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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23 May 2022

Philippines

Bicutan Immigration Detention Centre (Warden Facility) Seen From Outside (Victoria Derbyshire,
Bicutan Immigration Detention Centre (Warden Facility) Seen From Outside (Victoria Derbyshire, "Inside Manila's 'Gulag' - The Philippine Detention Centre Where Britons Languish in Squalid Conditions," 12 October 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=llwSUzmDh7M&ab_channel=HowardJohnson)
The Philippines took measures early in the pandemic to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in detention centres, though measures appear to have targeted prisons rather than immigration centres. In April 2020, authorities announced that some prisoners would be released to alleviate overcrowding and avoid the spread of COVID-19 (see the 18 May 2020 Philippines update). From March to October 2020, the Philippines released 82,000 prisoners. The Bureau of Immigration followed up on this announcement to say that it was speeding up deportation cases and was considering releasing non-citizens detained to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Responding to these announcements, the ICRC delegation in the Philippines underscored the importance of including all types of detention in the COVID measures, saying that it was “important to take stock of the potential gravity of the situation and to step up measures transversally in all places of detention--from police lockups, jails under the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), prisons under the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), to the provincial jails and immigration detention facilities.”

Among the immigration sites highlighted by the immigration authority was the BI Warden Facility at Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, which as of June 2020 was confining 418 non-citizens even though it has a capacity of only 140. However, rather than releasing detainees, the immigration commissioner ordered officials to resolve deportation cases as soon as possible to “reduce the risk of COVID-19 outbreak among the foreigners confined in the facility.” Morente said that bail could be given to some detained irregular migrants as well as an option to be released through “recognisance” which allows temporary freedom without posting a fee. The immigration authority has released two pregnant women on bail, while a third expectant mother has been sent back to her country. In May 2020, the immigration authority said that 75 of its personnel at the BI Warden Facility detention facility as well as 84 detainees had tested negative for COVID-19. However, only 84 out of the 418 detainees were tested due to the limited number of test kits.

The government of the Philippines claims that migrants, persons of concern such as refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless persons in its national vaccination plan. On the other hand, it is unclear whether undocumented migrants will be provided access to the vaccine. According to the UNHCR, in 2020, there were 709 refugees, 397 asylum seekers, 150,368 internally displaced persons and 388 stateless persons in the country. The GDP has been unable to obtain any additional information or details on COVID-19 related measures taken to safeguard people in migration detention.

A 2019 documentary of the centre in Bicutan revealed the paltry conditions at the facility. Testimonies and photos from detainees showed rats and cockroaches, overcrowding, minimal healthcare conditions, and a lack of basic hygienic facilities like toilets and showers. In addition, immigration detainees are detained alongside criminal detainees and authorities make use of solitary confinement. The centre remained in use as of May 2022.

The key norms relating to immigration detention are provided in the Immigration Act of 1940. According to section 25 of that Act, non-citizens may be detained by immigration officers on board “the vessel bringing them or in such other place as the officers may designate” and “for a sufficient length of time to enable the officers to determine whether they belong to an excluded class and their removal to such other place to be at the expense of the vessel bringing them.” Section 29 of the Act lists the “excluded classes” and includes “(15) persons who have been excluded or deported from the Philippines”; “(16) persons who have been removed from the Philippines at the expense of the Government of the Philippines”; and (17) Persons not properly documented for admission as may be required under the provision of this Act.” In addition, section 45 of the Act provides that any individual who “(d) Being an alien, enters the Philippines without inspection and admission by the immigration officials, or obtains entry into the Philippines by wilful, false, or misleading representation or wilful concealment of a material” (...) shall be fined not more than one thousand pesos, and imprisoned for not more than two years, and deported if he is an alien.”

Moreover, section 13 of the Department of Justice Department Order No.94 of 1998, provides for the provisional release of refugee applicants from detention. Detainees who seek asylum may be released by order of the Department of Justice, the only conditions being that the asylum seeker agrees to follow the requirements of the Refugee Status Determination process.

03 May 2022

Malaysia

Group of Refugees Detained on the Side of the Road by Malaysian Police Authorities (New Straits Times,
Group of Refugees Detained on the Side of the Road by Malaysian Police Authorities (New Straits Times, "Over 500 Illegal Immigrants Escape Temporary Immigration Detention Depot," 20 April 2022, https://www.nst.com.my/news/crime-courts/2022/04/790226/over-500-illegal-immigrants-escape-temporary-immigration-detention)
On 20 April 2022, 528 Rohingya refugees--including 97 women, 294 men, and 137 children--escaped from the Relau detention centre in Sungai Bakap. According to a new local news agency, immediately before the escape there had been a “riot” at the detention centre. Most of the detainees were quickly re-detained, though seven--including three children--died while trying to cross a highway during their escape. The police have warned villagers that anyone found to be harbouring refugees could face prosecution under the Immigration Act 1959/1963 and the county’s penal code.

A consortium of NGOs, including APRRN and IDC, reported in early May that large numbers of Rohingya refugees are being held indefinitely in Malaysian immigration detention centres without the possibility of release and cannot be deported. The Malaysian Home Minister, Hamzah Zainudin, said that some refugees held at the Relau detention centre in Sungai Bakap have been detained there for over two years. Zainudin said that deportation was not possible as Myanmar was not willing to take them back and does not recognise their citizenship status. However, the NGOs highlighted that the Malaysian government has refused to allow the UNHCR access to detention centres to conduct refugee status determination procedures since August 2019.

UNHCR data indicates that in 2020, there were 129,909 refugees, 49,822 asylum seekers and 111,298 stateless persons in Malaysia. The Malaysian Immigration Department reported that as of 26 April 2022, there were 17,634 people in immigration detention centres across the country, including 3,211 women and 1,528 children. Between 2018 and February 2022, there have been 208 deaths in immigration detention centres across the country due to, inter alia, COVID-19, tuberculosis, severe pneumonia, heart complications, dengue and diabetes.

In a joint statement on the situation in Relau detention centre, APRRN, IDC, the ASEAN Parliamentarian on Human Rights, and the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum-Asia) urged Malaysia to release all persons registered with UNHCR from immigration detention centres and grant UNHCR access to all centres to continue the registration of persons of concern; grant access to detention centres to Doctors Without Borders Malaysia to ensure detainees have access to medical treatments and support services; carry out a comprehensive review of the current policies and practices of immigration detention centres in Malaysia to ensure that they are in line with international standards; to ensure full transparency of the investigation and review, and make the process and results available to the public; and take steps to enact legal and policy changes to ensure children are no longer detained for migration-related reasons.

Malaysia is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and it has failed to adopt legislation recognising the legal status of asylum seekers and refugees, who are thus considered “illegal immigrants” under the Immigration Act 1959/1963. According to Verghis et al. (2021), while Malaysia provides a 50 percent discount off foreigner’s rate for medical fees incurred by UNHCR recognised refugees and asylum seekers, it remains unaffordable as they do not have the right to work. With the onset of COVID-19, the government assured undocumented migrants that they would not be arrested if they came forward for testing for COVID-19. Nonetheless, the subsequent mass testing of migrants in certain “Enhanced Movement Control Order” (i.e. strict lockdown) areas led to crackdowns on undocumented migrants through mass arrests and immigration raids, which included asylum seekers pending registration by UNHCR and UNHCR cardholders whose registration had expired and could not be renewed due to lockdown. These people were detained in immigration detention centres, to be deported to their countries of origin. Clusters of COVID-19 were detected in at least three of these centres.

In February 2021, the government of Malaysia said that they would extend its free COVID-19 vaccination programme to all foreigners, including students, refugees, and undocumented migrants. UNHCR welcomed the government’s efforts to ensure vaccination access to all and encouraged all refugees and asylum seekers holding UNHCR documentation to register their interest for COVID-19 vaccination through several online platforms. Nonetheless, due to the crackdown on undocumented migrants and mass arrests of refugees, many were wary of getting a COVID-19 vaccine in a government walk-in centre for undocumented migrants. According to data collected by the Oxford Martin School, Oxford University and the Global Change Data Lab, as of 1 May 2022, 81.55% of the Malaysian population had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

29 April 2022

Ukraine

Volyn PTPI (in Zhuravychi) (© Ukraine Ombudsperson via Right2Protect, https://r2p.org.ua/shho-take-ptpi/)
Volyn PTPI (in Zhuravychi) (© Ukraine Ombudsperson via Right2Protect, https://r2p.org.ua/shho-take-ptpi/)
Immigration Detention amidst War: The Case of Ukraine’s Volyn Detention Centre
A Global Detention Project Special Report

In early March, shortly into Russia’s war on Ukraine, the Global Detention Project (GDP) began receiving email messages and videos from individuals claiming to know people who remained trapped in an immigration detention centre inside Ukraine, even as the war approached. We also received messages from a representative of the humanitarian group Alight based in Poland, who said that they too were receiving messages from detainees at Volyn, as well as identity documents, photos, and videos.
The information we received indicated that there were several dozen detainees still at the Volyn detention centre (formally, “Volyn PTPI,” but also referred to as the “Zhuravychi Migrant Accommodation Centre”), including people from Pakistan, India, Eritrea, Sudan, Afghanistan, among other countries. They had grown particularly desperate after the start of the war and had held a demonstration to demand their release when the nearby town was shelled, which reportedly was violently broken up by detention centre guards.

The GDP located a webpage on the official website of Ukraine’s State Secretariat of Migration that provided confirmation of the operational status of the Volyn facility as well as of two others. Although the official webpage was subsequently taken down, as of late March it continued to indicate that there were three operational migration-related detention centres in Ukraine, called Temporary Stay for Foreigners or PTPI (Пункти тимчасового перебування іноземців та осіб без громадянства): Volyn PTPI(Zhuravychi); Chernihiv PTPI; and Nikolaev PTPI (also referred to as the Mykolaiv detention centre).

We learned that the Chernihiv PTPI, located north of Kyiv, was emptied shortly after the start of the war. However, as of the end of March 2022, it appeared that both the Volyn PTPI and Nikolaev PTPI remained operational and were holding detainees. We understood that the situation at the detention centres had been brought to the attention of relevant authorities in Ukraine and that the embassies of at least some of the detainees—including India—had begun arranging the removal of their nationals. Detainees from some countries, however, reportedly indicated that they did not want assistance from their embassies because they did not wish to return and were seeking asylum.

In our communications and reporting on this situation, including on social media and through direct outreach to officials and media outlets, the GDP consistently called for the release of all migrants trapped in detention centres in Ukraine and for international efforts to assist migrants to seek safety. We highlighted important international legal standards that underscore the necessity of releasing detainees in administrative detention in situations of ongoing warfare. Important among these is Additional Protocol 1, Article 58C, of the Geneva Conventions, which requires all parties to a conflict to take necessary measures to protect civilians under their control from the effects of the war.

We also pointed to relevant human rights standards pertaining to administrative detention. For example, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, in their seminal Revised Deliberation No. 5 on the deprivation of liberty of migrants, conclude that in “instances when the obstacle for identifying or removal of persons in an irregular situation from the territory is not attributable to them … rendering expulsion impossible … the detainee must be released to avoid potentially indefinite detention from occurring, which would be arbitrary.” Similarly, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has repeatedly found that when the purpose of such detention is no longer possible, detainees must be released (see ECHR, “Guide on Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights: Right to Liberty and Security,” paragraph 149.).

In April, a consortium of press outlets—including Lighthouse Reports, Al Jazeera English, and Der Spiegel—jointly undertook an investigation into migrants trapped in detention in Ukraine and published separate reports simultaneously on 4 April. Human Rights Watch (HRW) also published their own report on 4 April, which called on authorities to immediately release the detainees. All these reports cited information provided by the GDP and interviewed GDP staff.
HRW reported that they had spoken to some of the detainees at Volyn (Zhuravychi) and were able to confirm numerous details, including that “people of up to 15 nationalities were being held there, including people from Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Syria.” According to HRW, the detainees claimed to have “been detained in the months prior to the Russian invasion for irregularly trying to cross the border into Poland.” They said that there were more than 100 men and women at the facility, though according to Lighthouse Reports only an estimated 45 people remained at the centre as of 21 March.

The interviewees said that conditions at the detention centre deteriorated after 24 February when members of the Ukrainian military moved into the centre and guards relocated the detainees to one of the two buildings in the complex, freeing the second building for the soldiers. When detainees protested and demanded to be released, the guards refused, forcibly putting an end to the protest and beating detainees. Some detainees claimed to have been told that they could leave the centre if they agreed to fight alongside the Ukrainian military, which they refused.

An issue addressed in many of these reports is the EU’s role in financing immigration detention centres in Ukraine, which the GDP had previously noted in a report about Ukraine in 2012. According to that report, “In 2011, 30 million Euros were allocated to build nine new detention centres in Ukraine. According to the EU delegation to Ukraine, this project will ‘enable’ the application of the EU-Ukraine readmission by providing detention space for ‘readmitted’ migrants sent back to Ukraine from EU countries.”

In its report on the situation, Al Jazeera quoted Niamh Ní Bhriain of the Transnational Institute, who said that the EU had allocated 1.7 million euros ($1.8m) for the securitisation of the Volyn centre in 2009. She added, “The EU drove the policies and funded the infrastructure which sees up to 45 people being detained today inside this facility in Ukraine and therefore it must call on Ukraine to immediately release those being held and guarantee them the same protection inside the EU as others fleeing the same war.”

Efforts to get clarity on EU financing from officials in Brussels were stymied by lack of responsiveness on the part of EU officials. According to Al Jazeera, “The European Commission did not answer questions from Al Jazeera regarding its operation and whether there were plans to help evacuate any remaining people. Ukrainian authorities also did not respond to a request for comment.” The Guardian also reported in mid-April they had “approached the Zhuravychi detention facility and the Ukrainian authorities for comment” but had yet to receive a response as of 12 April.

However, on 5 April, two MEPs, Tineke Strik and Erik Marquardt, raised the issue during a joint session of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice, and Home Affairs (LIBE) and the Committee on Development (DEVE). The MEPs urged the EU to take steps to assist the release of the detainees.

In mid-April, reports emerged that some detainees who had been released from the Volyn PTPI in Zhuravychi were later re-detained in Poland. In its 14 April report, The Guardian reported that “some of those that were released from the centre in the first few days of the war are now being held in a detention centre in Poland, after they were arrested attempting to cross the Polish border, but these claims could not be verified.” On 22 April, Lighthouse Reports cited Tigrayan diaspora representatives as saying that two former detainees at the facility were refugees fleeing Ethiopia’s war in the region, where human rights groups report evidence of a campaign of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. Despite being provided documents by Ukraine stipulating that they were stateless persons and being promised safe passage, Polish border guards detained the pair, arguing that there was an “extreme probability of escape.”

Separately, human rights campaigners following the case informed the GDP in late April that they had evidence of immigration detainees still being locked up in Ukraine’s detention centres, including in particular the Nikolaev (Mykolaiv) PTPI.

The GDP continues to call for the release of all migrants detained in Ukraine during ongoing warfare and for international efforts to help detainees to find safety, in accordance with international humanitarian and human rights law. Recognizing the huge efforts Poland is making to assist refugees from Ukraine, we nevertheless call on the Polish government to treat all people fleeing Ukraine equally and without discrimination based on race, nationality, or ethnic origin. Everyone fleeing the conflict in Ukraine is entitled to international protection and assistance and no one should be detained on arrival in Poland.

• Global Detention Project, Initial Twitter regarding the Zhuravychi/Volyn detention centre, 14 March 2022, https://twitter.com/migradetention/status/1503782279591649281?s=20&t=RJiogbQssEW9Oed1Bu4yMg
• Human Rights Watch, “Migrant, Asylum Seekers Locked Up in Ukraine,” 4 April 2022, https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/04/04/migrants-asylum-seekers-locked-ukraine
• Lighthouse Reports, “Twitter,” 21 March 2022, https://twitter.com/LHreports/status/1506029416652156933
• J. Christensen, “War in Ukraine Could Make the COVID-19 Pandemic Worse, WHO Says,” CNN, 14 March 2022, https://edition.cnn.com/2022/03/13/health/who-ukraine-war-covid-19/index.html
• WHO, “Stop Attacks on Health Care in Ukraine: Joint Statement from UNICEF, UNFPA, and WHO,” 13 March 2022, https://www.who.int/news/item/13-03-2022-stop-attacks-on-health-care-in-ukraine
• L. Sabin, “Prisoners in Ukraine with Combat Experience will be Released from Jail to Help Defend Against Russia,” The Independent, 28 February 2022, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/ukraine-army-russia-prisoners-jail-b2024985.html
• C. Brown, “A Kremlin Paper Justifies Erasing the Ukrainian Identity, as Russia is Accused of War Crimes,” CBC, 5 April 2022, https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/kremlin-editorial-ukraine-identity-1.6407921
• K. Fallon, “Fear Grows for Migrants Held in Ukraine’s Detention Centre,” Al-Jazeera, 4 April 2022, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/4/4/fear-grows-for-migrants-held-in-ukraines-detention-centre
• S. Lüdke, “Caught in War,” Der Spiegel, 4 April 2022, https://www.spiegel.de/ausland/ukraine-migranten-in-eu-finanzierten-haftzentren-gefangen-a-ea2ed6bc-9d46-4026-af5d-c58f9d1095f0
• Lighthouse Reports, “Twitter,” 4 April 2022, https://twitter.com/stluedke/status/1510907043225477121
• Volyn PTPI (in Zhuravychi) (© Ukraine Ombudsperson via Right2Protect, https://r2p.org.ua/shho-take-ptpi/)
• GDP Twitter thread on data from Ukraine’s State Secretariat of Migration, 25 March 2022, https://twitter.com/migradetention/status/1507254585949310980?s=20&t=RJiogbQssEW9Oed1Bu4yMg
• GDP Twitter tread on relevant international law, 27 March 2022, https://twitter.com/migradetention/status/1508159933593882628?s=20&t=RJiogbQssEW9Oed1Bu4yMg
• Niamh Ní Bhriain (The Transnational Institute), Twitter thread, 24 March 2022, https://twitter.com/DondeNiamh/status/1506910877685010433?s=20&t=wcPwjTiMTlEovUSnUOH4GQ
• Global Detention Project, “Immigration Detention in Ukraine,” 2012, https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/europe/ukraine#country-report
• Jessie Williams, “‘Scared for our lives’: grave concerns over safety of refugees detained by Ukraine,” The Guardian, 12 April 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2022/apr/12/ukraine-refugees-detained-russia-war

27 April 2022

Denmark

Police Officers Walk the Danish-German Border (Claus Fisker/Scanpix Denmark,
Police Officers Walk the Danish-German Border (Claus Fisker/Scanpix Denmark, "Denmark Passes Law to Process Asylum Seekers Outside Europe," Reuters, 3 June 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/denmark-agrees-law-deport-asylum-seekers-outside-europe-2021-06-03/)
Denmark has entered talks with Rwanda to establish a deal similar to the controversial one Rwanda made with the United Kingdom in mid-April concerning the transfer of asylum seekers to the country. Denmark’s immigration minister said that the deal would “ensure a more dignified approach than the criminal network of human traffickers that characterises migration across the Mediterranean today.”

While these talks came after the UK’s agreement with Rwanda, Denmark had already approached several countries both in and outside the European Union about an asylum deal last year. In June 2021, Denmark and Rwanda signed a memorandum of understanding on asylum and migration that, inter alia, envisaged the transfer and processing of asylum seekers. Denmark also passed a law enabling it to process asylum seekers outside Europe. However, the European Union argues that the “external processing of asylum claims raises fundamental questions about both the access to asylum procedures and effective access to protection. It is not possible under existing EU rules or proposals under the new pact for migration and asylum.”

In May 2021, Denmark was heavily criticised by EU lawmakers, the UNHCR, and human rights groups as it became the first European country to revoke residence status for more than 200 Syrian refugees, claiming that parts of Syria were now safe enough for refugees to return. Between May 2020 and May 2021, the Danish immigration service reassessed the cases of more than 1,200 refugees from the wider Damascus region stating that the “conditions in Damascus in Syria are no longer so serious that there are grounds for granting or extending temporary residence permits.” From January 2021 to May 2021, the Danish immigration service assessed 300 cases, with around half resulting in new or extended permits; 154 refugees had their status revoked or not renewed, in addition to the 100 who had it withdrawn in 2020. In 2020, Denmark accommodated 36,643 refugees, 1,331 asylum seekers, and 11,655 stateless persons residing in the country.

Denmark has controversially advanced a “zero asylum seekers” policy. In January 2021, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen told Parliament that she wants no asylum seekers at all coming to Denmark: “We cannot promise zero asylum seekers, but we can set up that vision, as we did before the elections.” Last year, Denmark received the lowest number of asylum seekers since 1998, with 1,547 people applying in contrast with 21,316 applications in 2015.

However, since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Denmark has revealed a double standard in its treatment of refugees. Ukrainians that arrive in Denmark are to be granted a permit for a minimum of two years, while the country has revoked Syrian refugees’ permits and has only granted protection to three percent of all Afghan refugees that made applications in 2021. Most Ukrainians are staying in private homes temporarily and others are being accommodated by municipalities in sports facilities, closed schools, and military barracks. According to the Danish immigration service, as of 25 March 2022, some 28,000 people had arrived from Ukraine. Approximately 2,000 had applied for asylum and are staying in asylum centres while 750 had been granted protection. Denmark is planning to open four medical clinics that will focus on treating Ukrainian refugees offering services such as the renewal of prescription drugs for chronic illnesses, prenatal care, as well as offer vaccines including the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Danish immigration service decides where asylum seekers are accommodated. There are different centres with distinct functions. For instance, asylum seekers may first be accommodated at the Sandholm reception centre, and subsequently, while their asylum case is pending, they may be moved to one of the accommodation centres in Jutland. However, if the immigration service deems that an asylum seeker is not cooperative or if an application is rejected, they may be moved to return centres such as Avnstrup (for families), Sjaelsmark or Kaershovedgard. These facilities do not operate as detention centres because, while detainees are obliged to stay overnight, they can leave the facility during the day. Nonetheless, absence for a few days is punished with detention at the closed Ellebaek centre for foreigners. Asylum seekers can also be detained in the Ellebaek centre awaiting forced deportation. About half of the centres are run by the Danish Red Cross and local municipalities run the others.

The Danish Prison and Probation Service runs the return centres of Sjaelsmark and Kaershovedgard as well as the Ellebaek centre. According to a 2021 report by Refugees.dk, in both deportation centres, Kaershovedgard and Sjaelsmark, detainees can be held indefinitely if it is impossible to return them to their countries. The Kaershovedgard centre is 7km away from the nearest public transport and used to be a prison while the Sjaelsmark lies 2km from the centre of Sandholm.

In January 2020, the Committee on the Prevention of Torture published a report criticising the conditions in Ellebaek prison. The CPT delegation were informed of one allegation of excessive use of force and several allegations of verbal abuse by staff, including racist remarks. In addition, female migrants were only allowed to go outside for around 30 minutes per day and detainees did not have access to their mobile phones or internet services. While the rooms were found to be of sufficient size to accommodate detainees, they were in poor conditions, with graffiti covering the walls, flaking paint and/or crumbling plaster. The bathroom units were also in poor condition and the shower rooms were covered with mould. Amongst other recommendations, the CPT called upon the Danish authorities to ensure that the centres are in a decent state of repair, clean, and adequately furnished.

22 April 2022

Rwanda

Outside of the Gashora Transit Centre (Sally Hayden,
Outside of the Gashora Transit Centre (Sally Hayden, "Rwandan Police Chief Accused of Sexual Assault of Child Refugee at UN Centre," The Guardian, 27 April 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/apr/27/rwandan-police-chief-accused-of-sexual-assault-of-child-refugee-at-un-centre)
Despite having a much-criticised track record concerning its treatment of refugees, Rwanda has signed deals with both the United Kingdom and Denmark that involve receiving deported asylum seekers and irregular migrants from both the countries for processing and potential permanent relocation.

In mid-April, Rwanda and the UK finalised an “economic development partnership” whose centrepiece is the UK proposal to send people attempting to enter the UK irregularly to Rwanda. The deportees would be allowed to remain in Rwanda or return to their home countries. According to the Guardian, it is expected that people removed will initially be taken to a hostel in Kigali for processing.

The highly controversial deal has been harshly criticised by UK church leaders, opposition politicians, and national and international refugee rights advocates. While the UK insists that Rwanda is one of the safest countries in the world, it harshly criticised the country last year for its human rights record.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) harshly criticised the deal, saying that it “does not support the externalisation of asylum states’ obligations. This includes measures taken by states to transfer asylum seekers and refugees to other countries, with insufficient safeguards to protect their rights, or where this leads to the shifting rather than the sharing of responsibilities to protect refugees.”

The UK NGO Detention Action said that people sent to Rwanda could face “indefinite detention under a government notorious for violent persecution of dissent.” The organisation also highlighted that “the UK currently gives asylum to Rwandan refugees fleeing political persecution.” Human Rights Watch recalled that in 2018, Rwandan security forces shot dead at least 12 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo when they protested a cut to food rations. Authorities subsequently arrested and prosecuted more than 60 refugees on charges including rebellion and spreading false information with intent to create a hostile international opinion against the Rwandan state.

Previously, in June 2021, Denmark signed a memorandum of understanding on asylum and migration issues with Rwanda. The agreement seeks to strengthen Rwanda’s “Refugee Status Determination” capability and envisages the processing of asylum applications to take place outside of the EU.

Just weeks before the MoU was signed, UNHCR had urged Denmark to avoid externalising their asylum obligations as the practice “frustrates access to international protection, is inconsistent with global solidarity and responsibility sharing, regularly undermines the rights of asylum seekers and refugees and thus violates international obligations of States.”

The MoU mentions Rwanda’s ETM centre in Gashora, which has been sharply criticised for abuses suffered by refugees evacuated from Libya who have been housed there. In April 2020, a Rwandan police commander was accused of sexually assaulting a child refugee at the ETM centre. Rwanda’s police force accused the refugees of lying, saying they were unhappy with coronavirus-related restrictions and that the boy was drunk.

It is unclear whether the Danish government has sent anyone to Rwanda yet. According to Infomigrants, while the memorandum of understanding is not legally binding, signed in late April, it sets the framework for future negotiations and cooperation between both countries.

As of 2020, there were 139,491 refugees and 465 asylum seekers in Rwanda, mainly from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi. The government began vaccinating refugees against COVID-19 in March 2021, including more than 200 refugees residing in the Emergency Transit Mechanism (ETM) Centre in Gashora.

