohammad Ponir,
Rohingya Refugees Aboard Bound for Bhasan Char in December 2020, (Mohammad Ponir, "Bangladesh Move More Rohingyas To Remote Island Despite Rights Concerns," The Guardian, 28 December 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/dec/28/bangladesh-moves-more-rohingyas-to-remote-island-despite-rights-concerns)
On 5 January, journalist Shiafur Rahman reported the first death at the controversial Rohingya refugee centre on Bangladesh’s Bhasan Char island in the Indian Ocean. Rahman also reported the introduction of new restrictions of movement for those at the centre, which were supposedly introduced after an escape attempt. Refugees reportedly now require permission to go to the market on the island and there appear to be police patrols throughout the night.

In recent weeks, Bangladesh has made several large movements of Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char despite safety and security concerns raised by international human rights monitors (see 7 December Bangladesh update on this platform). Most recently in late December, the government moved a group of 700-1,000 refugees to the island; earlier, during the first week of December, 1,642 refugees were moved to the island.

Bhasan Char, which is hours by boat from the mainland, is prone to severe flooding and cyclones. According to the Diplomat, among the facilities set up on the island to prepare it to receive refugees are 1,400 cluster houses, 120 cyclone shelters, various administrative buildings, schools, two hospitals with 20 beds each, and mosques.

Although Bangladeshi authorities are not hiding the fact that they are transferring refugees to this island, on 28 December they arrested a Rohingya man who was apprehended while photographing buses transferring refugees from Kutupalong Camp. The award-winning photojournalist Abul Kalam, 35, who was detained until 5 January, was charged with assaulting and interfering with public officials and faces three years in jail. “We call on the authorities in Cox’s Bazar to drop these absurd charges,” said a spokesman for Reporters Without Borders (RSF). “His work is of public interest for all of humankind, which needs to know about the fate of the Rohingyas, who are being mistreated again, three years after being subjected to acts of genocide by Myanmar’s military.”

According to Human Rights Watch, there is limited information about the conditions on the island in addition to “allegations that the authorities may have offered misleading information and incentives to move there.” The Bangladeshi government has denied these concerns and said that refugees are relocated voluntarily and that protective measures are being taken to safeguard refugees. The deputy government official in charge of refugees said that a 12km embankment was built to prevent any flooding and that housing had been built for 100,000 people.

The director of the Bhasan Char project told The Daily Star on 5 December 2020: “I firmly believe that when UN, UNHCR, WFP, and IOM will visit here, they will be convinced. We are waiting for them.” This statement was made three days after the UN said they were ready to proceed with the technical and protection assessments, “if permitted by the government.” The UN also said that the assessments would be the first step in determining whether they will be able to engage operationally with the Bhasan Char project and that subsequently, further work would be needed to develop plans and budgets in coordination with the Government and national and international NGO partners.

03 January 2021

United States

A Protestor Holding up a Sign During a Protest Against US and Mexican Migration Policies at the San Ysidrio Crossing Port, (AFP, Getty Images,
A Protestor Holding up a Sign During a Protest Against US and Mexican Migration Policies at the San Ysidrio Crossing Port, (AFP, Getty Images, "US Finalizes Rule Allowing Asylum Seekers to be Branded 'Danger' To National Security Amid Pandemic," Forbes, 23 December 2020, https://www.forbes.com/sites/chantaldasilva/2020/12/23/us-finalizes-rule-allowing-asylum-seekers-to-be-branded-danger-to-national-security-amid-pandemic/?sh=3fc9ae4f1bfc)
As of mid-December 2020, more than 7,800 ICE detainees had tested positive for COVID-19 and eight deaths related to the virus recorded. According to the San Antonio Express News, in detention centres under the jurisdiction of the San Antonio field office alone, there have been more than 1,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases.

In a commentary published in December by the American Journal of Public Health, “Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in Immigration Detention Centres Requires the Release of Detainees,” a group of public health experts in the United States argue that “safely releasing detainees from immigration detention centres into their communities is the most effective way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in these settings. Failure to do so will result in infection and death from a novel communicable disease and deepen inequities for a population group that already experiences many structural and systemic threats to health and well-being.”

A separate report published by the advocacy group Detention Watch Network argued that counties with ICE detention centres were more likely to report COVID-19 cases earlier in the pandemic and more likely to have a serious outbreak. The group contends that the US detention system’s ineffective efforts to control the virus helped lead to an additional 245,000 cases across the United States by 1 August 2020. In one case from May 2020, officials in Pearsall said that every local case of COVID-19 could be traced back to ICE’s South Texas processing centre, operated by GEO Group, and that the company had failed to properly keep the community informed of developing cases.

Writing in a December issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, Palacios and Travassos report that infection rates within US immigration detention centres is a direct result of the nonadherence to the guidelines set by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the failure to provide for adequate social distancing in the centres. Yet, rather than allocating vaccines to high-risk groups, federal officials from Operation Warp Speed, a public-private partnership aimed at accelerating the production and distribution of vaccines, have decided to distribute vaccines on the basis of population at the state level. The authors’ review of state plans found that only one state - Louisiana - includes immigration detention centres in its vaccination priority plan and that “at least 14 states lack plans to prioritise any incarcerated populations for SARS-CoV-2 immunisation.”

On 23 December 2020, Forbes reported that the Trump administration finalised a regulation allowing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to block asylum requests on the basis that asylum seekers could constitute a “danger to the security of the United States” if they have passed through a country affected by COVID-19. The regulation, advanced by DHS and the Department of Justice in July 2020, precludes granting asylum to asylum seekers based on “emergency public health concerns generated by a communicable disease.” Forbes reported that the rule gives DHS the ability to exercise “prosecutorial discretion” in cases where asylum seekers are subject to withholding of removal measures, which is aimed at preventing the deportation of vulnerable people to a country where their freedom or their life may be at risk. The rule will enter into force two days after President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on 20 January 2021. Health experts have condemned the measure as “xenophobia masquerading as a public health measure” and said that it would “undermine public health and further endanger people seeking protection.”

Another hidden impact of the U.S. immigration detention policies during the pandemic has been on source countries. As previously reported on this platform (see 20 April Guatemala update; 22 April United States update; and 19 June United States update on this platform), the continuation of deportation flights from the United States during the pandemic has helped spread the virus in countries of origin, particularly across Central America.

21 December 2020

Madagascar

A Health Official Spraying a Shop Front in Toamasina in June 2020, (Rijasolo, AFP,
A Health Official Spraying a Shop Front in Toamasina in June 2020, (Rijasolo, AFP, "Madagascar Experiments with ‘Miracle Cure’ as Virus Overwhelms Hospitals," The Telegraph, 30 June 2020, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/science-and-disease/madagascar-experiments-miracle-cure-virus-overwhelms-hospitals/)
After its confirmation of the first cases of COVID-19, in March 2020, the government cancelled all international flights and announced a lockdown in the capital, starting on 22 March. Authorities gradually relaxed these measures, allowing schools and stores to reopen and reducing curfews. This was followed by a surge in new COVID-19 cases across the country; authorities subsequently announced a new lockdown in July, including the closure of schools and universities and cancellation of all non-essential travel. As of mid-December 2020, Madagascar had recorded nearly 17,600 COVID-19 cases and 259 deaths.

In April, President Andry Rajoelina launched “Covid-Organics,” a tea based on the plant Artemisia annua containing antimalarial properties. According to the Telegraph, after only having conducted two weeks of trials, the president began promoting it to the Malagasy public.

According to the Malagasy Ministry of Foreign Affairs, some 2,400 nationals were stranded abroad in March 2020 as a consequence of the closure of national borders. On 12 November, the IOM reported that after being stranded for some nine months, 75 Malagasy women returned to the country from Saudi Arabia via a flight chartered by the IOM. In June, IOM supported the return of 177 Malagasy nationals from Kuwait and 54 Malagasy nationals from Lebanon in October.

The GDP has been unable to establish the extent to which detention facilities are used in Madagascar as part of immigration enforcement procedure or to obtain details on COVID-19 related measures taken to safeguard people in immigration custody. However, the use of detention in migration procedures has previously been reported. In its concluding observations in 2018, the Committee on Migrant Workers stated that it was concerned about: “(a) Detention for breach of migration legislation, without recourse to a supporting explanation appropriate to the individual case and based on necessity; (b) The lack of information on alternatives to the detention of migrant workers, including those in an irregular situation, especially for unaccompanied children and families with children; (c) The lack of information and the conditions and maximum period of administrative detention of migrants awaiting expulsion.” The Committee recommended that Madagascar: (a) Ensure that the detention of migrants is an exceptional measure of last resort applied for the shortest possible time … (b) Adopt alternatives to administrative detention for migrant workers and members of their families … (c) Ensure that, in exceptional cases where detention cannot be avoided, migrant workers and members of their families are placed in special facilities, that they are held separately from ordinary prisoners and that conditions of detention comply with the United Nations Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.”

As regards the country’s prison system, on 27 June 2020, the president granted official pardons to all male prisoners over the age of 60, all female prisoners over the age of 55, and prisoners that have already served more than 10 years, including those sentenced to life in prison. In addition, all detainees whose prison sentence is less than three months and all minors having served half of their sentence were also released. In consequence, hundreds of prisoners were released on the same day. However, the measure only concerns sentenced prisoners (representing about 50% of the carceral population) and excludes any prisoners sentenced for corruption, money laundering, embezzlement, murder, damage to natural resources, and repeat offenders.

17 December 2020

Kyrgyzstan

Migrant Camp in the Orenburg Region in Russia, (Current Time,
Migrant Camp in the Orenburg Region in Russia, (Current Time, "448 More Kyrgyz Citizens Return Home from Orenburg Region," Kloop, 22 May 2020, https://kloop.kg/blog/2020/05/22/iz-orenburgskoj-oblasti-na-rodinu-vozvrashhayutsya-eshhe-448-kyrgyzstantsev/)
Kyrgyzstan considers labour migration to be “part of the national development strategy” with remittances accounting for a substantial part of the country’s economy. Large numbers of Kyrgyz nationals work in countries across Asia and Europe, including in particular Russia (which recorded 959,000 border crossings by Kyrgyz nationals in 2019), Kazakhstan, and Turkey. In 2019, 29.2 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) was made up of remittances, which places Kyrgyzstan amongst the top five countries with respect to remittances as a share of GDP.

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has underscored the economic vulnerability of countries that rely on remittances. As previously reported on this platform (see 19 November Uzbekistan update), labour migrants in Russia were almost twice as likely to lose jobs than Russian nationals. According to the Kyrgyz Embassy in Russia, more than half of all Kyrgyz migrants in the country lost their jobs during the pandemic--a fact that has led to a significant drop in remittances and growing concerns for the Kyrgyz economy.

During the early months of the pandemic, when borders temporarily closed and flights were suspended, many Kygyz migrant workers who sought to return home due to job losses found themselves stranded in Russia. When rumours circulated that the border would open in Orenburg Oblast to enable transit through Kazakhstan, an estimated 600 Kyrgyz migrants arrived in the area, where they were forced to wait for several weeks in overcrowded tent camps until buses arrived. By 22 May, those stranded in the area had been returned to Kyrgyzstan--although upon arrival, many were placed in a newly erected quarantine facility in the Semetey Observation facility (formerly the U.S. Ganci Airbase) in Chui Oblast. On 18 May, a group of detained returnees protested their confinement in the facility--and rumours that they would continue to undergo quarantine restrictions while those testing positive for COVID-19 were being released. According to media reports, several returnees attacked doctors and attempted to overturn an ambulance. Following the riot, most of the returnees were permitted to leave and to complete their quarantine period at home.

By 24 August, some 35,469 Kyrgyz migrants had been returned from Russia via charter flights and bus transfers. Nevertheless, the Kyrgyz government faced criticism for its delays in returning nationals stranded in Russia. Kyrgyz authorities argued that employment opportunities remained more favourable in Russia. The Kyrgyz Ambassador to Russia said, “The Russian economy is stronger and more stable than ours. After quarantine, the economic crisis will continue around the world. I advised our countrymen to wait here and not to go anywhere.”

There have been sporadic reports about the use of immigration detention in Kyrgyzstan. In mid-2020, Human Rights Watch raised concerns regarding the detention of an Uzbek asylum seeker (journalist Bobomurod Abdullaev) in the Kyrgyz State Committee for National Security (GKNB) detention facility. Previously, in 2006, UNHCR raised concerns regarding the detention of four Uzbek refugees (fleeing from the unrest and security crackdown in Uzbekistan’s Andijan region) in Osh Pre-Trial Detention Centre. In 2020, this facility was subject to complaints, including accusations of ill-treatment by detainees. The GDP has been unable to confirm whether the centre continues to confine non-nationals for immigration-related reasons, or what steps--if any--authorities have taken to protect detainees during the pandemic.

16 December 2020

United Kingdom

Napier Barracks in Folkestone Kent (Dan Kitwood, Getty Images,
Napier Barracks in Folkestone Kent (Dan Kitwood, Getty Images, "Lawyers Denied Access to Asylum Seekers in Kent Barracks," The Guardian, 7 December 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/dec/07/lawyers-denied-access-to-asylum-seekers-in-kent-barracks)
A coronavirus outbreak was confirmed at the UK’s Brook House Immigration Removal Centre (close to Gatwick Airport) in early December. While the Home Office declined to clarify how many positive cases had been recorded or how many people were in isolation at that time, the Guardian reported that at least 17 detainees had tested positive and that three wings of the centre had been locked down as of 10 December. According to the newspaper, Serco--the private security company that took over from G4S in early 2020 in managing the facility--pushed a notice under detainees’ doors on 10 December, confirming the outbreak. Due to the lockdown, the deportation of several asylum seekers who recently arrived in the UK via small boats and who are confined in the facility was postponed.

The outbreak has led to renewed calls for all detainees to be immediately released. “The outbreak of COVID-19 at #BrookHouse detention centre was completely predictable - and utterly preventable. Nobody should be detained for immigration purposes during a global pandemic,” tweeted Freedom From Torture. Celia Clark, the director of Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID), similarly argued: “The government should now recognise that the use of detention and deportation in the current climate helps to spread coronavirus and puts lives at risk.”

Since September, the Home Office has been using two former military barracks (Napier Barracks in Kent, and Penally Barracks in Pembrokeshire) to detain newly arrived asylum seekers. Although it has reported that these facilities are intended for temporary accommodation only--with asylum seekers due to be moved into housing while their applications are assessed--the Guardian reports that many people are instead being transferred directly from these facilities into immigration removal centres, from where they will be deported. Lawyers seeking to assist asylum seekers in the Kent barracks have been denied access. “It’s unusual because even in a detention centre they arrange legal advice, and this is not meant to be a detention centre,” said one solicitor. Some volunteers who have managed to enter the site have accused the Home Office of attempting to cover-up what they call “disturbing” conditions for their entry, including requiring them to sign confidentiality agreements. According to lawyers, up to 15 asylum seekers are forced to share rooms, with sheets hanging between them to create a sense of separation.

The government appears to have stepped up efforts to deport non-nationals--although several successful legal appeals have ensured that some deportation orders were postponed. Particularly controversial was a 2 December deportation flight to Jamaica, which rights advocates claim had close Windrush undertones. In a letter signed by several NGOs, as well as solicitors and barristers (including 11 QCs), the flight was branded as racist, unjust, and unlawful. Nevertheless, the flight went ahead with 13 of the 50 original intended deportees.

On 1 December, changes to the country’s immigration rules came into effect. These include a controversial amendment that allows authorities to deport non-nationals if they are found to be rough-sleeping--even if they have permission to stay, or have lodged an application to stay. (“9.21.1. Permission to stay may be refused where the decision maker is satisfied that a person has been rough sleeping in the UK.”) As migrant rights groups point out, the number of homeless persons has significantly increased during the pandemic, particularly amongst those with NRPF status (No Recourse to Public Funds, a condition that is frequently applied to persons with limited leave to enter or remain and which leaves them unable to obtain various forms of assistance, such as housing support). “It is shockingly cruel and inhumane to threaten someone with deportation simply because they have been driven into rough sleeping,” said Kate Allen, the Director of Amnesty UK. “It is especially appalling that this heartless policy is being introduced during a pandemic when life for those without a proper place to live is already incredibly difficult.”

15 December 2020

Central African Republic

A Red Cross Volunteer in Bégoua Teaching a Child How To Properly Wash His Hands, (ICRC,
A Red Cross Volunteer in Bégoua Teaching a Child How To Properly Wash His Hands, (ICRC, "République Centrafricaine: Faire Face à la Covid-19 Dans l'Une des Plus Graves Crises Humanitaires du Monde," 27 July 2020, https://www.icrc.org/fr/document/republique-centrafricaine-faire-face-la-covid-19-dans-le-cadre-dune-des-plus-graves-crises)
On 27 March, roughly a week after the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in the Central African Republic (CAR), authorities temporarily restricted entry for non-nationals and grounded all flights. President Faustin Archange Touadéra announced additional measures, including the closure of schools, bars, and an obligation to inform health authorities of any suspected coronavirus cases. The Bangui airport reopened in July with new security measures, including health check and self-isolation protocols. As of 14 December, CAR had recorded 4,936 COVID-19 cases and 63 deaths.

In May, the UN allocated $12 million USD from its humanitarian fund to support a multisectoral emergency response in the Central African Republic (CAR). The funds are intended to be used to reduce the spread of COVID-19, including enabling partner organisations to implement priority projects in the health and water-hygiene sanitation sectors, manage internally displaced persons camps, as well as provide shelter, food, and essential household items.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported in May that humanitarian aid had been provided to 294,000 people in April to assist access to health, water, and hygienic materials. According to the UN, more than 2.6 million people in the country, approximately half the population, are in need of humanitarian assistance and protection. According to UNHCR, there were 641,292 internally displaced persons as of 31 October 2020. Of these, the UN estimates that more than 467,000 live with host families while the rest live in overcrowded and unsanitary sites.

UNHCR also estimates that as of mid-2020, there were 296,190 refugees from CAR in Cameroon. According to the refugee agency, a voluntary repatriation operation that started in November 2019 was suspended in March 2020 as both countries closed their borders to prevent the spread of the virus. Now that the border closure has been lifted, UNHCR is attempting to facilitate voluntary returns. Improvements of the security situation in Bangui and other regions in CAR have enabled some 15,000 refugees in the North and South Ubangi Provinces to apply for voluntary repatriation. To prevent the spread of COVID-19, health and sanitary measures have been boosted, including the provision of masks, temperature screening, and the installation of hand-washing stations. Also, in order to ensure social distancing, the number of refugees per convoy was reduced to 65 people.

14 December 2020

Gabon

People Waiting for a Drinkable Water Delivery in Libreville, Gabon, (France 24, A. Saint-Léger & C. Caracena,
People Waiting for a Drinkable Water Delivery in Libreville, Gabon, (France 24, A. Saint-Léger & C. Caracena, "Covid-19: Au Gabon, Le Casse-Tête de l'Accès à l'Eau à Libreville," 30 April 2020, https://www.france24.com/fr/afrique/20200430-covid-19-au-gabon-le-casse-t%C3%AAte-de-l-acc%C3%A8s-%C3%A0-l-eau-%C3%A0-libreville)
Gabon registered its first COVID-19 cases in March and Parliament declared a state of emergency in early April. On 10 April, the government announced that the capital, Libreville, as well as neighbouring municipalities, would impose lockdown measures. On 3 May, UNICEF reported while Libreville remained the main hotspot. As of 14 December, Gabon had recorded 9,330 COVID-19 cases and 63 deaths.

According to UNHCR, as of 30 November 2020, there were 479 refugees and 84 asylum seekers in the country. In addition, UNHCR stated that only three countries in West and Central Africa (Gabon, Nigeria and Niger) suspended access to asylum registration and most states in the region also closed their borders.

During Gabon’s review at the 2017 UN Universal Periodic Review, Congo, Egypt, and Sierra Leone recommended that Gabon “ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.” Burundi recommended that Gabon “make efforts to accelerate the process of ratification of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.”

As regards the country’s prisons, on 10 April, the president granted official pardons to 680 prisoners in order to alleviate overcrowding and reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. The GDP has been unable to establish the extent to which detention facilities are used in Gabon as part of immigration enforcement procedure or to obtain details on COVID-19 related measures taken to safeguard people in immigration custody.

13 December 2020

Netherlands

Rotterdam Detention Centre Seen From Outside, (Ziarah Utara,
Rotterdam Detention Centre Seen From Outside, (Ziarah Utara, "Detention Centres in The Netherlands," 6 November 2014, https://dispereertniet.wordpress.com/2014/11/06/detention-centers-in-the-netherlands/)
In early December the Court of the Hague annulled the State Secretary for Justice and Security’s April 2020 decision to deport an Iranian national with severe heart problems, on the grounds that the State Secretary had failed to take into account Iran’s COVID-19 situation. In the court’s opinion, the plaintiff could have lacked access to necessary healthcare services in Iran given the pressure that the pandemic has placed on the country’s healthcare infrastructure. The court requested the State Secretary to conduct further research into the individual’s access to necessary medical treatment in Iran, and to make a new decision within ten weeks.

As previously reported on this platform (see 8 October Netherlands update), the Netherlands did not fully suspend deportations and removals during the pandemic. On 30 November, for example, the country deported a Nigerien national using a private chartered aircraft to transfer the individual to Paris, from where he was flown to Niger. According to the Dutch NGO Meldpunt Vreemdelingendetentie, after landing in Niger the individual heard that a Dutch judge had ordered his release from detention: “If he had not been deported, then he would have been free again, in the Netherlands.”

Detention centres in the Netherlands, meanwhile, have again been scrutinised for their use of isolation--both via the use of isolation cells, and collective isolation in ordinary cells. Despite acknowledging the harmful effects of isolation, and pledging to reduce its use in both 2015 and 2019, the rate of isolation has instead increased. According to Amnesty International, a foreign national was placed in isolation 384 times in 2017, compared to 624 times during the first eleven months of 2019. Amnesty pointed, also, to the repeated lock-downs of Rotterdam Detention Centre during the pandemic, which left detainees locked up in their own cells for 23 hours a day, for up to four weeks. Under a proposed new bill--’Amendments to the Return and Immigration Detention Act’--lockdown could become a regular feature in the country’s detention centres.

Non-nationals in the Netherlands, like many other countries, appear to face higher chances of contracting COVID-19 than nationals, as well as higher mortality rates. According to an October OECD report, death statistics in the Netherlands in March and April 2020 reveal that deaths were 47 percent higher than usual for immigrants from lower-income countries and their children, compared to 38 percent higher for those who are native born with Dutch parents. According to the OECD, this discrepancy may be due in part to poverty, poorer quality housing, and an inability to understand national information campaigns. To help address this, volunteer translators in the Netherlands have started providing translations of newscasts from the country’s public broadcaster. One organisation--Pharos, which works to address health inequalities--has started translating government guidelines but using simpler vocabulary accompanied by images. As of today, information is available in Dutch, Arabic, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, English, Farsi, French, Papiamento, Polish, Somali, Spanish, Tigrinya and Turkish.

11 December 2020

Turkey

Migrants Waiting Near  Buffer Zone at the Turkey-Greece Border in the Edirne District in February 2020, (AFP,
Migrants Waiting Near Buffer Zone at the Turkey-Greece Border in the Edirne District in February 2020, (AFP, "UN: 13,000 Migrants Gathered Along Turkish-Greek Border," 29 February 2020, https://www.voanews.com/europe/un-13000-migrants-gathered-along-turkish-greek-border)
Responding to the Global Detention Project’s COVID-19 survey, a non-governmental actor in Turkey reported that the country has not delayed or stopped issuing administrative detention orders as a consequence of the global pandemic. The source, who asked to remain anonymous but whose identity was verified by the GDP, said that they had observed detainees confined in overcrowded centres, including the ones in Istanbul, being transferred to other detention centres to improve social distancing.

The source also reported that they were unaware of any immigration detainees being released for COVID-related reasons. They had applied to the court for all their clients in administrative detention to be released on the basis of COVID-19 infection risks. However, not a single person has yet been released for this reason. Moreover, the source stated that apart from the authorities’ attempt to reduce overcrowding by transferring detainees to other detention centres, they had not observed any other measures taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 or to ensure appropriate care of migrants or asylum seekers. People requiring treatment at hospitals were sent back to detention after they recovered. People released from administrative detention for reasons not related to the pandemic were able to immediately return to their own accommodation. There is no obligatory quarantine period upon release, and migrants and asylum seekers are not tested for the virus. Also, the source reported that they had not seen authorities test detainees except those who are evidently ill.

Regarding alternatives to detention, the source said that the most common implementation is to oblige the person to regularly report to the Provincial Directorate of Migration Management or to the satellite cities by providing a signature. The frequency of the reporting duties will vary depending on the case. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, these reporting duties were suspended or postponed so ATDs have not factored into any COVID response.

According to the source, removals were halted between 18 March and 15 June 2020. However, removal decisions continued to be issued during this time. In consequence, if a removal decision was made against a migrant, the migrant in question would either be taken to administrative detention or released after the order was issued. The source stated that they did not have any clients who were removed from the country, but that some returned voluntarily after deportation decisions were made against them.

Turkey did not announce any new immigration or asylum policies in response to the COVID-19 crisis. The source told the GDP that they had been informed that migrants waiting at the Edirne-Greece border, were taken into quarantine as a result of the statement made by president Erdogan at the end of February announcing that Turkey would no longer stop migrants and refugees from reaching Europe (see 6 April Turkey update on this platform).

Following adoption of legislation in April (see 14 April Turkey update on this platform), enabling the release of thousands of prisoners to prevent the spread of the virus in overcrowded prisons, the prison administration reported on 18 June that they had temporarily released 64,661 prisoners from its facilities.

10 December 2020

Liberia

Newly Arrived Refugees from Côte d'Ivoire Await Registration in Behwalay Village in Liberia, (UNHCR, Roland Tuley,
Newly Arrived Refugees from Côte d'Ivoire Await Registration in Behwalay Village in Liberia, (UNHCR, Roland Tuley, "UNCHR Airlifts Emergency Aid for Ivorian Refugees in Liberia," 23 November 2020, https://www.unhcr.org/news/press/2020/11/5fbb9f9f4/unhcr-airlifts-emergency-aid-ivorian-refugees-liberia.html)
After declaring a national emergency in late March 2020, the Liberian government used emergency powers that enable it to require the registration of residents in infected areas, restrict movement within infected areas, and quarantine infected people. The government designated two of the 15 counties in the country as infected and imposed a 21-day lockdown along with the closure of schools, suspension of flights, and limitations to public transport. As of 11 December, Liberia had recorded 1,676 cases of COVID-19 and 83 deaths.