Rwanda initially set up the ETM in mid-2019 for the purpose of housing refugees and migrants evacuated from Libya by UNHCR and the African Union. As of March 2021, there were 303 refugees and asylum seekers staying at the ETM centre. In November 2021, Rwanda, the African Union, and UNHCR signed an Addendum to the Memorandum of Understanding of the Emergency Transit Mechanism centre to continue evacuating third country nationals from Libya. The extension of the agreement ensured the continuation of the operation at the ETM centre until 31 December 2021 and expanded its capacity from 500 to 700 places.

16 April 2022

United Kingdom

UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel and Rwandan Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Vincent Biruta sign an agreement in Kigali on 14 April 2022 (Simon Wohlfahrt/AFP,
UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel and Rwandan Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Vincent Biruta sign an agreement in Kigali on 14 April 2022 (Simon Wohlfahrt/AFP, "UK Plan to Ship Asylum Seekers to Rwanda is Cruelty Itself," Human Rights Watch, 14 April 2022, https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/04/14/uk-plan-ship-asylum-seekers-rwanda-cruelty-itself)
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on 14 April that “from today, anyone entering the UK illegally as well as those who have arrived illegally since January 1 may now be relocated to Rwanda. Rwanda will have the capacity to resettle tens of thousands of people in the years ahead.” The UK claims that the plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda will not only deter people from embarking on dangerous sea journeys but will also help break the “business model of people smuggling gangs.” Additional measures include putting the country’s navy in charge of operations in the Channel from 15 April 2022 onwards and setting up a new reception centre to hold people attempting to enter the UK to avoid having to house asylum seekers in hotels. The reception centre is to be built on a former RAF base at Linton-on-Ouse in North Yorkshire. However, unlike existing detention centres, people held there will be free to come and go.

The highly controversial deal--which has been harshly criticised by church leaders, opposition politicians, and national and international refugee rights advocates--was sealed by UK Home Secretary Priti Patel during a trip to Rwanda on 14 April, when she and the Rwandan minister for foreign affairs and international cooperation, Vincent Biruta, signed an “economic development partnership” between the two countries. The deal will be funded by the UK at a cost of some £120 million. Unsuccessful asylum seekers would be integrated into communities in Rwanda and can opt to remain in the country or return to their home countries. According to the UK Secretary of State for Wales, the scheme is mostly focused on single young men coming to the UK in search of economic opportunities. It is nonetheless unclear whether only men will be sent to Rwanda, whether they will have a right of appeal, whether cases will initially be processed in the UK, and whether only those deemed “economic migrants” will be removed. According to the Guardian, it is expected that people removed will initially be taken to a hostel in Kigali for processing.

Home Office minister, Tom Pursglove, insisted that the scheme would save money in the “longer term,” despite a reported cost of up to £30,000 per person and that the UK is “spending £5 million per day accommodating individuals who are crossing in hotels. That is not sustainable and is not acceptable and we have to get that under control.” Yet, the Guardian reported that government insiders said that they expect many legal battles which could leave the scheme costing much more, with some predicting it could take two years before anyone is flown to Rwanda.

While the Prime Minister insisted that Rwanda was one of the safest countries in the world, the UK criticised the country last year for its human rights record. The NGO Detention Action, criticised the scheme and said that people sent there could face “indefinite detention under a government notorious for violent persecution of dissent.” The organisation also highlighted that “the UK currently gives asylum to Rwandan refugees fleeing political persecution.” Human Rights Watch recalled that in 2018, Rwandan security forces shot dead at least 12 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo when they protested a cut to food rations. Authorities subsequently arrested and prosecuted more than 60 refugees on charges including rebellion and spreading false information with intent to create a hostile international opinion against the Rwandan state.

Moreover, the UNHCR expressed concern over the scheme. A spokesperson for the organisation said that the “UNHCR does not support the externalisation of asylum states’ obligations. This includes measures taken by states to transfer asylum seekers and refugees to other countries, with insufficient safeguards to protect their rights, or where this leads to the shifting rather than the sharing of responsibilities to protect refugees.” The Refugee Council also denounced the government’s plans and said that the government was choosing “control and punishment above compassion despite the fact its own data shows that two thirds of men, women and children arriving in small boats come from countries where war and persecution has forced them from their homes.”

The deal also comes as COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on UK detention and deportation efforts, which could also complicate efforts to implement the Rwanda scheme. In one case from late 2021, several people were taken off a deportation flight to Jamaica due to a large number of COVID-19 cases at the Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre. One detainee at the centre told Metro that his roommate had tested positive for COVID-19 and that he had not been tested nor changed rooms. The Jamaican government raised concerns about whether the people due to fly were COVID-free and had had PCR tests before being taken to the plane. Several people deported to Jamaica in December 2020 were found to have COVID-19.

In terms of COVID-19 vaccinations within the country, a study published by the Lanlungan Filipino Consortium found that undocumented migrants were afraid of trying to obtain the vaccine because of their immigration status. The UK government said that diagnosis and treatment for COVID-19 is free and available to all regardless of immigration status. However, treatment for secondary or subsequent illnesses, including complications arising from COVID-19, are not included.

Home Office data shows that in 2021, the number of people deported from the UK was at a record low, while asylum applications soared. 28,526 people arrived on small boats last year, up from 8,404 in 2020. From September 2020 to September 2021, 2,380 people were forcibly returned to another country, representing a yearly drop of 35 percent and the lowest number on record. On the other hand, there were 48,540 asylum applications in the UK in 2021, 63 percent more than in 2020. Also, at the end of December 2021, there were 1,179 persons in immigration detention (including those detained under immigration legislation in prison), 69 percent more than at the end of June 2020 (698), but 28 percent fewer than pre-pandemic levels at the end of December 2019 (1,637). Home Office figures show that 76 percent of those who left detention in 2021, were detained for seven days or less.

12 April 2022

Colombia

A Group of Refugees and Migrants Walks Towards the Village of Canaan in south Panama After Crossing the Darien Gap (Nicolo Filippo Rosso, UNHCR,
A Group of Refugees and Migrants Walks Towards the Village of Canaan in south Panama After Crossing the Darien Gap (Nicolo Filippo Rosso, UNHCR, "Number of Venezuelans Crossing the Darien Gap Soars," 29 March 2022, https://www.unhcr.org/news/press/2022/3/6243298f4/number-venezuelans-crossing-darien-gap-soars.html)
Colombia hosts the largest number of Venezuelans outside Venezuela. According to the World Food Programme, there are some 1.8 million Venezuelans residing in Colombia and another 500,000 are expected to arrive in the coming months. By 2020, according to UNHCR, Colombia had 957 refugees, 19,933 asylum seekers, 8,252,788 internally displaced persons, and 1,729,537 Venezuelans “displaced abroad.”

In March 2022, UNHCR and IOM reported that many migrants, including a growing number of Venezuelans, were resorting to dangerous crossings through the jungles of the Darien Gap, separating Colombia from Panama. Panamanian authorities report that the number of Venezuelans crossing the Darien Gap in the first two months of 2022 (some 2,500 people), almost reached the entire total for 2021 (2,819 people). In 2021, approximately 133,000 people crossed the Darien, the majority of whom were Haitians, followed by Cubans, Venezuelans, and then “extracontinentales” from Angola, Bangladesh and other countries. UNHCR and IOM provide temporary shelters as well as mattresses, blankets, solar lamps, and hygiene kits.

Despite the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, the United States continued conducting deportation operations to Colombia. Deportations appear to have picked up recently. In March 2022, the Department of Homeland Security began a wave of expulsions to Colombia in response to an influx of Colombians in February, when some 9,600 migrants were taken into custody along the U.S. southern border. Many Colombian migrants fly to Mexico and then attempt to enter the U.S. irregularly through Yuma, Arizona, where around 73 percent of the Colombians arrested in February were processed.

31 March 2022

Spain

Entrance of the Zapadores de València (M. Rodriguez,
Entrance of the Zapadores de València (M. Rodriguez, "El CIE de Zapadores de València, sin capacidad para aislar a los contagiados, registra 20 casos de covid entre los internos," El Salto Diario, 11 January 2022, https://www.elsaltodiario.com/cie/cie-zapadores-valencia-capacidad-aislar-contagiados-registra-20-casos-covid-internos
Spain’s detention and removal operations have begun to return to normal operations after major disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which had spurred the country to temporarily close all its detention centres shortly after onset of the pandemic in early 2020. Despite this, COVID continues to wreak havoc in detention centres even as the country ramps up detention operations as migration pressures continue unabated.

Migrant deportation flights to Morocco, which had been suspended for nearly an entire year, resumed on 22 March 2022. According to El Mundo, prior to the suspension of the flights, Spain deported on average 80 Moroccan nationals per week from the Canary Islands. Ministry of Interior data, published by the country’s Ombudsman office, reveal that more than half of migrants that arrive in the Canary Islands are Moroccan nationals.

The first group of Moroccan nationals who were returned on 22 March 2022 had been detained at the Gran Canaria Detention Centre, which is once again operational since the start of March 2022. Other centres have also re-opened, including the Centro de Internamiento de Extranjeros (CIE) of Hoya Fría in Tenerife.

In January 2022, approximately 20 detainees at the Zapadores CIE in Valencia tested positive for COVID-19. The campaign group “CIE No” said it was expected that there would be an outbreak in the centre due to the lack of social distancing measures in place and the contagious new variant. The group stated that PCR tests were only conducted after several detainees developed symptoms and denounced the “passive attitude and lack of operability of the CIE staff to take measures in the face of possible contagion.”

The Zapadores centre, which had been closed since the start of the pandemic, re-opened in July 2021. A spokesperson for “CIE No” said that detainees who test positive are placed in isolation in the top floors of the centre and those that test negative in the bottom floors. However, all detainees are grouped back together in common areas like the courtyard and the dining room. On 14 January 2022, the campaign group denounced that the outbreak of COVID-19 at the Zapadores CIE had not been reported to the Regional Ministry of Health by the management of the centre until several days after the inmates showed symptoms. The group said these actions “demonstrated negligence on part of those in charge of the CIE, in dealing with this outbreak and the inability of the facility to ensure the prevention and containment of the virus.”

A similar situation occurred on 26 January 2022 at the Zona Franca CIE in Barcelona where 23 cases of COVID-19 were detected. SOS Racisme sent a complaint to the CIE control court highlighting the urgent health situation inside the detention centre and asking for effective measures to guarantee adequate care for detainees. According to the group, while detainees who test positive are isolated from other detainees, they are forced to share cells with each other. Certain detainees are on hunger strike and one has expressed suicidal thoughts. The organisation made several requests including that the current CIE health protocol on contagion and quarantine management be imposed and that it be agreed that persons in quarantine be moved to a suitable place outside the CIE.

According to data published by the International Organisation for Migration, of the nearly 5,800 deaths on migration routes in 2021, more than 1,000 were recorded on the Atlantic route to the Canary Islands. Since 2018, the number of deaths on that route has increased steadily with 43 deaths in 2018, 202 in 2019, 877 in 2020, and 1,109 last year.

In a separate report, the group Caminando Fronteras included in its count of deaths people whose bodies have not been recovered but whose families reported their departure from the African coast. Based on their calculation, there were 4,016 deaths on the Atlantic route in 2021 (around 12 people a day). Caminando Fronteras drew a direct link between the sharp increase in the number of deaths and European efforts to curb migration in the Mediterranean. In consequence, many refugees turn to one of the most dangerous crossings into Europe, to the Canary Islands. In January 2022, the organisation called on the Spanish government to urgently address this rise in deaths, noting that more than thirty years had passed since a body was found on the shores of Andalusia, in what is believed to be the first death of a Spain-bound refugee. The director of Caminando Fronteras said that “in those 34 years, the idea that people can die by crossing a border has become something that people have accepted as normal. It’s not normal.”

According to Frontex, approximately 11.5 percent of the 194,948 people who reportedly entered the EU irregularly in 2021 arrived via the Atlantic route to the Canary Islands, totalling 22,504 arrivals. Red Cross data indicates that nearly 15 percent of arrivals to the Canary Islands are under the age of 18. From January to March 2022, 42 infants, 88 children from three to eleven years old, and 585 adolescents from 12 to 17 years old arrived on the islands.

On 4 April 2022, two small boats arrived at Gran Canaria with a total of 97 migrants onboard. According to figures published by the Interior Ministry, there has been an increase of around 70.9% (total of 5,871 persons) in irregular arrivals to the Canary islands compared with the first three months of 2021.

18 February 2022

Libya

“An injured African migrant being helped by another one during a sit-in to demand that the international community takes them out of Libya | Photo: ARCHIVE/EPA/STR ANSA, “MSF Treats 68 Migrants After Mass Arrest in Libyan Capital,” Infomigrants, 13 January 2022, https://scd.infomigrants.net/media/resize/my_image_big/20bccfd4a861924e0aab84afba85f84c1324a09b.jpg
“An injured African migrant being helped by another one during a sit-in to demand that the international community takes them out of Libya | Photo: ARCHIVE/EPA/STR ANSA, “MSF Treats 68 Migrants After Mass Arrest in Libyan Capital,” Infomigrants, 13 January 2022, https://scd.infomigrants.net/media/resize/my_image_big/20bccfd4a861924e0aab84afba85f84c1324a09b.jpg
The UN reported in January that there were more than 12,000 people being detained in 27 prisons and detention facilities across Libya, often in “inhumane conditions in facilities controlled by armed groups or ‘secret facilities.’” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that many of these detainees were being arbitrarily detained after the country undertook security operations in late 2021, using “excessive and disproportionate force.” The operations reportedly “targeted more than 5,150 migrants and refugees, including at least 1,000 women and children, and left families separated and children missing.”

Guterres also criticized “expulsions from Libya’s eastern and southern borders of hundreds of nationals from Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan to Sudan and Chad, which the secretary-general said “did not respect the prohibition of collective expulsion” and the return of people without their consent, “and placed many asylum seekers and migrants in extremely vulnerable positions.” (AP)

According to the REACH initiative, as of June 2021, 597,611 migrants were estimated to be residing in the country, while the UNHCR recorded 41,404 individuals as registered refugees or asylum seekers in November 2021.

The UN report also noted that the UN Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) continues to document cases of arbitrary detention, torture, sexual violence, and other violations of international law within facilities operated by the country’s government and other groups. According to Guterres, thousands of detainees who do not appear in the official statistics provided by Libyan authorities are unable to challenge the legal basis for their continued detention and that “female and male migrants and refugees continued to face heightened risks of rape, sexual harassment and trafficking by armed groups, transnational smuggles and traffickers as well as officials from the Directorate for Combating Illegal Migration, which operates under the Ministry of Interior.”

The report highlighted several abuse cases in the Mitiga prison facility and in several detention centres run by the Directorate for Combating Illegal migration in al-Zawiyah and in Tripoli, about which the U.N. mission had received “credible information on trafficking and sexual abuse of around 30 Nigerian women and children.”

As of 14 December 2021, the Libyan Coast Guard had intercepted 30,990 migrants and returned them to Libya during the year which is around three times the total number of people returned to the country in 2020 (12,000 people). Guterres added that more than 1,300 people have died or disappeared attempting the journey.

Since Libya’s security operations in late 2021, thousands of people have been sleeping rough in front of a UNHCR-run reception centre in Tripoli, which was closed on 10 January 2022. Sholty after UNHCR initially announced the impending closing of the facility in late 2021, , Libyan authorities reportedly violently arrested more hundreds migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.

According to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), “more than 600 migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees, peacefully demonstrating for relocation, and evacuation from Libya were arrested and moved to Ain Zara detention centre in the southern part of Tripoli, where hundreds of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers are already detained in overcrowded cells and deprived living conditions. During the weekly visit to Ain Zara to provide medical and mental health care to people detained, MSF teams have treated patients with stab wounds, beating marks, and signs of shock or trauma caused by the forced arrests. Among them there were people who had been beaten and separated from their children during the raids.”

MSF said it had treated 68 people who had been injured during the mass arrest and a medical team from the International Rescue Committee said they had treated one person suffering from a gunshot wound. A Twitter account calling itself Refugees in Libya, run by a South Sudanese migrant living in Libya, reported on the inhumane conditions inside the Ain Zara detention centre and videos taken inside the centre showed hundreds of people packed into a single hangar.

While the country began its national vaccination campaign against COVID-19 in April 2021, the country only began vaccinating people held for immigration-related reasons in October 2021. On 6 October 2021, one of the reception centres in Tripoli began vaccinating migrants. According to the IOM, as of 11 December 2021, a total of 7,559 migrants had been vaccinated. By 6 February 2022, the country had administered around 3.1 million doses of vaccine against COVID-19. The country has one of the highest vaccination rates in Africa.

09 February 2022

Trinidad and Tobago

Trindad and Tobago Coastguard Searching a Vessel During a Patrol in 2011 (Andrea De Silva, Reuters,
Trindad and Tobago Coastguard Searching a Vessel During a Patrol in 2011 (Andrea De Silva, Reuters, "Venezuela demands probe after baby dies in migrant boat incident," Al-Jazeera, 8 February 2022, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/2/8/baby-killed-mother-injured-after-trinidad-officers-fire-on-boat)
On 5 February 2022, the Trinidad and Tobago coast guard opened fire on a boat carrying some 40 people fleeing Venezuela, wounding a woman and killing her nine-month-old baby. The country’s coast guard stated its personnel had opened fire in “self-defence” to prevent being rammed by the boat. Human rights activists as well as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) have called for an investigation into the incident. The IACHR called on Trinidad and Tobago to undertake a “prompt and thorough investigation into the death of a migrant baby from Venezuela by shooting during a National Guard operation… to punish those responsible, and to make full reparations to family members.”

Trinidad and Tobago has opposed migration from Venezuela and actively sought to deter boats from arriving, sometimes using methods that have been ruled illegal. In one case in late 2020, authorities detained 16 Venezuelan children who were subsequently deported by boat. The country’s Supreme Court, however, ordered their return to the island. However, because of the pandemic, the group was placed in quarantine in a “shelter.”

In February 2021, Prime Minister Keith Rowley said that Venezuelan nationals along with any other migrants that reside in Trinidad and Tobago would be vaccinated against COVID-19. But observers have expressed concerns about the implementation of this policy. Thairis Mejías, director of Hermandad Sin Fronteras, said: “There will be many questions surrounding the vaccination campaign, and how irregular migrants will be treated in the country.”

According to the UNHCR, in 2020, there were 3,179 refugees, 19,926 asylum seekers, and 4,663 “displaced” Venezuelans in Trinidad and Tobago. By mid-2021, the figures rose to 3,458 refugees, 21,089 asylum seekers and 4,663 displaced Venezuelans. UNHCR has provided access to an asylum process with more than 8,500 asylum-seekers receiving UNHCR documentation in 2021. According to UNHCR’s December 2021 data, it had registered people of concern from 40 different countries, 86 percent of whom were Venezuelan and 6 percent Cubans. Out of the total population of concern, 22.3 percent were children.

During its review for the third cycle of the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in December 2021, Trinidad and Tobago received several recommendations, including: “take all necessary steps to end instances of individuals being remanded in pretrial custody or immigration detention for extended periods (Ireland) (para. 109.66)” and “adopt the necessary measures to guarantee the effective protection of migrants, asylum seekers or those who require international protection, ensuring that the principle of non-refoulement and their access to health and education services is observed (Mexico) (para. 109.99).”

30 January 2022

Poland

Wall Being Constructed on the Border Near the Polish Village of Tołcze (Wojtek Radwanski, AFP, Getty Images,
Wall Being Constructed on the Border Near the Polish Village of Tołcze (Wojtek Radwanski, AFP, Getty Images, "Poland Starts Building Wall Through Protected Forest at Belarus Border," The Guardian, 27 January 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jan/27/poland-starts-building-wall-through-protected-forest-at-belarus-border)
According to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, as of January 2022 there were 1,675 people in detention centres across the country (with 972 persons in detention centres for families and the rest in those for men). The Red Cross reported that they had distributed hygiene kits, including personal protective equipment, to 112 detainees as part of an effort to limit spread of COVID-19.

In mid-January, as the situation of migrants trapped at Poland's border with Belarus remained unresolved, the Polish Supreme Court issued a ruling condemning the government’s efforts to prevent journalists from accessing the region. The ruling came as the government ramps up construction of a 186-kilometre wall along its border to prevent asylum seekers from entering. The barrier could reach up to 5.5 metres, will be equipped with motion detectors and thermal cameras, and will cost approximately 353 million euros, which reportedly represents some 10 times the total annual budget of the country’s migration department.

In September 2021, Poland imposed a state of emergency that prevented journalists and humanitarian organisations (see 12 November 2021 Belarus update on this platform) from accessing border regions for security reasons. But the Supreme Court said that the ban was incompatible with Polish law and that the country’s constitution guarantees both freedom of movement and freedom to collect and disseminate information. The judges added that “there is no justification for admitting that this particular professional group represents a threat to steps taken.”

Several European countries, including Poland, have accused Belarus of weaponising migrant and refugee movements in order to destabilise the European Union as a revenge for the imposition of sanctions by the Union (see 12 November 2021 Belarus and 11 November Poland update on this platform). According to Polish authorities, at the end of October, there were around 500 people trying to cross the border per day whilst in 2020, a total of 120 people tried to cross the border.

In November 2021, thousands of asylum seekers were left trapped at the border between both countries in the midst of winter, forced to sleep in improvised camps in the middle of the forest (see 12 November 2021 Belarus update on this platform). At the same time as Belarusian authorities were reportedly helping migrants and asylum seekers cross the border to Poland, Polish authorities were pushing them back to Belarus.

So far, at least 19 people have died since the start of the border standoff between Poland and Belarus, most of them due to exposure to freezing temperatures. An expert from the Minority Rights Group said: “Instead of spending money on walls and private companies, (Poland) should be spending on developing a migration policy that prioritises human rights and safety of the people on the move.”

25 January 2022

Yemen

Image of the Destroyed Detention Centre in Sa'da Taken on 22 January 2022 (Ansarullah Media via AFP,
Image of the Destroyed Detention Centre in Sa'da Taken on 22 January 2022 (Ansarullah Media via AFP, "Dozens Killed in Saudi-led Coalition Air Raid on Yemen Prison," Al-Jazeera, 21 January 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/1/21/several-killed-in-airstrike-on-yemen-prison)
On 21 January, a Saudi Arabia-led coalition airstrike in Yemen struck a detention centre in the Sa’ad province under the control of rebel Houthi forces, killing at least 82 people and injuring 266 others. Médecins Sans Frontières reported that the al-Gumhourriyeh hospital in Sa’da had taken in around 200 wounded but that there were “many bodies still at the scene of the airstrike. … It is impossible to know how many people have been killed.” Among those killed at the facility were African migrants.

Migrants have frequently been targeted in the conflict in Yemen. In March 2021, Houthi forces launched projectiles into an immigration detention centre in Saana, killing 44 people detained in the centre (for more information see 16 March 2021 Yemen update on this platform).

The impact of the conflict on migrants in Yemen has been severely exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of whom were stranded in the country after the onset of the pandemic. In June 2020, it was estimated that some 14,500 African migrants remained in the country. Humanitarian officials, local security guards and residents have said that the Houthis have used the COVID-19 crisis as an excuse to expel unwanted migrants, mostly from Ethiopia, driving them towards the Saudi Arabian border or rounding up truckloads of people and dumping them outside Houthi land.

The International Organisation for Migration estimates that from April to June 2020, northern authorities had arrested and relocated 1,500 migrants to southern Yemen and that thousands were stranded in the port city of Aden, many of whom were living on the street. Local officials in Houthi territory reported that at least 390 migrants were deported to Al Jawf in April 2020 and from mid-April to mid-May 2020, at least 486 were expelled south to the city of Taiz. According to the UNHCR, in 2020, there were 166,906 refugees, 10,693 asylum seekers and 4,042,836 internally displaced persons in the country.

On 31 March 2021, Yemen received 360,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses shipped through the COVAX Facility. The doses arrived together with 13,000 safety boxes and 1,300,000 syringes. In December 2021, the IOM began vaccinating migrants stranded in Yemen, aiming to vaccinate around 7,5000 people at its Migrant Response Points in Aden and Ma’rib. According to the IOM, as of December 2021, an estimated 36,000 migrants have been stranded on their journeys due to COVID-19 related mobility restrictions since the start of the pandemic with many sleeping rough or in overcrowded and unsanitary accommodation where the virus can easily spread. The IOM’s Chief of Mission, Christa Rottensteiner said: “We welcome the Government’s commitment to protecting migrants against COVID-19 and immunising people on the move is key to combating the spread of the disease. There are still not enough doses to protect everyone in Yemen from this disease. More support from the international community to supply the country with enough vaccines will save lives.”

The Global Detention Project has been unable to confirm whether any immigration detainees have been released as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Houthi rebels released 2,361 prisoners from March to April 2020 as part of the precautionary measures against the virus. As of 1 April 2020, the Yemeni government had released 500 prisoners from different provinces across the country.

24 January 2022

Argentina

Riot Inside the Melchor Romero Prison in October 2020 Demanding the Reopening of Visits Suspended Due to COVID-19 (Mauricio Nievas,
Riot Inside the Melchor Romero Prison in October 2020 Demanding the Reopening of Visits Suspended Due to COVID-19 (Mauricio Nievas, "La Justicia le ordenó a Kicillof que vacune a los presos alojados en cárceles bonaerenses," Clarín, 12 July 2021, https://www.clarin.com/sociedad/justicia-ordeno-kicillof-vacune-presos-alojados-carceles-bonaerenses_0_2boH9NKwp.html)
In December 2020, Argentina launched a national COVID-19 vaccination campaign that includes all refugees and migrants irrespective of migration status. However, the country has struggled to acquire sufficient vaccines. According to UNHCR, there were 3,965 refugees, 9,176 asylum seekers, and 171,659 displaced Venezuelans in the country in 2020 and as of mid-2021, there were 4,007 refugees, 10,354 asylum seekers, and 167,853 displaced Venezuelans.

Similar to other South American countries, Argentina does not emphasize detention in its migration enforcement policies. There appears to be no information available concerning whether those in immigration custody have been given access to vaccinations, although calls to do so have been made by organisations such as the Red Universitaria Nacional de Educación en Contextos de Encierro (Red UNECE).

While the country began vaccinating prison staff in April 2021, it is unclear the extent to which prisoners have been vaccinated. In July 2021, an appeal court in La Plata ordered the government of Buenos Aires to launch a vaccination plan for all vulnerable persons in prisons, including those over the age of 60 and children. According to official statistics, some 5,000 prisoners would be eligible for vaccination under this plan.

In early 2021, Argentina repealed Decree 70/2017, a controversial law that introduced modifications to the country’s migration law (Law N°25.871), including provisions on expedited removal. The decree, which led to increases in the number of expulsions, had been widely criticized in and outside Argentina.

The repeal of the decree was welcomed by several international human rights monitoring bodies, including the Committee on Migrant Workers (CMW), the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and the Committee against Torture. They said that “the decree violated the principle of due process, the right to access to justice and the right to defence of migrants. It gave little or no consideration to family ties and the best interests of the child. There was also insufficient time for Argentina to examine the potential risk of torture facing the person being deported in the country to which they were being sent.”

While the country suspended deportations for a month in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic (see 16 June 2020 Argentina update on this platform), in the first seven months of 2020, a total of 2,935 persons were deported from Argentina. From 2014 to 2020, Chinese nationals have been subject to the greatest number of deportations, representing 27 percent (6,491) of the total in that period. They are followed by nationals from Paraguay (4,233), Bolivia (3,304), Peru (2,881), Colombia (1,824), Dominica (904), Chile (835), Uruguay (484), Senegal (484), and Brazil (298).

20 January 2022

Rwanda

A Refugee Receiving his COVID-19 Vaccination at the Gashora Emergency Transit Mechanism centre in Rwanda, (Plaisir Muzogeye,
A Refugee Receiving his COVID-19 Vaccination at the Gashora Emergency Transit Mechanism centre in Rwanda, (Plaisir Muzogeye, "First Refugees Receive COVID-19 Vaccinations in Rwanda," UNHCR, 12 March 2021, https://www.unhcr.org/news/latest/2021/3/604b7a4f4/first-refugees-receive-covid-19-vaccinations-rwanda.html)
The United Kingdom is reportedly considering sending asylum seekers to Rwanda as part of an offshore resettlement and processing scheme that would be allowed under the UK government’s proposed new Nationality and Borders Bill. Ghana was also named as a possible destination, although Ghana’s foreign minister quickly disavowed such a possibility, saying that the country had not “engaged with the UK on any such plan and does not intend to consider any such operation in the future.”

It would not be the first time that Rwanda played such a role. The country was previously involved in receiving deportees from Israel under a “voluntary departure” scheme between 2014 and 2017. Around 4,000 people were deported under that scheme to Rwanda and Uganda and almost all are thought to have left the country almost immediately, many attempting to return to Europe. Testimonies collected by the International Refugee Rights Initiative found that following their arrival in Rwanda from Israel, “people were being smuggled out of the country by land to Kampala within days.” Testimonies also highlighted that people were “not given an opportunity to apply for asylum, and even if they wish to stay in Rwanda, their refugee claims cannot be assessed as the national refugee status determination committee has not yet been established.”

Since the start of the pandemic, Rwanda has registered 125,568 COVID-19 cases and 1,411 related deaths. It is unclear whether the country ceased or restricted deportations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, on 14 April 2021, two Ugandan nationals were arrested and declared “prohibited immigrants” for staying irregularly in the country. Four days later, they were abandoned at the Katuna border post with a deportation note: “Take note that you are declared a prohibited immigrant in Rwanda within the meaning of Articles 12 and 15 of Law 57/2018 of 13/08/2018 on Immigration and Emigration in Rwanda.”

According to UNHCR data, there were 139,491 refugees and 465 asylum seekers in the country in 2020 and 122,806 refugees and 228 asylum seekers in mid-2021. Rwanda included refugees and asylum seekers in their priority list within the country’s national vaccination plan. In March 2021, the country began providing vaccinations to refugees and prison populations as these groups reside in crowded settings. The UNHCR, which has urged all countries to include forcibly displaced and stateless people in their national vaccination programmes, praised the Rwandan government’s efforts. Ahmed Baba Fall, UNHCR representative in Rwanda said: “Ensuring that refugees are included in the vaccine programme is key to ending the COVID-19 pandemic. Their inclusion in the national vaccination rollout is another mark of the Government of Rwanda’s generosity and humanitarian commitment towards the cause of refugees and asylum seekers.”

07 January 2022

Kosovo

Gjilan Prison in Kosovo Seen From Outside, (BBC,
Gjilan Prison in Kosovo Seen From Outside, (BBC, "Kosovo Agrees to Rent Prison Cells to Denmark to Ease Overcrowding," 21 December 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-59740324)
The Republic of Kosovo, situated in the middle of the Western Balkan migratory route, has become a key transit stop for migrants and refugees seeking passage to Western Europe. According to the European Commission (EC), in 2019 a total of 2,027 people were intercepted entering Kosovo irregularly, representing a 300 percent increase from 2018. This trend decreased slightly in early 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some 200 migrants and refugees were left stranded in Kosovo when the country closed its borders in March 2020. Preventive measures, including restriction of movement and quarantine for incoming migrants, were introduced to protect the migrant population.

In October 2020, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) visited facilities used for deprivation of liberty in the country, including an immigration detention facility, the Vranidoll Detention Centre for Foreigners. The CPT urged the country to refrain from detaining children and families at the centre, encouraged renovations to the facility, and noted its "misgivings about the rather oppressive and carceral material environment in the entire Centre." The committee also found that most foreign nationals were detained for short periods of time and that arrangements had been made for a psychologist to visit the centre, which are provided by the International Organization for Migration.

Importantly, however, newly-arrived non-nationals were not always given medical exams, which is crucial to avoid the spread of diseases, including COVID-19, as well as for the protection of those persons in need of psychological support. Regarding COVID response at Vranidoll, the committee's report noted:

-- "The CPT is concerned about the lack of a protocol related to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic at Vranidoll Detention Centre. Personal protective equipment (PPE) was made available but there were no other procedures in place in terms of prevention. Only a few posters were displayed on the walls. The detection of symptoms was limited to one body temperature check by the nurse upon arrival at the DCF."

-- "The delegation was informed that, in the period between 26 March 2020 and 7 May 2020, in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, Vranidoll Detention Centre had been used as an emergency quarantine facility for all foreign nationals who had entered the territory of Kosovo*, and a total of 64 foreign nationals (including two women and two children) had been held there in quarantine for two weeks. According to the management and security staff, there had been a number of instances of self-harming by detainees and violent incidents such as damage to the premises, the latter requiring an intervention by the police. This may have been caused by the lack of information about the purpose of their (sanitary) detention. However as far as the delegation could ascertain, such incidents were not recorded in a dedicated register. There were two police officers and two nurses present around the clock."

-- "The delegation was informed that all staff present in the premises were wearing PPE (masks, medical goggles). In terms of access to outdoor exercise, foreign nationals could go outside in pairs (together with their room-mates) but there was no clear rule. There did not seem to be a sanitary protocol in place."

-- "Given that Covid-19 remains a serious risk for immigration detainees and staff alike, the CPT recommends that the relevant authorities develop a specific and comprehensive strategy for immigration detention. Such a strategy should, inter alia, include awareness-raising on Covid- 19 infection prevention at Vranidoll Detention Centre and the methods that will be used to guarantee that the Centre is provided with sufficient quantities of appropriate PPE. Further, steps should be taken to ensure that rapid, easily accessible and free PCR testing is available for every foreign national or staff member, should they develop symptoms suggestive of Covid- 19 or be exposed to others suspected of having Covid‐ 19."

The CPT also reported that staff at Vranidoll were found not to be specially trained to work with immigration detainees in terms of de-escalation techniques, interpersonal communication and cultural sensitivity. Moreover, during its visit, the CPT delegation was informed that the centre had been used as an emergency quarantine facility for all foreign nationals who had entered the country and that 64 foreign nationals, including two women and two children, had been held there for two weeks. According to staff and management, there had been a few instances of self-harm by detainees and damage to the premises which may have been caused by the lack of information provided for the reasons for mandatory quarantine.

According to information obtained by Euractiv, in the “first months of 2021, Kosovo’s border police repatriated 1,530 migrants from the Middle East and Africa back to Albania after crossing the border illegally.” The EU’s Border force, Frontex, also found that from January to October 2021, 48,500 irregular border crossings were detected.

In December 2021, an agreement was signed between Denmark and Kosovo which will allow Denmark to send foreign prisoners to serve their sentence in Kosovo and subsequently be deported back to their countries of origin. According to the BBC, “Kosovo has agreed to rent 300 prison cells to Denmark to ease overcrowding in the Scandinavian country's jails. Denmark will pay an annual fee of €15m (£12.8m) for an initial period of five years, and will also help fund green energy in the country. The rented cells are meant to house convicted criminals from non-EU countries due to be deported from Denmark after their sentences. Danish laws would apply to any prisoners in the rented cells. Kosovo has between 700 and 800 unused prison spaces.

16 December 2021

Maldives

Security personnel patrol a migrant worker accommodation block under quarantine in Malé, Maldives on 9 May 2020, (HRW,
Security personnel patrol a migrant worker accommodation block under quarantine in Malé, Maldives on 9 May 2020, (HRW, "Maldives: Covid-19 Exposes Abuse of Migrants," 25 August 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/08/25/maldives-covid-19-exposes-abuse-migrants)
The Maldives relies heavily on a migrant labour force, many of whom are undocumented. Estimates vary widely, from 145,000 to over 230,000 migrant workers present in the country. According to an April 2020 UN report on the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 on the Maldives, the country has the largest proportion of migrant workers in South Asia, representing around a third of the resident population. In addition, at least 60,000 are undocumented, and the majority are men from Bangladesh working in construction or tourism.

Between 29 November to 9 December 2021, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) conducted an official visit to the Republic of the Maldives, visiting 14 places of deprivation of liberty including, police custodial facilities, immigration detention centres, prisons, drug treatment and rehabilitation centres, as well as facilities for children, elderly, and those with disabilities. In its preliminary findings, the WGAD highlighted several concerns regarding immigration detention and the limited rights provided to migrant workers in detention. Although Maldives law does not expressly permit for indefinite immigration detention, according to the WGAD, the “Immigration Controller detains individuals, potentially indefinitely, under article 21(d) of the [Immigration Act 2007] . Migrants are typically arrested by the police, referred to Maldives Immigration, and held in a detention facility operated by the Maldives Correctional Service.”

The WGAD reported that migrants are not presented before a judge to review the legality of their detention, they are not provided with any legal assistance, and no interpretation services are provided even though proceedings and communications are conducted in Dhivehi.

The WGAD expressed particular concern over the seeming ad hoc nature of some migration-related detention measures.

“For example, it was informed of an informal unregistered facility of a State-owned company where large numbers of foreign workers were de facto detained following an incident on an island resort. The decision to release a migrant in detention can be based on negotiations between employers and the Maldives Immigration approves the release. The ability of employers to negotiate release places migrants in a position of vulnerability. In addition, while witness testimony can be taken prior to trial under the Criminal Procedure Act, migrants who are witnesses in criminal proceedings remain detained in immigration detention for years. Furthermore, female migrants are currently subjected to a system of citations and monitoring, owing to a lack of a dedicated facility.”

The Maldives is not a Party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol. The WGAD stated that the Maldives has no asylum system nor any national refugee protection mechanisms, contrary to the right to seek asylum under Article 14(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In consequence, the WGAD urged the government of the Maldives to bring its immigration regime in compliance with international standards and encouraged building Government and local civil society capacity to identify those in need of international protection.

The Maldives has previously received comments regarding its lack of asylum system and lack of ratification of core international human rights treaties. During its review for the third cycle of the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2020, the Maldives received several recommendations, including: “develop a national refugee protection framework by adopting administrative measures and establishing institutions capable of handling asylum issues (Afghanistan) (para. 133.255)” and “ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (Morocco) (para. 133.20)”.

10 December 2021

Belarus

Inside the Bruzgi Logistics Centre, (Ruptly,
Inside the Bruzgi Logistics Centre, (Ruptly, "Belarus: Stranded Migrants Flock to Collect Aid at Bruzgi Logistics Centre," Youtube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHrjRvyyd_A&ab_channel=Ruptly)
The humanitarian crisis that unfolded--and continues to unfold--on Belarus’s borders with the European Union (EU) in late 2021 sparked widespread scrutiny of that country’s treatment of migrants and asylum seekers (see the 12 November 2021 update on Belarus on this platform). However, the EU has long seen Belarus as an important partner in its efforts to halt the movements of migrants before they reach the EU.

As noted in a recent report by The Transnational Institute (TNI), the European Commission announced in 2016 that it would provide “€7 million from the European Neighbourhood Instrument for ‘the construction and/or renovation of several temporary migrants’ accommodation centres’ for ‘between 30 and 50 irregular migrants per centre at a time,’ where ‘all centres will have closed and open-type facilities.’ The Action Programme includes training on the management of these centres.” The International Organization for Migration (IOM) was reportedly tasked with helping implement the project.

Importantly, aside from some holding cells in border facilities, Belarus has to date only used prisons and police stations for migration-related detention purposes, having never established the types of specialized migrant facilities used in nearly all other European countries, particularly those that are members of the Council of Europe (of which Belarus is not).

A non-governmental source in Belarus informed the Global Detention Project (GDP) that in 2018, Belarus began building two migrant centres with EU support, which are reportedly intended to hold up to 200 people each and be located in Lida and Navapolatsk. However, according to the GDP source, progress on these facilities was halted shortly after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, in mid-2020.

According to TNI, the EU has also supported numerous other detention-related projects. One such project, called “Helping Belarus Address the Phenomenon of Increasing Numbers of Irregular Migrants,” reportedly includes financing renovations of prisons in Belarus and includes the involvement of UNHCR and the Belarus Red Cross. Also, “As part of an earlier EU-funded project ‘Strengthening surveillance capacity on the green and blue border between Belarus and Ukraine’ (SURCAP, 2012–2014), also implemented by the IOM, border guards from Belarus and Ukraine went on study visits to detention centres in Italy and Portugal. In February 2018, the IOM also organised a study visit to detention centres in Albania and Macedonia for Belarusian border guards, once again funded by the EU.”

The GDP source in Belarus reported that there is no available information indicating that migrants are currently being detained in the country, adding that many are receiving accommodation in a non-secure “logistical” centre in Bruzgi. However, the source added that this situation could change as many people may now have expired visas.

Images filmed by Ruptly, a video news agency owned by the Moscow-backed RT television network (formerly Russia Today), appear to show migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in a warehouse-like facility. Children and families are seen sleeping on the floor of the facility in between scaffolding. On 16 November 2021, a Belarusian presidential aide was quoted as saying that “all migrants will be able to stay at the centre until the issue is resolved.”

On 9 December 2021, Polish soldiers found the body of a migrant in the border region with Belarus. Around a dozen people have now been found dead along the border as aid groups warn that the toll could be even higher. Polish border guards said that on 8 December 2021, a group of 35 migrants had forced their way across the Polish border overnight and that the Belarusian military had helped them cross. The group was caught by Polish authorities and sent back to Belarus. According to the Polish government, it is estimated that the Lukashenko regime has sent back around 3,000 migrants to Iraq and Syria but there remain around 7,000 on the Belarusian territory.

While observers have been critical of the treatment of migrants and asylum seekers by Polish and Lithuanian security services during the border crisis with Belarus, which Belarus and Russia have also loudly denounced, there are long-standing concerns about how Belarus treats migrants crossing into its territory from Russia. According to TNI, a report by the group Danwatch “exposed the inhumane treatment of migrants by the Belarusian border authorities, including pushbacks of Chechen refugees to Russia and extremely violent treatment of perceived irregular migrants by armed border guards.”

UNHCR data shows that in 2020, there were 2,900 refugees, 136 asylum seekers, and 6,297 stateless persons in Belarus. In addition, data shows that around 600 asylum applications were submitted in Belarus in 2020.

06 December 2021

Georgia

Tbilsi Temporary Accommodation Centre (Georgia Ministry of Internal Affairs, https://police.ge/en/ministry/structure-and-offices/migratsia)
Tbilsi Temporary Accommodation Centre (Georgia Ministry of Internal Affairs, https://police.ge/en/ministry/structure-and-offices/migratsia)
Georgia operates a dedicated immigration detention centre in Tbilisi called the Temporary Accommodation Centre. The facility opened in 2014 following negotiations for a visa-free regime with the European Union. An “Action Plan” developed as part of these negotiations provided that Georgia must have “adequate infrastructure (including detention centres)... to ensure… effective expulsion of illegally staying and/or transiting third country nationals.” The EU has funded various detention-related activities in the country concerning the management of such detention centres and detention-related workshops given by EU member states.

The Global Detention Project has been unable to obtain details on COVID-19 related measures taken to safeguard people in immigration custody. Responding to the Global Detention’s COVID-19 survey in July 2020, the Georgia office of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) reported that no particular measures had been taken to prevent the spread of infection or ensure the appropriate care of persons released from detention (see 23 July 2020 Georgia update on this platform). According to the UNHCR, in 2020, there were 1,780 refugees and 1,282 asylum-seekers, as well as 288,538 internally displaced persons in the country.

Furthermore, the country launched a national vaccination campaign in March 2021. It is unclear whether refugees, undocumented migrants, asylum seekers, or stateless persons are included in the campaign. The EU is nonetheless supporting the country’s vaccination programme. In September 2021, the European Union and the WHO donated 300 medical refrigerators and a specialised vaccine-carrier vehicle to the Government of Georgia.

During its review for the third cycle of the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in April 2021, Georgia received several relevant recommendations, including: “put an end to overcrowding and poor conditions in detention centres (Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela) (para. 149.12)” and “ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (Honduras) (Senegal) (para. 148.4).”

As regards the country’s prisons, in March 2020, several measures were introduced to avoid the spread of COVID-19 in the facilities. Each facility was to be disinfected regularly, newly arrived prisoners were to be placed in isolation for 21 days, prison staff checked for symptoms daily, and information concerning the virus provided to prisoners. On 9 June 2020, the Council of Europe donated protective equipment to Georgia’s prison system, including 6,500 face masks, 2,500 face shields, 500 litres of hand sanitiser, 5,000 disposable shoe covers, and 3,000 medical disposable head covers. In November 2020, a study conducted by the University of Lausanne for the Council of Europe concluded that, so far, there had been no COVID-19 cases detected among prisoners or staff members in all of Georgia’s prisons.

03 December 2021

Thailand

Doctors Putting Protective Equipment Before Entering Sadao Immigration Detention Centre in April 2020 (National Health Security Office,
Doctors Putting Protective Equipment Before Entering Sadao Immigration Detention Centre in April 2020 (National Health Security Office, "โควิด-19 : จำนวนผู้ต้องกักใน ตม.สะเดาที่ติดเชื้อไวรัสโคโรนาเพิ่มจาก 42 เป็น 60 รายในเวลาไม่ถึง 2 สัปดาห์," BBC News, 28 April 2020, https://www.bbc.com/thai/thailand-52451271
As of 30 November 2021, Thailand had registered more than two million cases of COVID-19 and more than 20,000 related deaths. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) reported that in September 2021, there were a total of 28,810 cases among migrants from Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, and Myanmar (CLM) in the country. The number of positive cases among CLM migrants accounted for 9 percent (138,487) of all cases in Thailand.

The Ministry of Public Health Immunisation Centre reported that on 30 September 2021, 1,339,761 vaccine doses had been administered to foreign nationals in the country, representing 3 percent of the total number of doses administered by that time. On 22 September 2021, Thai authorities informed the IOM that immigration detention centres throughout the country had been experiencing an increase in positive COVID-19 cases (see also the 9 August 2021 Thailand update on this platform). According to the IOM, In addition, vaccine doses were provided to detainees in the Phangnga immigration detention centre. The IOM also said that is has provided medicines, hygiene items, and PPE at 11 immigration detention centres in the provinces of Ranong, Songkhla, Phangnga, Chiang Rai, Trat, Chanthaburi, Nonthaburi, Kanchanaburi, Prachaud Khiri Khan, and Tak.

As part of a US initiative to donate vaccine doses in conflict zones, Johnson & Johnson doses went to the border of Thailand and Myanmar in December through the COVAX programme, with many doses going to individuals in refugee camps on the border.

Earlier, in late 2020, the Thai government reported that it had put in place some precautions to reduce the risk of the virus spreading. Immigration officers were ordered to wear face masks or face shields and gloves, to check the temperature of new arrivals and observe whether they display symptoms, and new detainees were to be placed in a reception cell for 15 days to observe whether they had any COVID-19 symptoms and visits were to be suspended. However, NGO reports indicated that the centres remained overcrowded and social distancing was virtually impossible. Detainees were not provided with masks, soap or hand sanitisers in several of the detention centres across Thailand, including Suan Phlu, Prachuap Kirikhan, Maesot, and Ranong.

According to the Refugee Rights Network (RRN), reforms in the treatment of asylum seekers and migrants that could serve as additional safeguards during the pandemic have not been properly implemented, including with respect to the use of non-custodial measures. A Memorandum of Understanding on the Determination of Measures and Approaches Alternative to Detention of Children in Immigration Detention Centres (ATD MOU) resulted in the release of some 230 women and children from immigration detention during 2019-2020. However, according to RRN, officials inappropriately referred to use of a “Day Care Centre” within an immigration detention facility as an “alternative to detention.” Also, certain Rohingya children as well as other children whose asylum cases at UNHCR are closed are being excluded from community-based ATDs and as a result, many of them are held in government shelters without any other solution. According to the International Detention Coalition (IDC), during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Thai government did not increase the use of non-custodial alternatives to detention and kept the same bail policy as before: only those with serious medical conditions, and mothers and children can be successfully bailed out of detention (through the ATD MOU). From May 2020 to November 2020, the IDC said that there had been no children who are persons of concern to UNHCR held in immigration detention. This nonetheless excludes the Rohingya women and children detained in Songkhla detention centre as reported by Human Rights Watch in May 2020.

Thailand has also continued to arrest and detain refugees under the Immigration Act B.E. 2522 and refugees have not benefited from visa amnesties for foreigners whose visas expired from 26 March 2020 as these do not apply to refugees who had already entered Thailand before January 2020. In July 2020, the Thai Immigration Bureau warned non-nationals stranded in the country who cannot leave before their visas expire to seek a letter from their embassies as otherwise they could be subject to overstay fines as well as arrest and detention by Thai authorities.

Thailand has continued issuing deportation orders in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Reuters, Thai authorities have continued deporting people from Myanmar, arguing that it would curb the spread of the virus. Yet, many are believed to be refugees from the Rohingya ethnic minority. Meanwhile, Myanmar has reported cases of COVID-19 among people held in quarantine after being deported from Thailand.

On 9 November 2021, Thai immigration officials forcibly returned two Cambodian refugees to their country, putting them at risk of unfair trials in Cambodia. Thai police arrested both registered refugees, took them to a detention centre in Bangkok, and subsequently deported them the following day. UNHCR intervened on behalf of the two refugees to the Royal Thai Government prior to their deportation, with the expectation that the refugees would continue to receive protection in Thailand. UNHCR’s Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific said: “while we are seeking further clarifications on exactly what happened, we are deeply troubled by this deportation. I strongly urge the Thai authorities to investigate this matter. I appeal to Thailand to honour its fundamental international obligations, notably the principle of non-refoulement, and to refrain from such deportations in the future.” Human Rights Watch stated that “Thailand’s forcible return of these two refugees shows a blatant disregard for fundamental refugee protection principles. The Thai government’s actions make it complicit in the Cambodian government’s persecution of its political opponents, which appears to extend beyond Cambodia’s borders.” On 22 November, Reuters reported that both registered refugees had been jailed in Cambodia on charges of conspiracy and incitement. Cambodian police said that the refugees had violated immigration law in Thailand and Cambodia had not sought their deportation.

According to UNHCR data, in 2020, there were 96,179 refugees, 852 asylum seekers and 480,696 stateless persons in the country. Mid-year 2021 data demonstrates a large increase in the number of stateless persons: UNHCR estimates that there were more than 554,000 stateless persons in Thailand by July.

26 November 2021

Tunisia

Screengrab from Footage Shared by Tunisian Human Rights Organisations in September 2021 Showing a Group of People, including Young Children, Being Taken by Bus to the Libyan Border (France 24 Observers Team,
Screengrab from Footage Shared by Tunisian Human Rights Organisations in September 2021 Showing a Group of People, including Young Children, Being Taken by Bus to the Libyan Border (France 24 Observers Team, "Tunisia: Hundreds of Migrants, Including Pregnant Women, Deported to Libyan Desert," 5 October 2021, https://observers.france24.com/en/africa/20211007-tunisia-migrants-deported-libyan-desert)
In late September, Tunisian human rights organisations shared footage of Tunisian officials apparently transporting a group of migrants to the border with Libya and abandoning them in the desert. The group, who had initially been intercepted at sea, included approximately one hundred men, women and children, including at least three pregnant women. One of the videos shows men, women, and children in a bus, heading for the Libyan border and another video shows a group of people in the desert on the border between Libya and Tunisia.

One of the migrants told France 24: “After they arrested us on the boats, they released the Tunisians and put the people from Sub-Saharan Africa in detention. Then, the next day, they made us get into buses, without telling us where we were going. … After driving for five hours, they broke us into groups and then loaded us into pickups bound for the desert. … We were abandoned in a zone that stretches for about 20km along the border between Libya and Tunisia. The officials showed us a path and told us to ‘follow the road down there’ towards Libya. … When several people spoke up and said that they wanted to stay in Tunisia, the National Guard threatened us, insulted us and hit us.”

On 10 November 2021, UN human rights experts--including the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants and the Special Rapporteur on torture--released a public condemnation of Tunisia’s collective expulsions of migrants and asylum seekers. The UN experts said that the expulsions may violate Tunisia’s obligations under international law and reminded Tunisia of its non-refoulement obligations, requiring that states do not return individuals to countries where they may be in danger of being subjected to torture, ill-treatment, arbitrary detention, or other irreparable harm.

While Tunisia has begun a national vaccination campaign against COVID-19, in August 2021, Infomigrants reported that undocumented migrants had been excluded from it. An expert with the Forum Tunisien pour les Droits Économiques et Sociaux (FTDES) said that to obtain a vaccination appointment, the registration platform requires proof of identity, passports, or residence cards. According to the International Organisation for Migration, migrants can use a consular card or a card issued by certain organisations to register for vaccination. However, for a “more efficient” system, the FTDES is requesting the regularisation of undocumented migrants living in the territory, “even if only provisional,” so that migrants can be protected.