At UNHCR’s Executive Committee held in Geneva in October, Liberia reported that it was hosting 8,235 refugees, the vast majority from Côte d’Ivoire. The government reported collaboration with UNHCR in a Joint Taskforce aimed at raising awareness of COVID-19, distributing preventive materials, and providing food items in the refugee concentrated counties of Montserrado, Nimba, Grand Gadeh and River Gee, and Maryland.

Political tensions in neighbouring Côte d’Ivoire have forced thousands of Ivorian nationals to flee into neighbouring countries (see 4 December Côte d’Ivoire update on this platform), including Liberia. According to UNHCR, by 9 November, more than 7,500 Ivorian nationals had fled to Liberia. More than 60 percent of arrivals are children, some of whom are unaccompanied or have been separated from their parents. UNHCR stated that they were planning to send essential relief items for refugees in Liberia from their stockpiles in Dubai.

On 23 November, UNHCR airlifted 95 tonnes of emergency supplies as nearly 15,000 Ivorians are now in Liberia. A UNHCR-chartered flight landed in Monrovia with blankets, jerry cans, kitchen sets, plastic sheets, and solar lamps for refugees. The UNHCR representative in Liberia said: “Every day this past week, hundreds of Ivorian refugees have continued to cross the border. … Most are children, arriving exhausted and malnourished. The needs are mounting, and we are stepping up to meet them.”

As regards the country’s prisons, since the start of the pandemic, Prison Fellowship Liberia, an organisation that seeks to provide help and support to prisoners in Liberia, has obtained the provisional release of 300 detainees. The prison administration found on 10 June 2020 that there were 2,300 prisoners compared with 2,700 in December 2019.

The GDP has been unable to establish the extent to which detention facilities are used in Liberia as part of immigration enforcement procedures or obtain details on COVID-19 related measures taken to safeguard people in immigration custody.

08 December 2020

Dominican Republic

IOM, “IOM Aids COVID-Impacted Communities on Haiti-Dominican Border and Worldwide,” 10 November 2020, https://reliefweb.int/report/dominican-republic/iom-aids-covid-impacted-communities-haiti-dominican-border-and-worldwide
IOM, “IOM Aids COVID-Impacted Communities on Haiti-Dominican Border and Worldwide,” 10 November 2020, https://reliefweb.int/report/dominican-republic/iom-aids-covid-impacted-communities-haiti-dominican-border-and-worldwide
On 1 March 2020, the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in the Dominican Republic. Between 15 and 19 March, the government adopted a series of emergency measures, including halting flights from Europe, China, South Korea, and Iran; suspending ferry arrivals; and closing border crossings with Haiti. As of December 2020, the country had registered 149,138 COVID-19 cases and 2,346 deaths.

On 10 November, the IOM reported that it was distributing more than 12,000 food kits to migrant and Dominican families affected by the economic consequences of closing the border with Haiti. The closure of four border crossings in particular have had major impacts on local communities and the country as a whole. The Ministry of Economy, Planning, and Development reports that some 90 percent of trade with Haiti flows through those posts, which account for nearly 230,000 entries per year.

The IOM reports that it is working with several civil society organisations in the country to distribute food in border provinces. According to the Casa de Luz Foundation, “people do not have access to food in sufficient quantities, and thanks to the aid that IOM has been providing these days, many people have received food at home. … Many of these families depended on the informal market trade. Now the market activities are almost nil, so many have had to migrate to work for private households in Santo Domingo.”

According to UNHCR, there are 30,333 Venezuelans displaced abroad in the Dominican Republic along with 603 asylum seekers and 162 refugees. According to Response for Venezuelans, its partners assisted 37 Venezuelans with COVID-19, accompanying them to hospitals and purchasing their medicines. Response for Venezuelans also reported that 33 cases of legal assistance for persons who were evicted and lost their jobs without justification were managed remotely by the organisation.

In its concluding observations in 2017, the UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern regarding reports of arbitrary and indefinite detention of asylum seekers and refugees as well as at the lack of procedural safeguards in the country. In addition, the committee observed that a high number of Haitian nationals are deported and that pushbacks at the border are carried out in the absence of procedural safeguards and by inadequately trained immigration and border personnel. The committee recommended that the country take steps to “avoid the arbitrary and indefinite detention of migrants, asylum seekers and refugee claimants, ensure that they have access to a lawyer and information on their rights, including at the border, and provide for alternatives to detention for asylum seekers and refugee claimants, ensuring that detention is used only a last resort.”

The country’s prisons have seen large outbreaks of COVID-19 since April; as of 1 July 2020, there were 917 cases in the country’s prisons, of which 346 were active at that time. During the pandemic, two riots took place, one in April at the Victoria prison in Santo Domingo and another in May at the Romana prison, leaving five prisoners and a police officer injured. Prisoners were requesting COVID-19 testing after other prisoners tested positive at the facilities and after four prisoners died at the Victoria prison. The Victoria prison has 9,000 prisoners for 1,500 places.

The GDP has been unable to obtain details on COVID-19 related measures taken to safeguard people in immigration custody.

07 December 2020

Bangladesh

K. Ahmed & R. Ahmed, “Bangladesh Begins Moving Rohingya Families to Remote Island,” The Guardian, 4 December 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/dec/03/bangladesh-begins-moving-rohingya-families-to-remote-island
K. Ahmed & R. Ahmed, “Bangladesh Begins Moving Rohingya Families to Remote Island,” The Guardian, 4 December 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/dec/03/bangladesh-begins-moving-rohingya-families-to-remote-island
Despite repeated calls from human rights groups for Bangladeshi authorities to remove more than 300 refugees from the island of Bhasan Char (see 10 July Bangladesh update on this platform), The Guardian reports that in early December the country began moving even more Rohingya families from camps near the Myanmar border to the controversial refugee site it constructed on the island. More than 1,600 Rohingya refugees departed the port of Chittagong on Friday 4 December en route to the island, which is located in the Bay of Bengal--joining the 300 Rohingya refugees who have been there since April (see 24 September Bangladesh update on this platform). According to The Guardian, there have been allegations of sexual assaults made against guards and videos have emerged of women screaming to be allowed to return to the mainland.

While refugees are being told that NGOs operating in the mainland camps would also help on Bhasan Char, the UN has not yet agreed to work on the island and on 2 December, UNHCR stated that it had not been involved in the relocations and requested that the Bangladeshi authorities allow an urgent assessment of the island. A refugee camp leader staying in Kutupalong camp said: “We went to the island and I am pretty satisfied with the arrangements there. They have better housing, mosques and madrasas, markets. And the government promised there’ll be no lack of aid and support from the UN and other agencies.” According to Human Rights Watch and Fortify Rights, some refugees have gone into hiding when they discovered that their names were on the lists for relocation.

On 31 July, WHO reported over 3,361 COVID-19 cases in Cox’s Bazar. UNHCR is providing support and distributing sanitary products in camps it manages. The refugee agency reports that it has installed 65,400 hand washing taps, distributed soap to over 80,0000 households, and made over 1.4 million announcements by megaphone, audio/USB sticks, and via mosques. In addition, some 14,250 elderly care kits have been distributed throughout UNHCR managed camps in Bangladesh and refugee community outreach volunteers have conducted 2,805 training sessions for a total of 6,585 refugees.

04 December 2020

Cote d'Ivoire

Asylum Seekers Fleeing Electoral Tensions in Côte d'Ivoire Wait at the Buuto Border Post in Liberia, (UNHCR,
Asylum Seekers Fleeing Electoral Tensions in Côte d'Ivoire Wait at the Buuto Border Post in Liberia, (UNHCR, "Le HCR Intensifie l'Aide Humanitaire; Le Nombre des Réfugiés Ivoiriens Dépasse les 8000," 10 November 2020, https://www.unhcr.org/fr/news/briefing/2020/11/5faa6581a/hcr-intensifie-laide-humanitaire-nombre-refugies-ivoiriens-depasse-8000.html)
The first case of COVID-19 in Côte d’Ivoire was confirmed on 11 March after an Ivorian national returned from Italy. On 23 March 2020, the Government declared a state of emergency via Decree n°2020-351, put in place a curfew from 9PM to 5AM, and closed all restaurants, bars, and nightclubs and imposed further restrictive measures. These measures were progressively relaxed from May onwards, with the possibility of re-establishing them in areas where positive COVID-19 cases are identified.

UNHCR reported that more than 8,000 Ivorian nationals have fled to neighbouring countries amid political tensions in the country. More than 60 percent of arrivals are children, some of whom are unaccompanied or have been separated from their parents. Most of those that have fled have told UNHCR that they hope to stay close to the border in order to be able to return once the situation is stabilised. UNHCR stated they are planning to send essential relief items for up to 10,000 refugees in Liberia from their stockpiles in Dubai. At the same time, more than 500 Ivorians also arrived in Ghana, Guinea, and Togo where they are receiving assistance. By 23 November 2020, a total of 16,266 Ivorians had fled Côte d’Ivoire. According to UNHCR, fear of violence is the main driver of displacement, “and many arrivals are reporting being afraid of an imminent outbreak of violence due to the ongoing political tensions and the trauma of the 2011 post electoral conflict.”

In its submission to the 3rd cycle of the Universal Periodic Review in 2018, UNHCR stated that although Côte d’Ivoire is a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, the country’s asylum system only provides minimum standards for the treatment of asylum seekers. It recommended adopting “an asylum law that establishes concrete admissibility criteria for asylum applications, ensures rapid and impartial consideration of asylum claims, and provides effective procedural safeguards for asylum applicants in compliance with the provisions of the 1951 Convention.” In addition, while Côte d’Ivoire had recently acceded to the Statelessness Conventions, UNHCR recommended that the Government consider ratifying key human rights treaties, including the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.

To date, the GDP has been unable to establish the extent to which detention facilities are used in Côte d’Ivoire as part of immigration enforcement procedures or obtain details on COVID-19 related measures taken to safeguard people in immigration custody.

03 December 2020

Malta

M. Agius, “Court Condemns Arbitrary Detention of Asylum Seekers as ‘Abusive and Farcical,’” Newsbook, 28 November 2020, https://newsbook.com.mt/en/court-condemns-arbitrary-detention-of-asylum-seekers-as-abusive-and-farcical/
M. Agius, “Court Condemns Arbitrary Detention of Asylum Seekers as ‘Abusive and Farcical,’” Newsbook, 28 November 2020, https://newsbook.com.mt/en/court-condemns-arbitrary-detention-of-asylum-seekers-as-abusive-and-farcical/
In a habeas corpus case, a Maltese court ordered the release of detained asylum seekers, describing their treatment as “abusive and farcical.” The four men, who arrived in Malta on 7 June 2020, had been detained in Safi Barracks and Lyster Barracks for 166 days and alleged that they had not been informed of any reasons or legal justification for their continued detention. Following their release, the asylum seekers were offered temporary accommodation by Maltese NGO, the Aditus Foundation. This decision came just one month after a similar case concerning the arbitrary detention of an asylum seeker for 144 days.

Until 2015, Malta automatically detained all individuals who entered the country irregularly. Despite amending its legal and policy framework--adopting its “Strategy for the Reception of Asylum Seekers and Irregular Migrants,” which provides that arrivals are to be placed in an “initial reception centre”--NGOs including Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) and Aditus have argued that in practice, those arriving irregularly are often placed directly into detention. Since 2018, authorities are reported to have repeatedly detained asylum seekers on public health grounds, citing suspicions that irregular arrivals will spread contagious diseases, despite all asylum applicants undergoing medical screening upon arrival. Others have been detained due to a lack of space in open facilities. In an op-ed for ECRE, the Director of the Maltese NGO Aditus Foundation noted that “hundreds of asylum-seekers are currently illegally detained in Malta’s squalid detention centres.”

Frontline EU countries like Malta--including Italy, Greece, and Spain--often bear a disproportionate burden in terms of registration and reception of asylum seekers. In a draft resolution adopted on 1 December with 45 votes to ten (and 13 abstentions) the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee noted that the Dublin III Regulation imposes this disproportionate burden, and called for the establishment of a solidarity-based mechanism “to ensure the fundamental right of asylum in the EU and responsibility sharing among member states.” In the absence of reform, the committee argued that more resources should be sent to front-line countries.

Several groups of migrants and asylum seekers have been relocated from the country in recent months, amidst Malta’s calls for greater responsibility sharing across the EU. On 25 November, a group was transferred to Germany--reportedly the fifth relocation since September. In September, reports also emerged detailing government plans to charter a ferry to detain non-nationals offshore. Observers accused officials of devising the plan in an attempt to placate growing public frustration regarding the government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis.

03 December 2020

Uruguay

A Kit Used to Check for Antibodies in People with COVID-19, in Uruguay, 50,000 kits Were Developed, (Imago Images, Agencia EFE,
A Kit Used to Check for Antibodies in People with COVID-19, in Uruguay, 50,000 kits Were Developed, (Imago Images, Agencia EFE, "Uruguay Wages Successful Fight Against COVID-19," DW, 22 August 2020, https://www.dw.com/en/uruguay-wages-successful-fight-against-covid-19/a-54659839)
In March, Uruguay President Luis Lacalle Pou moved to impose a series of COVID-related restrictions, including closing non-essential shops and closing its border with Brazil. The moves--which notably did not include lock-down--came after the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in Montevideo on 13 March 2020. As of 30 November 2020, Uruguay had reported less than 6,000 COVID cases and 76 deaths related to the disease. Neighbouring Argentina also reacted swiftly but with stricter compulsory lockdown measures (see 3 April Argentina update on this platform); nevertheless, it has experienced dramatically more cases (approximately 1.4 million as of this writing).

In June, Uruguayan authorities expressed concern over the arrival of a large number of Cubans, some of whom sought to enter the country as refugees. According to Diario de Cuba, the Cuban nationals arrived in Uruguay through the Rivera department on the border with Brazil, where they expressed their intention to apply for asylum.

As of June 2020, Uruguay hosted 13,742 asylum seekers and 498 refugees under UNHCR’s mandate as well as 14,236 Venezuelans “displaced abroad.” According to the UNHCR, it employs the phrase Venezuelans “displaced abroad” to refer to people of Venezuelan origin who are likely to be in need of international protection under the criteria contained in the Cartagena Declaration, but who have not applied for asylum in the country in which they are present. As part of its COVID-19 response, UNHCR reports that it has provided humanitarian assistance to refugees and migrants suffering from the socioeconomic effects of the pandemic. UNHCR has provided accommodation, food, clothing, and cash assistance in major urban centres and border areas.

Uruguayan legislation does not provide for the detention of people in an irregular migratory situation. Like Argentina’s immigration legislation, Article 1 of Uruguay’s Migration Act, No. 18250 (Ley de Migraciones, N°18250), along with its Regulatory Decree n°394/009 of 2009, recognise the inalienable right of migrants and their relatives to migrate irrespective of their migration status. Furthermore, Article 9 provides that an irregular immigration status does not preclude a person from having access to justice and health care and that authorities must provide information on regularisation avenues. The legislation (Article 51) also provides for expulsion proceedings in certain situations. As per Article 52, where a person has entered irregularly or stayed in the country following the expiration of their permit, the Uruguayan immigration authority (Dirección Nacional de Migración), taking into account the specific circumstances of the case, is to advise the person that they must regularise their immigration status within a certain period of time in order to avoid expulsion. In its concluding observations in 2014, the Committee on Migrant Workers noted “with particular interest that the Act recognises: … (c) That no case involving a migrant in an irregular situation for administrative reasons warrants detention.”

In the country’s prisons, a sanitary protocol was put in place on 16 March whereby detainees presenting any symptoms are placed in quarantine. Hygienic products and sodium hypochlorite were distributed to the prisoners and the protocol envisages the fumigation of communal spaces and vehicles used for the transfer of detainees. On 13 April, 13 prisoners suffering from COVID-19 symptoms were tested. 8 tested negative and the rest were placed in isolation awaiting results.

02 December 2020

Switzerland

24 Heures, “Asile: Pas de Détention si le Renvoi est Empêché par le Coronavirus,” 8 October 2020, https://www.24heures.ch/asile-pas-de-detention-si-le-renvoi-est-empeche-par-le-coronavirus-783597632491
24 Heures, “Asile: Pas de Détention si le Renvoi est Empêché par le Coronavirus,” 8 October 2020, https://www.24heures.ch/asile-pas-de-detention-si-le-renvoi-est-empeche-par-le-coronavirus-783597632491
In a recent finding, the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) concluded that Switzerland violated provisions in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child when it failed to show due diligence in assessing a child’s best interests and did not take the child’s views into account in a case involving a removal procedure for a family from Azerbaijan. The ruling comes as Swiss authorities are facing increasing legal challenges regarding its detention decisions stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. It also comes just a year and a half after Switzerland introduced a controversial new asylum system enabling the country to rapidly process applications.

The CRC case concerned a family of four that had made its way to Switzerland after fleeing their home in Azerbaijan. After a seven-month wait for an asylum hearing in Switzerland, the family reluctantly agreed to withdraw its asylum claim and be voluntarily repatriated. The complainant’s husband was told by his father that it was safe for him to return to Azerbaijan and that he no longer risked incarceration. Upon their return to Azerbaijan, the husband was arrested and the mother arranged to flee to Switzerland again. In May 2018, the mother and her two children, E.A. and U.A., arrived in Ticino and filed a new asylum application. As a result of the persecution and trauma she suffered, the mother’s mental health had worsened. In a report drafted by a psychologist from the Baobab centre, which provided support to the family, it was noted that the mother had developed symptoms of anxiety and depression, insomnia and somatic reactions and that the social network established by the mother and her children during their first stay in Ticino “allowed them to maintain a minimum level of mental and physical well-being.”

However, the asylum request was unsuccessful and Swiss authorities submitted a request to Italy to take charge of the mother and her children, as they had entered the European Union through Italy on an Italian visa. Italian authorities agreed to take charge of the family and so Swiss authorities ordered the removal of the mother with her children. The mother filed an appeal against this decision in July 2018, but the Swiss Federal Administrative Court rejected her appeal. The court ruled that there were no concrete and substantiated indications that the persons concerned would be unable to travel or that the alleged health problems were so serious that the family’s transfer to Italy would be contrary to the requirements of the European Court of Human Rights.

Despite being aware that the children had contracted chickenpox and the risk of contagion had been reported by a doctor, on 12 September 2018, the police picked up the mother and her children from their hotel to carry out their removal from Zurich airport. Officers showed the children an image of forced removal (people being restrained), telling them that if their mother did not cooperate, they would remove them in the same way. The mother suffered panic and anxiety attacks during the removal, which reportedly prompted the police to leave the family at Zurich airport without any money and instruct them to make their own way back to their accommodation in Ticino. The mother thus complained that the Swiss authorities violated their obligation to respect the rights set out under Articles 3 (due diligence in assessing the children’s best interests) and 12 (right of the child to be heard in any judicial or administrative proceedings affecting the child) CRC.

The CRC pointed out that Article 12 does not impose an age limit on the right of the child to express his/her views. In absence of a direct hearing for the children, the situation amounted to a violation of Article 12. Also, the committee credited the argument that Swiss authorities did not take into account the trauma experienced by the children and in consequence, it considered that the national authorities failed to hear E.A. and U.A. and did not show due diligence in assessing the children’s best interests, constituting a violation of Article 3.

The CRC finding is the latest in a string of recent legal challenges involving detention and removal proceedings that have confronted Swiss authorities, mainly stemming from the impact of COVID-19. The group Asylex, which campaigns for the rights of people in administrative detention in Switzerland, has helped spearhead these challenges. As previously reported (see 27 June Switzerland update on this platform), on 9 June, the Swiss Supreme Court handed down a judgment in a case brought by Asylex, stating that due to limitations on the ability to deport people, brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, “detention pending removal” was unlawful during this period. According to Asylex, it has pursued similar argumentation in more than 40 cases between March-June and as of 11 June, more than 30 people had been released. After two successful challenges against the Zurich Migration Office at the Federal Supreme Court in June, Asylex president, Lea Hungerbühler said: “The fact that the Federal Supreme Court has now ruled this way in the two precedent cases is a strong indication that the Zurich Migration Office must change its practice.”

Following the establishment of Switzerland’s new asylum system in March 2019, the Coalition of Independent Asylum Lawyers (Coalition des juristes indépendant-e-s pour le droit d’asile) released a critical assessment of the first year of operation of the new accelerated procedure. As part of the coalition, Asylex argued that the procedure is too quick and superficial, and that there have been numerous problems associated with quality of translations during asylum hearings, complaints of racism, and the placement of asylum seekers in isolation in federal asylum centres.

01 December 2020

France

Anafé Logo, (Anafe.org, Travail personnel, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://bit.ly/2JuBEij)
Anafé Logo, (Anafe.org, Travail personnel, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://bit.ly/2JuBEij)
In November, several organisations that are part of the Association Nationale d’Assistance aux Frontières pour les Étrangers (Anafé) petitioned the administrative courts of Nice and Marseille to rule on the right of access of associations to places of deprivation of liberty of the border police (‘Police Aux Frontières’ or ‘PAF’) at Menton pont Saint-Louis and of Montgenèvre. As of this writing, the cases were still pending but it is expected that the Nice administrative tribunal will pronounce itself first. The petition was filed after the groups were repeatedly denied access to these facilities.

Anafé has for many years denounced France's practice of detaining people at the Franco-Italian border. According to the group, dozens of people are locked in modular buildings adjacent to the PAF posts in Menton and Montgenèvre for several hours and sometimes, for the whole night, in poor material conditions. No blankets are provided to detainees; there is no possibility to lie down; there is little or no food or water; and the conditions are reportedly unhygienic and overcrowded.

In 2017, however, the Conseil d’Etat, which had been pressured to prohibit this practice, said that these detentions could be justified as long as the duration of deprivation of liberty did not exceed a so-called “reasonable” duration of less than four hours. Yet, Anafé has observed detention measures lasting more than four hours and in poor conditions. In addition, Anafé argues that given that this type of deprivation of liberty falls outside any legal framework, it escapes judicial control. Since the end of 2019, several elected officials have been refused access to these premises on the grounds that the premises are not actually for the deprivation of liberty but rather to shelter exiled people. In September and October 2020, representatives from Anafé and Doctors of the World traveled to the PAF premises in Menton and Montgenèvre in order to provide legal and medical assistance to people being “sheltered” there. However, access was denied by the administration. In consequence, legal actions have been presented requesting the courts to sanction these practices aimed at preventing organisations protecting the rights and health of exiled persons from providing them assistance during their detention at the PAF premises.

On 8 October 2020, an Ivorian national, said she had been deprived of liberty for more than 14 hours with her two children aged 3 and 5 at the PAF facility in Menton. She added that she had been held with 17 other people in a small space, without any respect of sanitary protection protocols, without receiving any food and that the condition of the centre’s sanitary facilities were deplorable.

In 2019, a Nigerian national of 17 years old, told Anafé that he had been held more than 10 hours, from 27 to 28 May 2019, at the PAF facilities in Menton. 10 adults were being held at the same time as him, in appalling conditions with unusable toilets. According to him, he stated that he was a minor and that he wanted to seek asylum in France, but the authorities did not take this into account.

30 November 2020

Israel

Magen David Adom Medical Workers at a Drive-Through Testing Site at the Entrance of an East Jerusalem neighbourhood on 2 April 2020, (Yonatan Sindel, Flash 90,
Magen David Adom Medical Workers at a Drive-Through Testing Site at the Entrance of an East Jerusalem neighbourhood on 2 April 2020, (Yonatan Sindel, Flash 90, "East Jerusalem Scrambles to Prevent COVID-19 Outbreak Before Ramadan," +972 Magazine, 22 April 2020, https://www.972mag.com/east-jerusalem-coronavirus-ramadan/)
The first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) in early March 2020, after the discovery of seven cases in Bethlehem linked to a tourist group from Greece. In response, the Palestinian Authority declared a state of emergency, imposed a citywide lockdown, and enforced a curfew. Between March and June, there were only 665 registered cases of COVID-19 in the West Bank and Gaza, 180 cases among Palestinians in Jerusalem, and limited cases among Palestinians in Israel. However, the onset of a second wave from July resulted in rapid growth of the number of cases. By the end of November 2020, the territories, including east Jerusalem, had reported nearly 85,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 714 deaths.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has put in measures to slow the spread of the virus, including giving medical consultations by phone, delivering humanitarian assistance to avoid overcrowding at distribution centres, and blending school with remote learning. However, these measures have been criticised for being insufficient to prevent the spread. On 10 November 2020, the spokesperson for UNRWA reported that the agency had run out of cash on hand to keep vital services going amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Numerous concerns, meanwhile, have been raised regarding healthcare provision in the OPT, particularly in Gaza, where medical infrastructure is chronically under-resourced and has, in the past, faced militarised attacks--as well as the effects of years of suffocating blockades. In April, it was reported that between the three hospitals located in East Jerusalem, there are only 22 ventilators and 62 beds prepared for coronavirus patients. Moreover, attempts by Palestinians to mobilise community health initiatives have been met with crackdowns on the part of the Israeli police.

At the end of August 2020, 355 Palestinians--including two minors--continued to be held in administrative detention in Israel Prison Service (IPS) facilities, according to B’Tselem. Administrative detention is permitted under Article 285 of Military Order 1651, which is part of the military legislation applying in the West Bank; the Internment of Unlawful Combatants Law (Unlawful Combatants Law), which has been used against residents of the Gaza Strip since 2005; and the Emergency Powers (Detentions) Law, which applies to Israeli citizens. According to the Palestinian NGO Addameer, administrative detention is used almost exclusively to detain Palestinians from the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT), although Israeli citizens and foreign nationals can also be held as administrative detainees by Israel.

In November, the Palestinian Detainees Committee reported that the Israeli Prison Authority (IPA) had sealed all sections in Gilboa’ prison in central Israel and cancelled all visits from detainees’ families, after more than 80 detainees in the prison tested positive for coronavirus. Conditions within the prison have previously been criticised for being overcrowded and dirty. In March, the Israeli government released approximately 400 offenders from prisons throughout Israel for a 30-day house arrest, after which they were officially released from prison.

27 November 2020

Austria

Migrants at the Bosnian-Croatian Border in December 2019, (Manu Brabo, AP,
Migrants at the Bosnian-Croatian Border in December 2019, (Manu Brabo, AP, "Reports of Illegal Pushbacks by Migrants on the Austrian Border," Die Standard, 16 November 2020, https://www.derstandard.at/story/2000121752241/berichte-ueber-illegale-pushbacks-von-migranten-an-oesterreichischer-grenze)
Der Standard reported that Austrian police were involved in several cases of pushbacks to Slovenia followed by chain pushbacks to Bosnia in September. According to freelance journalist Christof Mackinger, the Austrian authorities are said to have been involved in two instances of illegal pushbacks.