In addition to the exclusion from the vaccination campaign, undocumented migrants and asylum seekers are suffering from the economic slowdown caused by COVID-related health restrictions. In Tunisia, most undocumented migrants work in the informal sector, in tourism or services, some of the sectors most heavily impacted by the pandemic. This has led to an unprecedented wave of departures from the country. Mongi Slim, director of the Red Crescent office in Medenine, said that usually, one boat arrives per month to the country’s coasts but in recent weeks, a boat arrives every two days. Slim also said that since April 2021, the Red Crescent accommodation centre in Medenine was full of migrants and refugees from Bangladesh, Morocco, Nigeria, and even Kenya. During a two-day period in early August, Tunisian authorities arrested 115 people who were about to leave in makeshift boats. From 31 July to 2 August 2020, Tunisian authorities assisted 497 migrants in distress off the coast.

According to the UNHCR, the COVID-19 situation in the country improved significantly as a consequence of the accelerated national vaccination campaign. Around 33 percent of the overall population had been vaccinated by then and most movement restrictions including night curfew were lifted. As of 13 October 2021, 315 refugees and asylum seekers had been vaccinated in Tunisia and according to UNHCR data, there were 8,854 refugees and asylum seekers in the country.

24 November 2021

Algeria

Migrants Walking in the Sahara Desert (Sylla Ibrahim Sory,
Migrants Walking in the Sahara Desert (Sylla Ibrahim Sory, "Algerian Desert: The Point Zero Where Migrants are Abandoned," Infomigrants, 23 April 2021, https://www.infomigrants.net/fr/post/31728/algerian-desert-the-point-zero-where-migrants-are-abandoned)
As increasing numbers of Algerians seek to flee their country and make the hazardous passage across the Mediterranean to Spain, concerns are growing about the plight of migrants and refugees located in Algeria's land borders, particularly those shared with Morocco and Niger, which have been heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and political tensions across the region.

A key area of concern is the disputed Western Sahara, where the Algerian-supported Polisario Front seeks to create an independent state in the territory, annexed by Morocco in 1975. In early November, tensions flared after Algeria accused Morocco of bombing Algerian trucks transiting the region. "The conflict has received renewed attention due to growing frustration among the Saharawi people in refugee camps in Algeria, who are largely backing the resumption of conflict since November last year," reported Africa News. Algeria has hosted Saharawi refugees since Morocco's annexation of Western Sahara.

Algeria's border with Niger has also become a key humanitarian concern because of Algeria's expulsion of migrants and asylum seekers in the region throughout the pandemic (see also the 13 October 2020 update on this platform). The expulsions have often taken the form of ad hoc mass removals, during which larges groups of people are stranded in the desert. In April 2021, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reported that since the start of the year, some 4,370 people had been abandoned by Algerian security forces in the middle of the desert in a place nicknamed “point zero,” near Agadez in Niger. Migrants abandoned in the desert are left without GPS or maps, forcing them to find their way to Niger. Falikou, a 28-year-old Ivorian, told Infomigrants in January 2021: “They dropped us off about 15 km from the border. The rest we had to do on foot. That night, between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m., we walked towards Niger, there were about 400 of us.”

According to MSF, the deportation procedures follow a similar pattern: migrants are arrested, sent to detention centres for days or weeks, and then put in buses that take them to the desert. According to one deportee named Safi: “The gendarmes broke down the door. … They took everything: money and phones. Then they took me to the police station.” Safi was then sent to a detention centre for four days before being transported to the border between Algeria and Niger in the desert.

According to MSF, 23,175 migrants crossed the desert in 2020 and arrived in the small town of Assamaka near Niger’s border with Algeria. Although this figure is slightly lower than the 29,888 recorded expulsions in 2019, most of the arrivals occurred after Niger’s borders had been officially closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. MSF reported that most of their patients had experienced violence, including torture.

UNHCR has been a key source of pandemic-related support for refugees and asylum seekers in Algeria, in particular for those at the five refugee camps near Tindouf. By the end of July 2021, the refugee camps had experienced large waves of COVID-19 infections, including more than 1,460 cases and 63 deaths. To combat the pandemic in Tindouf, UNHCR provided 10,000 rapid antigen tests, as well as masks, soap, and hand sanitiser, as well as bleach for disinfection of public places.

While the country began a national vaccination campaign in January 2021, according to the local humanitarian organisation, Aprosch Chougrani, few migrants are being vaccinated against COVID-19 in the town of Oran in northwest Algeria. The organisation believes this is partly due to the fear of being deported by Algerian security forces as well as for fear of stigmatisation. On the other hand, Sahrawi refugees began being vaccinated in May 2021. The Algerian Government donated vaccinations to the refugees and UNHCR is supporting the vaccination campaign. In Algiers, UNHCR is also conducting registration, Refugee Status Determinations, and documenting asylum seekers, while advocating for the adoption of legislation to protect persons in need of international protection. United Nations mechanisms have already commented on Algeria’s lack of asylum legislation.

During its review for the third cycle of the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2017, Algeria received several asylum-related recommendations, including: “adopt national legislation implementing the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, in order to institute a functioning system for the processing of refugees in accordance with international law and to grant protection to refugees determined and recognised as such by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (Sweden) (para. 129.222)” and “grant and recognise refugee status for all persons coming under the mandate of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in particular by giving them the national documents necessary to that effect (Portugal) (para. 129.226).”

19 November 2021

Dominican Republic

A Pregnant Haitian National (El Nacional,
A Pregnant Haitian National (El Nacional, "Detienen a haitianas embarazadas en un hospital dominicano y las deportan," 11 November 2021, https://elnacional.com.do/detienen-a-haitianas-embarazadas-en-un-hospital-dominicano-y-las-deportan/)
There has been a sharp uptick in anti-migrant policies and practices in the Dominican Republic in recent months, which have been fuelled in part by COVID-related restrictions and growing public backlash aimed at Haitians.

Haiti and the Dominican Republic have a long history of political and racial tensions, often related to migration pressures. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), for example, noted during a review of the Dominican Republic the UN’s longstanding “concern about the racial discrimination, xenophobia and other related forms of intolerance that particularly affect dark-skinned persons of African descent from the Dominican Republic or Haiti as well as the Haitian irregular migrant population.”

The COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing humanitarian and social strife in Haiti have severely exacerbated these tensions in the Dominican Republic. Thus, while countries across the Caribbean and Latin America moved to stop deportations after the onset of the pandemic in early 2020, the Dominican Republic did not. During the first half of March 2020, 2,059 Haitian nationals were detained and 1,703 deported. Recently, these deportations have appeared to increase. In October 2021, authorities deported 4,025 Haitians following raids led by police in Santa Cruz de Mao.

In one notable recent case, on 11 November 2021, El Nacional reported that several pregnant Haitian women had been detained in hospitals across the capital and subsequently deported. A group of 45 women, including 28 who were pregnant, were deported on 11 November to Haiti through the border between Comendador in the Dominican Republic and Belladere in Haiti. The Mesa Nacional para Migraciones y Refugiados en República Dominicana, a network of local civil society organisations, denounced the move as “a practice of racial discrimination, xenophobia” and intolerance. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, Felipe Gonzalez, also denounced the move, tweeting: “Muy preocupante información sobre migrantes haitianas embarazadas detenidas en hospitales de República Dominicana y luego deportadas. Los Estados deben garantizar acceso a la salud y derechos sexuales y reproductivos de todas las personas migrantes.”

The hospital deportations occurred just as reports were emerging that the Dominican Republic was planning to limit access to public hospitals for undocumented migrants and would review the visa status of students from Haiti. The country’s Interior Minister justified the proposals arguing that the situation in Haiti “puts additional pressure on our health budget.”

In February 2021, the president of the Dominican Republic announced plans to build a fence along its 380 kilometer border with Haiti to “put an end to the serious problems of illegal immigration, drug trafficking and movement of stolen vehicles.” By May 2021, 23 kilometers of the four meter-high wall had been constructed. The COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of the border with Haiti also had severe economic consequences for the country and local communities (see 8 December 2020 Dominican Republic update on this platform).

According to data published by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there were 162 refugees and 625 asylum seekers in the country in 2020 and 162 refugees and 642 asylum seekers registered by mid-2021. UNHCR data also suggests that there has been a large increase in the number of Venezuelans present in the country. In 2019, there were 33,816 Venezuelans displaced abroad living in the Dominican Republic and in 2020, there were 114,050. In July 2021, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) reported that the first group of 100,000 Venezuelan migrants without legal status in the country were given visas, allowing them to work, open bank accounts and join the social security system under the country’s Migration Normalisation Plan. The plan was created by the Dominican government with support of the IOM and aims to regularise the Venezuelan population. The first phase of the plan began in April 2021 and since then, 43,000 Venezuelan nationals have registered to extend their stay and on 1 July 2021, 21 Venezuelan nationals received their work visa.

While the Dominican Republic has begun a national vaccination campaign against COVID-19, the country’s president, Luis Abindaer said that vaccine shots would not be given to anyone without residency papers. In addition, Response for Venezuelans reported in February 2021 that the country’s vaccination plan is not including refugees and migrants at this stage.

16 November 2021

Bulgaria

Water Cannon Truck Seen at the Kaptain Andreevo Border Crossing Point Between Bulgaria and Turkey in 2020, (Hristo Rusev, AP Photo,
Water Cannon Truck Seen at the Kaptain Andreevo Border Crossing Point Between Bulgaria and Turkey in 2020, (Hristo Rusev, AP Photo, "Bulgaria to Send 350 Soldiers to Border with Turkey Over Migration Levels," Euronews, 1 November 2021, https://www.euronews.com/2021/11/01/bulgaria-to-send-350-soldiers-to-border-with-turkey-over-migration-levels)
In early November, Bulgarian authorities sent 350 additional military personnel to its border with Turkey because of concerns over increasing migration and refugee pressures. The Bulgarian Interior Ministry reported that during January-September 2021, more than 6,500 people were detained after entering the country irregularly. This was a threefold increase compared to the same period in 2020. Moreover, in August 2021, the Bulgarian parliament voted to send between 400 and 700 soldiers to help build fences along its borders with Greece and Turkey.

While Bulgaria has primarily been considered as a transit country for refugees and migrants, during the COVID-19 pandemic, more refugees and migrants have remained in Bulgaria. In fact, there has been a 57 percent increase in the number of arrivals during 2020, compared to 2019 according to Bulgaria’s Interior Ministry. In addition, in 2020, Bulgarian authorities detained 3,487 migrants compared to 2,184 for the same period in 2019. The number of asylum applications also grew, marking the first annual increase since 2015: a total of 3,525 people applied for protection, mainly from Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq. 32 percent (1,125) of applicants were children and 799 of those were unaccompanied or separated children.

The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee reported that, in 2020, Bulgarian authorities issued 4,658 formal non-admission decisions and carried out 498 “indirect” pushbacks--in which people are denied physical entry onto the country’s territory--affecting 3,493. In addition, authorities carried out 569 direct pushbacks which affected 11,770 individuals. The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee also reported that due to the pandemic the average detention duration for asylum seekers in the country increased. This was due to a mandatory fourteen day quarantine period applied to all newly detained third country nationals. If detainees tested positive at the end of the quarantine period, the measure could be extended by a week until the detainee tested negative. However, excluding the quarantine period, the average detention duration was 8 days in 2020.

According to data obtained by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee from the Bulgarian Interior Ministry, the country’s accommodation facilities have a total capacity of 5,160 places. At the end of 2020, there were 1,032 asylum seekers residing in these, marking an occupancy rate of 25 percent. Accommodation outside these centres is permitted under Bulgarian law, however, asylum seekers must pay for it themselves and they are not entitled to any social benefits. As of 31 December 2020, there were 172 asylum seekers residing outside the reception centres.

While Bulgaria has begun a national vaccination campaign against COVID-19, PICUM reported that the country’s vaccination strategy does not mention undocumented migrants. Following advocacy work from civil society organisations however, the strategy is said to now include refugees and asylum seekers held in Bulgaria’s reception centres. Nonetheless, PICUM mentioned that it does not seem that there are any plans to extend the vaccination scheme to undocumented migrants in the country and that the health care system in Bulgaria does not recognise people without residence or identity documents.

12 November 2021

Belarus

A group of refugees between Polish (foreground) and Belarusian guards at a border camp near Bialystok, Poland ©AFP/Getty. The Financial Times,
A group of refugees between Polish (foreground) and Belarusian guards at a border camp near Bialystok, Poland ©AFP/Getty. The Financial Times, "Belarus plays on the EU’s migration concerns," 22 August 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/7a036e79-69f9-410b-8faa-89607396afe9
The escalating crisis on the Belarus-Polish border has spurred a growing number of countries to accuse Belarus of weaponizing migrant and refugee movements, using them as pawns to destabilise the European Union. At the same time, there is growing international outrage over Poland’s response to the situation--as well as that of other countries that border Belarus like Lithuania (see the 9 October 2021 Lithuania update)--which has included leaving people (including families and children) stranded at the border in freezing conditions, bolstering troop movements, and mobilising anti-immigrant public sentiment.

In late May, Belarusian President Alexandr Lukashenko, angered by EU sanctions, declared that he would no longer prevent migrants and refugees from entering Europe. There are reports that State-controlled travel bureaux in Belarus have been luring migrants from the Middle East to Belarus, promising an onward passage to the EU for the price of Euro 15,000 - 20,000. On arrival, migrants are accommodated in State-managed hotels and then bussed to the Polish and Lithuania borders. There are videos of Belarusian security guards in full-combat gear pushing migrants towards the borders. Thousands of desperate men, women, and children--many from Iraq and Afghanistan--have been transported to Belarus's borders with Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania.

According to testimony from migrants, Belarusian soldiers have physically abused migrants. One person from Morocco told reporters: “They beat me in Belarus. There are gangs that stand behind the army and attack us. They beat you, take your money, split it 50-50, part for the gangs, part for soldiers.” Other testimonies indicate that Belarusian police have helped migrants cross the border to Poland. A 40 year-old Iraqi man said that he had travelled for three days by car to Istanbul, took a flight to Minsk from Turkey, and upon arrival at the Polish border, “the Belarusian police cut the barbed wire and let us through.”

Large numbers of migrants are now trapped between opposing security forces and forced to sleep in improvised camps in the middle of the forest along the border in freezing temperatures. By 22 October 2021, Polish authorities had announced the ninth recorded death in the forest region. According to the Polish border guard, so far this year, there were 24,500 attempts to cross the eastern border with Poland, 12,800 in October alone. On 9 November, the Polish government announced that there were around 3,000 to 4,000 people settled in an improvised camp on the border close to the village of Kuźnica.

The majority of migrants crossing into Poland are pushed back into Belarus by the Polish security forces. They describe a Kafkaesque situation of being repeatedly pushed backwards and forwards by the security forces of both countries--pawns in a political conflict. Doctors Without Borders have reported that they have seen “first-hand the injuries people experienced when assaulted by border guards from both Poland and Lithuania. People have described being beaten with the butt of a gun, kicked in the ribs, electrocuted in the neck, and have had all their belongings taken or destroyed by European border guards. This is unacceptable and must end now.”

The Polish government and the European Union argue that Belarus is deliberately encouraging migrants to enter the European Union through its borders. Lithuania’s foreign minister, Gabrielius Landsbergis, said that Lukashenko’s regime was negotiating visa liberalisation with several countries and adding flights to create new routes. Infomigrants reported that the number of countries whose citizens can enter Belarus without a visa has been expanded to 76 as of 20 October 2021.

In response to this situation, Lithuania has passed legislation tightening the rules on migration and asylum, approving the construction of a wall to prevent irregular crossings on the border with Belarus. On 9 November 2021, Lithuania declared a state of emergency on its border with Belarus, providing the police with additional powers to expel asylum seekers and restrict gatherings near the border.

For its part, Poland approved a plan to build a €353 million wall on its border with Belarus and adopted legislation providing that any non-nationals who are stopped after crossing the Polish border irregularly would be expelled from the country. Those expelled would be banned from entering the country for a period between six months to three years and Polish officials would be allowed to “leave unexamined” asylum applications filed by a non-national who is stopped immediately after entering the country irregularly. Poland has sent some 11,000 soldiers to the border area, created a militarised zone, and set up razor-wire fencing. Poland is also one of twelve EU member states requesting that the EU fund the construction of barriers at their borders. The EU has refused to fund the walls, adopting the same stance as in 2015-2016, when the European Commission refused to reimburse Hungary for fencing off its border with Serbia.

A group of doctors operating on the border have said they are prevented from accessing the zone where migrants are stranded. A Polish Red Cross worker from the border area said, “we have no access to the off-limits zone… we can’t hand over aid packages ourselves.” ECRE also reported that a group of 17 people located in the borderland forest between Poland and Belarus was left for 32 hours without food and water.

The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, called upon EU member states to approve new sanctions against Belarusian authorities responsible for the influx of migrants at the Polish border, statingt: “The instrumentalisation of migrants for political purposes is unacceptable.” She added that the EU would “examine how to sanction airlines from third countries” that bring migrants to Belarus. Subsequently, on Tuesday 9 November, the 27 EU member states agreed to suspend an EU-Belarus visa facilitation agreement. Belarus has denied having any involvement in directing the flow of people and the Belarusian border guard said that: “the indifference and inhumane attitude of the Polish authorities has prompted the refugees to take such a step of despair.”

11 November 2021

Mexico

Migrants Walking as they Take Part in Caravan Heading to Mexico City on 1 November 2021 (Daniel Becceril,
Migrants Walking as they Take Part in Caravan Heading to Mexico City on 1 November 2021 (Daniel Becceril, "Migrant Caravan Limps North Through Mexico, Despite Dengue and Exhaustion," Reuters, 2 November 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/migrant-caravan-limps-north-through-mexico-despite-dengue-exhaustion-2021-11-01/)
Mexico’s Commission for Refugee Assistance (COMAR) reported that by the end of September 2021, a total of 108,195 asylum applications had been submitted since the start of the year, the highest figure reported by Mexican authorities. Andrés Ramirez, the general coordinator for COMAR highlighted that this figure is already 53.8 percent higher than the previous record figure in 2019 of 70,302 applications. Haitian nationals had submitted the most applications (37,849), surpassing Honduran nationals, (33,578 applications), during the first ten months of 2021. According to UNHCR, the COVID-19 pandemic initially led to a reduction in applications because of movement restrictions and border closures. “However, as countries relaxed their restrictions, application numbers grew.” In 2020, a total of 41,303 applications were made in Mexico.

According to news reports, since the reopening of the US-Mexico border was announced on 15 October 2021, there has been an increase in arrivals of migrants in Mexico border cities such as Tijuana. Jose Garcia, head of migrant shelter “Movimiento Juventud 2000” in Tijuana stated that the number of migrants in the shelter had risen by a third since the announcement was made. However, Garcia also mentioned that there is a lot of misinformation surrounding the reopening: “We have explained to them that the reopening of the border is for people who have papers, a visa, to cross and it’s not a reopening for people to cross and ask for asylum and humanitarian aid” but migrants are not listening to advocates and organisations and do not want to wait. The pandemic, along with an increase in asylum applications in the US, has led to thousands of migrants spending months in Mexico awaiting a response to their applications (see 28 June 2020 and 16 February 2021 USA update on this platform).

In October 2021, reports emerged of a “caravan” of some 3,000 people that set off on foot from Tapachula, Mexico, near the Guatemalan border. Many of the migrants in the “caravan” refused to accept visas offered by the government of Mexico, saying that they distrusted the authorities. On 4 November 2021, the caravan clashed with the Mexican national guard in the state of Chiapas, leaving two injured migrants. According to Luis Garcia, who helped organise the migrant caravan, the migrants “were badly beaten [and] officers tried to surround them with their shields.” Two days earlier, a Cuban national was reportedly shot and killed by Mexico’s police force, close to the area where the caravan subsequently clashed with the National Guard. The National Guard said that a truck on a dirt road had failed to stop despite audio and visual signals requesting the driver to do so and in consequence, one person had been killed and four others injured in the shooting. Mexico’s Human Rights Commission (CNDH) said it had opened an investigation based on a complaint filed by “Pueblos Unidos Migrantes” and that the incident had occurred during the transit of people as part of the migrant caravan in Chiapas.

As previously reported on this platform (see 29 April 2020 Mexico update) Mexico--unlike many other countries--did not suspend deportation operations after onset of the pandemic. In recent weeks, there have been several mass deportations. On 6 October 2021, Mexico deported some 130 Haitian nationals to their country. This operation was the second conducted to Haiti this year from Mexico, following the deportation of a first group of Haitian nationals on 29 September 2021. The National Migration Institute (INM) said that the first group was part of an “assisted voluntary return” operation. However, during the second deportation, the INM referred to the operation as a “return of migrants.”

Amnesty International has called on both the United States and Mexico to halt the deportation of Haitian nationals stating that states cannot return people to places where their life or liberty may be in danger. (According to Amnesty International, applications for international protection by Haitian nationals in Mexico have a 50 percent recognition rate, whilst applications by Venezuelan and Honduran nationals have rates of 90 percent and 80 percent, respectively.)

On 12 October 2021, Mexico expelled 101 Guatemalan minors and another 60 adults who were arrested on 7 October, to Tapachula, Chiapas, Villahermosa and Tabasco to deport them to their home countries. In total, 652 migrants, including 197 minors, were moved to the State Public Security Facility of the City of Victoria. The INM issued a communication in which it declared the facility as an immigration detention centre (“estacion migratoria”), for 48 hours. During two days, the migrants were provided with food and medical care while the INM carried out procedures to effectuate deportations. In addition, six adults and three minors tested positive for COVID-19 and were transferred to hospital until they can be deported. The reformed Migration Law (Ley de Migración) which entered into force on 11 January 2021 does not permit the detention of minors. Nonetheless, in this case, minors were held in an improvised detention centre until their transfer. According to Karina Leijka Cruz, the Ombudsman for the Protection of Children and Family of the National System for Integral Family Development (DIF) of Tamaulipas (Procuradora de Protección de Niñas, Niños, Adolescentes y Familia del DIF de Tamaulipas), 30 officials from the DIF were present to evaluate the children; the children were separated from the rest of the group in an “adapted” area; and were given priority to being transferred to the south.

11 November 2021

Poland

A family from Syria on the border between Belarus and Poland, November 2021. Photograph: Wojtek Radwański/AFP/Getty Images.
A family from Syria on the border between Belarus and Poland, November 2021. Photograph: Wojtek Radwański/AFP/Getty Images. "On the frozen frontiers of Europe with the migrants caught in a lethal game," The Guardian, 7 November 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/nov/07/on-the-frozen-frontiers-of-europe-with-the-migrants-caught-in-a-lethal-game?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other
The escalating crisis on the Belarus-Polish border has spurred a growing number of countries to accuse Belarus of weaponizing migrant and refugee movements, using them as pawns to destabilise the European Union. At the same time, there is growing international outrage over Poland’s response to the situation--as well as that of other countries that border Belarus like Lithuania (see the 9 October 2021 Lithuania update)--which has included leaving people (including families and children) stranded at the border in freezing conditions, bolstering troop movements, and mobilising anti-immigrant public sentiment.

In late May, Belarusian President Alexandr Lukashenko, angered by EU sanctions, declared that he would no longer prevent migrants and refugees from entering Europe. There are reports that State-controlled travel bureaux in Belarus have been luring migrants from the Middle East to Belarus, promising an onward passage to the EU for the price of Euro 15,000 - 20,000. On arrival, migrants are accommodated in State-managed hotels and then bussed to the Polish and Lithuania borders. There are videos of Belarusian security guards in full-combat gear pushing migrants towards the borders. Thousands of desperate men, women, and children--many from Iraq and Afghanistan--have been transported to Belarus's borders with Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania.

According to testimony from migrants, Belarusian soldiers have physically abused migrants. One person from Morocco told reporters: “They beat me in Belarus. There are gangs that stand behind the army and attack us. They beat you, take your money, split it 50-50, part for the gangs, part for soldiers.” Other testimonies indicate that Belarusian police have helped migrants cross the border to Poland. A 40 year-old Iraqi man said that he had travelled for three days by car to Istanbul, took a flight to Minsk from Turkey, and upon arrival at the Polish border, “the Belarusian police cut the barbed wire and let us through.”

Large numbers of migrants are now trapped between opposing security forces and forced to sleep in improvised camps in the middle of the forest along the border in freezing temperatures. By 22 October 2021, Polish authorities had announced the ninth recorded death in the forest region. According to the Polish border guard, so far this year, there were 24,500 attempts to cross the eastern border with Poland, 12,800 in October alone. On 9 November, the Polish government announced that there were around 3,000 to 4,000 people settled in an improvised camp on the border close to the village of Kuźnica.

The majority of migrants crossing into Poland are pushed back into Belarus by the Polish security forces. They describe a Kafkaesque situation of being repeatedly pushed backwards and forwards by the security forces of both countries--pawns in a political conflict. Doctors Without Borders have reported that they have seen “first-hand the injuries people experienced when assaulted by border guards from both Poland and Lithuania. People have described being beaten with the butt of a gun, kicked in the ribs, electrocuted in the neck, and have had all their belongings taken or destroyed by European border guards. This is unacceptable and must end now.”

The Polish government and the European Union argue that Belarus is deliberately encouraging migrants to enter the European Union through its borders. Lithuania’s foreign minister, Gabrielius Landsbergis, said that Lukashenko’s regime was negotiating visa liberalisation with several countries and adding flights to create new routes. Infomigrants reported that the number of countries whose citizens can enter Belarus without a visa has been expanded to 76 as of 20 October 2021.

In response to this situation, Lithuania has passed legislation tightening the rules on migration and asylum, approving the construction of a wall to prevent irregular crossings on the border with Belarus. On 9 November 2021, Lithuania declared a state of emergency on its border with Belarus, providing the police with additional powers to expel asylum seekers and restrict gatherings near the border.

For its part, Poland approved a plan to build a €353 million wall on its border with Belarus and adopted legislation providing that any non-nationals who are stopped after crossing the Polish border irregularly would be expelled from the country. Those expelled would be banned from entering the country for a period between six months to three years and Polish officials would be allowed to “leave unexamined” asylum applications filed by a non-national who is stopped immediately after entering the country irregularly. Poland has sent some 11,000 soldiers to the border area, created a militarised zone, and set up razor-wire fencing. Poland is also one of twelve EU member states requesting that the EU fund the construction of barriers at their borders. The EU has refused to fund the walls, adopting the same stance as in 2015-2016, when the European Commission refused to reimburse Hungary for fencing off its border with Serbia.

A group of doctors operating on the border have said they are prevented from accessing the zone where migrants are stranded. A Polish Red Cross worker from the border area said, “we have no access to the off-limits zone… we can’t hand over aid packages ourselves.” ECRE also reported that a group of 17 people located in the borderland forest between Poland and Belarus was left for 32 hours without food and water.