The first incident took place on 5 September and was documented by the NGO “No Name Kitchen.” Five people from Syria, Liberia, and Morocco were picked up by the police near the town of Laafeld, close to the Austrian-Slovenian border, taken to a police station, registered and then handed over to Slovenian officials, despite having stated that they wished to apply for asylum. They are said to have been deported from Slovenia via Croatia to Bosnia.

The second incident took place on 28 September, when seven Moroccan nationals were picked up by the Styrian police near the village of Halbenrain. They were registered and then also handed over to Slovenian officials. One of the migrants' lawyers filed a complaint against the police at the Styrian Regional Administrative Court as according to him, the migrant is said to have uttered the word “asylum” several times in English and in French. The migrant is now in Bosnia-Herzegovina after Slovenian police handed him over to the Croatian police, who, along with other migrants, dropped him off near the Bosnian border. They were then reportedly driven across the border by masked men. The Interior Ministry spokesperson denied the accusations.

26 November 2020

Ireland

Dublin Live, “Coronavirus Ireland: Covid-19 Outbreak Fear at Dublin Prison as New Prisoner Struck with Virus,” 12 September 2020, https://www.dublinlive.ie/news/dublin-news/coronavirus-ireland-dublin-prison-case-18924231
Dublin Live, “Coronavirus Ireland: Covid-19 Outbreak Fear at Dublin Prison as New Prisoner Struck with Virus,” 12 September 2020, https://www.dublinlive.ie/news/dublin-news/coronavirus-ireland-dublin-prison-case-18924231
In late November, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture released a report about its monitoring visit to Ireland in 2019. In the report, the committee reiterates its long-standing calls for Irish authorities to cease the use of prisons for immigration detention, noting that “a prison is by definition not a suitable place in which to detain someone who is neither suspected nor convicted of a criminal offence.” The committee reports that it met with several immigration detainees who had experienced bullying and abuse from other prisoners. It pointed, for example, to the case of a “middle-aged diminutive foreign national was placed in a cell with two young remand prisoners who allegedly attempted to rape him as well as physically aggressed and verbally intimidated him.”

In the GDP’s most recent country profile on Ireland, published in August 2019, we reported that a dedicated detention facility was slated to open at Dublin Airport in late 2019. The profile noted concerns that such a facility could lead to more detention in the country. Media reports indicate that as of August 2020, this facility had yet to open. The CPT, however, reports that by the time of its visit to Ireland in September-October 2019, a new Garda (Police) Station had opened at the airport (with four cells and two holding rooms), which could detain non-citizens for a maximum of 24 hours. Prisons, however, continue to detain immigration detainees for longer periods. As a result, the CPT reiterated its call, which it has been repeating since at least 2006, for authorities to establish a dedicated immigration detention facility. The CPT suggested the use of a disused unit at Cloverhill Prison (F Block) where detainees could be offered a more open regime, and greater access to the telephone and unscreened visits.

The latest CPT report on Ireland arrived at a time of increased concern about the spread of COVID-19 in prisons that are used to hold immigraiotn detainees. In Cloverhill Prison, three inmates are known to have contracted the virus, while five prisoners in Midlands Prison were reported to have tested positive as of 30 October. Both the Cloverhill and Midlands prisons are used to confine migrants and asylum seekers.

During the pandemic, the country’s Refugee Protection Programme--a scheme designed to relocate up to 2,900 refugees to the country via resettlement and community sponsorship between 2020 and 2023--was temporarily suspended due to travel restrictions. However, the suspension in Ireland appears to have been lifted, with several groups of refugees reported to have been flown to the country since the summer. Most recently on 19 November, 160 Syrians (including 90 children) were transported to Ireland on an IOM chartered flight.

(Ireland has not been alone in the suspension of its resettlement scheme: on 19 November, UNHCR warned that 2020 will be a record low for resettlement. According to the agency’s data, 15,425 persons were resettled worldwide between January and the end of October, compared to 50,086 during the same period in 2019.)

25 November 2020

Malaysia

R. Latiff, “In Malaysia’s Sabah, Pandemic Rages as Migrants Flee Testing,” Reuters, 23 November 2020, https://uk.reuters.com/article/health-coronavirus-malaysia-sabah/in-malaysias-sabah-pandemic-rages-as-migrants-flee-testing-idUSL4N2HY17A
R. Latiff, “In Malaysia’s Sabah, Pandemic Rages as Migrants Flee Testing,” Reuters, 23 November 2020, https://uk.reuters.com/article/health-coronavirus-malaysia-sabah/in-malaysias-sabah-pandemic-rages-as-migrants-flee-testing-idUSL4N2HY17A
In stark contrast to the increasing efforts by many countries around the world to decrease or end child immigration detention, Malaysia continues to detain large numbers of children, despite the dangers presented by the spread of COVID-19. While UNICEF has called on governments to immediately release children to protect them during the pandemic, Malaysia reported in October that it was holding hundreds of children in migration-related detention. According to information provided by the country’s Home Minister in response to questions from Parliament, 756 children were being held in migration detention as of 26 October 2020. Of these, 405 were unaccompanied--326 of whom were unaccompanied child refugees from Myanmar.

UNHCR, however, has been denied access to immigration detention centres since August 2019, and thus cannot clarify the refugee status of these children, or the procedures they have been granted access to. “Immigration authorities should stop playing games with people’s lives and immediately release all detained children and grant the UN refugee agency access to all detained refugees and asylum seekers,” said Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director, in a statement on 20 November.

Malaysian authorities have conducted numerous raids and immigration arrests since May 2020, placing all apprehended persons in already overcrowded detention facilities (for more on these raids, see our 3 May Malaysia update on this platform). During the summer, several detention facilities witnessed COVID-19 outbreaks, prompting the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants to warn that raids and arrests of migrants were “undermining the effort to fight the pandemic in the country.” In particular, he noted that fear of arrest and detention may mean that “migrants might not come forward anymore for testing or access health services even when showing symptoms of the coronavirus.” Indeed, recent reports have highlighted that undocumented migrants, refugees, and stateless persons in Sabah Province have been evading Ministry of Health COVID-19 screening campaigns, out of fear that they will be detained and deported. Doctors in the state, which accounts for nearly half of all cases in the country, have also reported that non-nationals have delayed seeking treatment when they contract the virus, likely contributing to higher levels of infection--as well as higher death rates.

24 November 2020

Tajikistan

C. Putz, “Zero to 15: Tajikistan Finally Confirms First Cases of COVID-19,” The Diplomat, 30 April 2020, https://thediplomat.com/2020/04/zero-to-15-tajikistan-finally-confirms-first-cases-of-covid-19/
C. Putz, “Zero to 15: Tajikistan Finally Confirms First Cases of COVID-19,” The Diplomat, 30 April 2020, https://thediplomat.com/2020/04/zero-to-15-tajikistan-finally-confirms-first-cases-of-covid-19/
Although Tajik authorities closed the country’s borders to travellers from more than 30 countries in early March, the government initially denied the existence of the virus--even allowing mass public events to be held. In April however, following the announcement that the WHO would send a team to investigate the country’s virus-free status, authorities confirmed the detection of 15 cases in the country. As of 24 November 2020, 11,932 confirmed cases and 86 deaths have been reported.

Like its Central Asian neighbours, Tajikistan has long witnessed significant flows of external labour migration, especially to Russia. (In August, undocumented Tajik migrants in Moscow were targeted in raids--see 19 November Russia Federation update on this platform.) Border closures and flight cancellations, however, have left thousands of Tajik migrant workers stranded outside of the country waiting for charter flights to repatriate them. Between April and October, Tajik officials report having returned 70,000 citizens via charter flights.

In 2020, Tajikistan established a new law allowing foreign nationals and stateless people irregularly residing in the country to regularise their stay by obtaining residence permits, as well as enabling them to apply for Tajik citizenship after three years. State authorities estimate the new law will benefit some 20,000 people, mostly former citizens of the Soviet Union, who came to Tajikistan before the end of 2016.

A signatory of the Refugee Convention, the country has adopted domestic legislation for the purposes of refugee protection under the 1994 Law on Refugees (which was revised in 2002 and 2014). As of August 2019, there were a total of 11,299 persons of concern in Tajikistan according to UNHCR, including 2,287 refugees (the vast majority of whom are from Afghanistan), 2,170 asylum seekers, and 6,842 stateless persons. Research conducted by UNHCR PDES has previously highlighted the severe restrictions imposed on refugees’ and asylum seekers’ freedom of movement, including laws preventing them from taking up residence in large urban areas as well as in border areas and imposing heavy criminal penalties for breaches of movement restrictions (including arrest, detention, fines, the withdrawal of refugee status, and deportation). It has also raised concern regarding provisions in national law that do not conform to the Refugee Convention, such as Resolution 323, which provides that a person who has transited through certain countries (e.g. Afghanistan, Uzbekistan) is considered as having found protection in those countries, which can subsequently constitute a basis for refusal of registration of applications for granting asylum.

Law No.590 under Article 5 of the revised 1994 Law on Refugees provides that the national security body of the Republic of Tajikistan shall detain asylum-seekers crossing the border into Tajikistan who do not have a permit to enter, but who have claimed asylum. In such cases, it must communicate information about this detention to the relevant internal affairs departments within 72 hours, while observing the principle of non-refoulement. Under Law No.919, a person who is forced to illegally cross the state border of the Republic of Tajikistan (e.g. as a result of being trafficked) and who claims asylum, shall be detained by units of border troops of the national security body but shall not be subject to sanctions for illegal entry or stay.

Little information appears to be available concerning the treatment of migrants or asylum seekers in immigration enforcement and detention procedures in Tajikistan--including during the pandemic. In its third periodic report on Tajikistan in June 2018, the UN Committee on Torture expressed concern regarding reports of torture in prisons and pre-trial detention, including deaths in custody, particularly of political dissidents. Having banned prison visits to inmates during the pandemic, on 16 November it was reported that families would be able to visit their detained relatives again.

23 November 2020

Greece

A Dinghy Carrying Refugees from Gambia and the Republic of the Congo Approaches Lesbos, Greece, February 2020, (Aris Messinis, AFP,
A Dinghy Carrying Refugees from Gambia and the Republic of the Congo Approaches Lesbos, Greece, February 2020, (Aris Messinis, AFP, "Greece Has a Deadly New Migration Policy - and All of Europe is to Blame," The Guardian, 27 August 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/aug/27/greece-migration-europe-athens-refugees#img-1)
On 19 November 2020, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) published a report on its visit to Greece on 13-17 March 2020. The delegation visited several police and border guard establishments in the Evros and Samos regions as well as three immigration detention facilities: Filakio Reception and Identification Centre, Filakio Pre-removal centre in the Evros region, and Malakasa detention camp in Attica.

In its report, the CPT stated that while it acknowledges the difficult context and significant on-going challenges faced by Greek authorities in dealing with the high number of non-citizens arriving in the country, “systematic detention cannot be the immediate response to this challenge.” The CPT said that the influx of migrants is not new and yet each time numbers surge, improvised places are used to detain them. In consequence, the CPT said, “the time is ripe for Greece to reconsider the approach taken towards the detention of migrants and it would appreciate receiving the comments of the Greek Government on this matter.”

Moreover, the CPT found that detention conditions for migrants in the Evros region and on the island of Samos could amount to inhuman and degrading treatment. For instance, a visit of two cells at the Port of Samos revealed that 93 migrants (58 men, 15 women - three of whom were pregnant - and 20 children, 10 of whom were under five year old) were crammed into the two cells. One of the cells measured 42 square metres and held 43 people (affording each one less than 1 square meter of living space per person). In addition, there was no artificial lighting, no heating, no beds, and no mattresses. The migrants met by the delegation had not had access to a shower for more than two weeks and no soap was given to them to wash their hands.

The CPT also found that appropriate health care—essential during the pandemic—is not available in all facilities in which migrants are detained. Further, the committee noted that families with children and unaccompanied or separated children were being held in inappropriate conditions and reiterated its recommendation that the “Greek authorities fundamentally revise their policy regarding the detention of unaccompanied children both for reception and identification purposes and under ‘protective custody’ in places of deprivation of liberty. … Instead, they should be transferred without delay to a (semi-) open establishment specialised for juveniles”.

In its concluding remarks, the CPT observed other deficiencies in most places of detention such as a general “lack of maintenance of the building (especially the sanitary facilities), poor lighting and ventilation, insufficient personal hygiene products and cleaning materials, inability to obtain a change of clothes, lack of information provided to detained persons, no access to daily outdoor exercise, inadequate food.”

21 November 2020

United States

Children Walking in a line at a Tent Encampment in Tornillo, Texas, on 19 June 2018, (Mike Blake, Reuters,
Children Walking in a line at a Tent Encampment in Tornillo, Texas, on 19 June 2018, (Mike Blake, Reuters, "Judge Orders Trump Administration to Stop Expelling Children who Cross Border Alone," NBC News, 18 November 2020, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/judge-orders-trump-admin-stop-expelling-children-who-cross-border-n1248146)
On 18 November 2020, a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to cease the expulsion of unaccompanied migrant children during the pandemic, halting a policy that has resulted in thousands of rapid deportations of minors. The government has expelled at least 8,800 unaccompanied children seeking protection since March on the basis of a health order issued by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), despite citing the coronavirus as grounds for refusing entry to the United States. The District Judge issued a preliminary injunction barring the government from expelling unaccompanied minors and it is not yet known whether the Justice Department would appeal the decision. It has nonetheless appealed another federal judge’s order barring the use of hotels to detain children (for more on the hotels, see 17 August United States update on this platform).

The deportation policy has been justified on the basis of a rarely used public health law dating back to 1944 (for more information, see 10 November United States update on this platform). The judge held that the legislation enables the government to prohibit the entrance of non-citizens carrying diseases, but on the other hand, it does not allow expulsions: “Expelling persons, as a matter of ordinary language, is entirely different from interrupting, intercepting or halting the process of introduction,” the judge wrote.

In September, a U.S. magistrate judge stated that the government had misinterpreted the legislation and assumed broad powers. Border patrol agents have reportedly used the CDC order to send back more than 200,000 people crossing the northern and southern borders since the start of the pandemic. On 3 October, Associated Press reported that Vice President Pence, pressured the CDC to employ emergency powers to shut the border in March.

20 November 2020

Sudan

UNHCR, “Aid Urgently Needed for Ethiopians Streaming Into Sudan,” 17 November 2020, https://www.unhcr.org/uk/news/latest/2020/11/5fb3cb3e4/aid-urgently-needed-ethiopians-streaming-sudan.html
UNHCR, “Aid Urgently Needed for Ethiopians Streaming Into Sudan,” 17 November 2020, https://www.unhcr.org/uk/news/latest/2020/11/5fb3cb3e4/aid-urgently-needed-ethiopians-streaming-sudan.html
Since early November, more than 27,000 Ethiopian refugees have fled the Tigray region and crossed into Sudan. According to UNHCR, on just one day--15 November--some 5,000 refugees arrived in Sudan’s border provinces of Kassala and al-Qadarif. Information campaigns are reported to have been initiated to ensure that refugees crossing into Sudan understand how to avoid the spread of COVID-19, and hand soap and 50,000 face masks have been sent to the border areas from Khartoum.

With growing numbers of arrivals--and predictions by international observers that thousands more refugees will seek refuge in Sudan--available shelter is under increasing pressure, and authorities face a rush to identify and provide more sites. A transit centre in Hamdayet, which has capacity for 300 people, is reported to be hosting 12,000. Several thousand have been placed in the Um Rakouba (or Um Raquba) refugee camp, but authorities are struggling to provide sufficient services, including food distribution.

As of the end of 2019, Sudan was reported to be hosting 1,055,489 refugees--the majority of whom are from South Sudan. The government has maintained a reservation on Article 26 of the UN Refugee Convention (Article 26 provides for refugees’ freedom of movement and the ability to choose place of residence) and requires refugees to stay in designated camps. However, more than 75 percent of South Sudanese refugees are believed to be living within the host community. Persons found exiting camps are subject to fines and return to the camp, while those apprehended in urban areas face arrest and detention if they lack valid identification cards. According to the U.S. State Department, on average between 150 and 200 refugees and asylum seekers are detained in Khartoum each month.

Reports in the past have indicated that the country uses prisons for the detention of non-nationals for migration-related reasons, as well as ad hoc immigration detention facilities. The U.S. State Department, UNHCR, and media outlets have also referred to various immigration detention facilities, including an “Aliens Detention Centre” in Khartoum, although the GDP has not identified their exact locations or been able to verify if any remain in use. Prison conditions, meanwhile, remain deeply concerning. The U.S. State Department describes them as “harsh and life threatening, overcrowding was a major problem.” The UN has reportedly provided some supplies to several prisons during the pandemic, as well as awareness campaigns on preventive measures.

Since the launch of the Khartoum Process in late 2014, the EU has focused on curbing northward migration from Sudan--via both migration control efforts, and schemes to “address the root causes of displacement.” Through the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, the country--which until 2019 was under the leadership of a President facing an International Criminal Court warrant for crimes against humanity, genocide, and war crimes--has received hundreds of thousands to achieve these goals. In 2016, German media obtained documents that showed that EU efforts to curb migration focussed on border protection, and that plans were in place to establish two camps with detention rooms. Although the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development reported that these plans were binding, the SOAS Centre for Human Rights Law later reported that the plans had been dropped.

Concerns that EU funds were being channeled into a country with little respect for human rights have grown since the launch of the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa. In 2016, these concerns became acute in the wake of reports that the RSF (Rapid Support Force, formerly the notorious Janjaweed), which had been hired to curb migration using EU funds, had been involved in the arrest and deportation of hundreds of Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers. Later, in March 2019, funding for the EU’s “Better Migration Management” project in Sudan--which supported the training of border control forces and policies--was suspended amid fears that the funds were being used to strengthen security forces (including the RSF) responsible for violently suppressing peaceful protests. As of July 2020 however, the programme appeared to have resumed.

20 November 2020

Spain

The Camp Installed in Barranco Seco, in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Where Part of the Migrants from the Arguineguin Port Are Expected, (Angel Medina, EFE,
The Camp Installed in Barranco Seco, in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Where Part of the Migrants from the Arguineguin Port Are Expected, (Angel Medina, EFE, "El Gobierno Trasladara Esta Tarde a 200 Migrantes desde Arguineguin a las Nuevas Instalaciones Cedidas por Defensa," El Pais, 18 November 2020, https://elpais.com/espana/2020-11-18/el-gobierno-comienza-los-traslados-de-migrantes-desde-arguineguin-a-las-nuevas-instalaciones-en-barranco-seco.html)
There have been a number of judicial decisions in Spain in recent weeks that could have crucial impacts on how migrants and asylum seekers are treated, in particular with respect to Covid-related border controls. In one case from November, Spain’s Constitutional Court found that a provision in the country’s controversial Citizen Security Law allowing push backs of migrants who try to climb fences into the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla is constitutional. There remain exceptions to these push backs: cases involving minors and other vulnerable groups such as the elderly or pregnant women. According to El País, the finding will not result in changes to legislation, but it clarifies that the government can carry out these procedures, which have long been condemned by observers as violating fundamental rights. In Spain, the Citizen Security Law has been referred to as the “gag law” (“Ley mordaza”) due to its effect on the right to protest. The statute has long been contested and has gone through several modifications, a constitutional challenge regarding certain provisions, and political opposition members have vowed to repeal the legislation if the parliamentary majority changes after the next general election.

Also in November, the Spanish Supreme Court (Tribunal Supremo) recognised the right of asylum seekers to request their transfer to Spain through Spanish embassies, in order to formalise a request for international protection. Although this right was already included in the 2009 Asylum Law, access to the asylum procedure has until now been largely blocked through this channel. The provision in the Asylum Law, Article 38, enables ambassadors to “promote the transfer” of asylum seekers to Spain in order for them to formalise their asylum application. (El Diario, On 18 November 2020)

The Supreme Court ruling involves the case of a Kurdish-Iraqi family that arrived in Greece in 2016, fleeing conflict and war, where they applied for asylum and received no response. A year later, they requested a transfer to Spain in the context of the European relocation program, but only the mother’s and daughter's requests were accepted. The father had to remain in Greece and subsequently applied for asylum, through the Spanish embassy in Greece, but did not receive a response. The group Stop Mare Nostrum filed a petition before the National Court, which then ruled in favour of the family in March 2019. Yet, the state appealed to the Spanish Supreme Court in order to preclude the father from being transferred to Spain, alleging the impossibility of applying certain provisions from the Asylum Law as these did not have a regulatory framework. The Supreme Court held that the lack of a regulation did not prevent the application of the content of the provision to international protection applications.

According to Stop Mare Nostrum, of their 38 registered transfer petitions in the Spanish consulates in Athens and Tanger, Spanish authorities have “failed to respond to all.” The group argues that the government’s refusal to allow for the possibility of these types of asylum requests stands in direct contradiction to the government’s arguments for allowing forced push backs from Ceuta and Melilla (in the separate case cited above). In that push backs case, Spain pointed to the existing legal avenues to enter its territory and mentioned Article 38 of the Asylum Law, the same provision they sought to block for the Kurdish-Iraqi family in Greece as well as others.

In October, the court in the Castilla-La Mancha region asked the CJEU whether authorities could rely on provisions in the EU Return Directive to effect a removal in lieu of the more stringent requirements provided in Spanish law, which requires the existence of aggravating circumstances, in addition to irregular status, to justify the procedure (see 16 November Spain update on this platform). The Court held that the national authority could not rely on a “deportation order” to expel a migrant in an irregular situation if national law imposes a fine or only provides for return when there are serious violations. In effect, the ruling means that Spain must apply its national immigration law, imposing a fine in cases of irregular stay and only contemplating the expulsion of non-citizens in an irregular situation when there are aggravating circumstances.

Separately, in late November, as the numbers of migrants and asylum seekers arriving on the Canary Islands has been growing, police improperly evicted hundreds of migrants from the port of Arguineguin (Gran Canaria) even though they had not yet been provided with reception places elsewhere. The Interior Ministry opened an investigation to determine how this happened and accelerated the opening of the Temporary Centre for Foreigners in the military installations of Barranco Seco, and relocated two hundred migrants there. The Defense Ministry has provided materials to house another 200 people. According to police authorities, the decision to evict the migrants came after having unsuccessfully tried to contact the Spanish immigration authority (Secretaria de Estado de Migraciones). As the police received no response, they moved forward with their operation. However, sources from the Spanish immigration authority told El País that they had not received a call and that if they had, the usual protocol would have been followed.

According to data from the Interior Ministry, the Canary Islands has become, in 2020, the main entry point for irregular migration in Spain. The number of people who have arrived by sea throughout the country has risen to 32,427 people, 45.5 percent more compared to the same period in 2019. Of this figure, 51.7 percent, or 16,760 migrants, entered Spain through the Canary Islands.

19 November 2020

Russian Federation

Tass News, “Рынок
Tass News, “Рынок "Теплый стан" закрыт в Москве из-за спецоперации по борьбе с нелегальными мигрантами,” 11 August 2020, https://tass.ru/proisshestviya/9172709
Foreign migrant workers have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic in Russia, with large numbers losing employment amidst the economic downturn. In a survey conducted by the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration in April-May 2020, 75 percent of surveyed migrants reported having lost their jobs or being forced into unpaid leave, while 50 percent reported that they had lost all sources of income.

Citing these statistics at a meeting in August, the Deputy Head of the Security Council Dmitry Medvedev stated that high unemployment rates amongst migrant workers “creates a very fertile environment for the growth of crime potentially in this area.” Medvedev suggested that Russia implement changes to its immigration system that would make it harder for migrants to gain work permits. In particular, he proposed imitating the Kafala system (a visa-sponsorship system), which is widely used across the Gulf. “In the Arab world, there are appropriate solutions where the employer is fully responsible for the actions of a foreign citizen whom he hired to work,” he said. “This is a tough measure, but nevertheless it should probably be discussed.” Many UN experts and independent observers, however, have heavily criticized the Kafala system for leading to widespread rights abuses because it leaves migrant workers vulnerable to abuse by employers as well as to arrest, detention, and deportation.

For some Russian officials, however, Covid-related declines in the number of migrant workers (due in part to people returning to their home countries) are creating growing concerns about labour shortages. Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, for example, has warned that the city’s labour market would inevitably be affected. Noting that as of October 2020 the number of foreign migrants in the city had dropped by 40 percent this year, he said, “This affects the labor market, especially those positions that are temporarily occupied, such as snow removal. This is manual labor: shovel, broom, scrap. Not all Muscovites are ready to work in such jobs.” According to Sobyanin, these jobs will be filled by residents of other Russian regions.

Despite issuing a moratorium on new detention orders in April (see 18 April update on this platform), media reports indicate that authorities have continued to raid areas where migrant workers are known to congregate. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), in the first two weeks of August authorities initiated a series of raids, round-ups, and detentions of migrant workers near the Tyoply Stan market in Moscow. Reportedly, the raids largely targeted Tajik migrant workers, in retaliation for a 1 August incident in which Tajik workers dragged a Tajik migrant from a police car following his arrest. According to HRW’s sources, “hundreds” were detained during these raids. Raids were also conducted in Saint Petersburg in October, with officers conducting house searches in districts including Kirovsky and Krasnogvardeisky.

18 November 2020

Uzbekistan

B. Pannier, “Uzbekistan’s Coronavirus ‘Success Story’ Rapidly Falls Apart,” RFERL, 30 July 2020, https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-s-coronavirus-success-story-rapidly-falls-apart/30756514.html
B. Pannier, “Uzbekistan’s Coronavirus ‘Success Story’ Rapidly Falls Apart,” RFERL, 30 July 2020, https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-s-coronavirus-success-story-rapidly-falls-apart/30756514.html
Prior to the pandemic, between two and three million Uzbek nationals worked overseas--primarily in Russia, as well as in countries such as Kazakhstan, Turkey, South Korea, and the United Arab Emirates. Hard-hit by the repercussions of the pandemic and with many losing their sources of employment, significant numbers of Uzbek migrant workers have sought to return home.

While former Uzbek president Karimov was notoriously disdainful towards Uzbek labour migrants--“Those people who go to Moscow to clean the streets are just lazybones” he stated in June 2013--current president Mirziyoyev has adopted a more favourable stance, appreciating labor migrants’ importance to the Uzbek economy. His government won praise from some for its work assisting stranded migrants to return home during the pandemic (arranging several repatriation flights, trains, and buses). According to Uzbekistan’s Deputy Labour Minister, at least 500,000 had returned as of 29 May, with more returning since. On 21 September, the country’s Ministry of Transport reported that it had arranged for a further 1,800 migrant workers to be returned by train from Samara and Novosibirsk.