The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, called upon EU member states to approve new sanctions against Belarusian authorities responsible for the influx of migrants at the Polish border, statingt: “The instrumentalisation of migrants for political purposes is unacceptable.” She added that the EU would “examine how to sanction airlines from third countries” that bring migrants to Belarus. Subsequently, on Tuesday 9 November, the 27 EU member states agreed to suspend an EU-Belarus visa facilitation agreement. Belarus has denied having any involvement in directing the flow of people and the Belarusian border guard said that: “the indifference and inhumane attitude of the Polish authorities has prompted the refugees to take such a step of despair.”

02 November 2021

Belgium

Strike Action Outside
Strike Action Outside "Petit Chateau" Reception Centre in Brussels, (Bruzz.be, "Staking in Klein Kasteeltje: 'Wij zitten vol'," 16 October 2021, https://www.bruzz.be/samenleving/staking-klein-kasteeltje-wij-zitten-vol-2021-10-16)
The Belgian NGO Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen reported that during 19-22 October 2021, between 60-150 asylum seekers were being denied access to the asylum registration procedure per day, and in consequence did not have access to reception. As reported on 11 August 2020 on this platform, many asylum seekers were sleeping rough after being released from detention. Now, some are sleeping in front of the “Petit Chateau” arrival centre due to lack of spaces in the reception facility. Fedasil reported that the lack of capacity is due to an increase in asylum applications, the resettlement of Syrian refugees, the extension of the length of stay in the country’s reception centres, as well as the repatriation mission from Afghanistan. COVID-19 has also compelled reception centres to reserve spaces for isolation in case of possible COVID-19 outbreaks.

On18 October 2021, the staff at the “Petit Chateau” reception centre went on strike to denounce the conditions and overcrowding. According to news reports, the number of monthly asylum applications in October 2021 was at the highest level since the refugee “crisis” towards the end of 2015. The centre’s director said she wanted to avoid a “Dutch situation,” referring to the overcrowded asylum seeker centres in the Netherlands, which led to hundreds of asylum seekers having to sleep on camp beds and chairs due to lack of space earlier in October 2021. On 26 October 2021, a second 24-hour strike at the “Petit Chateau” facility in Brussels took place. This led to the suspension of new asylum applications there until the following day. The director general of Fedasil said that he understands the frustration of the staff and that new measures were put in place including: “more staff being hired, new registration centres being open, and asylum services have been reinforced.”

According to ECRE, the lack of reception capacity in Belgium is a recurring concern and similar situations of asylum seekers being unable to access the asylum and reception systems have taken place in 2018, 2019, and 2020.

01 November 2021

United Kingdom

Britain First Protest in the UK (Dan Kitwood, Getty Images,
Britain First Protest in the UK (Dan Kitwood, Getty Images, "Far Right Groups in UK Target Hotels Housing Afghan Refugees," 25 October 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/oct/25/far-right-groups-in-uk-target-hotels-housing-afghan-refugees)
In late October, reports emerged of far right groups targeting hotels where Afghan refugees were being accommodated. Britain First and other far right organisations say they are concerned at the cost of resettlement of Afghan refugees.
According to the Guardian, Britain First has made several unsolicited visits to hotels housing refugees, trying to approach refugees to ask them if they were waiting for a house. The group has also published videos showing luxurious rooms and communal areas, which according to the Guardian may be from promotional material from the hotels’ websites and incorrectly describe the Afghan refugees as illegal migrants.

Britain First had previously held a protest in front of the Britannia Hotel in Wigan, which accommodates refugees, alleging that male refugees had been sexually harassing schoolgirls. The police dismissed these claims and stated that no offence had been committed. A spokesperson for the organisation Hope Not Hate said: “It’s grimly predictable to see the far right harassing Afghan refugees where they are living. Immigration has long been a focus of the far right, but they have capitalised on the Afghan resettlement scheme to bring together Islamophobic tropes with anti-migrant hate.”

The Home Office has reportedly also been housing asylum seekers in a former courthouse, which has since become a tourist hostel. Before being used to house asylum seekers, the hostel offered guests “an authentic prison cell” to stay at. According to the Guardian, hundreds of migrants have been held in the facility, including people who were imprisoned in their home countries, such as Libya. The hostel has preserved many of the site’s former penal trappings, including cell windows and heavy old-fashioned cell doors, and it is made up of a mix of dormitories and smaller rooms and “cells.” The Home Office claims that the asylum seekers are staying in “regular hotel accommodation” and that the section of the building with cell-like hotel rooms is not accessible.

Internal Home Office email discussions on how to respond to the Guardian’s question were inadvertently sent to the Independent, which passed on the communications to the Guardian. One official told a colleague: “I’ve called them experience rooms to avoid saying prison. Can we say that no-one has stayed in court rooms or were they inappropriately placed there?” The emails also revealed that Home Office officials had visited the hostel on 25 October 2021 and discovered overcrowding and a courtroom “fully set.”

One asylum seeker staying there said: “Everything is so bad here. Some of us have been through Libya where we have been imprisoned or have been tortured in other places. It makes us feel very bad to be living in a prison building even though we are not locked in.” He also added: “We are all sleeping close together and we are worried that we will catch COVID.” Civil society groups have strongly criticised the government’s practices and the founder of Humans for Rights Network called for the closure of the centre and that residents be “provided with safe, secure accommodation that does not resemble a prison.”

21 October 2021

Australia

Asylum Seekers and Refugees Protesting Their Detention at Melbourne's Park Hotel on 18 October 2021, (The Guardian,
Asylum Seekers and Refugees Protesting Their Detention at Melbourne's Park Hotel on 18 October 2021, (The Guardian, "A COVID Incubator: Outbreak in Melbourne Refugee Detention Hotel Grows as Vaccination Rate Lags," The Guardian, 18 October 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2021/oct/19/a-covid-incubator-outbreak-in-melbourne-refugee-detention-hotel-grows-as-vaccination-rates-lag)
On 18 October 2021, refugees and asylum seekers detained at Melbourne’s Park Hotel held a protest against their detention at the hotel during a COVID-19 outbreak. The detained decried their shared sleeping quarters, cramped eating and recreation spaces, and the fact that many of them are medically vulnerable. Three positive cases had been confirmed and at least 40 men were awaiting test results.

By 22 October 2021, it was confirmed that nearly one-third of immigration detainees held at the Park Hotel had tested positive for COVID-19. Fifteen of 46 men were infected, one person had been taken to the hospital, 28 had tested negative, and three were awaiting results.

At a Court hearing brought by a refugee - known as FSG20 in Court - requesting orders to allow him to be assessed by paramedics, the Court heard that an ambulance was turned away from the hotel. According to the evidence presented, an ambulance was called by a friend of FSG20 after concerns about his deteriorating health condition. In a statement to the Court, his friend said: “I called the ambulance. They attended the hotel but were not permitted to enter. He was told by the nurse never to call the ambulance again.” The government rejected this and told the court that while several ambulances had been called for detainees, this ambulance or FGS20 had not arrived. Further hearings on the case were scheduled for late October..

According to figures released by the government, vaccination rates among immigration detainees are roughly a quarter as that of the general population. On 6 September, 52 percent of immigration detainees had had at least one dose and 17 percent were fully vaccinated, in contrast to 63.2 percent of Australians with one dose and 38.4 percent fully vaccinated. The Australian Border Force has claimed that all detainees have been offered COVID-19 vaccinations, stating that “the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination program to consenting detainees commenced in early August 2021 and has taken place at all immigration detention facilities across the immigration detention network.”

On the other hand, the Refugee Action Coalition argues that the Australian government has “failed to implement the most basic Covid protocols” at the Park Hotel, stating that the hotel was circulating air-conditioned air between floors with confirmed cases and floors where refugees and asylum seekers are held, while windows were sealed when refugees and asylum seekers were moved into the hotel.

According to information provided during Senate deliberations on 18 October 2021, there appears to be a large disparity in the vaccination rates for refugees and asylum seekers held at Australia offshore centres. On Nauru, 88 percent of the 107 detainees had received a first dose by 6 September 2021 and 84 percent were fully vaccinated. Yet, in Papua New Guinea, where the health system has been overrun by outbreaks, the vaccination rate for the 121 detainees was at just 20 percent for first doses and 11 percent fully vaccinated.

The outbreak within the Park Hotel comes more than a year after more than 1,100 health professionals co-signed a letter to the Home Affairs Minister, calling for all refugees and asylum seekers to be released from immigration detention as “failure to take action to release people seeking asylum and refugees from detention will (...) put them at risk of infection and possibly death” as well as “placing a greater burden on Australian society and the health care system.” (see 2 April and 26 April 2020 Australia updates on this platform).

The Australian government announced on 6 October 2021 that they would stop processing asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea at the end of 2021 and that around 124 men who remained in the country were being given the option to settle in Papua New Guinea, with a pathway to citizenship and financial support. Alternatively, they may request a transfer to Nauru where they would remain in Australia’s offshore processing system. The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre said that staying in Papua New Guinea would not be a safe option for the refugees due to the country’s worsening COVID-19 outbreak. Yet, a spokesperson for Australia’s Department of Home Affairs stated that there was “zero chance of settlement in Australia for those who come illegally by boat.”

12 October 2021

Libya

Migrants Sitting on the Street After Being Rounded Up by Security Forces (Ayman Al-Sahili, Reuters,
Migrants Sitting on the Street After Being Rounded Up by Security Forces (Ayman Al-Sahili, Reuters, "Libya: Migrants Shot Dead at Detention Centre," 9 October 2021, https://www.dw.com/en/libya-migrants-shot-dead-at-detention-center/a-59455474)
There have been numerous recent reports of mass raids targeting migrants and asylum seekers across Libya, resulting in thousands of people being detained in western Libya during the first week of October. According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), 5,152 migrants were detained in the raids, which were described by Libyan authorities as part of a campaign against undocumented migration and drug trafficking. However, sources reported that the Libyan Interior Ministry, which oversaw the raids, made no mention of any traffickers or smugglers being arrested. Detained migrants were sent to the Collection and Return Centre in Tripoli, according to police, before being sent to detention centres in Tripoli and surrounding towns.

A UN humanitarian coordinator in Libya reported severe abuses committed by security forces during the raids, saying that “unarmed migrants were harassed in their homes, beaten and shot” and that one young migrant had been killed. Five other migrants sustained gunshot wounds, two of whom were in serious condition in intensive care. A refugee told Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF): “armed and masked security men raided our house where I was living. … They tied our hands behind our backs and dragged us out of the house. They hit me on the head with the butt of a gun and I suffered serious injuries.”

On 6 October 2021, MSF stated that following the mass arrests, the number of people being held in detention centres increased more than threefold. MSF visited two centres in the capital where people arrested in the recent raids are being held: Shara Zawiya and Al-Mabani (Ghout Sha’al) detention centres. According to MSF, the Shara Zawiya centre which usually accommodates 200-250 people, there were more than 550 women and children crammed into the cells with around 120 people sharing one toilet and buckets filled with urine lined up near the doors of cells. At the Al-Mabani detention centre, MSF teams witnessed hangars and cells so overcrowded that the men held inside were forced to stand. Women and children were being held in the open air within the facility, without any shade or shelter. Detained men told MSF that they had not eaten for three days, while several women stated that they had only received a piece of bread and a triangle of processed cheese once a day. MSF treated 161 patients in two days in the facilities, including three for violence-related injuries. 21 patients were transferred for specialist medical care in clinics supported by MSF in Tripoli.

MSF has only recently resumed medical activities in the Shara Zawiya, Al-Mabani and Abu Salim detention centres in Tripoli, following three months of suspension. An MSF operations manager said: “Instead of increasing the number of people held in detention centres, efforts should be made to put an end to arbitrary detention and close these dangerous and uninhabitable facilities. More than ever before, migrants and refugees are living in danger and are trapped in Libya with very limited options for a way out - as humanitarian flights have been unjustifiably suspended for the second time this year.”

The IOM reported on 11 October 2021 that at least six migrants had been killed after guards opened fire at an overcrowded detention facility in Tripoli. The head of the Libyan mission of the IOM said he was unsure what exactly led to the shooting but that it was “related to the overcrowding and the terrible, very tense situation” at the facility. According to Infomigrants, several other migrants were wounded and many more escaped the facility.

09 October 2021

Lithuania

Vulnerable Migrants Being Moved to Rukla in central Lithuania, (BNS,
Vulnerable Migrants Being Moved to Rukla in central Lithuania, (BNS, "Lithuania looks to legalise indefinite detention of migrants," 15 September 2021, https://www.lrt.lt/en/news-in-english/19/1496904/lithuania-looks-to-legalise-indefinite-detention-of-migrants)
In July 2021, Lithuania accused Belarus of using vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers as political pawns in its ongoing spat with the EU by pushing them across the border into Lithuania and other neighbouring countries. The EU had previously imposed sanctions on Belarus in June over an “escalation of serious human rights violations and the violent repression of civil society, democratic opposition and journalists.” In response, Belarus stated they would allow migrants to cross into Lithuania (for more information see 14 June 2021 Lithuania update on this platform). The country noted a significant increase in the numbers of people crossing the Lithuania-Belarus border. As of mid-August 2021, 4,110 people had been detained at the border (2,882 detained in July alone), compared to the 81 apprehended during 2020.

Lithuania’s Parliament responded by approving new laws tightening the rules on migration and asylum in July, with the intention to deter high numbers of asylum seekers crossing Lithuania’s border with Belarus. The amendments to the legislation introduced significant changes including limiting access to asylum procedures, thus giving rise to the automatic detention of applicants and the restriction of their appeal rights. Also, the legislation provides for the deportation of migrants while their appeals are still under consideration. The European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) reported that when the amendments were made, Lithuania’s parliament set a detention period of six months for people arriving irregularly, which can be extended for up to two years by a court, during any “declared state of emergency.” UNHCR criticised these moves, arguing that “detention of asylum seekers should not be used by default or mandatorily for all arrivals, but rather remain the exception.”

In addition, government employees that process asylum claims reported being pressed to conduct sham interviews and to coerce applicants into voluntary return to their countries. An employee told the Lithuanian national broadcaster: “we had at most a minute or two [...] to ask why they are in Lithuania.” Following a 20 minute interview, employees have to quickly decide whether to register the person as “illegal” or an “asylum seeker”, which would determine their future claim. Anti-migrant rhetoric spiked on social media as well, including from Lithuania Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis, who in one post promised that Lithuania would grant asylum to “virtually no-one.”

In September 2021, Lithuania's Interior Ministry reportedly began re-considering authorising the indefinite detention of irregular migrants, removing the current limit of six months. The proposal had initially been made by the Interior Ministry in July, but it had not been adopted because of concerns about the impact of indefinite detention on vulnerable people. Under current rules, if a person’s asylum claim is rejected but Lithuania is unable to deport them, that person would have to be provided with a temporary residence permit. Dovilė Šakalienė, a Social Democrat member of the Parliamentary Security and Defence Committee, proposed considering the introduction of a new migration status: “illegal migrant.” In these cases, foreign nationals would be permitted to reside in Lithuania but they would be prohibited from leaving.

05 October 2021

Libya

Migrants Waiting at a Detention Centre in Zawiyah on 18 April 2017 (Mahmud Turkia, AFP,
Migrants Waiting at a Detention Centre in Zawiyah on 18 April 2017 (Mahmud Turkia, AFP, "UN Probe Reveals Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes in Libya," France 24, 4 October 2021, https://www.france24.com/en/africa/20211004-un-probe-reveals-crimes-against-humanity-and-war-crimes-in-libya)
The UN’s Independent Fact-Finding Mission to Libya has found that over the past five years, numerous official agencies and non-state actors have committed such extreme levels of violence and human rights abuses that there are reasonable grounds for concluding that war crimes have been committed as well as crimes against humanity.

The mission, which based its findings on a review of hundreds of documents and interviews with more than 150 people, highlighted in particular the treatment of migrants and asylum seekers in the country and the conditions of detention and imprisonment. “Arbitrary detention in secret prisons and unbearable conditions of detention are widely used by the State or militias against anyone perceived to be a threat to their interests or views,” said one of the mission’s authors. “Violence in Libyan prisons is committed on such a scale and with such a level of organisation that it may also amount to crimes against humanity.” Another author said that “migrants, asylum seekers and refugees are subjected to a litany of abuses at sea, in detention centres and at the hands of traffickers.”

The mission also emphasised the role of the Libyan Coast Guard in committing abuses of migrants and asylum seekers, despite the fact that they have been financed and trained by the European Union. The mission estimates that some 87,000 migrants have been intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard since 2016, “including about 7,000 ‘currently’ in centers run by the Department for Combating Illegal Migration. Such roundups have continued in recent days: an unprecedented crackdown in Libya has led to the detention of more than 5,000 people, including hundreds of children and women, and violence in associated raids has left at least one migrant dead, according to a U.N. tally” (AP).

Additional sources have recently confirmed that thousands of migrants and refugees remain detained in Libya’s detention centres today, many of which are operated by militias outside any form of official control or oversight. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the IOM Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM), as of 25 July 2021, there were nearly 600,000 migrants in the country as of mid-2021, including 3,860 in detention centres. Between January and September 2021, 23,583 migrants attempted to cross the Mediterranean to Europe and were intercepted and returned to Libya, with many being sent to detention centres. Moreover, so far in 2021, 1,311 migrants were voluntarily returned to their home countries and 212 refugees were resettled to Sweden, Norway and Canada.

OCHA and IOM report that there are 12 detention centres in the country (seven in the west, four in the east, and one in the south). However, access by humanitarian organisations to migrants and refugees continues to be difficult. For fear of being detained, migrants and refugees often maintain a low profile, thus preventing them from seeking out assistance.

Libyan authorities have officially included refugees, asylum seekers, and third-country nationals in its national vaccination scheme. However, it is unclear whether any preventive measures against COVID-19 have been adopted in the country’s detention centres.

Some detainees have been released from detention (see 7 October 2020 and 3 April 2020 Libya update on this platform) since the onset of the pandemic, though often for unrelated reasons. For instance, the Al Sabaa detention centre was emptied in April 2020 because of the armed clashes near the detention centre (see 3 April 2020 Libya update on this platform).

On the other hand, as regards the country’s prisons, when the pandemic began, the Libyan government was quick to release prisoners. On 28 March 2020, the government released 466 prisoners, mostly on remand. A couple of weeks later, on 7 April 2020, the Ministry of Justice released 1,347 detainees and in July 2020, the Ministry of Justice announced that 582 prisoners were going to be released before the end of their prison term. Also, in June 2020, the Ministry of Justice announced the distribution of medical and preventive equipment to the country’s prisons to avoid the spread of COVID-19.

21 September 2021

Greece

Barbed Wire Around the New Refugee Holding Camp in Samos, (Petra Molnar Twitter,
Barbed Wire Around the New Refugee Holding Camp in Samos, (Petra Molnar Twitter, "18 September 2021," Twitter, https://twitter.com/_PMolnar/status/1439155751256272897)
On 18 September 2021, Greece opened the first of five new facilities to confine asylum seekers and migrants on the Island of Samos, close to the border with Turkey. Similar facilities are planned on the islands of Leros, Lesbos, Kos, and Chios. Fully funded by the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund of the European Union, the "Closed Controlled Access Center" on Samos cost 43 million Euros with a total budget of 276 million Euros for all five facilities.

Nearly 500 asylum seekers (out of the 7,500 who originally lived in an older camp, which itself was only intended to house 680 asylum seekers), were moved to the facility on 20 September. The Greek Migration Minister hailed the facility as a "modern and safe new closed, controlled access center ... that will give back the lost dignity to people seeking international protection, but also the necessary conditions of safeguarding and restraint for illegal migrants who are to be controlled." NGOs and migrant rights activists, however, have expressed serious concerns about the new center which they claim is essentially a prison.

It is indisputable that the new state-of-the-art facilities provide asylum seekers with improved, safer and cleaner living conditions than they previously had in the old camp on Samos, including bunk-bed sleeping quarters, air-conditioned restaurants, kitchens, basketball courts, childrens' playgrounds and a football pitch. But all this is located in a remote valley 10km from the city of Vathi where people had lived for years, behind layers of military-grade barbed wire fencing, police and CCTV surveillance and accessed through a double-layer security system of turnstiles, magnetic gates and x-ray scanners where asylum seekers' electronic badges and fingerprints are checked each time they enter and leave. CCTV cameras and loudspeakers are located throughout the facility, indicating a regime of constant surveillance. According to reports, newly arrived asylum seekers will have to spend the first 25 days in the center while their documentation is checked, after which they are allowed to leave between 8am and 8pm on specially provided buses. Asylum seekers whose cases have been rejected and are awaiting deportation will be held in a closed pre-removal area.

UNHCR, migrants rights groups, and humanitarian service providers have all expressed reservations about the new facility. Forty-five NGOs, including Amnesty International, wrote to the EU and the Greek Government urging them to abandon plans to restrict the freedom of movement of people living in the new center. The medical aid charity, Médecins Sans Frontières, has expressed serious concerns about the impact of closed detention on the mental health of already extremely stressed asylum seekers. They reported that 64 percent of their patients on Samos Island had expressed suicidal thoughts and 14 percent were at actual risk of suicide. "As psychologists working with the people who are at the frontline of Europe’s tightening migration policies, we witness on a daily basis the deterioration of these people’s mental and physical well-being. The opening of the new prison camp is changing the collective identity of the refugees, their self-esteem and image: their dignity. Europe is breaking them" said MSF in a statement on 17 September. The psychological strain on asylum seekers has been aggravated by the fact that migrants were held in COVID-19 quarantine long after the lockdown for the rest of the country was lifted, with severe impacts on their mental health.

The head of UNHCR in Greece also expressed concerns about the new center on Samos. "The word 'closed' is used often and it is worrying," she said. "The position of UNHCR is that people seeking asylum need protection, they are not criminals and they do not represent a risk to the community, they are people in need of assistance. For us, the camps must be open, the government has assured us that they will be."

Commentators note that the new facility on Samos reflects a hardening of attitudes towards refugees and asylum seekers across Greece and the EU as well as a growing determination that Greece should not become the “gateway to Europe” for a new wave of refugees as it did during the 2015 Syrian refugee crisis. Greece has hailed the sharp fall in asylum seekers coming to the country as a major achievement, but critics note that this is largely due to its policy of turning back--in contravention of its international legal obligations--everyone who comes through Turkey, claiming that that country is a "safe third country” despite widespread reports of abuses committed by Turkish security forces.

Greece is employing a range of additional tactics to deter migrants and asylum seekers, including the construction of a 40km steel wall along Greece's border with Turkey and--most recently--the reported firing of long-range acoustic devices, whose deafening noise is intended to keep back migrants along the border. The Greek Ministry of Migration and Asylum reported that the number of migrants in the country had fallen by 49 percent from August 2020 to August 2021 (from a total number of 82,1189 in August 2020 to 42, 181 in August 2021). On the Aegean islands the drop in the number of arrivals was even more marked from 27,576 people in August 2020 to 5,264 in August 2021, a decrease of 81 percent. Samos itself witnessed a drop of 88 percent in the number of migrants between August 2020 and August 2021.

The new "closed controlled access center" on Samos is intended to be a model for managing asylum and migration across Greece and to remove the spectre of migrants living in squalid camps on Greek islands. The burning question though is why there has to be a trade-off between improved living conditions and people's liberty and freedom of movement. Can people not be provided with more dignified and acceptable living conditions without 24-hour surveillance and restrictions on their freedom of movement? There is a danger in Greece that what is essentially increased detention is being dressed up as "improved accommodation" and people are facing unnecessary, unreasonable, and disproportionate restrictions on their liberty and personal freedoms.

17 September 2021

Australia

Asylum Seekers Protest Inside the Mantra Hotel in Preston, Melbourne, Australia on 16 May 2020 (Michael Dodge/AAP/PA Images,
Asylum Seekers Protest Inside the Mantra Hotel in Preston, Melbourne, Australia on 16 May 2020 (Michael Dodge/AAP/PA Images, "COVID-19 Reveals the Inherent Vindictiveness of Migration Detention," Open Democracy, 26 May 2020, https://www.commondreams.org/views/2020/05/26/covid-19-reveals-inherent-vindictiveness-migration-detention)
Previously one of the countries in the world least affected by COVID-19, Australia has been struggling to contain outbreaks of the highly infectious Delta variant across the country over recent months. The States of New South Wales, Victoria and Canberra have all experienced extended periods of lockdown over the past weeks. Immigration detention centres have not been spared, raising serious concerns once again about the conditions for the 1,400 people held in mandatory and sometimes indefinite immigration detention in Australia, including in "alternative places of detention," such as hotels and hostels.

Concerns at detention centres were heightened when it was confirmed that at least one guard at a center in Melbourne - Australia's second largest city - had tested positive for COVID-19 on 5 September. The guard is a contracted service provider at Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA) Broadmeadows Residential Precinct (BRP). Detainees in the facility expressed fears about their health and safety after confirming that five to six people were expected to share a room in bunk beds. A detainee told Al Jazeera: “They don’t test us for COVID unless we show symptoms. This means they would not actually know if it is spreading until a lot of people are sick. It could travel fast. Guards are free to come and go.”

In a separate incident, seven detainees at the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre in Sydney--one of Australia's largest detention facilities, which holds 500 people--were reported to be in isolation after a guard at the centre tested positive for COVID-19 on 12 September.

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has described COVID-19 as a "serious threat" for the 1,492 people held in immigration detention in Australia, raising concerns about a high density of people being held in enclosed, confined spaces where a significant proportion of them have pre-existing health conditions which can worsen the outcomes of contracting COVID-19. In a report in June 2021, the AHRC said the government should "follow expert health advice by placing people who present a low security risk in community-based alternatives to closed detention" as other countries have done with success. The AHRC recommended reducing the numbers being held in immigration detention facilities, improving physical distancing, especially in overcrowded bedrooms, paying special attention to detainees with underlying health conditions, and ensuring that any resort to quarantine must be "reasonable, necessary and proportionate to addressing COVID-19 risks." People should not be held in "harsh, prison-like" conditions during their quarantine and should have access to necessary support. Vaccines should be readily available for all immigration detainees, without discrimination.

Observers in Australia have been warning for months about the high risks of COVID-19 outbreaks for refugees and asylum seekers being held in detention. They say that mitigation measures in detention centers have been inadequate throughout the pandemic and that the slow implementation of the country’s vaccination campaign has left detainees extremely vulnerable, especially in centres’ unsafe, overcrowded conditions. They urge that asylum seekers should be released immediately as they have not committed a crime and their continued detention in the midst of a pandemic can not be justified. Marie Hapke from the Australian Refugee Action Network said: “Since the beginning of the pandemic the risks of closed detention have been well documented, and experts have called for the release of all those who do not need to be held in detention. There is no justification for continuing to hold refugees in detention – now is the time to release these people into the community. It is only a matter of time before there is a major outbreak in immigration detention centres.”

Observers have noted that while the Australian government has judiciously followed the advice of epidemiologists and health care professionals in its overall management of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has consistently refused to include refugees, asylum seekers and other non-citizens in its national public health response. The government, it is argued, has continued to view this population from a perspective of national security, criminality and border control and the pandemic has reinforced Australia's regime of mandatory immigration detention. Indeed, unlike other countries in the world where the number of people being held in immigration detention dropped in the months after onset of the pandemic, in Australia the numbers increased by 12 percent in the first six months of the pandemic putting enormous strain on facilities that were already operating close to capacity.

The Australian Border Force has responded to these concerns by confirming that all immigration detainees have full access to medical professionals and the same range of health care services as Australian citizens. “The priority for the Australian Border Force is the health and safety of detainees and staff in immigration detention facilities,” a spokesperson from Australian Border Force said. “To date, no detainee has tested positive to COVID-19.“

15 September 2021

Egypt

“A woman measuring the body temperature of a man after having entered through the gate into al-Qanater prison on 27 December, 2020 [KHALED DESOUKI/AFP via Getty Images]” Middle East Monitor, “Egypt denies allegations of covid outbreak in prisons,”  6 January  2021, https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20210106-egypt-denies-allegations-of-covid-outbreak-in-prisons/
“A woman measuring the body temperature of a man after having entered through the gate into al-Qanater prison on 27 December, 2020 [KHALED DESOUKI/AFP via Getty Images]” Middle East Monitor, “Egypt denies allegations of covid outbreak in prisons,” 6 January 2021, https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20210106-egypt-denies-allegations-of-covid-outbreak-in-prisons/
On 10 September, reports from human rights groups and independent journalists began circulating about Egypt’s efforts to remove two asylum seekers who had been detained for several years but who had purportedly been cleared for deporation back to Eritrea--in violation of Egypt’s international treaty obligations--where they would likely face torture and possibly execution. According to sources in Egypt, as of 15 September the two asylum seekers, Alem Tesfay Abraham and Kibrom Adhanom, had yet to be deported and remained in detention in Egypt’s Qanater Prison. One source told the Global Detention Project that various foreign missions, UN agencies, and others have engaged Egypt about the situation. The source said that the Egyptian government may have “realized that deportation would result in serious backlash,” resulting in a quasi “stalemate” in the situation.

According to a report from the group Human Rights Concern Eritrea, on 9 September the two asylum seekers “were taken to an immigration office, beaten, and forced to sign documents in Arabic, a language which neither read or understand. … It appears, however, that they may have been forced to declare in writing that they were not subjected to ill-treatment throughout their time in detention. .... It is now clear that the Egyptian authorities have managed to obtain travel documents from the Eritrean Embassy in Cairo. They have also completed COVID-19 Tests for the two detainees, and plan to forcibly return them to Eritrea over the weekend of 11th-12th September, where they face grave risk of imprisonment, torture, abuse and indefinite period of slavery, and a substantial risk of execution. This proposed refoulement of refugees to the country they have fled from in fear is in flagrant breach of Egypt’s legal obligations under several UN treaties.”

The plight of detained migrants and asylum seekers in Egypt has long drawn criticism because of the country’s practice of detaining these people in prisons and police stations, often in terrible conditions and alongside people charged with violent crimes. There have also been reports of important outbreaks of COVID-19 in these detention facilities and several deaths, including at Qanater Prison where Alem Tesfay Abraham and Kibrom Adhanom are reportedly detained. Egypt, however, has repeatedly refused to acknowledge the existence of outbreaks.

Among the groups raising awareness of the plight of the two Eritrean asylum seekers is Amnesty International, which says that Eritrean asylum seekers who are forcibly returned to their country risk arbitrary arrest, indefinite detention, torture, and execution. The organisation has called on Egypt to release Alem Tesfay Abraham and Kibrom Adhanom and provide them access to asylum procedures.

According to UNHCR, in March 2020, there were 258,433 registered refugees and asylum seekers in Egypt. Syrian refugees comprise around half of the refugee and asylum seeker population (around 130,000). The COVID-19 pandemic had a heavy impact upon refugees and asylum-seekers in the country as many were living in overcrowded accommodations with inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene. Many have lost their jobs and sources of income. UNHCR reported that before the COVID-19 outbreak, seven out of ten refugees in the country were unable to meet their basic needs and that since the outbreak, many have found it even harder to purchase food or pay rent. UNHCR has been providing assistance to refugees and asylum seekers in the country including through the disbursement of cash for hygiene which has been extended to 51,505 refugees and asylum seekers at heightened risk since April 2020. As of 14 September 2021, Egypt had recorded 293,448 COVID-19 cases and 16,885 related deaths.

While Egypt detains migrants, asylum seekers and refugees for migration-related reasons, the country does not have dedicated immigration detention centres. Instead, prisons and police stations are used to hold foreigners awaiting deportation. The GDP has been unable to obtain any reports indicating that authorities have taken measures to assist migrants and asylum seekers in detention. On the other hand, Middle East Monitor reported that COVID-19 cases were detected within the Al-Qanater prison in 2020 and three detainees died from the virus in February 2021 at different police stations.

Egypt has also suspended its application procedures for residence permits for refugees and asylum seekers. Those with expired UNHCR documents were impacted by the suspension of registration activities. In order to alleviate overcrowding and avoid the spread of COVID-19 in prisons, the government pardoned around 460 prisoners in April 2020 (see 7 May 2020 Egypt update on this platform). It is unclear whether detainees held for migration-related matters have also been released.

The Egyptian government began its national vaccination campaign in March 2021 and according to the UNHCR, has offered “refugees and asylum-seekers medical treatment on equal footing as Egyptians and has included them in the national vaccination plan.”

10 September 2021

Poland

Polish Border Guards Detain People Attempting to Cross the Border Between Belarus and Poland on 9 August 2021 (Main Command of the Polish Border Patrol, Reuters,
Polish Border Guards Detain People Attempting to Cross the Border Between Belarus and Poland on 9 August 2021 (Main Command of the Polish Border Patrol, Reuters, "Afghans Stranded in Poland Refuse to Return to Belarus," Infomigrants, 23 August 2021, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/34509/afghans-stranded-in-poland-refuse-to-return-to-belarus)
Poland has experienced important reductions in the number of arriving asylum seekers since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic: in 2020, there were 2,803 asylum applications, compared with 4,096 in 2019. According to the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, as of 1 January 2021, there were 1,319 persons holding valid residence cards for refugees, 1,467 persons holding a residence card granted to subsidiary protection beneficiaries and 1,743 persons under the humanitarian protection scheme.

Despite the decrease in asylum pressures, public discourse in the country remains rife with anti-immigrant rhetoric. Few asylum seekers are granted protection: in 2017, 5,053 people lodged applications, but only 150 were granted refugee status and in 2020, 2,803 applications were lodged and only 161 were granted refugee status.

Following the withdrawal of US and coalition forces from Afghanistan and Taliban takeover, thousands of Afghan nationals have left the country. Poland airlifted some 1,000 Afghan nationals and gave them access to asylum procedures. However, Human Rights Watch reported on 2 September 2021, that Poland had “trapped” 32 Afghans for over three weeks at its border with Belarus, preventing them from entering the country to seek asylum and denying them access to food and medicine. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ordered Poland to allow aid to reach the group of Afghan nationals, but so far, the Government has not done so. According to Balkan Insight, Polish border guards have been unlawfully pushing people back across the border to Belarus using excessive force in some cases. UNHCR has also called upon Poland to allow the group to apply for asylum urging the “government to make an individualised assessment of each case before expelling these people or preventing them from entering the territory.” Poland reported that it had detained 900 migrants who crossed from Belarus this year, 349 of them in the first week of August alone, compared to 122 migrants in the whole of 2020.

According to information provided to the GDP from part of the Polish Commissioner for Human Rights, the country refused to issue a moratorium on new immigration detention orders in the months after the onset of the pandemic (see Poland 7 July 2020 update on this platform). In addition, the National Integration Evaluation Mechanism (NIEM) reported that despite the national lockdown ordered during the COVID-19 crisis, Polish border guards continued the deportation of rejected asylum seekers to Chechnya. Poland also restricted access to asylum procedures during the COVID-19 crisis as the Office for Foreigners suspended direct customer services and certain limitations on the submission of asylum applications at border crossings. Also, according to an international organisation, who asked to remain anonymous, but whose identity was verified by the GDP, some detainees were released when deportations could not be performed due to border closures (see Poland 7 August 2020 update on this platform). Nonetheless, the GDP has been unable to obtain details on COVID-19 related measures taken to safeguard people in immigration custody.

The country has begun a national vaccination campaign against COVID-19 and also passed legislation that guarantees that all foreigners in Poland (including refugees and asylum seekers) the right to be vaccinated free of charge. Nonetheless, this “right” only applies to those persons that can provide evidence of their residence in the country. Yet, asylum seekers who are in reception centres are vaccinated depending on their priority status, according to the national vaccination campaign.

08 September 2021

Afghanistan

"Taliban fighters patrol the streets of Kabul." M. Bulman, “UK Returned 13 Afghans in the Past Year and Refused Asylum to 400, New Official Figures Show,” The Independent, 26 August 2021, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/afghanistan-refugees-uk-deport-asylum-seekers-b1909047.html
The plight of Afghan migrants and asylum seekers in deportation procedures across the globe has received renewed attention since U.S. and other international military forces completed their evacuations from the country in August 2021, effectively ceding control of the country to the Taliban. In recognition of the vulnerabilities these people would face back in Afghanistan, UNHCR issued a “non-return advisory” in mid-August, calling “on States to suspend the forcible return of nationals and former habitual residents of Afghanistan, including those who have had their asylum claims rejected.” (See the GDP’s Afghanistan Situation Report, 8 September 2021, https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/afghanistan-situation-report.)

However, criticism of Afghan deportations had already begun growing in the months before the military evacuation due to concerns about the impact of COVID-19 on the safety and health of Afghans in return procedures across the globe. On 16 December 2020, after a nine-month interruption in deportation flight arrivals due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 11 Afghans arrived in Kabul after being deported from Austria and Bulgaria. Other European countries—including Germany, Sweden, Bulgaria and Hungary—also began deportations at about that time. After Germany, which had suspended deportations to Afghanistan from March 2020 to December 2020, resumed deportation flights in early 2021, the German human rights organisation Pro Asyl said that it was “completely irresponsible to stubbornly continue this flight into the unknown despite a national lockdown.”

In July 2021, the Afghan government called on European states to suspend deportations for at least three months as security forces battled Taliban offensives. Afghanistan’s refugees and repatriation ministry said that “the escalation of violence by the Taliban terrorist group in the country and the spread of the third wave [of COVID-19] have caused a great deal of economic and social unrest, creating concerns and challenges for the people. The government’s decision emphasises that host countries should refrain from forcibly deporting Afghan refugees for the next three months.”

In response, the German government said it would consider Afghanistan’s request but that it planned to hold discussions with European partners first. On the other hand, due to the worsening security situation in the country, Finland suspended deportations in July 2021. Sweden quickly followed and stopped all deportations to Afghanistan in July stating that conditions had deteriorated “after the Taliban movement [took] control of large parts of the country.” At the end of July 2021, thirty NGOs including, Save the Children, ECRE, and several national refugee councils, called on the European Union to suspend deportation flights of Afghan nationals and also asked national asylum authorities to “re-examine all final negative decisions for Afghan asylum seekers still present in European countries in the light of the current situation in Afghanistan and foreseeable risks of future persecution being identified as a result of this new situation.”

Meanwhile, Greece announced shortly after the announcement of the U.S. pull-out from Afghanistan that it was constructing a 40-kilometre wall and surveillance system along its border with Turkey, vowing that it would not be a “gateway to Europe” for Afghan refugees. According to UNHCR, 45 percent of migrants arriving in Greece in June 2021 were from Afghanistan. Since Greece announced in June that Turkey was a “safe third country” to which asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, and Bangladesh could be safely returned, the majority of Afghans in Greece have been rejected and are awaiting return back to Turkey.

Data released at the end of August 2021 showed that the UK refused 400 Afghan asylum cases in the previous year and returned 13 Afghan nationals back to Afghanistan (5 of them since the start of 2021). 497 Afghans were placed in immigration detention during this period, 130 of them since April 2021 when the Taliban had already began its advance. Refugee advocates and lawyers in the UK have argued that given the fundamental change in circumstances in Afghanistan, all Afghans in the UK should be granted full refugee protection, including expedited rights to family reunification; that those forcibly returned in the past year should be brought back to the UK; and that those in immigration detention pending deportation should be immediately released.

Back in Afghanistan, prior to the takeover by the Taliban, the COVID-19 pandemic had taken a considerable toll on the population. As of 7 September 2021, the country had recorded 153,626 cases and 7,144 related deaths. The WHO fears that due to the Taliban’s hostility to vaccinations, there could be a rapid and uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 in Afghanistan. In an update, the WHO said: “Disruptions at [the] airport are delaying urgently needed essential health supplies. Crowding at health facilities and IDP camps, due to rising conflict in the country will limit implementation of infection prevention protocols, increasing the risk of COVID-19 transmission and outbreaks of other diseases.” While the country has begun a national vaccination campaign, it had only administered a total of 1,872,268 doses by 14 August out of a total population of 40 million people.

(For a fuller update on the situation of Afghan refugees in countries across the globe, see the GDP’s Afghanistan Profile Page, https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/asia-pacific/afghanistan)

30 August 2021

Italy

A Group of Migrants on a Boat Being Assisted with Anti-Covid Procedures During a Landing in Roccella Jonica in Calabria on 6 July 2021 (ANSA,
A Group of Migrants on a Boat Being Assisted with Anti-Covid Procedures During a Landing in Roccella Jonica in Calabria on 6 July 2021 (ANSA, "Migration to Italy Fell in 2020 Pandemic Year, Federal Statistics Bureau Reports," Infomigrants, 14 July 2021, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/33603/migration-to-italy-fell-in-2020-pandemic-year-federal-statistics-bureau-reports)
The Italian statistics bureau (Instituto Nazionale di Statistica) reported in July that the COVID-19 pandemic had led to a more than 30 percent decrease of migration entries in 2020 in comparison to the annual averages from the previous five years. On the other hand, by April 2021, Italy experienced more than 5,300 migrant and refugee maritime arrivals, more than twice the number of arrivals during the same period in 2020. According to Mediterranea Saving Humans, more than 4,000 people were intercepted at sea and arbitrarily detained between 1 January and 1 March 2021, including 222 minors. 142 people were reported missing and 28 were found dead at sea during the same period. Three shipwrecks also were reported between Libya and Italy in February (February 19; 20; and 28).

Italy’s treatment of arriving migrants and asylum seekers since the onset of the pandemic has been harshly criticized by civil society groups. In late 2020, the Associazione Ricreativa Culturale Italiana (ARCI) expressed its “profound worries” and “condemnation of” Italy’s policy towards COVID-19 positive migrants and asylum seekers. Italy has been routinely quarantining newly arrived migrants on board ferries moored offshore in several ports in the south of the country. ACRI reported five such ferries in operation, yet the numbers of those on board have not been released. It appears that some of the migrants and asylum seekers on board are not in fact newly arrived but had been in various reception centres for several months or even years. ACRI was sent a video by an asylum seeker who said he was a resident in an emergency reception centre in Rome and had been in Italy for years, when he tested positive for COVID-19. The asylum seeker was taken from Rome to Palermo and placed on the HMV Rhapsody ferry, which subsequently sailed to the port of Bari in Puglia. ACRI said that this case was not unique and that it had “been following several other cases.” ACRI says that these asylum seekers are being kept in inadequate conditions and are being deprived of their liberty as they may not leave the ferry.

In mid-2020, ECRE reported that despite the impossibility of carrying out returns due to the suspension of flight connections at that time, Italy had not suspended forced repatriation measures nor adopted any policy concerning the release of immigration detainees, even from centres, like the Gradisca Detention Centre, where there COVID cases were being reported. Nevertheless, courts ordered the release of some detainees due to the suspension of asylum procedures or a lack of prospect of return. While the number of detainees in all centres was reportedly reduced by late April 2020, there were still 229 detained in the country at that time. Italy did adopt some pandemic-related measures for people in immigration detention. For instance, in two circulars from March 2020 (no. 5987 and 3567) the government recommended that detainees’ body temperature be checked before entering the centres; that masks be provided to detainees; and that hygiene supplies be given out.

The country began a national vaccination campaign under which “beneficiaries of international protection and asylum seekers are placed on equal footing as Italians,” according to the Association for Legal Studies on Immigration (ASGI). In addition, NGOs in southern Italy have organised a COVID-19 vaccination campaign that is open to all, including undocumented migrants, and have set up centres in the towns of Ragusa and Vittoria.

20 August 2021

Croatia

Jezevo Reception Centre Seen From Outside, (Source: RTL,
Jezevo Reception Centre Seen From Outside, (Source: RTL, "RTL-ova ekipa obišla prihvatni centar Ježevo: pogledajte gdje će biti smještene izbjeglice", Vjesti.hr, https://bit.ly/2CeTJKU).
More than a year since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Croatia had still not imposed a moratorium on new immigration detention orders and nor any released immigration as of mid/2021. Nonetheless there was a significant reduction in the number of people detained at the Jezevo Reception Centre in 2020, dropping to 163 from 535 in 2019. According to UNHCR, there were 916 refugees and 454 asylum seekers in the country in 2019, compared with 966 refugees and 567 asylum seekers in 2020.

Although the Croatian Interior Ministry provided the GDP with information concerning anti-COVID-19 measures adopted in immigration detention in August 2020--which included distribution of facemasks to people in reception centres--ECRE reported in December 2020 that “due to a lack of available information, it is … difficult to assess … how the health measures were implemented in detention centres.”

The country has ratified several relevant international human rights treaties including the Convention against Torture (CAT) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). In its concluding observations in 2014, the Committee against Torture urged Croatia to “place asylum seekers in detention only in exceptional cases and [to] regularly monitor the facilities used as accommodation for asylum seekers through the national preventive mechanism or other monitoring mechanisms. The State party should (a) provide medical treatment and psychological counselling for asylum seekers; (b) ensure the early identification of victims of torture and other persons with specific needs among asylum seekers through the implementation of appropriate national protection mechanisms.”

During its review for the third cycle of the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2020, Croatia received migration- and detention-related recommendations, including: “provide to refugee and asylum seekers effective access to international protection, and review its policy of return and collective deportation of migrants (Mexico) (para. 137.208)” and “strengthen measures to address overcrowding in places of detention and prisons and ensure that new such facilities meet international standards (Russian Federation) (para. 137.81).”

The country has implemented a national vaccination campaign, which according to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights includes refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. In July 2021, the country lifted certain restrictions regarding entry into the Republic of Croatia. According to a decision issued by the Civil Protection Headquarters, all border crossing points in Croatia are closed, but are subject to exceptions such as for people who possess a valid EU Digital COVID certificate, those that have a negative PCR test and a few other exceptions.

13 August 2021

Morocco

Migrants Sitting Inside a Classroom in Laâyoune, (DR, Infomigrants,
Migrants Sitting Inside a Classroom in Laâyoune, (DR, Infomigrants, "Coronavirus: au Maroc, des dizaines de migrants sub-sahariens arrêtés et confinés de force," 29 June 2020, infomigrants.net/fr/post/25682/coronavirus-au-maroc-des-dizaines-de-migrants-sub-sahariens-arretes-et-confines-de-force)
Migrant workers and asylum seekers in Morocco have faced a number of increasing hardships since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, including as a result of their lost access to work during lockdowns. Large numbers of migrants, particularly those who are undocumented, also lack any form of assistance or support in the country. In April 2020, a coalition of human rights groups issued a joint statement urging the country’s authorities to: provide assistance to the most vulnerable non-nationals, particularly those living in unsanitary accommodation or in makeshift camps; guarantee access to healthcare for those with chronic illnesses; ensure the automatic extension of residence permits to prevent non-nationals from finding themselves in an irregular situation; and ensure that all official information is translated into English and French so that all persons can access and understand the self-protection measures.

While authorities did not implement all of these recommendations, a source in Morocco informed the Global Detention Project that as per instructions from the king, “health police was made inclusive. Also new social housing was opened for the most vulnerable, especially children, … [and] great assistance work was provided by civil society associations in different locations, with an inclusive approach as well. Some of them focused on migrants, refugees, and asylum seeker assistance, in coordination with the Interior Ministry. UNHCR also provided cash assistance to all refugees and most vulnerable [asylum seekers] during this period.”

Significant numbers of migrants have faced arrest or detention in Morocco during the pandemic - often purportedly to ensure that they are tested for the virus. Since the first case was confirmed in the country in March 2020, numerous incidents have been reported in which migrants have been rounded up and detained. On one occasion, approximately 50 sub-Saharan migrants were arrested - reportedly based purely on their skin colour - in Laâyoune on 21 June 2020 and detained in a local school for seven days. During their detention, the group had no access to running water, clean clothes or sufficient food; no information on when they would be released; and no ability to leave the building for fresh air. Those who tested positive were placed in quarantine in a nearby hotel.

Testimonies collected by the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH) confirm that since the start of the pandemic, similar incidents have occurred across the country, with migrants detained in ad-hoc facilities such as schools, youth centres, and hotels for periods ranging from a few days to several months. Previously in May, some 80 migrants held in Laâyoune for more than two months had launched a hunger strike to demand an end to their detention. According to the National Human Rights Council (CNDH), the ad-hoc facility was also the scene of a violent confrontation between migrants and security forces, when detainees attempted to leave the facility.

Observers have also reported numerous instances in which non-nationals - principally black migrants and asylum seekers - have been arrested and detained, before being forcefully relocated out of urban areas into remote rural provinces. In late April 2021, a group of migrants - some of whom allegedly possessed residence documents - were arrested in Rabat, detained in a police station, and abandoned in Khourigba and Beni-Mellal (towns south-east of Rabat). Many others have reportedly been forced to the south of the country, having been arrested and detained in targeted raids in northern cities and transported south in overcrowded buses.

There appears to be little or no information available regarding steps that authorities may have taken to protect immigration detainees against the spread of the virus. In its list of issues prior to Morocco’s submission of its second periodic report (February 2021), the UN Committee on Migrant Workers (CMW) requested that Morocco describe the efforts taken to prevent infections in detention facilities and to provide health care to those requiring it.

09 August 2021

Thailand

Overcrowded Cell in Bangkok Immigration Detention Centre in January 2020, (J. Lovelock,
Overcrowded Cell in Bangkok Immigration Detention Centre in January 2020, (J. Lovelock, "Pandemic Spreads in Thailand's Immigration Detention Centres," UCANews, 24 March 2021, https://www.ucanews.com/news/pandemic-spreads-in-thailands-immigration-detention-centers/91864#)
In March 2021, a number of immigrants became infected while detained by Thailand’s Immigration Bureau, including 77 migrant workers held at detention centres in Bangkok’s Bang Khen and Lak Si districts. Most of the detainees were Burmese, Laotian and Cambodian nationals. The Bangkok Post reported that based on data from the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) “almost 300 foreign immigrants at the Immigration Bureau's detention centres in Suan Phlu and Bang Khen have contracted COVID-19.” A CCSA spokesperson said that “98 out of 1,888 foreign immigrants at the immigration detention centres tested positive from March 11 to Saturday (March 20).” As a result, “The detention centres had stopped accepting new detainees,” and, according to the Commissioner-General of the Royal Thai Police, “the infected detainees would be transferred to the field hospital for treatment by physicians and nurses from the Police General Hospital.”

According to UCANews, the main reason why the number of migrant workers infected with COVID-19 increased dramatically in March was due to immigration detention centres’ poor conditions and overcrowdedness. There was inadequate sanitation and hygiene at the facilities, which enabled the virus to spread quickly. UCANews also reported that “many rights advocates have been calling on the Thai immigration authorities to improve conditions at immigration detention centers.” These groups pressured the government to release some detainees to reduce virus exposure. In response, the Thai authorities have promised to improve the conditions of immigration detention centers. One observer, however, suggested that “Once the public outrage [of the infection in the detention centres] in the wake of such publicity dies down ... things return to business as usual.”

04 August 2021

Ethiopia

Z. Zelalem and W. Brown, “First Migrants Released from Saudi Detention Centres Arrive Home After Telegraph Investigation,” The Telegraph, 27 January 2021, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/climate-and-people/first-migrants-released-saudi-detention-centres-arrive-home/
Z. Zelalem and W. Brown, “First Migrants Released from Saudi Detention Centres Arrive Home After Telegraph Investigation,” The Telegraph, 27 January 2021, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/climate-and-people/first-migrants-released-saudi-detention-centres-arrive-home/
In 2020, the GDP highlighted several reports documenting the dire detention conditions and appalling ill-treatment that thousands of Ethiopian migrants had faced in Saudi Arabia (see, for example, 6 October 2020 Saudi Arabia update). Following international pressure--including from the European Parliament, as well as groups such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) who urged Saudi Arabia to release vulnerable detainees to protect them against COVID-19--Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia agreed in early 2021 to commence a repatriation programme. On 27 January 2021, the first group of 296 Ethiopian detainees were flown to Addis Ababa; since then, thousands more have been returned. According to MSF, during the first quarter of 2021 more than 60 percent of returnees evaluated by the organisation had spent between six months and one year in detention.

However, recent reports have highlighted that Tigrayans returned to Ethiopia have been separated from other returnees upon arrival and have been placed in Ethiopian detention facilities. In a tweet on 28 July, HRW Refugee and Migrant Researcher Nadia Hardman wrote: “Since 26 June 41000+ #Ethiopian migrants have returned from abusive detention in #SaudiArabia. The majority are from #Tigray. Reportedly most Tigrayan returnees are held in formal and informal detention sites in Addis & other regions w/ ltd access to families, food and water.” Their detention is believed to be part of a wider wave of round-ups of Tigrayans in Addis since late June 2021. According to a Tigrayan lawyer interviewed by Retuers, those detained “are not appearing before the court within (the legally mandated period of) 48 hours and we do not know their whereabouts - their family or lawyers cannot visit them.”