On the other hand, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said that the government’s efforts to repatriate migrant workers have been, at best, erratic, with many thousands remaining trapped outside the country’s borders. Many have been forced to camp out at airports in Russia (see our 24 July Russia update on this platform). Others have attempted to return by bus or car through Russia, often having to spend time in makeshift camps at the Russia-Kazakhstan border as they await transport and permission to cross.

One such camp, near the Kinel train station in Samara Oblast, is designed for 900 people. However, according to HRW, in September some 4,000 migrants, including at least 43 children, were stuck there. No medical care is reported to be available in the camp, and persons are not tested for COVID-19. Journalists from Novaya Gazeta, who visited the camp in September, allege that the camp management has sought to prevent camp residents from speaking to the media about the conditions they face. An additional camp has also been established in Kamensk-Shakhtinsky (Rostov Oblast), from where occasional trains leave for Uzbekistan.

With Covid infection rates significantly higher in labour migration destinations such as Russia than in Uzbekistan, persons who have managed to return have faced quarantine in hastily-erected state run facilities--some of which are no more than cargo containers placed together in rows. In the largest reported site--the “Urtasary” facility in the Tashkent region--3,467 containers were placed together, each containing four beds. In July, the facility was the site of protests, as returnees demanded their release from the carceral-style facility. According to the Uzbek Forum for Human Rights, some had been held for more than 30 days without any explanation, far exceeding the recommended 14-day quarantine period. In a video shared by Ozodlik (RFE/RL’s Uzbek service), detainees penned into the camp by iron fencing can be seen calling for their release. Allegations of police brutality also surfaced, and one returnee is reported to have committed suicide following his placement in the facility. The Uzbek Forum for Human Rights has confirmed to the GDP, however, that the Urtasary facility is now closed. Returning migrants are instead instructed to quarantine in their own homes.

16 November 2020

Spain

A Migrant Standing Outside the Aluche CIE, (Claudio Alvarez,
A Migrant Standing Outside the Aluche CIE, (Claudio Alvarez, "Una Sentencia Europea Impide a Espana Expulsar Inmigrantes Solo por Estar en Situacion Irregular," El Pais, 12 November 2020, https://elpais.com/espana/2020-11-12/una-sentencia-europea-impide-a-espana-expulsar-inmigrantes-solo-por-estar-en-situacion-irregular.html)
In October, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) issued a ruling on a deportation case in Spain that would limit the country’s ability to enforce removal decisions in certain cases based on provisions of the EU Return Directive. The court in Spain’s Castilla-La Mancha region had asked the CJEU whether authorities could rely on provisions in the Directive to effect a removal in lieu of the more stringent requirements provided in Spanish law, which requires the existence of aggravating circumstances--in addition to irregular status-- to justify the procedure. The CJEU found that the court had to rely on the provisions of the national law in the particular case and not the Directive.

According to the CJEU, the national authority cannot rely on a “deportation order” to expel a migrant in an irregular situation if national law imposes a fine or only provides for return when there are serious violations. In consequence, the ruling obliges the government to apply the Spanish Immigration Law, which imposes a fine in cases of irregular stay and only contemplates the expulsion of foreigners in an irregular situation when there are aggravating circumstances.

In 2019, the Spanish Ministry of the Interior expelled 4,677 people from the country and returned a further 6,476 to their countries of origin. According to Eurostat, those figures correspond to around 30% of the 37,890 orders that were issued against non-citizens to leave the Spanish territory. Despite the fact that the percentage of expulsions and returns in 2019 is below the European average (36%), it nonetheless represents an increase compared to 2018.

On 23 September, the National Police (Policia Nacional) ordered the re-opening of immigration detention centres (Centros de Internamiento de Extranjeros or CIEs) closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic (see 2 July, 26 May and 15 May Spain updates on this platform). The Police also ordered that the Central Repatriation Unit carry out “appropriate steps with the consulates of the countries of origin, to be able to effectuate the expulsions”.

12 November 2020

Cyprus

Kathimerini Cyprus, “Boat Carrying Refugees Pushed Back by Cyprus, Ends Up In UN Area,” 1 September 2020, https://knews.kathimerini.com.cy/en/news/boat-carrying-refugees-pushed-back-by-cyprus-ends-up-in-un-area
Kathimerini Cyprus, “Boat Carrying Refugees Pushed Back by Cyprus, Ends Up In UN Area,” 1 September 2020, https://knews.kathimerini.com.cy/en/news/boat-carrying-refugees-pushed-back-by-cyprus-ends-up-in-un-area
Since the onset of the pandemic, Cyprus has engaged in multiple offshore pushbacks, preventing boats carrying hundreds of refugees from disembarking on the island. These incidents appear to have increased in frequency since August, as growing numbers of boats have attempted the journey from Lebanon. Although it is not known how many boats have departed Lebanon, the UN reports that it tracked 30 between July and October (in 2019, the total number for the year was 17). While Syrians account for a large number of those attempting the crossing, there are increasing numbers of Lebanese.

According to Cypriot authorities, between 6-8 September some 230 people were returned to Lebanon. In several cases, the government has appeared to invoke the pandemic to justify its actions. On 7 September, Cypriot news outlet Alpha quoted Interior Minister Nicos Nouris as saying: “Unfortunately, due to the very large number of economic migrants which has flooded the Republic, we cannot and we don’t have any room, especially at a time like this with problems caused by the pandemic.” According to UNHCR, which has received “credible reports” of these pushbacks, “Boats have either been forced to return to the high seas or have been left at sea for a long time.” Witnesses and victims have also alleged that police have beat persons resisting return.

In a late August incident, Cypriot ships pushed back a boat from Lebanon carrying 21 refugees (including five minors) from Lebanon and Syria, before it disembarked in a nearby UN-controlled area of the coast (within the UN-controlled buffer zone, north of Paralimni). According to the news outlet Kathimerini Cyprus, the UN subsequently transferred the refugees to the Cypriot Republic’s asylum service, who placed the individuals in Pournara Emergency Reception Centre (which as of 28 September remained a closed facility). Several days later, another boat carrying 51 persons ran aground on rocks in the same area. According to one of the passengers, police steered their ship in circles to create waves that would swamp or capsize the boat, which ultimately caused the crash. (Similar manoeuvres are reported to have been used by Greek and Turkish boats in the Aegean, as recently documented by Bellingcat.)

The pushback of boats carrying migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers--seemingly without providing passengers the opportunity to apply for asylum--has been widely criticised. Bill Frelick, refugee and migrant rights director at Human Rights Watch, said: “Cyprus should consider their claims for protection fully and fairly and treat them safely and with dignity instead of disregarding the obligations to rescue boats in distress and not to engage in collective expulsions.” On 9 September, the European Court of Human Rights submitted questions to Cyprus regarding the pushback reports, seeking further information such as whether vessels had requested entry to ports, and whether they were offered alternative means of applying for asylum.

In October, ministers from Cyprus and Lebanon reaffirmed a deal to intercept vessels attempting to reach Cyprus. “We are sending out a clear message that we won’t tolerate anyone engaging in the trafficking of human beings and that we’re defending the interests of our two states,” said Nicos Nouris on 6 October.

12 November 2020

Guatemala

J. Abbott, “US Accused of Using Covid as Excuse to Deny Children Right to Asylum,” The Guardian, 10 November 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/nov/10/us-child-deportations-guatemala-pandemic
J. Abbott, “US Accused of Using Covid as Excuse to Deny Children Right to Asylum,” The Guardian, 10 November 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/nov/10/us-child-deportations-guatemala-pandemic
The Guatemalan Migration Institute reports that more than 1,400 unaccompanied minors have been expelled by U.S. authorities to Guatemala since March. The deportations have often taken place before the children are given the opportunity to apply for asylum. In October alone, some 407 children were expelled. (By contrast, 385 unaccompanied children were deported to Guatemala in 2019.) This increase is due to new U.S. migration controls, announced in March in response to the pandemic. Citing the coronavirus, U.S. authorities have invoked laws that allow them to summarily deport people apprehended while trying to cross the border irregularly, without initiating deportation proceedings if there is a health risk (see the United States 10 November update on this platform.) On arrival in Guatemala, child deportees are reported to be placed under the care of the presidency’s social wellbeing secretariat and housed in a shelter in Guatemala city, before being reunited with family members.

Despite the dangers that deportations pose during the pandemic, thousands of Guatemalan nationals have been deported to the country from the United States, even though Guatemalan authorities have raised concerns about the arrival of infected deportees. (On one occasion in April, 70 of 76 deportees from Texas tested positive upon arrival in Guatemala City.) On 4 May, the Guatemalan Foreign Ministry reported that deportees accounted for more than 15 percent of all COVID-19 infections in the country (for more, see 10 June Guatemala update on this platform). As of 12 November, Guatemala had registered more than 113,000 COVID-19 cases, and 3,845 deaths.

11 November 2020

Hungary

UNHCR, “Access to Asylum Further at Stake in Hungary,” 29 June 2020, https://www.unhcr.org/news/press/2020/6/5efa0f914/access-asylum-further-stake-hungary-unhcr.html
UNHCR, “Access to Asylum Further at Stake in Hungary,” 29 June 2020, https://www.unhcr.org/news/press/2020/6/5efa0f914/access-asylum-further-stake-hungary-unhcr.html
In October, the European Commission opened asylum-related infringement procedures against Hungary. According to ECRE, this is the fifth time such a procedure has been opened against the country since 2015. In a letter of formal notice, the commission says that new asylum procedures that were introduced in response to the coronavirus pandemic are in breach of EU law, in particular the Asylum Procedures Directive.

Following a Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruling in May 2020 that led to the closing of Hungary’s controversial transit zone detention sites, Hungary introduced a new asylum system employing emergency powers that were granted because of the pandemic. Under the new system, people wishing to seek asylum in Hungary must submit a “statement of intent” at the Hungarian embassy in Belgrade or Kyiv. Hungarian asylum authorities then have 60 days to assess the application, after which successful applicants are automatically detained in Hungary for one month.

According to a press release, “The Commission considers that this rule is an unlawful restriction to access to the asylum procedure that is contrary to the Asylum Procedures Directive, read in light of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, as it precludes persons who are on Hungary's territory, including at the border, from applying for international protection there. Hungary has 2 months to reply to the arguments raised by the Commission. Otherwise, the Commission may decide to send a reasoned opinion.”

In June, UNHCR stated that the new system would expose asylum-seekers to the risk of refoulement, which would amount to a violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention and other related instruments. UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection urged the “Government of Hungary to initiate the withdrawal of the act and to review its asylum system to bring it into conformity with international refugee and human rights law as well as EU law.”

10 November 2020

United States

The Words 'Help We Matter 2' Are Seen on a Window at the Cook County Department of Corrections in April 2020, (K. Krzaczynski, Getty Images,
The Words 'Help We Matter 2' Are Seen on a Window at the Cook County Department of Corrections in April 2020, (K. Krzaczynski, Getty Images, "Why Isn't Routine COVID-19 Testing Happening in Prisons and Immigrant Detention Centres?" Stat News, 27 October 2020, https://www.statnews.com/2020/10/27/covid-19-testing-congregate-housing-settings-wide-disparities/)
There is a growing body of evidence revealing how the Trump administration, acting through the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement and the Customs and Border Protection agencies, has exploited the COVID-19 pandemic to prevent access to asylum procedures, ramp up summary deportations of children and other vulnerable individuals, and decrease transparency with respect to measures in detention centres to protect detainees. As a result, say observers, there is the likelihood that children have been deported in violation of laws and international agreements into harmful situations, there is an alarming up-tic of infections in detention centres, and the situations in countries of origin are growing increasingly dire.

Throughout the pandemic, the Trump administration has continued issuing deportation orders despite the risk of spreading COVID-19, with an important targeted demographic being children. Internal emails allegedly written by U.S. border control officials, which were obtained by the New York Times, report that as many as 200 unaccompanied children from countries like Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador were summarily deported to Mexico in violation of both U.S. laws and international agreements. In particular, the expulsions appear to violate a diplomatic agreement between the U.S. and Mexico, which provides that only Mexican children and others who have adult supervision can be returned to Mexico after attempting to cross the border (see also the 2 November Mexico update on this platform).

On 30 October, The Hill reported that “Apart from violating policy and an international agreement, summary expulsions of unaccompanied minors would imply that U.S. authorities have sent children alone into Mexico's border cities, where kidnapping and human trafficking are major criminal concerns. The reported expulsions of unaccompanied minors come as the Trump administration has tweaked U.S. border policy to quickly expel migrants caught at the border.”

Deportations from the U.S. have continued in part on the basis of Title 42 Section 265 of the U.S. Federal Code, a provision that enables the executive to prohibit the entrance of people and/or goods based on a determination that this would represent a “serious danger of the introduction” of a disease. The Trump administration has used this provision to adopt a policy that for reasons of public health, undocumented persons that cross the U.S. border may be deported from the country without the need to initiate deportation proceedings, as provided by U.S. immigration law (see 2 November Mexico update on this platform). Also, in June 2019, the United States and Mexico signed an agreement to collaborate on efforts to control the movements of asylum seekers and other migrants to the U.S. border, expanding the implementation of the “Quédate en México” programme (officially known as Migrant Protection Protocols). Between June 2019 and August 2020, nearly 66,000 people were returned to Mexico as part of this agreement.

Importantly, the Title 42 provision can be used to prevent people who arrive at the border from applying for asylum. An expert from the American Immigration Council told the Guardian (10 November 2020), “Under the Title 42 expulsion process the government has argued that public health laws override all normal immigration laws, and allows them to deport children without ever giving them their right to seek protection,” he said. “The Trump administration has taken what are generalized quarantine powers and interpreted into the powers the authority to expel people and override normal immigration law, which is why we say this is an unlawful policy.”

This has allowed the U.S. to rapidly deport people to numerous other countries, in addition to Mexico, including “a sharp rise in the deportations of Cameroonian and other African asylum seekers, many of whom are alleged to have forced to sign or fingerprint their deportation orders.” But unaccompanied minors have been a key target, and not only for removal to Mexico. Experts in Guatemala told the Guardian that since new U.S. migration controls were announced in March, the country has deported more than 1,400 unaccompanied minors to the country, with 407 children expelled in October. “In comparison, in the whole of 2019, the U.S. deported 385 unaccompanied minors to Guatemala.”

On 4 May, the Guatemalan Foreign Ministry reported that deportees from the United States accounted for more than 15 percent of all COVID-19 infections in the country (see 9 June United States and 10 June Guatemala updates on this platform).

In June, Human Rights Watch reported that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) carried out 232 deportation flights to Latin America and Carribean countries between 3 February and 24 April 2020 (see 9 June United States and 10 June Guatemala updates on this platform). According to a report published by a group of NGOs, from March to the end of July 2020, more than 105,000 people were expelled from the United States. In addition, the report found that since the start of the pandemic, only 59 people had been referred to asylum officials to assess non-refoulement claims out of 40,000 expulsions. Of the 59, only two were subsequently allowed to apply for asylum in the U.S. (see 2 November Mexico update on this platform).

The situation in U.S. detention centres has also grown increasingly dire. A research note published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported on findings made by researchers based on data from 92 detention centres in the United States. It found that the rate of infection was many times higher than that of the U.S. population as a whole during the period April-August 2020. Infection rates also far outpaced those of U.S. federal and state prisons. The authors argue that because of lack of transparency by ICE, the numbers of infections may be much higher in detention centres. “We have an incomplete picture of what’s happening with testing,” said study author and Harvard Medical School student Dr. Parsa Erfani in an interview with USA Today. “(But) it’s hard to stand by and just look the other way.”

According to the JAMA paper, "By August 2020, ICE’s mean daily detained population decreased 45% to 21 591 from the prepandemic February population of 39 319. On August 31, ICE reported 5379 cumulative COVID-19 cases and 6 related deaths among its detainees. Cases were reported in 92 of 135 facilities, with 20 facilities accounting for 71% of cases.

"The monthly case rate per 100 000 detainees increased from 1527 in April to 6683 in August (Figure). The monthly test rate per 100 000 detainees increased from 3224 in April to 46 874 in July, but decreased to 36 140 in August (Table). The test positivity rate among detainees decreased from 47% in April to 11% in July but increased to 18% in August. Detainee testing rates in July increased 1354% from April, while case rates increased 247%. In August, the testing rate decreased 23% from July, while the case rate and test positivity rate increased by 26% and 64%, respectively.

"From April to August 2020, the mean monthly case rate ratio for detainees, compared with the US population, was 13.4 (95% CI, 8.0-18.9), ranging from 5.7 to 21.8 per month. The mean monthly test rate ratio for detainees, compared with the US population, was 4.6 (95% CI, 2.5-6.7), ranging from 2.0 to 6.9 per month."

10 November 2020

France

The Outside of the Vincennes CRA in 2019, (Infomigrants,
The Outside of the Vincennes CRA in 2019, (Infomigrants, "En Région Parisienne, un Centre de Rétention Transformé en CRA COVID," 23 September 2020, https://www.infomigrants.net/fr/post/27477/en-region-parisienne-un-centre-de-retention-transforme-en-cra-covid)
Shortly after the onset of the pandemic, France temporarily closed several immigration detention centres (centres de rétention administrative or CRA) (see 16 July and 12 May France updates on this platform). However, the Conseil d’Etat rejected a request to completely shutter CRA’s on 27 March 2020 (see 6 April France update on this platform). Some of these facilities have been repurposed to hold only detainees who have tested positive for COVID-19. Since mid-July, one of the buildings at the Vincennes CRA has been used in this manner, accommodating 17 COVID-postive detainees. More recently, officials announced that the Plaisir CRA would also be repurposed to only hold migrants awaiting expulsion who have tested positive for COVID-19. Some 10 places will be available and each detainee will have their own cell.

According to the Association de Service Social Familial Migrants (ASSFAM), the government’s choice to transform the Plaisir CRA, the smallest CRA in the Paris region, to supplant the Vincennes CRA, is a calculated measure to “free up space to be able to keep more people in detention.” According to a report by La Cimade, 4,575 people were detained in the Vincennes CRA in 2019, making it the largest detention centre in France. In 2019, 53,273 people were detained in France's CRA’s, an increase of 23 percent compared to 2018.

On 14 September, Libération reported that detainees are given the option whether to be tested for COVID-19. If they test positive, they are placed in isolation; if negative, they potentially face rapid deportation, within the 72 hour timeframe requested by airlines. La Cimade reported that due to this, “detainees continue to refuse COVID-19 testing, as they have become aware that a negative test result could lead to their deportation.” La Cimade also reported that at the Mesnil-Amelot CRA, more than a quarter of the 60 detainees refused to be tested for the virus on 31 August 2020. While the Mesnil-Amelot CRA has resumed its activities, its capacity remains reduced by half, according to the national health protocol. According to La Cimade, those who refuse a COVID-19 test are being threatened with prosecution for obstructing justice. In early September, a Tunisian national detained at the Rennes CRA was sentenced to prison for two months after refusing to take a COVID-19 test.

Due to a recent surge in COVID-19 cases, the government announced a second national lockdown on 30 October 2020. On 6 November, La Cimade reported that the authorities had been increasing the number of people detained in CRA’s. The occupancy rate in CRA’s went from 50 percent early in the epidemic to 90 percent in the Bordeaux CRA on the first weekend of the second national lockdown. Prior to the second national lockdown, on 10 July, and following the dismantling of the migrant camps in Calais, 20 people were detained at the Coquelles CRA. Nonetheless, their detention at the Coquelles CRA meant that the occupancy rate went up to 62 percent. This is above the maximum 50 percent occupancy rate for CRA’s, according to guidance established by authorities in response to the pandemic. France’s National Sanitary Protocol says that CRA’s should remain under 50 percent capacity to avoid the spread of the virus.

09 November 2020

Timor-Leste

Mr. Joao Carlos Soares, General Director for Environment, Secretary of State for Environment, at a Handwashing Station in Dili, (European Commission,
Mr. Joao Carlos Soares, General Director for Environment, Secretary of State for Environment, at a Handwashing Station in Dili, (European Commission, "Timor Leste: Strengthening the COVID-19 Response and Promoting Plastic Recycling," 21 August 2020, https://ec.europa.eu/international-partnerships/stories/timor-leste-strengthening-covid-19-response-and-promoting-plastic-recycling_en)
As of 9 November 2020, there had been only 30 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Timor-Leste. The government has received praise for its effective containment of COVID-19, in the context of a health system that government officials were concerned would not be able to cope with a public health emergency due to its fledgling nature. A state of emergency was initially declared on 28 March. Timorese returning from overseas were subject to mandatory quarantine and quarantine isolation centres were established with the assistance of WHO. IOM also worked with the Ministry of Health to improve quarantine centre standards through the provision of necessary equipment and hygiene supplies.

During the week of 14 September 2020, IOM facilitated the return of 11 Vietnamese migrants from Timor-Leste. 8 men and 3 women were rescued by authorities after drifting at sea for days and landing at Jaco Island on 10 June. The migrants were placed into the mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arrival in Vietnam, following which, they were assisted by IOM to return to their respective homes. Their return was organised through the Voluntary Returns Support and Reintegration Assistance for Bali Process Member States programme. According to IOM, since the start of the pandemic, 60 people have been assisted in 20 countries with assisted voluntary return through this programme.

Article 72 of Timor-Leste’s 2003 Immigration and Asylum Act provides that foreigners who enter or remain illegally in the national territory can be detained by any police officer for questioning. They must be taken before a competent Court within 48 hours of being detained. To date, the GDP has been unable to establish the extent to which detention facilities are used in Timor-Leste as part of immigration enforcement procedures or obtain details on COVID-19 related measures taken to safeguard people in immigration custody.

Timor-Leste is a signatory of the Refugee Convention and as of December 2015, the country hosted five asylum seekers and refugees. UNHCR has previously criticized Article 92 of the Immigration and Asylum Act, which requires that asylum seekers lodge their application within 72 hours of their arrival in Timor-Leste, for creating hardships and impediments to seeking asylum. In addition, the Committee on Migrant Workers (CMW), in its concluding observations in 2015, expressed concern at the lack of information regarding detention and expulsion measures against migrant workers and members of their families, particularly those in an irregular situation. The committee also expressed concern that “the existing detention facilities do not have adequate basic services, including food, health care and hygienic conditions, and that migrant workers detained for violations of immigration law are not held separately from prisoners.”

08 November 2020

Japan

A Detainee Waiting Inside a Tokyo Detention Centre Run by the Regional Immigration Bureau, (Reuters,
A Detainee Waiting Inside a Tokyo Detention Centre Run by the Regional Immigration Bureau, (Reuters, "Hunger Strikes Spread in Japan's Migrant Detention Centres," Nikkei Asia, 13 January 2020, https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Japan-immigration/Hunger-strikes-spread-in-Japan-s-migrant-detention-centers)
According to NGO sources, there has been a decrease in arrests and detention orders in Japan during the pandemic. According to the Forum for Refugees Japan (FRJ), the number of detainees had decreased to around 520 by July, compared to 1,054 in April 2020. Additionally, the International Detention Coalition (IDC) reported that 563 asylum seekers were granted provisional release by April 2020. While some sources have noted that these releases may be a “promising” COVID-related response, the FRJ told the GDP that these releases--which FRJ said included both asylum seekers and irregular migrants--amounted to little more than releasing people into the community while providing no right to work, no access to national health insurance, and no support mechanisms.

Based on an MoU between Japan’s Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Japan’s Federal Bar Association, and FRJ, FRJ provides shelter and support for asylum seekers detained at airports. Nonetheless, the MoJ deems the collaboration with FRJ not to amount to an “alternative to detention,” but rather a “housing provision program.” Once a person is granted “Landing Permission for Temporary Refuge”, or “Permission for Provisional Release,” or “Permission for Provisional Stay,” FRJ takes responsibility for providing assistance to them. However, according to FRJ, they only receive between 1-5 cases per year. The conditions for those referred to the programme under “Permission for Provisional Release” are the same as other types of releases, but FRJ can secure emergency shelter and arrange casework for the person including counselling and legal advice sessions.

Earlier this year, Japan’s Expert Committee on Detention and Deportation released a set of recommendations regarding the long-term detention of undocumented non-citizens. However, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations argued that several recommendations suffered “unignorable problems that could potentially be in breach of the rights recognised by the Constitution of Japan and international human rights covenants.” The bar association emphasized that in 2018 Japan granted just 0.5 percent of applications for refugee status or complementary protection; by comparison, that same year numerous other countries--including Germany, France, Italy, and Canada--granted more than 30 percent. The bar association also noted that from 2010 to 2018, 20 percent of those granted refugee status in Japan and 40 percent of those given special residency for humanitarian reasons had previously been given written deportation orders.

On 24 September, the Japan Times reported that according to immigration officials, the country was finalising new supervisory measures that will enable the release of non-citizens applying for refugee status but who face more than six months in detention. The measure comes following criticism of Japan’s long-term detention of non-citizens who refuse to accept deportation. The new measures also include the provision of financial support for released detainees to help them cover basic living costs, given that they are prohibited from seeking employment. The immigration authority is also reportedly planning to establish a new status for non-citizens whose refugee application is rejected but who are undeportable.

06 November 2020

South Africa

Voice of America,
Voice of America, "Mozambican Miners Return to South Africa as COVID-19 Blockade Lifts," 19 July 2020, https://www.voanews.com/africa/mozambican-miners-return-south-africa-covid-19-blockade-lifts
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been widespread concerns about the spread of infection in prisons and amongst vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers (see the 30 March update). An article published in the International Journal for Equity in Health highlights how the restrictive measures implemented by the South African government early on in the pandemic failed to take into account the “economic and health impact of the pandemic on asylum-seekers, refugees, and undocumented migrants.” The article, titled “Unspoken inequality: how COVID-19 has exacerbated existing vulnerabilities of asylum-seekers, refugees, and undocumented migrants in South Africa,” was authored by several South Africa health experts, including from the South African Medical Research Council. It concludes that the COVID-19 “containment measures adopted by the SA government through the lockdown of the nation have tremendously deepened the unequal treatment of asylum-seekers and refugees in SA. This can be seen through the South African government’s lack of consideration of this marginalized population in economic, poverty, and hunger alleviation schemes.”

According to the authors: “Organizations working with foreign-born migrants during the COVID-19 pandemic containment measures have raised concerns regarding the arrest and detention of foreign-born migrants, their placement in, and subsequent repatriation from camps and shelters. There are also reports that foreign-born migrants are more likely to be arrested for minor offenses during the lockdown period and less likely to be released on bail because of expired documentation. The closure of the Department of Home Affairs, which is responsible for renewing and issuing refugee permits, asylum permits, and residence permits, has made many foreign-born migrants vulnerable to harassment and extortion by law enforcement agents who are likely to ignore the moratorium on arrests of all those whose permits expired during the lockdown. Migrants are consequently less willing to seek testing or care for COVID-19 symptoms as they are afraid of being detained or deported. These repatriation centers and prison stations are also prone to overcrowding, making it challenging to practice social distancing and recommended hygiene measures. Under such conditions, these foreign-born migrants are at heightened risks of contracting COVID-19 but tend not to seek care when they notice the signs and symptoms of COVID-19, which makes them more likely to spread or die from the disease.”