Commenting on the return of Ethiopians in a press briefing on 29 July, the country’s Foreign Affairs Spokesperson stated: “To accommodate an operation of this magnitude amid the ongoing public health challenges caused by the COVID-19, the Government set up 8 reception centers in Addis Ababa to temporarily shelter the migrants as they transit to their final destinations. The government allocated personnel and financial resources to provide the migrants with health care, feeding, psychosocial support and physical safety. Our partners are running an additional 4 shelters providing similar services but focused on migrants with special needs such as unaccompanied and separated children, mothers with babies, and human trafficking survivors. Admission to the centers is on a voluntary basis and the migrants enjoy the freedom of movement, including the right to leave anytime.”

According to UNHCR’s operational update from Ethiopia on 14 July 2021), of the 2,07,549 people to have been vaccinated against COVID-19, 3,720 are refugees. UNHCR also reports that together with its partners, it has continued to “reinforce prevention measures in the refugee camps and sites hosting internally displaced persons (IDPs).”

22 July 2021

United Kingdom

D. Taylor, “Legal Bids Mean UK Deportation Flight to Zimbabwe Takes Off Just One-Third Full,” The Guardian, 22 July 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/jul/22/legal-bids-mean-uk-deportation-flight-to-zimbabwe-takes-off-just-one-third-full
D. Taylor, “Legal Bids Mean UK Deportation Flight to Zimbabwe Takes Off Just One-Third Full,” The Guardian, 22 July 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/jul/22/legal-bids-mean-uk-deportation-flight-to-zimbabwe-takes-off-just-one-third-full
A surge in COVID-19 cases notwithstanding, UK authorities are continuing to arrange deportation flights. On 21 July, a flight to Zimbabwe departed with an estimated 14 persons on board. The first mass-deportation to Zimbabwe in years, media reports state that the flight marked the start of a planned “summer season” of deportations organised by the Home Office. Originally, the flight to Zimbabwe was scheduled to remove 50 people, but due to a combination of dozens of escorts having to self-isolate having come into contact with COVID-positive individuals; a new COVID outbreak at Brook House Immigration Removal Centre; and legal challenges, an estimated 36 deportations were paused.

The UK’s treatment of asylum seekers has come under renewed scrutiny after a controversial new “Nationality and Borders Bill”--dubbed the “Anti-Refugee Bill” by many campaigners--received backing in Parliament. According to the country’s Home Secretary Priti Patel, the bill will adopt “a fair but firm approach” and is “the change we need to fix the UK’s broken asylum system.” Among its various reforms is the criminalisation of entry into the UK without permission, an accelerated appeals procedure, and plans for Australian-style offshore detention. According to the bill, asylum seekers who travel to the UK from a safe third country will risk prosecution for unlawful entry and their asylum claims will be treated as “inadmissible”, and amendments to both the UK’s 2002 Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act and 2004 Asylum and Immigration Act will allow removal to a “safe country” while an asylum claim is pending.

NGOs, rights campaigners, and opposition MPs slammed the new bill. More than 200 organisations joined the “Together with Refugees” campaign, which is calling for a “fair, effective, and humane asylum system.” The UK’s Shadow Home Secretary lambasted it as “a missed opportunity that represents the worst of all worlds,” while another Labour MP stated: “The Bill is not about improving legislation, but about hate. It is little more than political gesturing of the worst kind.” The NGO Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) expressed dismay at the bill’s “dire implications for human rights,” and the Refugee Council described it as “the latest stage in the ongoing attack on refugee rights in the UK.”

Many also argue that the bill breaches the 1951 Refugee Convention, which provides that the status of an asylum claim should not be dependent upon mode of entry to a country. Others have also highlighted the UK’s relatively low arrival rate within Europe - “It’s important to remember that compared to other European countries, the UK was only fifth in absolute terms in the number of asylum applications it received in 2020, and 17th if we adjust this number by population size.”

As previously reported on this platform (see 22 April update), non-nationals living in the UK are eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines, “regardless of whether they have the legal right to live and work in the country and that getting the shot would not trigger immigration checks.” However, according to special report published by The Independent and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, “hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrants face being blocked from booking Covid vaccinations, because GP surgeries are refusing to register them.” According to the report, fewer than a quarter of GPs across the country would register someone without ID documents or proof of address--thus leaving them incapable of accessing the vaccine.

On 21 July, campaigners welcomed the announcement that plans for an immigration detention facility in County Durham (Hassockfield) have been opposed by Durham County Council. “The County council has now clearly challenged that view, and opponents of the scheme are eager to work with the Council in any way possible to prevent the site from being used as an immigration detention centre in the future.”

14 July 2021

Malta

Detainees Sitting on Bunkbeds in the Overcrowded Safi Barracks, (Times Malta, “Watch: Migrants in Covert Video Beg to be Sent Back Home: Detainees Speak of Terrible Conditions at Safi Barracks,” 6 September 2020 https://timesofmalta.com/articles/view/migrants-in-covert-video-beg-to-be-sent-back-home.816459)
Detainees Sitting on Bunkbeds in the Overcrowded Safi Barracks, (Times Malta, “Watch: Migrants in Covert Video Beg to be Sent Back Home: Detainees Speak of Terrible Conditions at Safi Barracks,” 6 September 2020 https://timesofmalta.com/articles/view/migrants-in-covert-video-beg-to-be-sent-back-home.816459)
As of 1 July 2021, all asylum seekers and other non-EU residents in Malta became eligible for receiving a COVID-19 vaccination. Previously, only people who could provide a valid residence permit were eligible, according to the European Commission: “From 1 July only an identity document and provision of personal details (which are kept strictly confidential) is required in order to register for vaccination.”

Malta’s decision to ensure confidentiality of an individual’s identity documents during vaccination procedures appears to represent a firewall between health and immigration-related administrations. Erecting such firewalls has been urged by health professionals across the globe as a critical step for effectively addressing the pandemic even as many countries have refused to do so.

Despite these policy developments, Malta’s treatment of migrants and asylum seekers has repeatedly come under intense criticism. In February 2021, for example, the Jesuit Refugee Service issued a report detailing the impact of COVID-19 measures on immigration detention policies and practices in seven EU Member States where JRS has partners, including Malta, Spain, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Portugal, and Romania. Regarding Malta, JRS found that the situation for immigration detainees worsened as a result of the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, it was legally possible to detain people arriving by boat for up to 70 days in Malta on public health grounds, with some exceptions for vulnerable groups. After the COVID-19 outbreak, the Maltese Superintendent of Public Health decided to detain for quarantine purposes all people arriving by boat until they were tested for COVID-19. In practice this meant that all new arrivals were held in detention for periods extending long beyond the 70-day limit. JRS also reported that detainees had their telephones taken away from them, cutting them off from vital communication with their families and the outside world.

Shortly after the JRS report was released, the European Court of Human Rights issued its judgement on the case of a Nigerian national, Joseph Feilazoo, held in immigration detention in Malta during the COVID-19 pandemic (Feilazoo v. Malta), which considered the lawfulness and conditions of detention and COVID-19 measures in detention centres. The court, in a 11 March 2021 ruling, found that Malta had breached Article 3 of the ECHR with respect to holding the applicant in an enclosed container, much of the time in excessive isolation, without fresh air, natural light or outdoor exercise for an unduly long period of time, without any likelihood of being removed to Nigeria; it also ruled that given the health risks, the applicant should not have been held in COVID-19 quarantine conditions with other newly arrived migrants; and that Malta had impeded Feilazoo's right to individual petition by restricting his communication with the court and failing to provide adequate legal representation.

After serving a prison sentence for drug-related offences, Feilazoo’s request to be returned to Spain was turned down as he was told he no longer had the right to reside in Spain and he was kept in immigration detention pending removal back to Nigeria. Feilazoo was moved from prison to immigration detention on 14 September 2019, where he was held for 14 months until he was released because the Nigerian authorities refused to issue him with travel documents and did not cooperate with the Maltese government’s request for his deportation.

In September 2020, the Times of Malta reported that a group of men from Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt (and other “Arabs”) held at Safi detention centre for between 3 to 11 months, were begging to be returned home because of the appalling living conditions and the long delays in processing their asylum applications. In a video sent to the Times of Malta, the men describe living in overcrowded, unhygienic living conditions, with a lack of medical care, clothing and nutritious food and the devastating impact this was having on their physical and mental health, including several suicide attempts. Asked to comment on the video, the Home Affairs Ministry justified some of these practices, arguing that a steep increase in irregular migration had led to unprecedented pressure on migrant reception centres and services and contributed to delays in processing cases.

Also in September 2020, Malta Today reported that a riot had broken out at the Safi detention centre and five detainees attempted to escape the facility. One of them was shot by a private security guard and sustained minor injuries. 27 detainees were later arrested and charged by police for causing damage during the riot and injuring police officers who tried to contain it.

06 July 2021

Australia

Australian Human Rights Commission, “Management of COVID-19 Risks in Immigration Detention,” 16 June 2021, https://humanrights.gov.au/our-work/asylum-seekers-and-refugees/publications/management-covid-19-risks-immigration-detention
Australian Human Rights Commission, “Management of COVID-19 Risks in Immigration Detention,” 16 June 2021, https://humanrights.gov.au/our-work/asylum-seekers-and-refugees/publications/management-covid-19-risks-immigration-detention
As COVID-19 cases rise again in areas of Australia - including New South Wales - prompting fresh lockdowns, a new report from the Australian Human Rights Commission has highlighted the serious risks that COVID-19 poses to people in the country’s immigration detention network. Although no immigration detainees have, to-date, tested positive in the country (although several staff members have contracted the virus), the commission urged Australian authorities to adopt various measures to better protect detainees.

Following a review of the collective response to the human rights risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic in the context of immigration detention, the commission identified three key areas of concern: detainee population size, difficulties in physical distancing, and restriction of individuals’ rights. At the same time however, it commended several areas, including the government’s indication that the COVID-19 vaccine will be available for immigration detainees.

With regards to the detainee population, the commission criticises the fact that unlike other countries that released immigration detainees at the start of the crisis, Australia instead increased its immigration detainee population during the first year of the pandemic (from 1,373 in March 2020 to 1,527 in February 2021). The commission notes, “This population increase has contributed to capacity pressures throughout Australia’s network of immigration detention facilities and increased the concentration of detainees in compounds at various times throughout 2020.” The commission thus encouraged Australia to follow expert health advice and release people who present a low security risk into community-based alternatives to detention.

Although it recognises the government’s attempts to provide capacity relief by re-opening North West Point Immigration Detention Centre on Christmas Island, the commission argues that the centre is ill-equipped to respond to a COVID outbreak--due to the island’s isolation, and its lack of sophisticated health care facilities. (The facility’s inadequate health care provision was highlighted recently, in the case of the Murugappan family--a young family of four detained on the island since 2019--whose youngest child was transferred to Perth for emergency medical care after being hospitalised with a suspected blood infection.) As such, the commission writes: “As a matter of urgency, the Australian Government should decommission the use of all immigration detention facilities on Christmas Island, and implement more appropriate solutions to reduce the number of people in closed immigration detention.”

The commission also noted the need for authorities to improve detainees’ ability to socially distance, highlighting the fact that people often have less than the recommended four square metres of personal space, and that detainees are often required to sleep in bunk beds in shared rooms. The commission thus urged the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) and the Australian Border Force to limit bedroom occupancy levels to ensure distancing of 1.5 metres between persons at all times, the partition of sanitary facilities from living and sleeping spaces, and the provision of at least four square metres per person in multi-occupancy rooms.

Finally, the commission has urged authorities to ensure that measures restricting individuals’ rights--such as freedom of movement--are reasonable, necessary, and proportionate to addressing COVID-19 risks. For example, the commission points to the conditions in which individuals are held when quarantining, highlighting that centres have tended to use their “high care” accommodation units, which are usually used as isolation areas for behavioural management. “Bedrooms in these units are sparse, with hard, fixed furniture, and contain a toilet and shower, with some separated by partitions (but not doors). They have limited natural light, and any windows are tinted so there is no view outside, and they cannot be opened. Bedrooms are generally monitored using closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras, but the Commission does not know if the CCTV is used when a person is in quarantine.”

On 28 May 2021, the commission received a formal response from the DHA to the report’s 20 recommendations. While it agreed to six of these recommendations and agreed in part with two, it noted seven and disagreed with five (including the recommendations that detention centres not exceed their operational capacity and that “high care” accommodation units cease being used for quarantine).

02 July 2021

South Africa

Lawyers for Human Rights, “Strandfontein Homeless Committee Takes on City of Cape Town,” 19 May 2020,
https://www.lhr.org.za/lhr-news/strandfontein-homeless-committee-takes-on-city-of-cape-town
Lawyers for Human Rights, “Strandfontein Homeless Committee Takes on City of Cape Town,” 19 May 2020, https://www.lhr.org.za/lhr-news/strandfontein-homeless-committee-takes-on-city-of-cape-town
In March 2020, shortly after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, South Africa announced plans to construct a 40-kilometre fence between South Africa and Zimbabwe, which was intended to “ensure that no undocumented or infected persons cross into the country. However, observers have pointed out that COVID-19 cases have been far higher in South Africa than Zimbabwe, suggesting that authorities utilised the pandemic to justify its wider securitisation agenda.

While authorities acknowledged the dangers that the virus poses to confined populations and took steps to release 20,000 low-risk prison inmates, they simultaneously stepped up the arrest and detention of migrants for petty crimes, and continued to arrest, detain and deport undocumented migrants (despite announcing on 25 March that asylum seekers whose visas expire after 16 March would not be penalised or arrested) - justifying such actions as necessary measures to contain the spread of the virus (for more on this, see the 6 November 2020 South Africa update on this platform). As Lawyers for Human Rights reported: “This proves that the preventive measures that were put in place in prisons and detention facilities were tailored only towards natural citizens of the state and further amplifies the dehumanisation of migrants in South Africa” (IDC 2020).

Refugee Reception Offices (RROs) were closed during the pandemic, leaving non-nationals unable to renew permits and register births. In December 2020, however, the Department of Home Affairs announced that permits issued to refugees and asylum seekers would remain valid until 31 January 2021, which was then extended to 31 March 2021. As of May 2021, valid permit holders were permitted to request permit extensions online.

According to the LHR, prisons and detention facilities were operating at 200-300 percent capacity at the start of the pandemic. Ad hoc facilities also appear to have been used to hold non-nationals. According to media reports, police rounded up hundreds of homeless migrants at the start of the pandemic, transferring them to Strandfontein Camp - a tented facility set up by Cape Town authorities in response to the pandemic. The Human Rights Commission documented severe movement restrictions, poor quality bedding, insufficient hygiene levels, and the inability to social distance. While the facility closed on 20 May 2020, a group of 180 people who had been confined in the facility were reportedly moved at night to an unserviced site under a highway overpass in Culemborg, central Cape Town (see the 26 May 2020 South Africa update on this platform for more details).

In May 2020, authorities also designated correctional facilities as temporary immigration detention sites during the pandemic. The “Determination of Correctional Facilities as Places of Detention of Illegal Foreigners Pending Deportation” provides that “illegal foreigners” may be placed in such facilities prior to their deportation or transfer to the Lindela facility “for the duration of the period of the national state of disaster as declared in terms of the Disaster Management Act, 2002 (Act No. 57 of 2002).

Despite borders being closed, authorities continued to conduct deportations during the pandemic. In May 2020, the country’s Minister of Home Affairs ordered deportations to be stepped up following an escape attempt from the Lindela Repatriation Centre and several riots. On 7 May 2020, 94 Lesotho nationals were deported, followed by 527 Zimbabwean nationals two days later.

According to UNHCR, there were 76,754 refugees and 173,461 asylum seekers in the country in 2020. The country has ratified several international human rights treaties including the Convention against Torture, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. During its review for the third cycle of the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2017, South Africa received migration- and detention-related recommendations, including: “promptly ratify the International Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (Guatemala) (para. 139.2)” and “improve conditions in detention centres and avoid overcrowding, as well as the detention of migrants (Mexico) (para. 139.113).”

The UN Committee against Torture (CAT), in its concluding observations from its 2019 review of South Africa, said that the State party should (e) Refrain from detaining asylum seekers and foreign nationals in prolonged detention without a warrant at the Lindela Repatriation Centre, promote alternatives to detention and revise policy in order to bring it into line with the Guidelines on the Applicable Criteria and Standards relating to the Detention of Asylum-Seekers and Alternatives to Detention; (f) Ensure adequate living conditions, including by reducing overcrowding and providing hygiene, medical and other services at the Lindela Repatriation Centre, and all other immigration centres and police detention facilities; (g) Ensure that refugees, asylum seekers and foreign nationals and migrants have full access to health care.”

28 June 2021

Turkey

Firefighters On a Crane on the Top Floor of Harmandali Removal Centre, (SonDakika.com, “1 Asylum Seeker Lost His Life in the Fire at the Harmandali Removal Centre,” 23 June 2021, https://www.sondakika.com/haber/haber-son-dakika-harmandali-geri-gonderme-merkezi-nde-cikan-14220937/)
Firefighters On a Crane on the Top Floor of Harmandali Removal Centre, (SonDakika.com, “1 Asylum Seeker Lost His Life in the Fire at the Harmandali Removal Centre,” 23 June 2021, https://www.sondakika.com/haber/haber-son-dakika-harmandali-geri-gonderme-merkezi-nde-cikan-14220937/)
A fire broke out at Turkey’s Izmir Harmandali Removal Centre on 23 June 2021 because of an electrical problem at the facility, according to information provided to the Global Detention Project by a non-governmental actor in Turkey. The fire started on the fifth floor of the centre where refugees are held. Firefighters evacuated the floor, but after the fire was brought under control, a 21-year-old Syrian asylum seeker was found dead. The Turkish Migration Department concluded that because the asylum seeker had not left his room during the fire, he must have committed suicide.

According to a report from the Turkish news service SOL, a staff member working at the removal centre told the news agency that refugees and asylum seekers held in the centre are constantly insulted, ridiculed, and humiliated by guards. The staff member said: “I saw that almost all of the male and female security guards are racist and anti-refugee. They don’t receive any training. Especially all of the shift supervisors - except one - are rude.” The staff member added: “Even raising your voice a little bit and demanding a phone card makes the security guards angry.” According to him, as a punishment, people are taken to the so-called foreign terrorist fighter floor, left alone for hours in a room, handcuffed behind their backs. The staff member also said that the centre’s conditions create such feelings of hopelessness that people end up hurting themselves because of it: “I’ve seen young refugees break their arm” just to go to hospital. In addition, he reported that in one case, a woman gave birth and the child had to be kept in hospital under observation. In the meantime, they brought the woman back to the removal centre and left her alone in a room without any support despite having a caesarean delivery and needing care. Another employee said that during the summer, the centre is constantly over capacity and food is sometimes not provided to detainees.

The problems at the Izmir Harmandali Removal Centre are indicative of broader problems across Turkey’s detention system that have been aggravated by the COVID-19. According to a report by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, the deteriorating situations at Izmir and other removal centres have been compounded by the fact that lawyers, interpreters, and civil society advocates have been reluctant to enter removal centres out of fear of COVID-19 contamination, and meetings with families were stopped. The removal centre in Ankara did not accept any lawyers visiting after 5PM and lawyers had difficulties examining the files of their potential clients. At the Kirkkale removal centre, ECRE’s report found that requests for legal aid were not being delivered to the bar association and requests for assistance were mainly being received through the family members of detainees or the UNHCR.

According to a study on COVID-19 barriers and response strategies for refugees and undocumented migrants in Turkey, published in the Journal of Migration and Health in December 2020, Turkey hosts the largest number of “forced migrants” in the world, with approximately 3.6 million Syrians granted temporary protection and around 400,000 refugees and asylum seekers of other nationalities. The study mentions that while the Turkish Ministry of Health has taken various steps to provide health care to for all residents since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in Turkey, there have been important challenges in health care provision for refugees, migrants under temporary protection, and other undocumented migrants, including language barriers preventing access to reliable information and access to health services for chronic conditions. Additionally, according to the research, the registration processes of undocumented patients in health centres has faced significant delays. There is a “stateless” category in the Ministry of Health registration system that may be used to register undocumented migrants. Yet, this has not been implemented in every health centre as it is largely dependent on the care providers’ decision to accept undocumented patients or not. There have also been issues regarding the distribution of free masks through pharmacies, as people would receive a text message to collect their masks according to their identification number. However, many migrants do not have identification numbers, therefore limiting their access to the masks. Another issue identified by the study is that when undocumented migrants seek health care, they risk being deported or being reported to the police. This has caused widespread fear among many refugees and undocumented migrants, fearing deportation or a loss of residency if they tested positive for COVID-19.

The government also implemented restrictive measures for entry and exit from refugee camps, including temperature checks prior to entry. Those individuals suspected of having COVID-19 are usually transferred to hospital, tested for COVID-19 and depending upon their condition, sent back to the camps for isolation. As of 2 July 2021, Turkey had recorded around 5.4 million COVID-19 cases and 49,774 related deaths.

25 June 2021

Benin

Volunteer Doctor Testing a New Prisoner for COVID-19, (UNDP, “Protéger les Droits des Détenus au Bénin,” 27 April 2021, https://tinyurl.com/4rfdjdv8)
Volunteer Doctor Testing a New Prisoner for COVID-19, (UNDP, “Protéger les Droits des Détenus au Bénin,” 27 April 2021, https://tinyurl.com/4rfdjdv8)
Benin, which as of 25 June 2021 had recorded more than 8,000 COVID-19 cases and 104 deaths, launched a national vaccination campaign in March 2021 with support from the COVAX Facility. However, it is unclear if migrants, refugees, or other non-citizens are included in the vaccination campaign or whether the country has taken any specific measures to safeguard those populations.

The GDP has been unable to establish the extent to which migration-related detention measures are used in Benin as part of immigration enforcement procedures. There is also no publicly available information concerning COVID-19 related measures taken for those in immigration or police custody.

According to UNHCR data, in 2020, there were 1,401 refugees and 464 asylum seekers in the country and 1,238 refugees and 373 asylum-seekers in 2019. The country has ratified several international human rights treaties including the Convention against Torture; the Convention on the Rights of the Child and most recently in July 2018, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. In its concluding observations in 2019, the Committee against Torture recommended that the country: (a) “improve material conditions in all places of detention, ensuring that prisoners receive the medical care and medicines necessary for their health in a timely manner and without charge, have access to nutritional and sufficient food, and enjoy adequate sanitary conditions and sufficient bedding; (b) take measures to end prison overcrowding by making greater use of alternatives to detention.”

The country took some measures to prevent COVID outbreaks in prisons, with assistance from non-governmental actors. In May 2020, a private foundation donated 130 boxes of face masks, 20 disinfectant sprays, 100 cans of bleach, 50 cans of soap, and 50 bottles of hydroalcoholic gel to the country’s prison administration. In addition, on 10 June 2020, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) gave Benin’s prison authority 110 hand-washing stations, 5,000 liters of bleach, 2,000 liters of hydroalcoholic gel and the ingredients necessary to make 30,000 liters of soap. The UNDP has estimated Benin’s prison occupancy rate as being as high as 170 percent capacity, which has helped lead to poor hygiene and a heightened risk of COVID-19 transmission. In October 2020, the UNDP deployed ten UN volunteers, including seven doctors and three psychologists, in Benin’s prisons to improve the quality of health services.

16 June 2021

Malaysia

J. Choong, “Malaysian Medical Group Condemns Govt Raid, Treatment of Migrant Workers in Cyberjaya in Fight Against Covid-19,” 9 June 2021, https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2021/06/09/malaysian-medical-group-condemns-govt-raid-treatment-of-migrant-workers-in/1980864
J. Choong, “Malaysian Medical Group Condemns Govt Raid, Treatment of Migrant Workers in Cyberjaya in Fight Against Covid-19,” 9 June 2021, https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2021/06/09/malaysian-medical-group-condemns-govt-raid-treatment-of-migrant-workers-in/1980864
Since the onset of the pandemic, Malaysian authorities have argued that crack-downs on undocumented migrants and other non-nationals are necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19. A recent example is the 24 May-28 June 2021 nationwide lockdown--referred to in Malaysia as a Movement Control Order (MCO)--during which Home Ministry officials have carried out wide-scale raids leading to the arrest of hundreds of undocumented migrants. Officials have said the raids are necessary to ensure that foreigners get vaccinated. Said the Home Minister: “If they are not detained, will they go out to get vaccinated? That is why they are detained.”

This policy appears to directly contradict earlier comments made by Malaysia’s Co-ordinating Minister for Immunisation, in which he reassured non-nationals that they would not face retribution should they come forward for vaccination (see 18 February 2021 update on this platform).

NGOs, lawyers, and health experts have condemned the new wave of raids, arguing that such measures will encourage non-nationals to flee and hide from authorities, complicating efforts to curb the virus. They point, also, to the spike in infections witnessed within detention facilities following raids in May 2020 (for more, see 4 June 2020 update on this platform). As the director of the Malaysian Medicine Association said following a raid in the city of Cyberjaya in which 202 undocumented migrants were rounded up: “The usual practice of ‘raid and detain’ must stop and better ways should be sought to tackle the problem of undocumented migrants. More raids will result in more detention centre clusters as we have repeatedly seen.”

In the wake of these raids, tensions appear to have emerged between the Malaysian government and UNHCR. On 12 June, the Home Ministry said that it had requested that UNHCR supply its list of all refugees in the country for the purpose of vaccinations. According to a news article published on 15 June, the Home Minister alleged that UNHCR had stipulated that such data can only be shared if authorities can provide assurance that refugees will not be arrested--a condition that the minister claimed showed UNHCR to be “not sincere” and which was upsetting his plans to vaccinate non-nationals. However, a spokeswoman for UNHCR denied that such a condition had been set, and that the agency had been working closely with the government since the start of the pandemic. She did, however, confirm that UNHCR advocates for no arrests of refugees and asylum seekers. “We have advocated with the Malaysian government to not arrest and detain refugees and asylum seekers, including those with expired UNHCR documents, especially because refugees have not been able to travel to UNHCR due to the restrictions under the MCO. Others are in the process of registration and do not yet have UNHCR documentation.”

The latest wave of raids appears to be part of a broad Malaysian policy trend towards migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers that views these non-citizens as transmitters of the virus. This trend was reflected in a recent Immigration Department post on Facebook, later deleted, which featured a military image accompanied by a caption which, translated, said: “Ethnic Rohingya migrants, your arrival is unwelcomed.” Commented Amnesty International: “The Malaysian government must explain why, especially in the time of a global pandemic, they have chosen to attack people in need. Refugees and migrants deserve to have their humanity upheld; Malaysians deserve a government that respects the rights and dignity of all.”