Among the key issues highlighted by NGOs has been the ongoing closure of the country’s Refugee Reception Offices (RRO’s), responsible for migrant permit renewals as well as birth registrations, which have been closed since March. One impact of this closure has been that access to places of detention by lawyers has become more limited, according to experts from Lawyers for Human Rights. The group points to severe overcrowding in prisons and detention facilities, which were reportedly at 200-300 percent capacity when the pandemic began. The group indicates that while almost 20,000 inmates have been released in South Africa during the pandemic, immigration detention has increased. They also denounce the lack of accountability mechanisms for law enforcement misconduct.

04 November 2020

Venezuela

N. Plazas, “Más de 90,000 Venezolanos han Retornado a Venezuela Desde  Colombia Durante la Pandemia,” France 24, 22 July 2020, https://www.france24.com/es/20200721-venezuela-migrantes-colombia-retorno-coronavirus
N. Plazas, “Más de 90,000 Venezolanos han Retornado a Venezuela Desde Colombia Durante la Pandemia,” France 24, 22 July 2020, https://www.france24.com/es/20200721-venezuela-migrantes-colombia-retorno-coronavirus
In contrast to the previously observed flow of Venezuelan nationals returning to their country due to dwindling opportunities and increased hardship brought about by the pandemic (see 12 August Venezuela update on this platform), evidence of a new wave of Venezuelans seeking to flee their homeland is growing. The Colombian Red Cross has reported that around three quarters of its interventions during September took place in the dangerous border areas and involved people leaving Venezuela.

According to the New Humanitarian, following the end of one of the region’s longest lockdowns on 1 September, the Colombian government is now predicting a fresh influx of up to 250,000 Venezuelans by the end of the year. Data obtained by UNHCR from Colombia’s immigration authority (Migración Colombia) showed that this year (up to Tuesday 13 October), 113,894 Venezuelans have returned to Venezuela from or through Colombia. The Director of Colombia’s immigration authority reported that as of 21 July, 90,000 Venezuelans had returned to their country from or through Colombia in more than 1,200 buses financed by the government of Colombia. UNHCR also reported that the number of Venezuelans stranded on the Colombian side of the border with the intention of returning to Venezuela continues to decrease. On 22 September, there were 719 Venezuelans seeking to return compared with 664 on 26 October.

In Venezueala’s prisons, the situation has rapidly deteriorated. According to Insight Crime, between March and August 2020, there were 162 deaths in prisons and 125 in police detention facilities, representing an increase from the 137 deaths recorded during the same period in 2019. The country has also released prisoners from several prisons. Between April and June, around 1,410 prisoners were released from the Carabobo, Miranda, Guarico, Falcon, and Portuguese prisons.

02 November 2020

Mexico

A U.S. Customs and Border Officer Guiding Asylum-Seeking Migrants Across a Bridge from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, into the U.S., (Fernando Llano, Associated Press,
A U.S. Customs and Border Officer Guiding Asylum-Seeking Migrants Across a Bridge from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, into the U.S., (Fernando Llano, Associated Press, "U.S. Expels Migrant Children From Other Countries to Mexico," The New York Times, 30 October 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/30/us/migrant-children-expulsions-mexico.html)
The National Institute for Migration (INM) has denied that there are COVID-19 cases amongst immigration detainees. However, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) has revealed that at least 19 Honduran detainees confined in the Tapachula Estacion Migratoria (Siglo XXI) detention centre in Chiapas have tested positive. The CNDH also reported that the facility is overcrowded, that face masks are not distributed, that social distancing is not adhered to, and that no antibacterial gel is provided for detainees to use. The 19 infected detainees were reportedly transferred to the El Hueyate Estacion Provisional detention centre after their cases were detected.

Having previously taken steps to minimise overcrowding by releasing significant numbers of immigration detainees (see 3 June Mexico update on this platform), non-nationals are once again being arrested and detained in facilities across the country. Despite the fact that immigration detainees have tested positive, and at least one non-national has died since the onset of the pandemic, media outlets have reported that no agency has been regularly testing detained migrants. Civil society organisations have denounced this and urged authorities to step up medical monitoring and to ensure that assistance is available. In a report, several NGOs highlighted the fact that only one detention facility--the Saltillo Estacion Migratoria--has 24-hour medical service in operation, and that the supply of soap and water in many facilities remains “very limited.”

An internal email from a senior US border control agent obtained by the New York Times revealed that migrant children from countries such as Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador have been sent to Mexico--despite their lack of family connections in the country. These expulsions have taken place under the Trump administration’s aggressive border closure policy, cited as a necessary step to prevent the virus from spreading into the U.S. However, these expulsions appear to violate a diplomatic agreement between the two countries, which provides that only Mexican children and others who have adult supervision can be pushed back into Mexico after attempting to cross the border. The Times reports that most of the children have been put into the care of child welfare authorities in Mexico.

In June 2019, Mexico and the United States signed an agreement to work together to control the movements of asylum seekers and other migrants to the U.S border. The agreement expanded the implementation of the “Quédate en México” (Remain in Mexico) programme (officially known as Migrant Protection Protocols). As of August 2020, around 65,877 people were returned from the US to Mexico, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the pandemic, US deportations have continued on the basis of Title 42 Section 265 of the U.S. Federal Code, which provides that the executive can prohibit entrance of people and/or goods based on a determination that this would represent a “serious danger of the introduction” of a disease. The US has used this provision to adopt a policy that for reasons of public health, undocumented persons that cross the U.S. border may be deported from the country without initiating deportation legal proceedings as provided by U.S. immigration law. According to a report published by a group of NGOs, this policy, implemented on 21 March 2020, has been extended indefinitely. From March to end of July 2020, more than 105,000 people were expelled from the United States under this provision. In addition, the report found that since the start of the pandemic only 59 people had been referred to asylum officials to assess non-refoulement claims out of 40,000 expulsions. Of these 59, only two were subsequently allowed to apply for asylum in the U.S.

01 November 2020

United Kingdom

The Walls Outside Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre, Taken on 8 August 2015, (EYE DJ,
The Walls Outside Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre, Taken on 8 August 2015, (EYE DJ, "Immigration Detention and the Politics of COVID-19," Red Pepper, 2 June 2020, https://www.redpepper.org.uk/immigration-detention-and-the-politics-of-covid-19/)
So far in 2020, more than 7,400 people have arrived in the UK via small boats, nearly four times as many as in 2019. Seven migrants have died trying to cross the Channel this year, three more than last year. Part of this increase may be due to COVID-19 restrictions and the suspension of resettlement schemes such as in the UK, which is supposed to resettle about 5,000 refugees a year. UNHCR’s UK representative said: “UNHCR hopes that resettlement to the UK will restart very soon, once reception capacity is concerned and any remaining logistical issues related to COVID-19 are overcome by the authorities. The pandemic has presented new, acute hardships and uncertainties for refugees.” The statement comes after two young children and their parents died while trying to cross the Channel during the week of 26 October 2020.

Following the unsuccessful legal challenge presented by Detention Action in March (see 5 April and 11 May UK updates on this platform), which aimed to force the Home Office to release all immigration detainees, a number of claims for judicial review have been instigated on behalf of individuals detained at immigration removal centres. In one case, R (on the application of Zalys) v. Secretary of State for the Home Department [2020] 4 WLUK 86, the claimant argued that in addition to waiting for the outcome of his appeal against a deportation order requiring his removal, travel restrictions resulting from the pandemic rendered it impossible for the Home Office to remove him to Lithuania within a reasonable timeframe. The claimant also argued that his continued detention in a “congregate setting” was directly contrary to government guidance, particularly so in light of his serious underlying medical conditions. In consequence, the claimant was granted permission to apply for judicial review, with the judge stating that the claimant had established a strong prima facie case for his release. The claimant was then placed on immigration bail by the Home Office.

On 30 October, the Guardian reported that the government had increased cash support payments for asylum seekers by 3 pence (£0.03) per week, increasing the current weekly rate of £39.60 to £39.63 following a review by the Home Office. This now equates to around £5.66 a day. Several charities, who have been pushing the UK government to increase support rates, have criticised the measure. The group Asylum Matters said that “this review was an opportunity for the Home Office to put this right, and ensure people seeking refugee status in the UK are safe and supported, during the pandemic and beyond. Instead, they’ve blown it -- 3p a week is an insult, not an increase.” In the UK, people seeking asylum are barred from working while they wait for a decision on their claims. Yet, immigration figures released in August revealed that more than 70 percent of people seeking asylum in the UK wait more than six months for a decision on their claim.

COVID-19 has put the country’s prison system and prisoners under considerable pressure and psychological stress. On 4 October 2020, campaigners at the Prison Reform Trust (PRT) found that coronavirus measures in English and Welsh prisons have delayed the release of potentially thousands of prisoners by blocking chances for inmates to take part in rehabilitation activities, required to progress in their sentences. In addition, PRT said that the uncertainty caused by the virus is leading to increasing despair and hopelessness as well as putting a significant strain on prisoners’ mental health and wellbeing.

28 October 2020

Gambia

International Organization for Migration (IOM), “Voluntary Returns from Niger to The Gambia Resume After Six-Month Hiatus,” 25 September 2020, https://www.iom.int/fr/news/voluntary-returns-niger-gambia-resume-after-six-month-hiatus
International Organization for Migration (IOM), “Voluntary Returns from Niger to The Gambia Resume After Six-Month Hiatus,” 25 September 2020, https://www.iom.int/fr/news/voluntary-returns-niger-gambia-resume-after-six-month-hiatus
In mid-October, the Gambian government relaxed various COVID-19 restrictions on travel and public gatherings in the run up to its tourism season. The country declared its markets opened, waiving a two-week mandatory quarantine imposed on people arriving in the country. However, travelers are required to show evidence of negative polymerase chain reaction test results conducted less than 72 hours prior to their arrival. As of 27 October, the country had recorded 3,665 positive COVID-19 cases and 119 deaths related to the disease.

On 15 October, UNHCR reported that it had recorded one positive COVID-19 case of a person of concern and that one refugee in Gambia had died from the virus. In addition, UNHCR’s local partner, the Gambian Food & Nutrition Association (GAFNA), has reportedly assisted schools located in refugee areas to prepare for their reopening. The support consists of equipping them with hand washing buckets, fumigating classrooms and other school spaces, providing training to teachers on COVID-19 prevention, and mitigation measures to reduce the risk of contamination in school.

In its May-July update, UNHCR reported that the closure of borders and the limitation of commercial activities due to COVID-19 had a negative impact on the life of refugee populations and others in the country. UNHCR supported GAFNA to provide cash assistance for three months (May, June and July 2020) to a total of 115 vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers residing in both rural and urban areas.

In September, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) resumed its Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) programme from Niger to The Gambia, with the support of the European Union. The returns were suspended in March when the governments of The Gambia and Niger imposed several restrictions, including the closure of all borders. The first group were returned on 23 September, which included 26 Gambian migrants. Before their departure, the IOM reportedly organised COVID-19 testing for people hosted at transit centres in Agadez and Niamey. The migrants were given hand sanitiser, masks, and food and water. Upon arrival, the returnees underwent temperature screenings and were issued arrival assistance cards before being transported to an overnight temporary accommodation facility, where they were provided meals and core relief items, including essential hygiene supplies.

As regards the country’s prisons, on 26 April, President Adama Barrow pardoned 115 prisoners in three different prisons--Mile 2 in Bajul (78 prisoners); Jeshwang (24 prisoners); and Jangjangbureh (13 prisoners)--in a bid to contain the spread of COVID-19. On 11 September, the prison administration stated that it is compulsory to wear masks within prisons, to wash hands regularly, and to test detainees and personnel. Nonetheless, medical professionals have said that they are worried due to overpopulation. Moreover, on 25 September, an anonymous source reported that around 60 prisoners tested positive at the Mile 2 prison. Most of these prisoners were newly arrived prisoners.

While the GDP has noted in the past that the Mile 2 prison was used to detain undocumented migrants, we have been unable to confirm if it continues to be used for this purpose or whether any specific measures were taken to protect non-citizens in immigration procedures.

27 October 2020

Spain

M. MacGregor, “Surge in Migrants Reaching Canary Islands,” InfoMigrants, 3 September 2020, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/27032/surge-in-migrants-reaching-canary-islands
M. MacGregor, “Surge in Migrants Reaching Canary Islands,” InfoMigrants, 3 September 2020, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/27032/surge-in-migrants-reaching-canary-islands
While migrant arrivals to Mainland Spain have decreased this year, the number of migrants and asylum seekers arriving in the Canary Islands has significantly increased. According to UNHCR, as of 18 October 24,259 arrivals had been registered in Spain, of whom 9,199 were registered in the Canary Islands. (In all of 2019, 2,698 migrants arrived in the Canaries.) This shift appears to have been spurred by Morocco’s efforts to block routes to the north of the country (and thus prevent irregular boat journeys to southern Spain) and the economic repercussions of the pandemic pushing greater numbers to move.

According to the IOM Missing Migrants Project, the irregular maritime route to the Canaries has been the most dangerous in the European region so far this year. During January-July 2020, one death was recorded for approximately every 20 arrivals. Most recently, more than 100 migrants were feared dead after an explosion sank a fishing boat attempting the route from Senegal.

The surge in arrivals--in addition to COVID-related deportation flight cancellations and Spain’s reluctance to transfer migrants to the mainland--has led to growing migratory pressure on the islands. A representative of the Spanish Commission to Help Refugees said, “Blocking people from leaving the Canaries has turned the islands into an open-air prison.” According to observers, reception facilities on the islands are full, and non-nationals have been placed in churches, schools, and makeshift accommodation at docks and ports.

In October, ECRE reported that more than 1,000 migrants and asylum seekers were staying at
Arguineguín Pier (Gran Canaria), where initial registration and health checks (including COVID-19 tests) are carried out. Most were residing in tents provided by the Red Cross, but approximately 200 were forced to sleep in the open. Local media reports have suggested that authorities plan to utilise a ship to provide additional initial accommodation.

Spanish newspapers have also reported that in Las Palmas, the Prosecutor’s Office has been separating children from their parents in order to conduct DNA tests. Reports indicate that several children have been sent to a centre for unaccompanied minors, where they have remained while test results are assessed. As of 20 October, four children who had been separated from their parents in August had yet to be reunited with their families--despite tests confirming their relation to their mothers.

26 October 2020

Moldova

A Guard Standing in Front of the Chișinău Centre for Eastern Border Migrants, (EU/ENPI,
A Guard Standing in Front of the Chișinău Centre for Eastern Border Migrants, (EU/ENPI, "The Chișinău Centre for Eastern Border Migrants," 27 May 2013, https://www.balcanicaucaso.org/eng/Areas/Moldova/The-Chi-inau-center-for-Eastern-border-migrants-135702)
Early during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Moldovan Parliament declared a 60-day state of emergency (17 March - 15 May 2020) after 29 cases of COVID-19 were registered. While most of the restrictions were gradually dropped, the country nevertheless began to see increases in infections, which began to spike at the end of September 2020. As of 26 October, Moldova had registered 71,503 cases as well as 1,685 COVID-related deaths. In response to the onset of the second wave, President Igor Dodon said that the country would cope without implementing a new set of restrictive measures like closing schools.

The GDP has been unable to establish the extent to which detention facilities are currently used in Moldova as part of immigration enforcement procedures or obtain details on COVID-19 related measures taken to safeguard people in immigration custody. However, in April 2020, UNHCR reported that it had held more than 600 counselling sessions with asylum seekers, refugees, stateless persons and applicants for stateless status. Subsequently, UNHCR conducted an assessment of the impact of the pandemic on persons of concern. The assessment focused on asylum seekers accommodated in the Temporary Accommodation Centre (TAC), a temporary shelter for asylum seekers and vulnerable refugees, as well as refugees and stateless persons residing in different regions of the country.

According to UNHCR’s COVID-impact report, as of 1 July, Moldova was hosting 431 refugees. The main countries of origin were Turkey, Bangladesh, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the Syrian Arab Republic. In addition, as of 30 June, 24 out of 80 registered asylum seekers in the country resided in the TAC, and in the first half of 2020, 43 new asylum seekers were registered with the Bureau for Migration and Asylum in Moldova. Furthermore, as of 1 June, Moldova hosted 1,899 stateless persons, of whom 44 percent were of Russian origin, 29 percent Ukrainian, 15 percent Moldovan, and 12 percent of other origins.

As regards the country’s prisons, on 12 March, the Ministry of Justice announced the suspension of visits in prisons, as well as the compulsory wearing of a mask by staff. In addition, on the same day, the Ministry of Justice announced that a special regime would be put in place in prisons to avoid the spread of the virus. The plan includes, inter alia, the drafting of daily medical reports and turning available spaces (gym, classroom, etc.) into isolation rooms. On 9 June, the European Council donated protective material to the Moldovan prison administration to provide support to detainees and prison staff.

24 October 2020

Italy

Members of the Italian Red Cross Gather on Quay as a Quarantine Ship Heads Towards Lampedusa Island, (Alessandro Di Meo, EPA,
Members of the Italian Red Cross Gather on Quay as a Quarantine Ship Heads Towards Lampedusa Island, (Alessandro Di Meo, EPA, "Death of Teenage Boy on Italian 'Quarantine Ship' Being Investigated," The Guardian, 7 October 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/oct/07/death-of-teenage-boy-on-italian-quarantine-ship-being-investigated)
Migrants and asylum seekers who test positive for COVID-19 are routinely being confined in “inadequate conditions” on quarantine ships stationed off the country’s coast. According to ARCI (Associazione Ricreativa Culturale Italiana), five quarantine ships are currently in operation; however, the total number of people quarantined on these vessels has not been released. Following a visit to one quarantine ship on 17 September--the “Rhapsody” ferry, then anchored off Palermo--the Italian national ombudsman reported that 868 persons were in quarantine on the ship that day, as well as an additional 814 who were undergoing compulsory isolation following their arrival in Italy.

Initially established in April by Decree n.1287/2020, the ships were intended to temporarily hold people rescued at sea who did not have a place of safety in the country. However, as well as placing newly arrived foreigners on the ships, others have been transferred from reception centres and other migrant structures--some of whom had been in the country for “several years.”

Concerns surrounding the country’s use of “quarantine ships” escalated earlier this month following the revelation that a “seriously ill” 15-year-old boy, who had been isolated on the Allegra quarantine ship following his rescue from the Mediterranean on 18 September, had died. The boy, who was reported to be dehydrated, malnourished, and had signs of torture on his body, remained on the ship until 30 September when he was ordered to be transferred to a hospital in Palermo following a medical examination. Two days later, he fell into a coma. He passed away on 5 October. According to Open Migration, the boy had received no medical treatment while on the ship. The boy’s death is now being investigated by Italian prosecutors.

More recently, an asylum seeker quarantined on board “Rhapsody” sent a video to ARCI to highlight the conditions in which he was being held. The video showed that windows on the ship were kept closed, and the individual reported that he had not been visited by a doctor or provided with medicine, bedding had not been changed, and he had only received one disposable paper face-mask since arriving nine days earlier. According to ARCI, migrants and asylum seekers on the boats were being kept in “inadequate” conditions and were essentially deprived of their liberty.

On 13 October, a member of the Italian parliament, Erasmo Palazzotto, submitted questions to parliament, asking for an immediate halt to transfers to quarantine ships. He described the use of the ships as a "discriminatory approach which is highly detrimental to the fundamental rights of migrants.”

23 October 2020

United Kingdom

Tug Haven Facility Entrance in Dover, Kent, Where Migrants are Being Processed, (HMIP/PA,
Tug Haven Facility Entrance in Dover, Kent, Where Migrants are Being Processed, (HMIP/PA, "Kent Inspectors Find Wet and Cold Migrants Held in Crampled Containers," The Guardian, 23 October 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/oct/23/kent-inspectors-find-wet-and-cold-migrants-held-in-cramped-containers)
So far this year, more than 7,400 asylum seekers and migrants have arrived in the UK by small boat--nearly four times as many as in 2019. A new report has revealed that new arrivals are processed at a makeshift facility in Tug Haven, where hundreds are “forced to spend hours in cramped containers on a “rubble-strewn building site,” without appropriate provision of dry clothes and other basic supplies. As part of the “processing,” arrivals are screened for urgent medical conditions and symptoms of COVID-19--those who display symptoms are placed in a designated van. Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector for Prisons, said: “While the number of arrivals had been far higher in 2020 than in previous years, the reception arrangements at Tug Haven were not fit for even small numbers.”

In Scotland, a COVID-19 outbreak has been reported in Dungavel House Immigration Removal Centre. Although the UK’s Home Office confirmed the detection of cases amongst immigration detainees in the facility, it withheld revealing the number of persons currently in the facility, and the number of confirmed cases. In May, however, the BBC reported that the IRC was “thought to be nearly empty” (see 11 May update on this platform). In a letter to the Home Secretary, the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Immigration Detention requested that the Home Office reveal figures clarifying the number of detainees that have tested positive in the facility in the past 30 days.

The centre--which currently has capacity for 125 persons (after being reduced from 249 at the end of 2019)--is run by the for-profit GEO Group. Campaigners, who have long called for the facility’s closure, have urged authorities to release the remaining detainees, citing their concerns that persons in the facility “already suffer from mental health and medical conditions.” (In 2019, figures obtained by BBC Scotland revealed that 40 percent of detainees in the facility were classed as “vulnerable.” The BBC also reported that children continued to be detained in the facility, despite the UK government claiming in 2010 that it would end the detention of children.) As well as calling for their release, lawyers and campaigners have demanded that all persons released be tested for the virus and placed in private accommodation.

According to the APPG, one case has also been detected in Brook House IRC. Despite COVID-19 cases rising rapidly across the UK, the APPG reports that the number of persons in detention has risen in recent months (having been reduced during the first wave of the pandemic), and transfers of detainees around the detention estate have continued, despite the fact that such movements may spread the virus across facilities.

Although transfers have reportedly continued, UK government guidance (last updated in July) specifies that visits to immigration detention centres across the country remain barred--although some visits may be accommodated in exceptional circumstances. This also applies to visits by legal representatives: “Visits by legal representatives can continue but only in exceptional circumstances and if no other means of contact (Skype, phone, email) can be used instead.” However, as the Law Society noted in its latest report--”Law Under Lockdown”--solicitors have reported that the availability of technology within IRCs can be limited: “it is vital that adequate communication with lawyers is maintained from IRCs to ensure that individuals are represented effectively in these.”

According to the UK’s Inspectorate of Prisons for England and Wales, which released its 2019-2020 annual report this week, 23,075 people entered detention across the UK in the 12 months to 31 March 2020--5 percent fewer than the previous year. In surveys assessing detainees’ sense of safety, the Inspector found that a third of detainees at Brook House and Morton Hall IRCs, and almost half at Colnbrook IRC, said that they felt “unsafe.” Several factors accounted for this feeling, such as fear of removal, concern about the progress of their immigration cases, the behaviour of other detainees “frustrated at their confinement,” and lengthy indefinite detention.

23 October 2020

Greece

Vial Migrant Camp on the Greek Island of Chios, (L. Partsalis, Picture Alliance,
Vial Migrant Camp on the Greek Island of Chios, (L. Partsalis, Picture Alliance, "Chios Camp in Quarantine After at Least 30 Test Positive for COVID-19," Infomigrants, 15 October 2020, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/27938/chios-camp-in-quarantine-after-at-least-30-test-positive-for-covid-19)
Amidst a surge in cases across the country, several migrants and asylum seekers held in Chios’ Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) are reported to have tested positive for COVID-19. (The exact number remains unclear: while Greek media referred to two positive cases confirmed in Chios hospital, InfoMigrants cited reports of “at least 30” confirmed cases.) Access to medical treatment and testing has been described as “inadequate,” due to a lack of funding from the Ministry of Immigration and Asylum.

On Wednesday 14 October, the Greek Migration Ministry announced that the camp would be placed under quarantine until at least 21 October, and that “extensive health checks” would be carried out. On 22 October, this quarantine was extended to 4 November. In its statement, the ministry also announced plans to transfer all pregnant women (five months pregnant and beyond) from the facility to mainland Greece (near to hospitals that are treating COVID-19 patients), “so that no deliveries take place at the General Hospital of Chios “Skylitsio.”” The camp was previously placed under quarantine restrictions in August, after four non-nationals and one employee tested positive.

On Lesvos island, frustrations have been growing regarding government plans to close Pikpa Camp, an “open, community-run space” where significant numbers of vulnerable asylum seekers are living. The camp was due to be closed by 15 October, but this was given a last-minute postponement. The European Court of Human Rights has called on the Greek government to respond to questions regarding plans to close the camp, and the situation of an asylum seeker and her new-born child (represented by the Greek Council for Refugees) who applied for interim measures before the court.

21 October 2020

Lesotho

Ethiopian Airlines Plane With Millions of Medical Supplies Donated by Jack Ma Arrives in Lesotho, (Supplied,
Ethiopian Airlines Plane With Millions of Medical Supplies Donated by Jack Ma Arrives in Lesotho, (Supplied, "Lesotho Receives Covid-19 Tests Kits from Billionaire Jack Ma," EW News, 23 March 2020, https://ewn.co.za/2020/03/27/lesotho-receives-covid-19-test-kits-from-billionaire-jack-ma)
In June, a report from the UN Development Program estimated that approximately 93,000 people had returned to Lesotho as a result of COVID-19. The implementation of strict measures in neighbouring South Africa, which impacted the livelihood of migrant workers, helped spur this influx. Since October, migrant workers holding a permit are allowed to travel outside the country, and several restrictions were lifted.

The prime minister had urged prison officials to “minimise congestion” in March. However, in September, the conditions in Maseru prison were denounced by two former prisoners. They described the overcrowding and the lack of sanitary measures.

The GDP was unable to confirm if any measures had been taken for asylum-seekers during the pandemic.

20 October 2020

Cuba

A Street Vendor Wearing a Mask as a Precaution Against the Spread of Coronavirus, (Associated Press,
A Street Vendor Wearing a Mask as a Precaution Against the Spread of Coronavirus, (Associated Press, "Cuba Closes Off Havana to Stamp Out Spread of Coronavirus," 1 September 2020, https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/cuba-closes-off-havana-stamp-spread-coronavirus-72753238)
The Cuban government responded swiftly to the COVID-19 crisis, implementing several restrictions early on in the pandemic including a ban on tourist arrivals and a lockdown for vulnerable people. By August 2020, however, cases began to increase and by mid-October there were a total of 6,220 cases and 125 deaths related to the virus.

The GDP has been unable to establish the extent to which detention facilities are currently used in Cuba as part of immigration enforcement procedures or obtain details on COVID-19 related measures taken to safeguard people in immigration custody.

In its submission to the Universal Periodic Review regarding Cuba in 2018, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that “as a matter of practice, Cuban immigration authorities do not detain asylum seekers. When a non-citizen in detention contacts UNHCR to submit an application for the refugee status, UNHCR is granted access to the person, who is subsequently released.” UNHCR underscored the possibility that “people in need of international protection could be detained and deported without having the opportunity to seek international protection, as immigration authorities do not have mechanisms or regulations to identify asylum-seekers and they do not refer cases to UNHCR.” UNHCR recommended that the country: “(a) accede to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees; (c) establish official identification and referral mechanisms for persons in need of international protection, with the assistance of UNHCR; and (d) grant temporary residency status to mandate refugees recognised after arriving in the country with tourist visas, under the sub-classification of refugees set forth in the national legislation on migration.” The agency reports that in 2017 there were 343 refugees and 15 asylum seekers; in 2019, there were 233 refugees and 31 asylum-seekers.

As regards the country’s prisons, on 30 April, the government ordered the release of 6,579 prisoners as part of its pandemic response: 421 prisoners were released to their homes awaiting their trials and others were given conditional release. By 6 April, the prison authority had published a prevention plan for detainees, guards, and any other persons intervening in detention. The measures include a hygiene and disinfection protocol, access to medical care, and the creation of isolation quarters.

As of 19 October, there were no reports of COVID-19 cases within the country’s prisons. On the other hand, in February 2020, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights highlighted in a report on the situation of human rights in Cuba the persistence of deplorable conditions of detention in the country’s prisons, including overcrowding, insufficiency of medicines, food and drinking water, inadequate hygiene and sanitation and poor medical assistance.

19 October 2020

Tanzania

An MSF Health Official Reaches Out to Communities in Nduta Refugee Camp in Tanzania to Help Prevent the Spread of COVID-19, (MSF,
An MSF Health Official Reaches Out to Communities in Nduta Refugee Camp in Tanzania to Help Prevent the Spread of COVID-19, (MSF, "Tanzania: Spread of COVID-19 Could be Devastating to Refugees and Host Communities," 10 April 2020, https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/what-we-do/news-stories/news/tanzania-spread-covid-19-could-be-devastating-refugees-and-host)
There are nearly 300,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Tanzania, 85 percent of whom live in refugee camps. Doctors Without Borders and other actors have warned about the potential spread of COVID-19 through these camps, especially in Nduta, where self-isolation and physical distancing is reportedly impossible.

According to UNHCR, as of 30 September 2020, there were 134,963 people at the Nyarugusu camp; 69,851 people at the Nduta camp; and 28,585 people at the Mtendeli camp. Most asylum seekers and refugees in Tanzania come from Burundi (71.7 percent) and from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (28.2 percent). In an effort to prevent the spread of infection, the refugee agency said that it had distributed 685 personal protective equipment in the camps; provisioned isolation facilities in the camps; established several thousand handwashing stations; and distributed soap to more than 60,000 households.

There is little information available about measures that may have been implemented to safeguard other noncitizen groups in Tanzania, including notably people in immigration enforcement procedures like detention or deportation. There do not appear to be any dedicated immigration detention centres in the country; undocumented migrants are held in police facilities and prison pending appearance in court or deportation.

Previously, reports revealed that an immigration-related detention centre was opened in 1996 in Mwisa. In 2011, the GDP noted reports indicating that this facility was used to hold asylum seekers or refugees suspected of being combatants as part of a collaboration between the government and UNHCR. However, according to the refugee agency, “There have been incidences where the government has transferred refugees to Mwisa without involving the UNHCR.”

In May, 3,717 prisoners were pardoned in an effort to relieve overcrowding in prisons as part of a COVID-19 response. Although Human Rights Watch welcomed the move, the group said that that Tanzania’s prison population had to be reduced even more, given the overcrowding of places of detention.

16 October 2020

Tunisia

Migrants Arriving in a Port of Lampedusa, (M. Buccarello, Reuters,
Migrants Arriving in a Port of Lampedusa, (M. Buccarello, Reuters, "Italy-Tunisia Migrant Repatriation Flights to Resume on 10 August," ANSA, 6 August 2020, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/26477/italy-tunisia-migrant-repatriation-flights-to-resume-on-august-10)
Having largely avoided the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tunisia began experiencing a sharp increase in infections starting in August 2020. This coincided with increased maritime arrivals from Tunisia to Italy and renewed efforts by European leaders to partner with Tunisia in externalising migration controls in the Mediterranean and North Africa.

On 10 August, the Italian government announced that it would resume repatriation flights of Tunisian migrants back to their country, which had been cancelled due to the pandemic. While the increasing numbers of maritime arrivals in Italy helped spur this decision, Info Migrants underscored the relevance of the new EU Pact on Migration and Asylum, which aims in part to strengthen partnerships with a host of countries in North Africa, including Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, and Morocco. The European Commission has stated that the list of safe third countries for repatriation is an option that “will certainly be assessed” as part of the new pact.

On 17 August, a delegation of Italian and EU officials held meetings in Tunis with the Tunisian president and other officials, resulting in a deal that reportedly is aimed at boosting Tunisian security forces' migration control efforts. However, the precise details of the agreement remain unclear because it has not been published, which has spurred a coalition of NGOs to demand its release. According to an 8 October press release: “ASGI (Association for Juridical Studies on Migration), FTDES (Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights) and ASF (Lawyers Without Borders) have submitted FOI requests to the Italian and Tunisian governments after the non-publication of the content of the agreement concluded on August 17, 2020. According to press reports the agreement envisages the Italian economic support of 11 million euros for the strengthening of border control systems and training of security forces aimed at both preventing the departure of migrants and intercepting vessels in Tunisian territorial waters.” According to ASGI, Italy threatened to suspend the 6.5 million Euro funding for development cooperation in Tunisia in order to encourage the country to intensify its efforts to control departure from its coasts.

14 October 2020

Norway

Norwegian Red Cross, “Hver uke besøker frivillige fra Røde Kors insatte på Trandum utlendingsinternat,” 24 March 2017, Youtube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nz3CHow3Pss
Norwegian Red Cross, “Hver uke besøker frivillige fra Røde Kors insatte på Trandum utlendingsinternat,” 24 March 2017, Youtube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nz3CHow3Pss
The Norwegian Red Cross has reported that since March, it has been unable to access Norway’s sole long-term detention facility, the Trandum Detention Centre. Although the organisation has remained in close contact with the facility’s staff during the pandemic, it has been unable to physically enter the facility and its volunteers have only been able to speak with two detainees via video call. The organisation has frequently raised the need for access with the immigration police, but as of 29 September, access continued to be denied. Prior to the pandemic, the Red Cross ran an active volunteer visitor programme in the facility providing support and assistance to detainees.

As of 8 September, there were 36 detainees in Norway’s Trandum detention facility—three of whom are women—and no detainees have been held in the facility’s separate family unit since March. One Red Cross representative told the GDP that because as the numbers of detainees at the Trandum have fallen since the onset of the pandemic, this has presented new opportunities for the humanitarian group to dialogue with officials about implementing new development projects at the centre. Among the items they have proposed has been boosting “internet access through digital equipment procured by the Red Cross.”

As the GDP previously reported on this platform (see 24 July update), some people have been released from detention due to the pandemic. According to the Norwegian Red Cross, although the exact number who were released remains unclear, it is generally thought that persons who were released (mainly from Ethiopia and Iraq) were selected because they had a network/family in the country who could provide them with accommodation. Those who were released have been required to report regularly to immigration police.

13 October 2020

Algeria

Human Rights Watch, “Algeria: Migrants, Asylum Seekers Forced Out,” 9 October 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/10/09/algeria-migrants-asylum-seekers-forced-out
Human Rights Watch, “Algeria: Migrants, Asylum Seekers Forced Out,” 9 October 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/10/09/algeria-migrants-asylum-seekers-forced-out
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), between early September and early October Algerian authorities expelled more than 3,400 people from at least 20 countries, including 430 children and 240 women, all of whom were sent to Niger. The expulsions followed waves of arrests in no fewer than nine cities, during which children were reportedly separated from their families by security personnel, migrants and asylum seekers were stripped of their belongings, and no efforts were made to screen people for vulnerabilities or protection needs. HRW reported that Algerian authorities crammed Nigeriens into trucks or buses and handed them over to Niger’s army, while convoys of mixed nationalities were reportedly left in the desert near the border.

As reported previously on this platform, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic did not deter Algeria from continuing to expel migrants, in contrast to other countries in the region (see 29 May and 15 April Algeria updates on this platform). However, the recent roundups and mass expulsions appear to represent a sharp uptick in these operations. So far this year, Algeria has deported more than 16,000 people, with Nigeriens making up a little over half of all deportees.

On 1 October 2020, Algeria’s Interior Ministry announced a new operation to combat “illegal migration,” claiming it respected human rights. However, on 3 October Algeria expelled 705 adults and children of 18 nationalities to the desert, followed by the forcible return of 957 Nigeriens in a convoy on 5 October, and the expulsion of 660 people of 17 nationalities to the desert on 8 October.

Prior to their expulsions, migrants and asylum seekers were detained in police stations, holding centres, and camps. According to HRW, while all the Nigerien convoys are conducted in-line with a 2014 bilateral oral agreement, mass expulsions of mixed-nationality groups to the border are not. Niger’s Interior Ministry stated that they had asked Algeria to refrain from expelling non-Nigerien nationals to their border.

Six migrants told HRW that Algerian authorities deported them to the border without any due process. In addition, three of the migrants reported that police or gendarmes beat them or their friends during the roundups or in detention. Two migrants said they saw authorities destroy other migrants’ documents during the roundups. All six migrants said the authorities had confiscated everything they had on them, including phones and money, and never returned any of it.

Non-African nationals have also been expelled in this manner, including Yemeni, Syrian, and Palestinian asylum seekers. According to HRW, of the 3,400 migrants expelled by Algeria between 5 September and 8 October, around 1,800 were Nigeriens driven into Niger in “official” convoys; the remaining 1,600 people--mostly West and Central Africans, in addition to 23 Sudanese, two Somalis, two Eritreans, two Mauritians, one Pakistani, and one Libyan--were left at the border. HRW stated that the Algerian military stripped migrants of all their personal belongings, abandoning them and ordering them to walk 15 kilometers to Assamaka. Migrants expelled in July described similar experiences: “they pushed us into the desert and left us there, saying: ‘this is the way to Niger’. I had no shoes; I walked barefoot. It took us five or six hours.”

Some of the deported migrants stated that Algerian authorities adopted certain measures to avoid the spread of COVID-19 by undertaking temperature checks, wearing or distributing masks, and disinfecting vehicles. Yet, others have contested this saying no precautions were taken. None of the deported migrants reported any coronavirus testing procedures. As HRW noted, by placing hundreds of migrants together while denying them access to medical care, and deporting large groups of people without testing for COVID-19, Algeria has put many lives at risk. On 23 July, four Sahrawi refugees reportedly tested positive for COVID-19.

HRW denounced the practice stating that as a party to the UN Migrant Workers Convention, Algeria is prohibited from conducting collective expulsions and should examine each case individually. In addition, HRW emphasised that as a party to the UN and African Refugee Convention and the Convention Against Torture, Algeria is bound by the principle of non-refoulement, prohibiting the forced return of anyone to countries where they could face torture or threats to their lives or freedom. This means that governments should ensure that asylum seekers’ claims are fully examined before initiating any removal proceedings.

As regards the country’s prisons, as of 22 May, 150 correctional officers had reportedly resigned from their positions since the end of February protesting against the lack of protective equipment. Following the death of a prisoner in April at the Koléa prison (see 6 May Algeria update on this platform), two other prisoners died from COVID-19 at the El Harrach prison in mid-July. On 29 July however, several prisoners and staff members tested positive for the virus in the El Harrach prison: some were transferred to a hospital while others were cared for in the prison.

12 October 2020

Congo (Democratic Republic)

WPF Staff Member Standing Behind Checkpoint, (Ben Anguandia, WFP,
WPF Staff Member Standing Behind Checkpoint, (Ben Anguandia, WFP, "With Conflict and Covid-19 Deepening Hunger in the Democratic Republic of Congo, More Help is Needed to Save Millions of Lives," 14 August 2020, https://reliefweb.int/report/democratic-republic-congo/conflict-and-covid-19-deepening-hunger-democratic-republic-congo)
As of 12 October 2020, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) had detected 10,851 cases of COVID-19 and recorded 276 deaths due to the disease. In addition to outbreaks of cholera, the Ebola virus, and measles, the country now has to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said that “this latest crisis, whose socio-economic and health consequences will be felt for some time, is overloading systems of health care and essential services that are already struggling, particularly in the east of the country where armed violence and conflict continues to exact a heavy toll on the local population.” The World Food Programme (WFP) estimated that four in ten of DRC’s 100 millions people are food insecure, with 15.6 million suffering “crisis” or “emergency” hunger.

According to the UNHCR, following the fifth extension of the state of emergency on 4 July, 14 provinces are now affected by the virus, with notable numbers of cases in the eastern provinces of South Kivu (141 cases) and North Kivu (106 cases), which host refugees and internally displaced persons. UNHCR said that there were growing fears that COVID-19 may also reach refugee-hosting areas of northern DRC.

The UN Refugee Agency also reported that in early June, there were repeated incursions by the South Sudanese army into refugee-hosting areas in DRC despite border closures, leading refugees and locals to flee. On 17 and 18 May, around 45,000 people had attempted to flee towards the Ugandan border with the DRC shortly after deadly militia attacks on civilians in Ituri province. Many have been left unable to return to their homes and in consequence, on 1 July, Uganda agreed to temporarily open its borders. Approximately 1,500 asylum-seekers entered the country through Guladjo and Mount Zeu crossing points.

UNHCR reported that it was installing handwashing stations in refugee camps and IDP sites across DRC, while distributing soap and disinfecting community infrastructures. By 29 June, 3,125 handwashing stations had been installed across DRC (including 269 donated to authorities and 441 to health structures), over 102,000 people received soap, and 2,069 community infrastructures had been disinfected. UNHCR estimated that a total of 1.2 million refugees, internally displaced persons, and host community members had been reached by awareness-raising sessions on COVID-19 by 29 June. Following the DRC Government’s request to close displacement sites in Kalemie (Tanganyika province), UNHCR provided assistance for the voluntary return of a total of 9,003 people living in Kaseke and Kakomba displacement sites. More recently, the organisation reported that it had assisted authorities in establishing medical checkpoints and containment sites.

UNHCR also stated that the country currently hosts over half a million refugees - mainly from Rwanda, Burundi and the Central African Republic (CAR), and South Sudan. In South Ubangi’s Mole Refugee camp, further resources are required to ensure that 15,000 refugees from CAR have access to the minimum water requirement of 20 litres per person per day. UNHCR said this was “particularly important now, when, in addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, refugees and their host communities need potable water to protect them against endemic cholera and what is now the world’s longest running measles crisis.”

The ICRC stated that it had requested that DRC authorities reduce overcrowding in prisons and release vulnerable detainees who are serving a short sentence and are at greater risk from COVID-19 (i.e. those who are ill or old). DRC jails are among the world’s most overcrowded according to the UN, with inmates living in squalid conditions and meagre rations. In September 2020, the UN reported that 52 inmates at the Bunia prison had starved to death so far this year as a result of the government’s failure to devote enough funding. The prison operates at nearly 500% capacity. Malnutrition is reportedly common in DRC jails as food portions are allotted based on the facilities’ normal capacity, rather than their real population. The ICRC said that it had engaged in dialogue with prison and judicial authorities on respect for detainees’ rights and judicial guarantees, and monitored detainees’ treatment and conditions.

In a bid to alleviate overcrowding and protect prisoners from an outbreak of COVID-19, authorities have released certain detainees. On 14 August, 73 people detained at the Kalemie prison were released by a presidential decree. Another decree from 30 June led to the release of 79 people from the Kangbayi prison as well as the release of 129 detainees from the Bunia prison. On 14 May, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) provided 4,000 face masks to the Ndolo prison and the World Health Organisation (WHO) installed two isolation tents within the Makala prison facility to care for ill detainees.

Many coronavirus cases have now been detected within the country’s prison system. The first case was identified in the Kayiti prison on 10 June and in response, the facility was isolated and movement to and from the facility was completely suspended. Yet, in August, a testing campaign in the Amuru prison revealed that 153 prisoners tested positive for the virus among the 205 prisoners. A staff member also tested positive and in consequence, the whole facility was confined during 28 days. Subsequently on 9 and 11 September, 76 prisoners at Kitgum prison and 30 others at the Moroto prison tested positive for the virus.

While authorities have taken certain measures to alleviate overcrowding in the country’s criminal prisons and reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, the GDP has been unable to find reports indicating that authorities have adopted any measures to assist migrants. The GDP has also been unable to establish the extent to which detention facilities are used in the DRC as part of immigration enforcement policies or obtain any details about whether any COVID-19 related measures have been taken in the country to safeguard people who are in custody for immigration reasons, including as part of deportation proceedings.

11 October 2020

Jamaica

Minister Matthew Samuda is Shown the Cafeteria of the New Broughton Sunset Rehabilitation Adult Correctional Centre by Superintendent A., (Ian Allen,
Minister Matthew Samuda is Shown the Cafeteria of the New Broughton Sunset Rehabilitation Adult Correctional Centre by Superintendent A., (Ian Allen, "245 New COVID Cases; Four Inmates Positive, Too - Mask Wearing Not Mandatory for Prisoners," The Gleaner, 31 August 2020, http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/lead-stories/20200831/245-new-covid-cases-four-inmates-positive-too-mask-wearing-not)
Jamaica successfully avoided a large COVID-19 outbreak during the initial months of the pandemic. However, since late August 2020, the numbers of confirmed infections have surged, increasing the total number of cases to nearly 8,000 by October 2020. The government announced emergency measures in September, including curfews and limits to the size of public gatherings.

There does not appear to have been any particular measures taken with respect to migrants or asylum seekers in Jamaica. Although Jamaica is a party to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, it does not have corresponding asylum legislation and there are no official mechanisms in place to assist in the identification of asylum seekers. In 2019, Jamaica only received 5 applications for international protection, according to UNHCR. And although the refugee agency reported that there were no refugees in Jamaica that year, there were 121 displaced Venezuelans in the country. The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) reported that in 2019, there were 23,468 international migrants in Jamaica.

The government has been slow to implement protective measures in prisons. As of 31 August, the government was still refusing to release low-risk detainees in high-density prisons to curb the virus’ spread. In addition, authorities do not make it compulsory for people within penal institutions to wear face masks. The director of the prisoner rights group “Stand Up For Jamaica” expressed concern that scores of inmates may be vulnerable to the spread of the virus, citing the country’s long-standing problem of overcrowding in prisons. Gullotta has called for the government to release low-risk prisoners, especially juvenile offenders who have not seen their relatives in months and are prone to psychological problems. Gullotta said that her “major concern was, in a place like prisons, where people are packed up and in a permanently overcrowded environment, the fact that people can enter means a huge risk for all of them.”

The government’s decision to not impose the wearing of face masks within penal institutions was defended by Minister Matthew Samuda who said that “mask wearing is only imposed on all those who work in the facilities because it’s the people who work within the facilities who could have brought it in.” Yet, on 31 August, four detainees tested positive at the Horizon penitentiary in Kingston. The detainees were placed in isolation and the facility suspended the admission of any new detainees. Two other detainees then tested positive for the virus on 22 September at the Tower Street prison, another Kingston prison.

Although the GDP has been unable to find any information about protections provided to immigration detainees in Jamaica, there are long-standing concerns that the country does not provide appropriate conditions of detention for people in immigration procedures. In 2017, the UN Committee on Migrant workers issued a series of recommendations in its “concluding observations” during the periodic review of Jamaica. The committee stated: “The Committee recommends that the State party ensure that its national laws, policies and practices adequately respect the right to liberty and the prohibition of arbitrary detention of migrant workers and members of their families, and in particular that it: (a) Amend the Aliens Act to include, as a priority response to irregular migration, alternatives to detention for migration-related administrative infractions and measures to ensure that detention is used only as an exceptional measure of last resort, in line with the Committee’s general comment No. 2 (2013) on the rights of migrant workers in an irregular situation and members of their families; (b) Ensure due process in all detention procedures within the State party’s jurisdiction, including in international waters; (c) Ensure that family members and children are not detained on the basis of their immigration status or, in the case of children, their parents’ status and adopt alternatives to detention that allow children to remain with family members and/or guardians; (d) Decriminalize irregular migration and ensure that migrant workers and members of their families have access to legal aid, effective remedies, justice and consular services, and that the guarantees enshrined in the Convention are upheld, in full compliance with articles 16 and 17 of the Convention; (e) Provide information on the number of migrant workers arrested, detained and expelled for immigration-related infractions, the reasons for their detention and expulsion and their detention conditions, including the length of detention.”

09 October 2020

Vanuatu

Voters Washing Their Hands Before Casting Ballots in a Polling Station on Malekula Island on 19 March 2020, (The MSG Secretariat,
Voters Washing Their Hands Before Casting Ballots in a Polling Station on Malekula Island on 19 March 2020, (The MSG Secretariat, "Supporting Observation of a Covid-19 General Elections in Vanuatu," International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, 2 April 2020, https://www.idea.int/news-media/news/supporting-observation-covid-19-general-elections-vanuatu)
Amidst fears that the country’s healthcare system would be overwhelmed by a Covid-19 outbreak, Vanuatu announced a State of Emergency and closed its borders to all inbound flights and vessels in March. Said one expert, “Their health system is fragile and even a few cases of Covid-19 will overwhelm their health system.” As of early October 2020, the country had not declared any cases of the virus.

In April, the arrival of Cyclone Harold, one of the strongest storms ever recorded in the Southeast Pacific, resulted in a severe humanitarian crisis on the island. This was further exacerbated by the government’s ban on foreign aid workers from entering the country due to fears that they could bring in coronavirus. In the wake of the cyclone, the government lifted restrictions on domestic air and sea travel to facilitate the movement of aid supplies, but strict international travel restrictions remain in place.

Vanuatu is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention and has not historically received many asylum seekers. In 2013, UNHCR reported that it was aware of two refugees residing in the country, both of whom were awaiting resettlement.

According to the 2020 US Trafficking in Persons Report, there have been cases of labour exploitation of foreigners in the country. In March 2019, authorities arrested four Bangladeshi nationals for their role in a forced labour case involving 101 Bangladeshi nationals. In November that year, the government initiated court proceedings, leading to the first trafficking prosecution in the country’s history. Although the government provided support to some victims, it also forced some to stay in the country for the duration of the prosecution without allowing them to earn an income, increasing their vulnerability to re-trafficking and exploitation. There remains a lack of systematic anti-trafficking training for law enforcement officials and a lack of public awareness campaigns surrounding the issue.

There is little or no information about the use of enforcement measures like arrest and detention in immigration procedures in Vanuatu.

09 October 2020

Netherlands

Syrian refugee sings while playing Oud at the former prison of De Koepel in Haarlem, Netherlands, on 21 April 2016 (Muhammed Muheisen, AP Photo,
Syrian refugee sings while playing Oud at the former prison of De Koepel in Haarlem, Netherlands, on 21 April 2016 (Muhammed Muheisen, AP Photo, "For asylum seekers, Dutch prisons feel like home," AP Images Blog, 17 May 2016, https://apimagesblog.com/blog/2016/05/17/for-asylum-seekers-dutch-prisons-feel-like-home)
Unlike many of its EU neighbours, the Netherlands largely avoided implementing strict measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus after the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. But in the past month, the country has seen a surge in new cases, leaving the Netherlands with one of the highest infection rates in the world (160 per 100,000 weekly). While this is spurring the adoption of some new safeguards, including urging--but not making mandatory--masks in public facilities, the government recently announced a prohibition on the use of masks by detainees, according to information provided to the Global Detention Project by Meldpunt Vreemdelingendetentie (“Immigration Detention Hotline”). A 6 October press release from the Ministry of Justice and Security states that detainees are not to wear masks “for security reasons.”

This policy appears to place the Netherlands in a category all by itself. To date, the Global Detention Project (GDP)--which has reviewed Covid-related policies in nearly 150 countries--has not reported a similar mask prohibition in prisons or detention centres in any other country.

Dutch authorities claim that the policy is necessary so that detainees can be quickly and easily identified, and because “new detainees are quarantined for 8 days upon their arrival, and are continuously monitored for symptoms.” However, the policy should also be situated within a broader (and controversial) national debate surrounding the “effectiveness” of face masks.

The policy is causing mounting concern among detainees and rights advocates. Meldpunt Vreemdelingendetentie reported that it has been receiving daily calls from immigration detainees concerned about the spread of COVID-19. On 2 October 2020, a person called the hotline from the Rotterdam Immigration Detention Centre claiming that undocumented migrants are being punished with solitary confinement for wearing a mouth mask to avoid the spread of COVID-19.

There have also been reports of guards refusing to hand out hygiene gel or hand soap to detainees. As previously reported on this platform (see 25 May 2020 Netherlands update), Meldpunt Vreemdelingendetentie reported to the GDP that as of 15 May, 260 people remained in immigration detention in the Netherlands and that those that remained complained about several issues, including the lack of soap and hot water, the fact that guards do not wear masks, the suspension of visits, and the fact that cell doors remain closed for up to 21 hours each day. Meldpunt Vreemdelingendetentie says that it is impossible to keep 1.5m distance in the Rotterdam centre and that staff do not wear masks when they are in contact with detainees. A number of staff members and undocumented migrants have already tested positive for COVID-19 and in consequence, the detention centre opened a quarantine ward dedicated for undocumented migrants who have tested positive for the virus.

In the Netherlands, undocumented migrants can be held in immigration detention for up to 18 months, the maximum limit provided under the EU Returns Directive. Meldpunt Vreemdelingendetentie reported that they were in contact with a man who came to the Netherlands as a minor, and who has now been locked up for almost 14 months in the Rotterdam immigration detention centre. Detainees are quarantined in the purposely built isolation ward for eight days upon arrival. They are then moved to a shared cell. Although some of these people may have tested negative for the virus, they still may suffer from symptoms such as a headache and a strong cough. Other detainees have become alarmed, noticing symptoms from fellow detainees, which has led to spouts of violence and conflict (see 25 May Netherlands update).

Controversial Covid-related immigration enforcement policies have not been limited to practices in detention centres. Unlike some of its EU partners, the Netherlands did not fully suspend deportations and removals. Responding to the GDP’s COVID-19 survey, a government official who asked to remain anonymous (see 16 June Netherlands update on this platform) reported that removals were still possible to several countries during the pandemic, including Indonesia, Brazil, and Poland. Meldpunt Vreemdelingendetentie commented that while they had not heard of any deportations from the country’s immigration detention centres during the pandemic, “a removal to Poland on the 12th of May took place by land. It is also said that they have still deported about 90 persons from the 9th March until the 10th of May - but it is unclear if these persons were refused at the border in the first place and sent back directly” (see 25 May Netherlands update on this platform).

In the meantime, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has reported on the depredations faced by detained migrants and asylum seekers during the pandemic in Aruba, the Dutch overseas territory in the Caribbean. Since May, Venezuelans detained at the Guarda Nos Costa immigration detention center (GNC) have repeatedly demanded that they be returned to Venezuela because of the terrible conditions in which they are detained. Humanitarian groups have been denied access to the facility and there is little information on the facility. Media outlets as well as human rights organisations have reported poor conditions, including overcrowding, violence from guards, and a lack of basic hygiene products. Detainees say that they do not receive visits nor adequate nutrition, and that they are only allowed to speak over the phone for a few minutes with their families. Authorities have not permitted flights or boat traffic between Aruba and Venezuela since February 2019, thus halting deportation procedures. Yet, authorities continue to keep Venezuelan migrants in detention, with some being kept for more than six months.

08 October 2020

Viet Nam

P. Jha, “Coronavirus Vietnam: The Mysterious Resurgence of Covid-19,” BBC News, 8 August 2020, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-53690711
P. Jha, “Coronavirus Vietnam: The Mysterious Resurgence of Covid-19,” BBC News, 8 August 2020, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-53690711
As of 7 October, Viet Nam had detected 1,099 cases of COVID-19, out of a population of 21.5 million people. Although the country has been lauded for its efforts to contain the virus--including through early border closures and widespread quarantine and testing activities--some observers have questioned the government’s transparency in reporting COVID-19 statistics.

The Law On Foreigners’ Entry Into, Exit From, Transit Through and Residence in Viet Nam does not provide provisions on immigration detention, and there is little available information about the treatment of migrants or asylum seekers in immigration enforcement procedures in the country. Viet Nam is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention. As of December 2017, the government reported that the number of registered stateless persons and persons of undetermined nationality had increased to 29,522 from 11,000 at the end of 2016. It also reported that there had not been any asylum applications in Viet Nam since 2002.

According to the 2020 US Trafficking in Persons Report, the Vietnamese government has made efforts to protect victims of trafficking by providing them with the right to legal representation, shelter, and financial support; as well as operating awareness campaigns in communities vulnerable to trafficking. However, victim identification and assistance procedures reportedly remain ineffective.

07 October 2020

Libya

Migrants Sitting in a Room in a Detention Centre in Western Libya, (Al-Jazeera,
Migrants Sitting in a Room in a Detention Centre in Western Libya, (Al-Jazeera, "COVID-19 Lockdown Worsens Migrants' Suffering in Libya," 2 May 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/videos/2020/05/02/covid-19-lockdown-worsens-migrants-suffering-in-libya/
COVID-19 cases are rising in Libya, rising from 200 cases in June to some 28,000 cases by October 2020. Movement restrictions along with curfews, as well as the ongoing conflict and economic crisis, have led to sharp increases in food prices, making it hard for refugees and asylum seekers to support themselves. In response, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and world food programme (UNWFP) have expanded efforts to provide these vulnerable populations with emergency food assistance, including people recently released from detention centres. More than 20 people, including minors, were assisted earlier this month following their release from Triq al Seka Detention Centre. A UNWFP representative said that “the situation is getting worse by the day. Many people can’t access food for a number of reasons including prices going up and limited food availability. At the same time, there are almost no opportunities to work.”

OHCHR has also called for urgent action to address the situation of migrants crossing the central Mediterranean. A team dispatched by OHCHR to monitor the situation of migrants transiting through Libya, highlighted a “cycle of violence” whereby people were left to drift for days at sea, their boats dangerously intercepted, and then returned to suffer arbitrary detention, torture, and other serious human rights violations in Libya. Many refugees and asylum seekers reported that the Libyan Coast Guard shot or rammed their boats, causing vessels to capsize or people to jump in the water in desperation.

According to IOM, during the week of 22-28 September 2020, 517 migrants were intercepted at sea after departing Libya, and so far during 2020 more than 9,400 people had been returned to the country after being intercepted. Detention numbers have likewise remained high as many returnees are locked up upon arrival. According to UNHCR, as of 18 September there were more than 2,400 migrants and refugees in the eight official detention centres throughout the country. People intercepted at sea are generally sent to Al Nasr, Abu Salim, and Suq al-Khamis detention centres. Disembarkation following rescue-at-sea operations are taking place several times per week and the UNHCR team and IRC medical partner are deployed to provide refreshments, medical first aid, verification of profiles, and monitoring of destination. UNHCR reported that out of 1,260 people disembarked by the Libyan Coast Guard or the Coastal Security (GACS) in August, 32 percent were released upon disembarkation or escaped. Most of the releases take place in the west, where the AGCS is most operational but where the detention centre manager at the Zuwarah detention centre is reluctant to take responsibility for more people, due to capacity issues.

Aid agencies also reported that 231 refugees and asylum seekers had been released from detention in 2020 and that 201 monitoring visits had taken place this year. As of 30 September, 8,898 refugees and migrants were registered as intercepted at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard and disembarked in Libya. Despite COVID-19, disembarkation figures are similar to those in September 2019 (1,120 individuals, including 68 women and 79 children). Moreover, on 28 and 29 September, UNHCR and IRC distributed hygiene kits, mattresses, blankets, and plastic basins to vulnerable asylum seekers and migrants being held at Triq al Seka (1,094 individuals) and Abu Salim (145 individuals) detention centres in Tripoli. In total, UNHCR stated that there are 46,247 registered refugees and asylum seekers in Libya and IOM reported 392,241 internally displaced persons in 2020.

06 October 2020

Saudi Arabia

Ethiopian Migrants Expelled by Yemeni Rebels Who Forced Them to the Saudi Arabian Border, (AFP,
Ethiopian Migrants Expelled by Yemeni Rebels Who Forced Them to the Saudi Arabian Border, (AFP, "Deaths at Saudi Arabia Detention Centre for Ethiopians - Amnesty," BBC News, 3 October 2020, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-54385365)
Amnesty International (AI) reported that at least three people died in detention centres housing thousands of Ethiopian migrants in Saudi Arabia (AI 02.10.2020). The rights group said that migrants were facing “unimaginable cruelty,” including being chained together in pairs, and using their cell floors as toilets. AI urged Saudi authorities to improve conditions in the centres. The migrants from Ethiopia and other countries had been working in northern Yemen but were forced out by Houthi rebels. According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), some 2,000 Ethiopians remain stranded on the Yemeni side of the border, without food, water or healthcare.

Many Ethiopian migrants go to Saudi Arabia to work, making the kingdom a key source of foreign remittances for Ethiopia. The kingdom has been cracking down on irregular migrants and as of 2017, there were up to 500,000 irregular migrants from Ethiopia in Saudi Arabia, according to the IOM. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, at least 10,000 Ethiopians on average were being deported each month. However, Ethiopian officials requested a moratorium because of the pandemic. BBC News reported that in recent months, Ethiopia has struggled to create sufficient space in quarantine to welcome their nationals back and make sure they are not bringing the virus with them.

Amnesty International interviewed 12 detained Ethiopian migrants regarding conditions in the al-Dayer detention centre, Jizan central prison, and prisons in Jeddah and Mecca. Conditions are especially dire in al-Dayer and Jizan, where detainees report sharing cells with 350 people. Two migrants told Amnesty that they had personally seen the dead bodies of three men from Ethiopia, Yemen, and Somalia, in al-Dayer. The report did however mention that “all those interviewed said they knew of people who had died in detention, and four people said they had seen bodies themselves.”

Amnesty International urged the Ethiopian government to urgently facilitate the voluntary repatriation of its nationals, while asking the Saudi authorities to improve detention conditions in the meantime. Ethiopia has planned to repatriate 2,000 detained migrants by mid-October, Tsion Teklu, a state minister at Ethiopia’s foreign ministry, told AFP last month. The minister said that the total number of Ethiopian migrants in Saudi Arabian detention facilities was 16,000 this year. In September, three migrants told AFP that visiting Ethiopian diplomats had warned them to stop speaking about detention conditions.

03 October 2020

Sri Lanka

A Health Worker Taking a Blood Sample to Test for COVID-19 Antibodies in Colombo, (M. Srinivasan,
A Health Worker Taking a Blood Sample to Test for COVID-19 Antibodies in Colombo, (M. Srinivasan, "Coronavirus: Sri Lanka Sees Surge in Infections," The Hindu, 10 July 2020, https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/coronavirus-sri-lanka-sees-surge-in-infections/article32046456.ece)
As of 28 September, Sri Lanka, with a population of 21.5 million, had detected only 3,360 cases of COVID-19. Although the country has been lauded for its containment of the virus, members of Sri Lanka’s Muslim minority have allegedly become stigmatised as carriers of the virus. There is also little information available concerning the impact of the virus on displaced populations, including migrants and refugees.

Sri Lanka is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention. With no national asylum framework, asylum seekers and refugees are treated as irregular immigrants and may be subject to arrest, detention, and deportation under the Immigrants and Emigrants Act. In 2005, UNHCR signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Sri Lankan government allowing UNHCR to pursue its protection mandate for asylum seekers, refugees, and internally-displaced people. In 2019, UNHCR reported that there were 37,947 persons of concern in the country.

Sri Lankan immigration detention facilities are known to subject detainees to poor living conditions, raising concerns for the welfare of detainees during the pandemic. In 2017, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention visited Mirihana detention facility, and noted extreme overcrowding, poor shower and bathroom facilities, and lack of recreational activities. The group urged Sri Lankan authorities to “Cease holding migrants in Mirihana immigration detention facility immediately as it is entirely inappropriate for such purposes.” However, as of at least February 2020 the facility remained open.

Civil society organisations have criticised Sri Lanka’s prison conditions for being overcrowded, sometimes housing 5,000 inmates in a facility made for 800 people. On 7 July, an inmate at Sri Lanka’s largest prison, Welikada Remand Prison, tested positive for COVID-19. Subsequently, all inmates and staff members at the prison were tested for the virus, and all wards were cleansed and sanitised. The infected inmate had been transferred into the Prison from a drug rehabilitation centre in Kandakadu in Polonnaruwa district, located in Sri Lanka North Central Province. Shortly afterwards, it was reported that a cluster of at least 340 cases of COVID-19 had emerged from the Kandakadu centre. On 8 July, the government banned personal prison visits to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

02 October 2020

North Korea

France24, “North Korea Issues Shoot-To-Kill Orders to Prevent Virus: US,” 11 September 2020, https://www.france24.com/en/20200911-north-korea-issues-shoot-to-kill-orders-to-prevent-virus-us
France24, “North Korea Issues Shoot-To-Kill Orders to Prevent Virus: US,” 11 September 2020, https://www.france24.com/en/20200911-north-korea-issues-shoot-to-kill-orders-to-prevent-virus-us
Having closed its borders in January in an attempt to prevent the spread of the virus into the country from China, North Korea has declared that it has no cases of COVID-19. The country is believed to have established anti-coronavirus rules that involve “indiscriminate shooting” of anyone approaching its borders illegally. On 24 September 2020, the Republic of Korea accused North Korea of fatally shooting a public servant who was likely attempting to defect and was found in North Korean waters.

On 24 September 2020, commenting on the incident and North Korea’s claims regarding its lack of COVID-19 cases, a proliferation expert at the UK think tank RUSI told inews, “It’s really hard to know for sure whether or not there have been any cases of coronavirus in North Korea. Given the spread of the virus around the world, and North Korea’s trade relationship with China, I would be sceptical about North Korea’s no-cases claims. However, it’s also important to think about this critically, as the nature of the government and society in North Korea means that it is easier to implement and enforce measures that would stop the virus from spreading uncontrollably.”

In July, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered a city near the border with the Republic of Korea to be locked down after officials found a person who may have been infected with the coronavirus, state media reported.

01 October 2020

United Kingdom

Border Force Officials Recover Dinghy After Migrants Landed on Deal Beach, (Luke Dray, Getty Images,
Border Force Officials Recover Dinghy After Migrants Landed on Deal Beach, (Luke Dray, Getty Images, "UK Tested Channel 'Blockade' to Deter Migrants, Leak Reveals," The Guardian, 1 October 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/oct/01/uk-tested-channel-blockade-to-deter-migrants-leak-reveals)
The Covid-19 pandemic appears to be fundamentally altering how migrants and asylum seekers arrive in the UK ... and how the UK responds to these arrivals. So far this year, some 7,000 people have arrived irregularly on small boats that have made the perilous crossing of the Channel--more than three times the number during all of 2019--which appears to be driven at least in part by the decreasing volume of lorry traffic in and out of the country (see the 27 August 2020 update). Last month, UK authorities announced plans to repurpose Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre to boost its capacity to accommodate people intercepted while attempting this crossing (see 27 August United Kingdom update on this platform).

While these developments have drawn widespread attention, the Home Office has also been seeking to redesign the functioning of the country’s asylum system. On 1 October 2020, the Guardian reported on leaked documents revealing that trials have taken place to test a blockade in the Channel, similar to Australia’s controversial “turn back the boats” tactic. The document states that “trails are currently underway to test a ‘blockade’ tactic in the Channel on the median line between French and UK waters, akin to the Australian ‘turn back’ tactic, whereby migrant boats would be physically prevented (most likely by one or more UK RHIBs, rigid hull inflatable boats, from entering UK waters.” The UK government said it would not comment on the leaked measures but said that they would soon bring forward ‘a package of measures’ to address illegal migration once the UK has left the EU.”

On 30 September, the Guardian reported that the UK government was considering the option of sending asylum seekers to Moldova, Morocco, or Papua New Guinea. Documents seen by the Guardian detailed proposals to hold refugees in offshore detention centres. However, the documents suggest that officials in the Foreign Office have been resisting the government's proposals to process asylum applications in detention facilities overseas. The documents also reportedly contained suggestions on the construction of detention centres on the islands of Ascension and St. Helena. The documents, marked “official” and “sensitive” summarise advice from Foreign Office officials, which had been asked to “offer advice on possible options for negotiating an offshore asylum processing facility similar to the Australian model in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.” The Australian system has attracted criticism from human rights groups, the United Nations, and even the UK government. According to the documents seen by the Guardian, British ministers have privately raised concerns with Australia over the abuse of detainees in its offshore detention facilities.”

On 30 September, Home Secretary Priti Patel asked officials to consider processing asylum seekers at Ascension and St. Helena. Home Office sources were quick to distance themselves from the proposals and the UK government has also played down both islands as destinations for asylum processing centres. However, the documents seen by the Guardian seem to suggest that the government had been working on “detailed plans” that include cost estimates of building camps, as well as other proposals to build facilities in Moldova, Morocco, and Papua New Guinea.

The UK’s proposal seems to go further than Australia’s system, which is based on migrants being intercepted while outside national waters. The UK documents state that its proposal would involve relocating asylum seekers who “have arrived in the UK and are firmly within the jurisdiction of the UK for the purposes of the ECHR and Human Rights Act 1998.” In addition, the documents suggest that the idea of third country destinations for UK asylum processing centres came directly from Downing Street and the request for advice reportedly came from “the PM.” The Times also reported that the government was giving serious consideration to the idea of creating floating asylum centres in disused ferries moored off the UK coast.

Nonetheless, the Foreign Office advice contained in the documents appears to be highly dismissive of the ideas emanating from Downing Street, citing legal, practical, and diplomatic obstacles to processing asylum seekers overseas. The documents highlight that:

Plans to process asylum seekers in Ascension or St Helena would be “extremely expensive and logistically complicated.” The estimated cost is £220m per 1,000 beds and running costs of £200m. One document adds that: “in relation to St Helena, we will need to consider if we are willing to impose the plan if the local government object.”

Legal, diplomatic, and practical obstacles to the plan include the existence of “sensitive military installations” on the island of Ascension. Military issues mean that the “US government would need to be persuaded at the highest levels, and even then success cannot be guaranteed.”

It is “highly unlikely” that any north African state would agree to hosting asylum seekers relocated to the UK.

Seeming to dismiss the idea of sending asylum seekers to Moldova, Foreign Office officials pointed out that there is a conflict over Transnistria as well as endemic corruption. In consequence, “if an asylum centre depended on reliable, transparent, credible cooperation from the host country justice system, we would not be able to rely on this.”

Foreign Office officials also warned of “significant political and logistical obstacles” to sending asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea including that the country is more than 8,500 miles away, has a fragile public health system and is “one of the bottom few countries in the world in terms of medical personnel per head of population.”

A Whitehall source familiar with the government plans stated that the plans were part of a push by the government to “radically beef-up the hostile environment” in 2021 following the end of the Brexit transition. The source said that the government is seeking to adopt policies that would “discourage” and “deter” migrants from entering the UK irregularly, similarly to Theresa May’s “hostile environment”, which is no longer being used in government.

The documents seen by the Guardian contain legal advice from the Home Office to Downing Street. The advice states that the policy would require legislative changes, including “disapplying sections 77 and 78 of the Nationality Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 so that asylum seekers can be removed from the UK while their claim or appeal is pending.”

On 30 September, when asked about the UK’s plans to ship asylum seekers to the south Atlantic for processing, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesperson confirmed that the UK was considering Australian-style offshore processing centres. He stated that the UK had a “long and proud history” of accepting asylum seekers but needed to act, particularly due to many migrants making unofficial crossings from France in small boats.

The UK government plans have been strongly criticised by experts familiar with Australia’s immigration policies stating that the plan risks creating a fresh “human rights disaster.” Elaine Pearson, Australia director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), said that the Australian experience of offshore processing has been “a human rights disaster” that was still causing suffering.

Despite the criticism, the top civil servant at the Home Office said that “all options are on the table” for the migration system, responding to reports that officials were asked to consider proposals to hold refugees in offshore detention centres. Matthew Rycroft, the department’s permanent secretary, said that the Cabinet Office would lead an inquiry into the leak of documents. Rycroft stated that the aim of the exercise was to improve “our system of asylum so we can continue to provide the protection to those who need it in accordance with our international obligations and to make sure the system is not being abused.”

01 October 2020

Tuvalu

C. Farbotko and T. Kitara, “How is Tuvalu Securing Against COVID-19?,” DevPolicyBlog, 6 April 2020, https://devpolicy.org/how-is-tuvalu-securing-against-covid-19-20200406/
C. Farbotko and T. Kitara, “How is Tuvalu Securing Against COVID-19?,” DevPolicyBlog, 6 April 2020, https://devpolicy.org/how-is-tuvalu-securing-against-covid-19-20200406/
Like other Pacific-island nations that this platform has reported on (like Samoa and Tonga), Tuvalu had yet to report any COVID-19 cases as of October 2020. In March, the country instituted a State of Emergency and shut its borders to all inbound flights and vessels. Tuvalu has one hospital for its approximately 11,000-person population, with limited medical personnel and equipment, resulting in fears that a domestic outbreak would overwhelm the health system.

Tuvalu has ratified the Refugee Convention, but it does not receive significant numbers of asylum seekers or refugees, and immigration measures like detention and deportation do not appear to be employed as enforcement tools.

30 September 2020

Nauru

Aerial View of Nauru, (Getty Images,
Aerial View of Nauru, (Getty Images, "Nauru Refugees: The Island Where Children Have Given Up on Life," BBC News, 1 September 2018, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-45327058)
During a near 20-year period (2001-2019), the tiny island nation of Nauru hosted a controversial offshore processing centre for Australia that confined asylum seeking men, women, and children in order to prevent them from making their journeys to Australia. Since the facility officially closed, refugees and asylum seekers on the island have faced a precarious accommodation situation. This situation has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic as the 210 people still on Nauru, many of whom have had either medical transfers or resettlement requests approved since 2019, have seen their cases stalled--due to delays, government inertia, and COVID-19 travel restrictions--and their services curtailed, including healthcare.

As of September 2020, Nauru remained one of only a small handful of countries that had yet to report any COVID-19 cases. However, there is concern that a COVID-19 outbreak would quickly overwhelm the country’s health infrastructure. In April, the Refugee Council of Australia stated that health systems in Papua New Guinea and Nauru could not withstand full-blown outbreaks. It said: "There is ample and overwhelming evidence of the inadequacies in healthcare provision in those countries, even with financial support from Australia. … Further pressure on those fragile health systems could result in their falling apart, with serious consequences for the refugees … many of whom already have chronic illnesses and are immunocompromised." It recommended that refugees be evacuated from regional processing centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea to Australia.

According to a report by BuzzFeed News, the International Health & Medical Services (IHMS), which the Australian government contracts to provide medical services to the refugees on Nauru, is responsible for the care of any refugees who contract COVID-19. However, the country has seen a rapid exodus of interpreters, caseworkers, security guards, and doctors because of ongoing fears over the island’s inability to handle an outbreak of the coronavirus. In late March, one group of refugees met with their caseworkers (who are employed by a Nauruan government entity) and demanded to know who would be responsible if they were infected with the virus and what treatment was available. One refugee criticized the Nauru government’s response to the pandemic: "All the refugees and asylum seekers thought that if [they] were infected by coronavirus, nobody would look after them. … The Nauru government only looks after Nauruans." The caseworkers promised to take the questions to the Australian Border Force (ABF), but the group did not receive a response. Another refugee told BuzzFeed News, “If someone gets coronavirus here, there’s no solution. There's no good treatment… We will suffer and we will die here."

30 September 2020

Tonga

Students from the Queen Salote School of Nursing Participate in a Repatriation Drill in June 2020, (Government of the Kingdom of Tonga,
Students from the Queen Salote School of Nursing Participate in a Repatriation Drill in June 2020, (Government of the Kingdom of Tonga, "Tonga Practices COVID-19 Repatriations," RNZ, 17 June 2020, https://www.rnz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/419162/tonga-practices-covid-19-repatriations)
In March, Tonga instituted a State of Emergency and shut its borders in order to prevent a domestic outbreak. As with other Pacific-island nations like Palau and Samoa, Tonga remained as of October 2020 one of a small handful of countries that had not reported any COVID-19 cases.

Historically, Tonga has not been a destination for asylum seekers or refugees. There is no national asylum legislation and the country is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention. There is little available information about the treatment of migrants or asylum seekers in immigration enforcement procedures in Tonga.

According to the 2020 US Trafficking in Persons Report, there are concerns about the vulnerability of Tongan nationals and foreign individuals to trafficking in Tonga. Since convicting its first trafficker in April 2011, the government has not prosecuted or convicted any trafficking cases. The government has still not developed procedures to proactively identify victims or effectively coordinated anti-trafficking efforts.

29 September 2020

Myanmar

Reuters, “Myanmar’s ‘Maximum Containment’ COVID-19 Plan Pushed to Brink as Virus Surges,” Channel News Asia, 24 September 2020, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/covid-19-myanmar-maximum-containment-plan-pushed-brink-13141922
Reuters, “Myanmar’s ‘Maximum Containment’ COVID-19 Plan Pushed to Brink as Virus Surges,” Channel News Asia, 24 September 2020, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/covid-19-myanmar-maximum-containment-plan-pushed-brink-13141922
There have been some 7,500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 147 deaths in Myanmar. After weeks without any local transmissions, Myanmar reported an outbreak in the western Rakhine state in mid-August that has since spread across the country. As of September 21, 45,000 people had been quarantined in the country’s attempts to contain the virus. The country’s weak public health system, however, presents significant challenges: As of early 2020, there were only 330 intensive care beds available for a population of 54 million; in 2018, the WHO estimated that there were 6.7 doctors per 10,000 people in the country.

Even before the mass outbreaks of COVID-19 in August, leading public officials appeared to try to exploit the pandemic for political purposes. In June, the controversial democracy advocate and current State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi threatened to “severely” punish anybody crossing into the country illegally, as well as those who harbor undocumented arrivals. The move was seen by some to implicitly scapegoat Rohingya returnees for allegedly bringing COVID-19 cases into the country. The statement also appeared to contradict Suu Kyi’s previous comments encouraging returnees coming from Thailand into Mon and Kayin states to undertake testing and quarantine, with no legal repercussions. Soon after Suu Kyi’s comments were published, hate speech against the Rohingya appeared to surge. Kyaw Win, director of Burma Human Rights Network, said the narrative that the Rohingya brought COVID-19 into Myanmar was an attempt to “divide the Rakhine and Rohingya community.” In September, amidst a resurgence of the pandemic and a growth in the number of COVID-19 cases in Yangon, the government began to criticise ethnic Rakhine for carrying the virus to the capital, echoing its previous criticisms of the Rohingya.

The government of Myanmar has been widely criticised for its gross human rights violations, including the often violent persecution of minorities, particularly the country’s Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine populations. The historical roots of this ongoing crisis can be found in the discriminatory 1982 Citizenship Law, which rendered hundreds of thousands of people stateless and vulnerable to systemic discrimination. Protracted waves of violence since 2012 have spurred nearly one million Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine to flee Myanmar to nearby countries, particularly Bangladesh but also Thailand and Malaysia, among others. Currently, about 900,000 Rohingya are living in overcrowded camps in Bangladesh. The estimated 600,000 Rohingya who remain in Rakhine state in Myanmar continue to be subject to state-sanctioned violence. In 2018, the UN Human Rights Council Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar recommended that named senior generals of the Myanmar military be investigated and prosecuted in an international criminal tribunal for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in January 2020 imposed provisional measures on Myanmar to prevent genocide while it adjudicates alleged violations of the Genocide Convention. In November 2019, the International Criminal Court (ICC) began an investigation into Myanmar’s forced deportation of Rohingya and related crimes against humanity.

On 4 June, Myanmar’s Ministry of Health announced the first confirmed case of coronavirus infection in a Muslim Rohingya within its borders. On 31 August 2020, one case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the Taung Paw relocation site in Myebon Township, one of the three camps for internally displaced people (IDP) in the country. No other cases appear to have been confirmed in other IDP camps. There remains widespread concern regarding the health risks faced by Rohingya who currently reside in IDP camps across Rakhine State. Myanmar’s nationwide “Action Plan for the Control of COVID-19 Outbreak at IDP Camps” did not include testing or plans for the country’s IDPs; moreover, Rohingya residing in IDP camps have reported heightened harassment and discrimination in relation to COVID-19 regulations. Rohingya have told Human Rights Watch that military and police forces regularly subject them to physical punishment, fines, and harassment at checkpoints. Those in need of medical referrals also reportedly struggle to obtain permission to leave the camps, to seek treatment. One Rohingya man said that a township official told him that “If people are affected [by COVID-19], you have to get treatment in the camps. They will not be allowed to the hospital.”

In April, Myanmar authorities pardoned some 25,000 prisoners under its annual Buddhist new year amnesty, reducing the overcrowded prison population to just above official capacity. However, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has criticised national prisons for being ill-equipped to deal with a coronavirus outbreak, with only 30 doctors and 80 nurses employed across the entire prison system. HRW has also criticized the government for exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to crack down on freedoms of speech and assembly. At least 500 people, including children, returning migrant workers, and religious minorities, have been sentenced to between one month and one year in prison in Myanmar since late March 2020 for violating curfews, quarantines, or other movement control orders in relation to COVID-19.

29 September 2020

Palau

Reinalda Ebiklou at the entrance to Belau National Hospital, (Richard Brooks,
Reinalda Ebiklou at the entrance to Belau National Hospital, (Richard Brooks, "Fear Will Always Be There: Covid Free Island Prepares to Bring Home Stranded Citizens," The Guardian, 1 June 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/02/fear-will-always-be-there-covid-free-island-prepares-to-bring-home-stranded-citizens)
Palau, a Pacific archipelago nation made up of more than 300 islands, has not been a significant destination for asylum seekers or refugees. However, its location--shared maritime borders with Indonesia, the Philippines, and Micronesia--is adjacent to important migration routes in Asia. Nevertheless, the country does not have national asylum legislation and the country is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention. In April 2015, UNHCR provided assistance to a small number of refugees (fewer than five) in Palau in finding a durable solution. A very small number of asylum seekers sought international protection in Palau in 2014, however, they departed the country following counselling by UNHCR.

There is little available information about the treatment of migrants or asylum seekers in immigration enforcement procedures in Palau. As of September 2020, Palau was one of only a small handful of countries that had yet to report any Covid-19 cases.

Foreign nationals, primarily working in the domestic labour, agriculture, hospitality, or construction industries, make up around one third of the country’s population. According to the 2020 US Trafficking in Persons Report, this population is vulnerable to trafficking. In 2020, Palau “remained without standard operating procedures for victim identification and referral to services. Protection services were insufficient; the government did not provide basic services such as medical and psychological care, and the government did not investigate indicators of trafficking in labor recruitment and contract violations experienced by many foreign workers.”

28 September 2020

Bahrain

Migrant-Rights.org logo, (Migrant-Rights.org, accessed on 28 September 2020, https://www.migrant-rights.org/)
Migrant-Rights.org logo, (Migrant-Rights.org, accessed on 28 September 2020, https://www.migrant-rights.org/)
Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, Migrant-Rights.org, an advocacy organisation that aims to advance the rights of migrant workers, reported that in Bahrain, due to Covid-19, the Ministry of Interior issued a circular ordering authorities not to detain migrants because of their irregular status until the end of the year. Another circular has also been issued whereby migrants should not be detained for minor or administrative offences. According to the source, these orders were present in every police station in Bahrain.

Migrant-Rights.org also reported that due to the coronavirus, hundreds of detained migrants were released from detention centres and prisons following a royal pardon, including 347 Bangledeshi nationals who were pardoned in April 2020 and repatriated to Bangladesh (see 19 April Bangladesh update on this platform). Although there was no information about whether safeguards had been put in place to assist people after their release from detention, official news agencies reported that Covid-19 tests were being carried out at detention centres. Removals from the country were also reportedly halted mainly due to travel restrictions and border closures of countries of origin. In some cases however, organised deportation flights did take place to some countries, including Bangladesh and India, during the pandemic.

As reported in a previous update on the country (see 19 April update on this platform), even though little information regarding the country’s immigration detention system is available, data collected by the GDP shows that the country has used at least five facilities to hold immigration detainees. In 2017, the country had around 820,000 international migrants, which represents nearly 55 percent of Bahrain’s total population.

On 9 April, Reuters reported that in a statement to them, the Bahraini government said it was “absolutely committed” to protecting those in its prison system and that “testing of the prison population is conducted regularly. To date there are no confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Bahrain’s prisons.”

27 September 2020

Mongolia

The Mongolian Military Mans a Checkpoint During a Covid-19 Outbreak Drill, on 7 May 2020, (A. Nyamdavaa,
The Mongolian Military Mans a Checkpoint During a Covid-19 Outbreak Drill, on 7 May 2020, (A. Nyamdavaa, "Practice Makes Perfect? Mongolia's Covid-19 Outbreak Drill," The Diplomat, 9 May 2020, https://thediplomat.com/2020/05/practice-makes-perfect-mongolias-covid-19-outbreak-drill/)
Mongolia has been lauded for its efforts to contain the coronavirus despite having a long, porous border with China. As of 23 September, there had been 313 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and no deaths. However, there appears to be no publicly available information indicating the impact of the virus on migrants or asylum seekers, or whether people in detention or prisons were given additional safeguards to prevent the spread of the disease.

The Law of Mongolia on the Legal Status of Foreign Nationals provides that foreign nationals can be detained for immigration-related offences, and that detention centres are to be established in the capital city and/or at border checkpoints. The rules of operation for these detention centers are to be approved by a Member of Cabinet in charge of justice in consultation with the State Prosecutor. However, little information is publicly available regarding the treatment of migrants or asylum seekers in immigration enforcement procedures in the country.

The Mongolian constitution guarantees the right to seek asylum; however, the Child Education Institute of Mongolia and the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion report that protection is “poor and the law permits the Agency for Foreign Citizens and Naturalization (the country’s immigration agency) to deport failed asylum seekers.” In addition, refugees reportedly do not have access to necessary services such as health care and education, nor the right to work. In its 2020 UPR submission on Mongolia to the Human Rights Council, Amnesty International recommended that the country ratify the UN Refugee Convention.

Because of its long border with China, Mongolia has long been seen as being particularly vulnerable to human trafficking activities. These concerns have grown as the country’s demand for cheap labour for its mining industry has increased. According to the 2020 U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report, while there have been positive developments in the government’s identification of victims and prosecution of traffickers, there remain gaps in its ability to identify foreign or male victims, establish standard identification or referral procedures, and investigate cases of labour exploitation.

26 September 2020

Samoa

WHO Staff Member Demonstrating Handwashing to Children During the COVID-19 Assessment in Upolu, (WHO,
WHO Staff Member Demonstrating Handwashing to Children During the COVID-19 Assessment in Upolu, (WHO, "COVID-19 Preparedness - Supporting the Vulnerable in Samoa," 23 September 2020, https://www.who.int/westernpacific/about/how-we-work/pacific-support/news/detail/23-09-2020-covid-19-preparedness---supporting-the-vulnerable-in-samoa)
Having closed its borders in March to prevent a domestic outbreak, as of October 2020 Samoa remained one of a small number of countries that had yet to report any Covid-19 cases (along with other Pacific island nations, including Palau [see 29 September update on this platform]). Although the country is a signatory to the Refugee Convention, Samoa has not historically been a destination for asylum seekers or refugees. There is little available information about the treatment of migrants or asylum seekers in immigration enforcement procedures in Samoa.

24 September 2020

Bangladesh

Refugees held on Bhasan Char island protesting to return to Cox’s Bazar during a 3-day “go and see visit” to the island for 40 refugees from the camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, September 5, 2020 (Human Rights Watch, “Bangladesh: Reunify Rohingya Refugee Families,” 15 September 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/09/15/bangladesh-reunify-rohingya-refugee-families)
Refugees held on Bhasan Char island protesting to return to Cox’s Bazar during a 3-day “go and see visit” to the island for 40 refugees from the camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, September 5, 2020 (Human Rights Watch, “Bangladesh: Reunify Rohingya Refugee Families,” 15 September 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/09/15/bangladesh-reunify-rohingya-refugee-families)
A controversial refugee settlement set up by the Bangladesh government on the island of Bhasan Char has been under intense scrutiny since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic because of claims by government officials that refugees confined to the site are being kept there as a Covid-19 quarantine measure. This scrutiny has intensified after women refugees reported experiencing sexual abuse and harassment at the hands of police and military officials. “One or two security personnel were caught by the Rohingya men after they raped a young, unmarried girl,” reported one woman. “The girl cried out badly and alerted the Rohingya men who lived in the same area. But we have no way to know if any police case was registered.” Speaking to The Guardian, several women reported that while female officers provided protection, no female officers were on duty overnight.

More than 300 Rohingya refugees remain confined in prison-like facilities on the remote island. Despite the government’s claim that the refugees were placed there as a quarantine measure, the group has been confined since April--far exceeding the recommended 14-day quarantine time frame. Additionally, officials have announced plans to relocate some 103,200 refugees to the island where groups of up to five people are reported to share rooms of just 50 square feet (enough room for one person). According to Amnesty International, rooms are located in sheds, each of which contains 16 units but just two toilets. Refugees report that they are prevented from leaving the sheds in which they are housed. On 5 September, the government arranged a three-day visit to the island for 40 refugees--amongst whom were camp leaders--so that they could explore the new facility. In speaking to some of the group, Human Rights Watch heard numerous concerns including a lack of medical facilities, lack of livelihood opportunities, and worries regarding safety during the monsoon season.

Responding to the GDP’s Covid-19 survey in July 2020, just as criticism over Bhasan Char grew increasingly heated, an IOM official in Bangladesh reported that the country had not instituted any particular policies in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, although he said that “for those who become irregular their status (would be) regularized with extensions of 3 months.” The IOM official added that the country did not have immigration detention and that questions concerning Covid-19 measures taken in facilities were thus not applicable. The source explained that immigration “measures are generally pecuniary punishment (fine).”

As the source did not mention the Bhasan Char situation or the plight of boat people being returned to Bangladesh, the GDP reached out to him for additional comment. He replied: “Your e-mail and survey shared by our team as per relevance to work of border management agencies and coordinated with our immigration and border management team and questions in surveys interpreted as regular and irregular migrants rather than refugees/Rohingya populations. When it comes to Bhasan Char and Refugees the answers will be different as there are different regime and practices by Govt of Bangladesh as well as different agencies are involved in this process. So the answers provided were covered only immigration detention.”

23 September 2020

Micronesia

J. Pasley, “Isolation and Closed Borders: Here's How Ten Pacific Island Nations are COVID-19-Free, and the Costs That Come With it,” Business Insider, 22 September 2020, https://www.businessinsider.com/heres-how-10-pacific-island-nations-are-covid-19-free-2020-9?r=US&IR=T
J. Pasley, “Isolation and Closed Borders: Here's How Ten Pacific Island Nations are COVID-19-Free, and the Costs That Come With it,” Business Insider, 22 September 2020, https://www.businessinsider.com/heres-how-10-pacific-island-nations-are-covid-19-free-2020-9?r=US&IR=T
The Federated States of Micronesia, which as of 25 August 2020 had no confirmed cases of COVID-19, does not have national asylum legislation and is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention. According to the 2020 U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report, human traffickers target women from Micronesia for different forms of exploitation. As of 2020, the government “remained without comprehensive standard operating procedures (SOPs) for proactive victim identification and referral to protection services. Law enforcement and judicial understanding of trafficking remained low and overall protection services continued to be insufficient.” There is little available information about the treatment of migrants or asylum seekers in immigration enforcement procedures in Micronesia.

As regards the country’s prison system, the Micronesian Red Cross reported that it provided a disinfectant station to the Division of Public Safety for use by police officers and visitors to the Yap Prison. The Red Cross also visited prisoners at the facility to brief them on precautions to take to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and to provide them with first aid supplies and soap.

22 September 2020

Greece

BBC, “Lesvos: Hundreds Test Positive for Covid-19 After Migrant Camp Fire,” 22 September 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-54239446
BBC, “Lesvos: Hundreds Test Positive for Covid-19 After Migrant Camp Fire,” 22 September 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-54239446
More than 240 refugees and migrants have tested positive for Covid-19 in the newly erected Kara Tepe camp on Lesvos. The new camp, which was constructed after a fire levelled Moria camp, is built on a former military firing range near the main town of Mytilene.

In the wake of the Moria fire, more than 12,000 refugees and migrants were left homeless—but many reportedly refused to settle in the new camp for fear that they would be prevented from leaving (see 15 September update on this platform). However, following a “police operation” designed to persuade refugees and migrants to relocate to the new facility, on 18 September the Greek migration minister announced that the camp was holding 5,000 persons.

21 September 2020

Iraq

InfoMigrants, “First European Voluntary Return Flight to Iraq Since Start of Pandemic,” 4 September 2020, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/27057/first-european-voluntary-return-flight-to-iraq-since-start-of-pandemic
InfoMigrants, “First European Voluntary Return Flight to Iraq Since Start of Pandemic,” 4 September 2020, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/27057/first-european-voluntary-return-flight-to-iraq-since-start-of-pandemic
Since March, Iraq has imposed movement restrictions and closed border points to control the spread of the virus. The border closures have been a major obstacle for refugees and asylum seekers, mainly from Syria. However, UNHCR reports that since July the Peshkhabour Border Crossing Point has been open intermittently—albeit only to accept the readmission of Syrians already registered in the Kurdish Region of Iraq (KR-I). More recently, with cases rising rapidly in the country, the government announced the closure of the border with Iran—believed to be in order to prevent Iranian pilgrims from entering the country to mark Arbaeen in Najaf and Karbala.

Iraq’s 1.4 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) also represent an extremely vulnerable group in the country. Many IDPs live in precarious and overcrowded shelters that lack adequate hygiene facilities. NGOs and international organisations have provided sanitation kits and health counselling.

According to UNHCR, as of 27 August 2020 a total of 68 Covid-19 cases have been confirmed amongst the refugee and IDP community—including in camps in Anbar, Dohuk, Erbil, and Ninewa Governorates. In some camps, management have initiated lockdowns in-line with Camp Coordination and Camp Management Covid-19 preparedness and response plans.

On 2 September, for the first time since border closures in March, a “voluntary” repatriation flight from Europe returned some 50 Iraqis. The flight was provided by Germany, France, the Netherlands, and Belgium, together with the IOM, and was supported by the EU and financed by Frontex.

18 September 2020

Kiribati

Aerial View of Kiribati (https://www.teriin.org/article/kiribati-land-no-tomorrow)
Aerial View of Kiribati (https://www.teriin.org/article/kiribati-land-no-tomorrow)
Kiribati does not operate any dedicated immigration detention facilities. Instead, foreigners who have committed immigration offences may be detained at a motel, hotel, or guesthouse at the cost of the individual passenger, their agent, or their employer. Those who cannot afford accommodation will be detained in a State Prison Facility. As of September 2020, Kiribati remained one of only a small handful of countries that had yet to report any Covid-19 cases.

18 September 2020

Lao People's Democratic Republic

WHO, “Prime Minister Thanks Partners for Support During First Phase of Lao PDR’s Battle with COVID-19,” 10 June 2020, https://www.who.int/laos/news/detail/10-06-2020-prime-minister-thanks-partners-for-support-during-first-phase-of-lao-pdr-s-battle-with-covid-19
WHO, “Prime Minister Thanks Partners for Support During First Phase of Lao PDR’s Battle with COVID-19,” 10 June 2020, https://www.who.int/laos/news/detail/10-06-2020-prime-minister-thanks-partners-for-support-during-first-phase-of-lao-pdr-s-battle-with-covid-19
Historically, Lao PDR has not been a destination for refugees or asylum seekers. However, the country’s land-locked location and long borders with five other countries has made Lao susceptible to being used as a source, or point of transit, for human traffickers. As the U.S State Department noted in its 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report, “The government continued to struggle to identify Lao and foreign victims of trafficking within Laos, despite acknowledgment by Lao authorities and NGOs of the increased risk of trafficking in specialized economic zones, agricultural plantations, and large-scale infrastructure projects.” Little information is publicly available, though, regarding the treatment of migrants or asylum seekers in immigration enforcement procedures in the country. Since the start of the pandemic, Lao has been lauded for its effective control measures against the virus by the WHO. As of 17 August, there had been 22 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country.

16 September 2020

United States

An aerial view of Irwin County Detention Centre, Georgia (Google Maps)
An aerial view of Irwin County Detention Centre, Georgia (Google Maps)
In a complaint submitted to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General, a nurse previously employed at the Irwin County Detention Centre in the state of Georgia alleges that the women detainees at the privately-operated centre have suffered severe abuses and "jarring medical neglect" throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. According the nurse, Dawn Wooten, officials at the centre, a criminal prison facility that also has immigration detention operations and is run by LaSalle Corrections, have underreported Covid-19 cases, refused to test symptomatic detainees, failed to enforce CDC social-distancing measures, neglected medical complaints, and failed to protect staff by not informing them who has contracted the virus or providing them with appropriate protective equipment. The nurse also states that she became worried about the seemingly high number of hysterectomies being performed on the women, who all spoke Spanish only and did not appear to understand why the procedure had been performed. After she complained to senior leadership regarding the conditions, Wooten states that she was demoted from working full-time, to just a few hours a month.

The complaint was filed on behalf of a group of detainees as well as Wooten by a group of civil society organisations, including Project South, Georgia Detention Watch, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, and South Georgia Immigrant Support Network. One detainee is quoted as saying: “When I met all these women who had had surgeries, I thought this was like an experimental concentration camp. It was like they’re experimenting with our bodies.” According to the complaint, detainees have recounted undergoing the surgery without proper warning or understanding of what was happening to them. “I’ve had several inmates tell me that they’ve been to see the doctor and they’ve had hysterectomies and they don’t know why they went or why they’re going,” said Wooten.

Other facilities run by LaSalle have also been the focus of complaints during the pandemic. Staff at the Richwood Correctional Center in Louisiana submitted a letter to Congress detailing complaints, including the centre management’s withholding of PPE for both detainees and staff. One officer also reported having to blast immigration detainees with an air conditioner to bring their temperatures down, so as to enable them to be deported (ICE policy requires that if a detainee’s temperature is above 99 degrees, they cannot be deported). In an email in response to these allegations, a LaSalle executive stated, “We want to acknowledge and highlight the tremendous work that staff are doing each and every day to protect the health and safety of the men and women in our care. … Very disappointing that anonymous sources would attempt to distort these hero’s [sic] efforts through false and misleading allegations.”

15 September 2020

Greece

BBC News, “Moria Migrants: Fire Destroys Greek Camp Leaving 13,000 Without Shelter,” 9 September 2020, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-54082201
BBC News, “Moria Migrants: Fire Destroys Greek Camp Leaving 13,000 Without Shelter,” 9 September 2020, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-54082201
On 9 September 2020, a few days after several people in Lesvos' Moria Camp tested positive for Covid-19, fires broke out that destroyed the camp, leaving some 13,000 people without shelter and resulting in a major humanitarian crisis. It is unclear how the fires began but according to Greece’s migration minister, the fires “began with the asylum seekers.” Some migrants told the BBC that the fire had broken out after scuffles between migrants and Greek forces at the camp. Marco Sandrone, a project coordinator for Médecins Sans Frontières, stated that while it was difficult to establish the cause of the fires, “it’s a time bomb that finally exploded,” adding that people had been kept in inhumane conditions for years.

After the fire, police reportedly blocked roads to prevent migrants from entering nearby towns. Some locals also reportedly attacked and prevented migrants from passing through a nearby village after they fled the flames. One migrant from Afghanistan told Reuters: “We don’t know where to go, and all the refugees are outside, trying to find a place to at least just stay.” The mayor of Mytilene, Stratis Kytelis, said it was a “very difficult situation because some of those who are outside will include people who are positive for coronavirus.”

Migrants have been left to sleep on the streets or in cemeteries. According to Radio Télévision Suisse (RTS), 800 people have settled in a newly erected emergency camp, where 21 people have tested positive. Most migrants are refusing to settle in the new camp as they fear that once they enter it, they will be prevented from leaving.

On 12 September, Greek riot police fired teargas at refugees protesting against conditions in Lesvos. Witnesses reported teargas being fired after younger migrants began throwing rocks at police units. The Guardian reported that the insistence of Greek officials that transferral is out of the question and a growing realisation that any prospect of leaving is diminishing rapidly have helped create an increasingly toxic atmosphere. One aid worker on the island told the Guardian: “The thought that they may be here for even longer now, the sight of the replacement camp and being stranded without proper shelter for days, has, for many, become the tipping point.”

Certain European countries and the European Union have offered their aid to Greece. For instance, Switzerland has volunteered to take in some unaccompanied minors that were left stranded. In total, 10 countries, including Switzerland, will be taking in 400 unaccompanied minors from the camp. The response of most countries has focussed on resettling unaccompanied minors, although Germany vowed to also take care of families. The Prime Minister of the North-Rhine Westphalia, Armin Laschet, offered to take in “1,000 refugees.”

RTS has qualified the measures adopted by countries regarding the transferral of unaccompanied minors rather than families as “selective solidarity” in that due to children’s vulnerability, governments do not need to justify themselves when providing care for children. However, taking in adults, raises many more doubts in public opinion, especially in times of economic uncertainty.

14 September 2020

France

Detainees in the Patio of the Vincennes CRA in 2019, (Stéphane de Sakutin,
Detainees in the Patio of the Vincennes CRA in 2019, (Stéphane de Sakutin, "Coronavirus : le Conseil d’Etat refuse la fermeture des centres de rétention," Libération, 27 March 2020, https://www.liberation.fr/france/2020/03/27/coronavirus-le-conseil-d-etat-refuse-la-fermeture-des-centres-de-retention_1783367)
In its response to the GDP’s Covid-19 survey, La Cimade, a French human rights NGO that operates inside many of the country’s immigration detention centres (Centres de Rétention Administrative or CRAs), confirmed previous reports that the country had not implemented a detention moratorium since the onset of the pandemic. The organisation explained, however, that in centres where detainees had tested positive for Covid-19, new detention orders were suspended.

In apparent contrast to information previously obtained by the GDP--including from France’s prison inspectorate, which reported that detainees in some CRAs had been released by judicial order because of Covid-19 concerns (see the 16 July France update)--La Cimade stated that to their knowledge, no one had been released stemming from pandemic. The organisation added that even people that tested positive for the virus were kept in their cells or isolation cells, or in buildings dedicated to Covid-19 isolation. La Cimade also said that detainees were not systematically tested for the virus and that they were only tested at their arrival to detention centres if they presented symptoms. These tests were only introduced in March, several weeks after the pandemic had begun.

Additionally, according to La Cimade, removals were not suspended and were only reduced due to destination countries closing their borders. In consequence, La Cimade stated that people detained in CRAs were deprived of their liberty from mid-March despite the fact that removals could not be effectuated. The source added that despite the Covid-19 pandemic, France had not altered their policies towards removals and immigration detention.

In previous updates on this platform (see 16 July, 12 May, and 6 April), we reported that while the government did not close all CRAs, many were temporarily shut, the latest on 3 April. In addition, the GDP reported that on 29 March, the Conseil d’Etat rejected a request to close CRAs stating that “while the 26 CRAs have a capacity of 1800 spaces, only 350 people were detained by March 2020 and 152 on 27 March 2020.” (see 6 April France update on this platform). On 15 April, we reported that the number of persons detained in CRAs was around 10 percent capacity. In addition, a total of 132 people were removed from 10 different CRAs throughout metropolitan France from March to July. Yet, compared with the number of removals in 2018 (15,677 forced removals, i.e. more than 1,300 per month) and in 2019 (18,096 forced removals, i.e. more than 1,575 per month), the number of removals has thus far been considerably lower so far in 2020.

In July, Info Migrants reported that a study conducted by the Paris-based INSEE (National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies) found that “Covid-19 deaths were twice and sometimes three times higher among foreign-born French nationals or residents compared to their French-born counterparts at the height of the pandemic.” In March and April, 129,000 people died (from all causes) compared to 102,800 during the same period last year, an increase of 25 percent attributable to the pandemic. Additionally, the deaths of foreign-born people rose from 22 percent in 2019 to 48 percent in 2020. Info Migrants mentioned that the high death rate among these groups can be partly explained by the fact that immigrant groups in France tend to settle in poorer and more densely populated areas. The study also found that “for people born in France and living in a densely populated commune, deaths between 1 March and 30 April 2020, increased by 39 percent compared to the same period in 2019.” The rate jumped by 76 percent for North Africans and 158 percent for sub-Saharan Africans due to their over-representation in these municipalities.

11 September 2020

Eritrea

Eritrean Refugee Camp in the Tigray Region near the Eritrean Border, (Tiksa Negeri, Reuters,
Eritrean Refugee Camp in the Tigray Region near the Eritrean Border, (Tiksa Negeri, Reuters, "Ethiopia plans to close Eritrean refugee camp despite concerns," Al Jazeera, 19 April 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/04/ethiopia-plans-close-eritrean-refugee-camp-concerns-200417165129036.html)
Although Eritrea long hosted a small population of Somali refugees (roughly 2,000 as of early 2019), in mid-2019 the government closed its only refugee camp, Umkulu, spurring most of the refugees to flee across the border into neighbouring Ethiopia. By the end of 2019, UNHCR reported that there were only 650 refugees remaining in the country. The move to shut the camp came after many years of growing concerns about the treatment of foreigners in the country, including past concerns about possible clandestine detention of migrants. However, there appears to be no public information available about the current status of refugees and migrants in the country, nor about any efforts to safeguard them during the Covid-19 pandemic.

On 3 April, UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Eritrea called on the government to “immediately and unconditionally release those detained without legal basis, including all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, and to adopt urgent measures to reduce the number of people in detention to prevent the spread of COVID-19.” In addition, Human Rights Concern Eritrea, a local NGO, urged the government to release the 10,000 prisoners of conscience that are detained throughout the country’s 350 facilities. The organisation stated that in Eritrean prisons, there may be 100-400 people in a single cell. Containers are also reportedly used to hold some 30 detainees at the same time.

Prison visits were suspended on 2 April. However, according to Amnesty International, sanitary measures were not implemented. Conditions in prisons have been described as inhumane due to the “overcrowding and the general lack of adequate sanitation, healthcare and food.” In Adi Abeyito prison, which is meant to accommodate 800 people, there have been reports of the populations exceeding 2,500. Amnesty International also noted that there are many unofficial detention centres across the country about which there is little or no information available.

11 September 2020

Cameroon

Police Officers Standing in Front of Yaoundé Central Prison, (Africa 24,
Police Officers Standing in Front of Yaoundé Central Prison, (Africa 24, "Cameroon, Prévention du Covid en Milieu Carcéral," Youtube, Africa 24, 20 June 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_jOlWWu97zk&ab_channel=Africa24
A critical humanitarian concern in Cameroon is its growing population of internally displaced people (IDPs), which according to UNHCR has increased substantially in recent months because of violence in northern parts of the country. As of mid-2020 there were nearly one million IDPs in the country, in addition to the more than 400,000 refugees. But there appears to be little updated information about the impact of Covid-19 on these populations. According