On 1 June, UNHCR expressed concern regarding vaccine shortages in the Asia-Pacific region, and a worrying increase in COVID-19 cases amongst refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia--as well as in Nepal, Iran, Pakistan, Thailand, and Indonesia.

14 June 2021

Lithuania

LRT English, “Lithuania Mulls Plans to Build Refugee Camp,” 10 June 2021, https://www.lrt.lt/en/news-in-english/19/1428986/lithuania-mulls-plans-to-build-refugee-camp
LRT English, “Lithuania Mulls Plans to Build Refugee Camp,” 10 June 2021, https://www.lrt.lt/en/news-in-english/19/1428986/lithuania-mulls-plans-to-build-refugee-camp
According to recent news reports, Lithuanian authorities are considering expanding the capacity of the Pabrade Detention Centre (the “Foreigners Reception Centre) as a response to an increase in irregular migration from Belarus. Previously, the Global Detention Project (GDP) reported on this platform that the government announced in March 2020 a series of COVID-related measures that included quarantine and border closures. The government subsequently announced, in August 2020, plans to prepare new premises to quarantine arriving refugees as a COVID-19 response measure, though few details about this plan seem to have been released since then.

In mid-June 2021, Lithuania’s foreign minister said that irregular migration from Belarus was on the rise, purportedly as part of an effort to “weaponise” migration to Europe. Speaking to the Financial Times, the Lithuanian official accused Belarusian authorities of engaging in a “hybrid attack against Europe” by offering Syrians and Iraqis package travel deals via the state-run tourist agency Tsentrkurort. Allegedly, the deals include flights from Baghdad and Istanbul, and travel to the Lithuanian border. “This is weaponised migration that is directly aimed at Lithuania. The reason? It’s quite easy to guess. We are outspoken, we shelter the main opposition leaders [from Belarus],” said the minister.

According to statistics provided by the Financial Times, Lithuania apprehended 387 persons at the Belarus border between January and 14 June this year, compared to 74 throughout 2020. The newspaper also states that, “So far this year, Lithuania has detained almost double the migrants who crossed the frontier from Belarus than the combined total for the three previous years.”

Discussing the need to expand Pabrade’s capacity in the wake of increased arrivals, the facility’s director stated that a tented area will house up to 350 people, and that tents will include heating and cooling systems. According to the director, “The choice of accommodation would depend on the vulnerability of arriving foreigners, whether those are single persons, or families with children, or single mothers. And we think that accommodation in tents would be offered to single persons.”

The GDP reported in a 2019 report on Lithuania that the Pabrade facility has been the focus of repeated criticism for its poor detention conditions, allegations of disproportionate use of force, and overcrowding. The facility is currently believed to be undergoing renovations, due for completion in 2022.

Although Lithuania imposed restrictions on access to its territory during the pandemic, UNHCR’s COVID-19 website reports that such restrictions have not applied to asylum seekers. However, in July 2020 the country’s cabinet of ministers blocked the resettlement of a Syrian family from Jordan, citing COVID-19 risks. The cabinet’s decision sparked controversy, given that authorities had granted permission to Russian, Ukrainian, and Kazakh basketball teams to enter Lithuania to attend training camps.

In 2015, Lithuania agreed to accept 1,105 refugees through the EU’s refugee resettlement scheme--although this quota was later decreased to 1,077. As of May 2021 only 499 people had been relocated to the country.

09 June 2021

Spain

S. Fernández, “Luz Verde al Nuevo CIE de Algeciras por 21 millones de Euros,” ABCandalucía, 11 November 2020, https://sevilla.abc.es/andalucia/cadiz/sevi-verde-nuevo-algeciras-21-millones-euros-202011110733_noticia.html?ref=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F
S. Fernández, “Luz Verde al Nuevo CIE de Algeciras por 21 millones de Euros,” ABCandalucía, 11 November 2020, https://sevilla.abc.es/andalucia/cadiz/sevi-verde-nuevo-algeciras-21-millones-euros-202011110733_noticia.html?ref=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F
Shortly after the onset of the first wave of COVID-19 in early 2020, Spain began emptying its immigration detention centres - Centros de Internamiento de Extranjeros (CIEs) - and by 6 May 2020, authorities had temporarily closed them all (see 15 May 2020 Spain update on this platform). This development was welcomed by human rights organisations including the Campaña Por el Cierre de los Centros de Internamiento para Extranjeros, who also highlighted that detainees were left without support or place of residence, and were not referred to reception centres.

Despite a second-wave of COVID-19 infections sweeping through Europe, the Spanish government ordered the reopening of CIEs towards the end of September 2020. According to the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) 2020 annual report, due to a lack of protocols and sanitary measures, the reopening led to the spread of the virus, resulting in detainees being isolated and causing widespread anxiety and anguish. The JRS stated that the government reopened the centres to demonstrate its alignment with the new European pact on asylum and migration presented on the same day as the reopening of CIEs. The new pact on asylum, aims to, inter alia, speed up the timeframe for returns and ensure that detention operations are conducted in centres that would guarantee this. One of the authors of the JRS noted that at that time, “the borders were still very much closed and there was a lot of uncertainty about the possibility of conducting returns. If detention in a CIE is a measure to ensure returns, how can detention be resumed if it is unclear that returns can be conducted?”

The JRS also reported that of the 1,904 people returned during 2020, only 524 were returned from a CIE (27.5 percent), as most people are returned within 72 hours following their arrival. According to the JRS, these statistics reinforce the argument that the use of detention is largely unnecessary and causes unnecessary suffering. According to the report, there were 2,224 people held in CIEs during 2020, of whom 1,767 were held due to a return order being issued against them. In addition, 42 were identified as minors. Nevertheless, according to the JRS, Spain has indicated its commitment to expanding the use of immigration detention through its plan to build a new CIE in Algeciras, which will have a capacity of 500 places and a budget of 21 million euros.

In May 2021, the country returned 4,000 of the 8,000 migrants who arrived in Ceuta during a wave sparked in part by a diplomatic dispute between Morocco and Spain. Around 6,000 people (largely Moroccan nationals), of whom 1,500 were children, swam to Ceuta on 17 and 18 May 2021 and one person died during the crossing. The country mobilised 200 additional police personnel in addition to the 1,200 officers who were already patrolling the border with Morocco.

Due to the large number of arrivals to the Canary Islands in 2020 (see 27 October 2020 and 20 November 2020 Spain updates on this platform), in November 2020, the Spanish government unveiled the “Plan Canarias” which aimed to create 7,000 accommodation places for migrants on the islands of Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura and Tenerife. However, five months later, in April 2021, Amnesty International Spain reported that reception conditions on the archipelago remain worrying, including overcrowding, COVID-19 infections and general hygiene. On 15 April 2021, a Judge in Las Palmas held that migrants stuck on the islands were entitled to travel to mainland Spain if they “proved their identity with a passport” or with an “application for international protection.”

07 June 2021

Denmark

The Guardian, “Denmark Passes Law to Relocate Asylum Seekers Outside Europe,” 3 June 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jun/03/denmark-passes-law-to-let-it-relocate-asylum-seekers-outside-europe
The Guardian, “Denmark Passes Law to Relocate Asylum Seekers Outside Europe,” 3 June 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jun/03/denmark-passes-law-to-let-it-relocate-asylum-seekers-outside-europe
MPs in Denmark passed, by a vote of 70-20, legislation that will allow authorities to relocate asylum seekers to centres in third countries outside the European Union while their applications are processed. "If you apply for asylum in Denmark, you know that you will be sent back to a country outside Europe, and therefore we hope that people will stop seeking asylum in Denmark," said the government’s spokesman.

Government officials report that they have begun negotiations with potential partner countries. There is speculation that Rwanda may become one such partner country, following news that the two countries signed a diplomatic agreement on asylum matters in April.

Numerous observers have condemned the legislation, including the European Commission, which questioned the bill’s compatibility with Denmark’s international obligations. Blasting the bill as “irresponsible” and “lacking in solidarity,” the Danish Refugee Council warned that “Similar models, such as the Australian model or the so-called ‘hotspots’ on the Greek islands, have involved serious incidents of detention, physical assault, slow asylum proceedings, lack of access to health care and lack of access to legal assistance.”

The GDP has repeatedly highlighted in its reporting on Denmark that the country has gained notoriety for its increasingly strict immigration regime and adoption of harsh rhetoric regarding migrants and refugees. In January this year Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, in comments before Parliament, highlighted her plans to reduce the number of asylum applications in Denmark to zero. Authorities recently revoked the residence permits of several hundred Syrian refugees in the country, after deeming parts of Syria “safe” for returnees.

The country’s main immigration detention sites--Ellebæk Detention Centre and Nykøbing Falster Arrest--meanwhile remain sites of grave concerns for many observers. In 2019, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture described the living conditions and regimes in both facilities as “unacceptable,” and--in light of at least one credible allegation of excessive use of force against a detainee--warned the management of Ellebæk Detention Centre that “all forms of ill-treatment, including verbal abuse, are unacceptable and will be sanctioned accordingly.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, levels of anxiety amongst detainees’ have reportedly risen, and many detainees have seen their detention prolonged repeatedly--despite authorities’ inability to conduct deportations. In an op-ed for Al Jazeera, two members of Ellebæk Contact Network, a former detainee and a Danish researcher, wrote: “The measures taken by authorities to reduce the risk of infection, including limiting the number of visitors allowed, cancelling activities and church services, which provided a connection to the outside world, together with the risk of being forcibly tested for COVID-19 and quarantined in solitary confinement have aggravated their isolation and reduced the possibilities for external actors to monitor the conditions for detainees.”

31 May 2021

Monaco

Corridor in Monaco's Prison, (Monaco Hebdo, N. Gehin,
Corridor in Monaco's Prison, (Monaco Hebdo, N. Gehin, "La Prison à l'Epreuve du Coronavirus," 20 April 2020, https://www.monacohebdo.mc/actualites/judiciaire/prison-monaco-coronavirus/)
The Principality of Monaco, located on the French Riviera, is the second-smallest independent state in the world and has a population of approximately 38,000 people. The country introduced several measures in March 2020 to combat the spread of the virus, including imposing a lockdown and curfew. As of 31 May 2021, the country had recorded 2,504 COVID-19 cases and 32 related deaths.

The GDP has been unable to establish the extent to which migration-related detention measures are used in Monaco as part of immigration enforcement procedures. There is also no publicly available information concerning COVID-19 related measures taken to safeguard people in immigration or police custody, or people in international protection situations.

The country’s prison system adopted preventive measures to avoid the spread of COVID-19. In April 2020, temperature checks were implemented for some staff, protective masks were provided to the prison staff, and new prisoners were placed in isolation. According to the World Prison Brief, there were 8 prisoners in the country on 15 April 2020 and all prisoners were foreign nationals.

According to the UNHCR, there were 25 refugees and no asylum-seekers in the country as of 2020. The country has ratified several international human rights treaties including the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. During its review for the third cycle of the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2018, Monaco received several migration- and refugee-related recommendations, including: “consider ratifying the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (Philippines) (para. 78.3)” and “consider adopting a procedure for granting asylum or refugee status while continuing its support for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ work in protecting refugees (United States of America) (para. 76.72)”.

The UN Committee against Torture (CAT), in its concluding observations from its 2017 review of Monaco, noted that while the “Monegasque authorities provide for the administrative and legal protection of refugees residing in the Principality of Monaco and that the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (OFPRA) examines cases and issues of advisory opinions, the Committee remains concerned about the lack of clarity regarding the legal grounds for the procedures that are applicable to asylum seekers, the conduct of such procedures, and the safeguards provided.” In consequence, the Committee recommended that the State party “ensure that the procedures applicable to asylum seekers and the procedure for cooperation with OFPRA are made clearer and accessible to all. In addition, the Committee would like to receive data on the number of applications submitted to and examined by OFPRA and the number of cases in which the Monegasque authorities have accepted or rejected the opinions of OFPRA and the reasons for doing so. The Committee would also like to know how many expulsion orders have been appealed since 2011 and whether these appeals have had a suspensive effect during the deliberations of the Supreme Court.”

Following the CAT’s concluding observations, Monaco submitted a follow-up report in December 2017 in which the country explained that “decisions rejecting applications for asylum are individual administrative acts issued by the Ministry of State. … Applications for reconsideration may be lodged with the regulatory or dispute authority, while appeals concerning abuse of power are heard by the Supreme Court. These appeals do not have suspensive effect. They may, however, be combined with a motion to stay. … The number of cases in which the Monegasque authorities have not followed the recommendations of OFPRA is as follows: 2 opinions not followed; 1 opinion followed… Concerning the data on the number of expulsion orders appealed since 2011, 13 appeals were lodged before the Supreme Court against measures of refoulement from the Monegasque territory, one of which was combined with a request for a stay of execution.”

28 May 2021

Solomon Islands

Solomon Islands Red Cross Society Handing Over Items Donated by ICRC to the Correctional Services of Solomon Islands on 13 May 2020, (Solomon Islands Red Cross Society, Facebook Post, 13 May 2020, https://www.facebook.com/solomonislandsredcrosssociety/posts/862995254179285)
Solomon Islands Red Cross Society Handing Over Items Donated by ICRC to the Correctional Services of Solomon Islands on 13 May 2020, (Solomon Islands Red Cross Society, Facebook Post, 13 May 2020, https://www.facebook.com/solomonislandsredcrosssociety/posts/862995254179285)
The Solomon Islands, made up of six major islands and located east of Papua New Guinea, has a population of approximately 670,000 people. A state of emergency was announced on 27 March 2020 and all flights into the country were suspended. As of 28 May 2021, the country had recorded 20 COVID-19 cases and no related deaths.

The Global Detention Project has been unable to establish the extent to which migration-related detention measures are used in Saint Kitts and Nevis as part of immigration enforcement procedures. There is also no publicly available information concerning COVID-19 related measures taken to safeguard people in immigration or police custody, or people in international protection situations.

The country has ratified only some of the core human rights treaties, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. In consequence, the Solomon Islands received numerous recommendations concerning human rights treaties during its review for the second cycle of the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2016, including: “ratify the core human rights instruments, including the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (Sierra Leone) (para. 100.23)” and “ratify the Convention against Torture, and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Portugal) (Montenegro) (para. 100.18).”
In a submission to the UPR in 2015, UNHCR highlighted that despite being a party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and having drafted legislation to implement its international refugee obligations domestically through the draft Refugee Status Determinations Bill 2010, the legislation had not yet been introduced before the National Parliament of Solomon Islands. UNHCR also noted that they were aware of a small number of refugees (less than five) present in the Solomon Islands, and that due to the small number of cases and more pressing domestic issues, “asylum-seekers, refugees, stateless persons and internally displaced persons are not prominent concerns” in the country.

As regards the country’s prison system, on 1 September 2020, the Correctional Services Emergency Coordination group visited Gizo prison and found that preventive measures had been put in place including: temperature checks, regular hand washing, as well as sanitising and cleaning of premises. Similar visits were conducted in Lata and Kirakira prisons. On 13 May 2020, the International Committee of the Red Cross donated 116 soap cartons, 85 liters of detergent, 45 liters of chlorine, 20 liters of sanitary products and 27 bottles of hydroalcoholic gel to the country’s prison authority to assist in the country’s COVID response.

21 May 2021

Japan

J. Ryall, “Japan Drops Plans to Fast-Track Refugee Deportations After Sri Lankan’s Death in Detention,” This Week in Asia, 18 May 2021, https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/people/article/3133948/japan-drops-plans-fast-track-refugee-deportations-after-sri
J. Ryall, “Japan Drops Plans to Fast-Track Refugee Deportations After Sri Lankan’s Death in Detention,” This Week in Asia, 18 May 2021, https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/people/article/3133948/japan-drops-plans-fast-track-refugee-deportations-after-sri
Japan’s immigration detention system has recently come under renewed scrutiny. In particular, the 6 March death of a 33 year old Sri Lankan woman--Ratnayake Liyanage Wishma Sandamali--who died in the Nagoya Regional Immigration Bureau Detention House following months of health complaints, sparked a wave of criticism and drew international attention.

Sandamali had been detained since August 2020, when she visited a police station seeking help with domestic violence but upon which she was arrested for overstaying her visa. Since December 2020, she had repeatedly complained of stomach pains and other symptoms including fever and trouble eating. Press outlets report that despite clear signs of illness and repeated requests for release and hospital treatment, officials at the centre refused to release her, arguing that she was feigning illness in order to secure release. Some have pointed in anger to the fact that while the centre had refused to release a clearly unwell Sandamali, Japan had released hundreds of healthy detainees during the pandemic to alleviate overcrowding and prevent major outbreaks in facilities.

According to her two sisters, who travelled to Japan for her funeral, Sandamali had been held in a “tiny” and depressing room, and at a press conference they expressed their anger at the lack of answers they had received from immigration officials regarding the circumstances surrounding her death. Authorities have also refused to release video footage of Sandamali in the detention centre prior to her death, prompting many to challenge the country’s opaque detention practices. Since her death, protestors have gathered on an almost daily basis outside Parliament to criticise the government’s detention practices.

Japan’s immigration policies have long been criticised by observers as unduly harsh and strict. Few asylum seekers are successful in their applications: In 2019, authorities granted asylum to less than one percent of applicants. Large numbers of foreigners, including asylum seekers, are instead detained indefinitely, despite criticisms from UN rights bodies such as the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. In 2019, a Nigerian man died in detention following a hunger strike in response to his three-year long confinement. His death was one of 17 that have been reported inside detention facilities since 2007. Of these, 10 deaths were due to sickness, five were suicides, and the cause of the remaining two is unknown.

Shortly after Sandamali’s death, Japanese authorities announced that they were abandoning plans to overhaul the country’s immigration law. The previously planned amendments would have made the country’s immigration system even stricter, and had been heavily criticised by rights observers. Amongst the now withdrawn proposals was a plan to remove an existing provision that suspends deportation orders when an asylum seeker appeals a decision or reapplies for protection, and plans to move rejected asylum seekers who refuse to comply with deportation orders into the criminal system. The amendments, however, did not include changes to the country’s currently unlimited detention time.

As the GDP has previously reported on this platform, significant numbers of immigration detainees were released during the pandemic. Reports suggest that those released were required to meet certain conditions, such as regularly reporting to immigration facilities. However, according to the Solidarity Network with Migrants Japan, released detainees have been given no financial support and are banned from working legally--something that the group argues is an effort by Japanese authorities to encourage non-nationals to leave voluntarily. Many have instead been supported by local civil society organisations. Similar release arrangements do not appear to have been applied to the country’s prisons.

Despite efforts to decongest detention facilities, cases of COVID-19 have nevertheless been recorded. In February 2021, five staff and 39 detainees tested positive at the Tokyo Immigration Bureau Detention House. All detainees were subsequently tested, and infected detainees were quarantined. Some observers blamed the fact that rooms in facilities such as these are “small, closed spaces.” Meanwhile, as the virus continues to fluctuate, Japan has extended its state of emergency and most foreign nationals continue to be denied access to the country. According to UNHCR, exceptions have however been made for asylum seekers. To-date, the GDP has been unable to ascertain whether immigration detainees will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations.

18 May 2021

Saint Kitts and Nevis

The St. Kitts and Nevis Observer, “HMP Has Strict Measures to Avoid COVID-19 Outbreak,” 16 May 2021, https://www.thestkittsnevisobserver.com/hmp-has-strict-measures-to-avoid-covid-19-outbreak/
The St. Kitts and Nevis Observer, “HMP Has Strict Measures to Avoid COVID-19 Outbreak,” 16 May 2021, https://www.thestkittsnevisobserver.com/hmp-has-strict-measures-to-avoid-covid-19-outbreak/
Saint Kitts and Nevis (the Federation of Saint Christopher and Nevis) is a small archipelago nation made up of two islands located in the western Caribbean (West Indies). With a population of approximately 52,000, the country is the smallest in the Western Hemisphere. On 31 March 2020, following the confirmation of its first two COVID-19 cases, the country imposed a full lockdown that included a 24-hour curfew and the temporary closure of its borders. Many travel restrictions, including entry and quarantine requirements, which have been in place since April 2021, remained in place as of May 2021, including suspension of flights from Brazil, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. As of 17 May 2021, the country had recorded 45 cases of COVID-19 and no related deaths.

The Global Detention Project has been unable to establish the extent to which migration-related detention measures are used in Saint Kitts and Nevis as part of immigration enforcement procedures. There is also no information publicly available concerning COVID-19 related measures taken to safeguard people in immigration or police custody, or people in international protection situations.

According to UNHCR, from 2018 to 2020, there were five refugees in the country and no asylum seekers, stateless persons, or Venezuelans displaced abroad. The country has ratified only some of the core human rights treaties, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In consequence, Saint Kitts and Nevis received numerous recommendations concerning human rights treaties during its review for the second cycle of the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2015, including: “ratify core international human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its Optional Protocols, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention against Torture and its Optional Protocol (Germany) (para. 92.3)” and “guarantee the protection of refugees in conformity with the obligations of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (Djibouti) (para. 92.74).”

In a submission to the UPR in 2015, UNHCR highlighted that despite being a party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, the “country has not passed implementing legislation or administrative regulations on asylum or refugee matters, nor established a national asylum procedure” and has not acceded to the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees. UNHCR made a series of recommendations in this regard, including, inter alia: “consider the passage of domestic refugee legislation; develop a national refugee status determination procedure”; and “facilitate full and open access to asylum procedures for persons who have expressed a fear of returning to their country of origin and to ensure non-refoulement of all persons in need of international protection.”

As regards the country’s prison system, in May 2020, the country’s Commissioner of Corrections announced the establishment of an early release system for prisoners. The Commissioner said authorities “have formulated a list of inmates who were nearing the end of their sentences and so these are persons who I had recommended to be released from Her Majesty’s Prison but there is a process that we have to follow. It is not automatic that they would be released.” At the time, the prison population in St Kitts and Nevis stood at 184, of which 162 were held in St. Kitts, while 22 were held in Nevis. In November 2020, prison authorities stated that sanitary protocols put in place since March 2020 were to remain in place until the end of the pandemic and include the obligation to wear a mask for staff and hand sanitisation as well as body temperature checks for any new inmates.

12 May 2021

United States

A still from surveillance footage included in a Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General report from March about pandemic-era violations of detention standards at the La Palma immigration detention center in Arizona. The people being pepper sprayed had been peacefully protesting to demand better protection from COVID-19: N. Lanard,
A still from surveillance footage included in a Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General report from March about pandemic-era violations of detention standards at the La Palma immigration detention center in Arizona. The people being pepper sprayed had been peacefully protesting to demand better protection from COVID-19: N. Lanard, "ICE Allowed COVID-19 Breakouts and Concealed Hospitalizations, A New Report Shows," Mother Jones, 11 May 2021, https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2021/05/ice-allowed-covid-19-breakouts-and-concealed-hospitalizations-new-report-shows/
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released a hard-hitting report on the mistreatment of detainees at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centres since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on the details of more than 40 lawsuits filed by the ACLU on behalf of detainees, the report, titled “The Survivors: Stories of People Released from ICE Detention During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” documents “ICE’s failure to protect people in detention as well as demonstrable lies and misrepresentations over the course of litigation, including in sworn declarations to the court. It also makes recommendations to the administration and highlights the stories of 19 people who were detained during the pandemic and released as a result of litigation.”

The ACLU report was released as numerous other investigations began appearing concerning ICE’s failure to address the pandemic in its detention centres and the growing COVID-19 crisis spreading across the U.S. immigration detention system, where the rate of infection far exceeds that of the rest of the United States. One notable report was the New York Times April 2021 video report, “How ICE’s Mishandling of COVID-19 Fueled Outbreaks Around the Country,” which details how infections in detention centres spread to surrounding communities and concludes that ICE could have released many more detainees to help limit the spread of the disease. According to the Times, the infection rates at U.S. immigration detention centres is 20 times higher than the general population and five times higher than in prisons.

Mother Jones magazine reported (11 May 2021): “According to ICE’s own statistics, 14,057 people have tested positive for COVID-19 while in the agency’s custody. As of Sunday [9 May 2021], a staggering 1,906 of the roughly 16,700 people in detention right now are being monitored for active COVID-19 infections. If the United States had a similar infection rate, there’d be nearly 40 million active infections at the moment, as opposed to the roughly 560,000 that have been recorded over the past two weeks.”

However, ICE’s statistics may not relate the full, staggering scope of the COVID catastrophe in the U.S. immigration detention system. In one case featured in the ACLU report, a detainee at ICE’s Adelanto Detention Centre in California, named Martine Vargas Arellano, was released by ICE just days before he died. By releasing Arellano—who, in addition to contracting COVID at Adelanto, suffered from schizophrenia, diabetes, and hepatitis—before he died, ICE avoided the mandatory requirement to report all “in-custody deaths.” Opined the ACLU: “ICE’s practice of releasing detained people from custody when they are hospitalized and near death is of particular concern, given that ICE has refused to publicly release information and statistics regarding the number of people who have been hospitalized for COVID-19 during the pandemic. This practice raises serious concerns as to the accuracy and validity of ICE’s statistics regarding the number of deaths that have occurred as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic in detention.”

Press reports have also revealed that ICE has in some cases released COVID-positive detainees without providing medical information to local communities or others. According to the Washington Post (15 March 2021), officials and advocates in the border town of Calexico, California, began documenting early this year how ICE repeatedly dropped off detainees at the town’s bus station, having previously notified volunteers of the drop-offs but failing to provide details about the detainees’ medical conditions. Reported the Post: “In a border area that has suffered from ongoing coronavirus outbreaks, advocates for immigrants and ICE are at odds over the agency's treatment of detainees with the coronavirus. Advocates and county officials say they had no idea ICE was dropping off infected detainees at the bus stop; ICE says it is the agency's protocol to notify local authorities ahead of time. While the advocates agree that detainees with the coronavirus should be released from detention so they can seek better medical care, not coordinating those transfers with health officials and nonprofits is a danger to public health, they said.”

Commenting on this practice, Jules Kramer of the Minority Humanitarian Foundation told the Post: "It's reprehensible. It's a threat to public safety. It's a threat to our asylum seekers. It's a threat to the people on the ground helping. It's absolutely unforgivable."

The U.S. immigration detainee population fell dramatically during the first months of the pandemic. According to ICE’s Fiscal Year 2020 (October 2109-September 2020) report, ICE “reduced its detained population to 75 percent or below in all facilities and 70 percent or below in ICE dedicated facilities.” ICE also reports widespread testing of detainees: “As of the end of FY 2020, ICE ERO had tested more than 40,000 detainees, and had initiated testing for all new intakes at 74 facilities nationwide.”

As of 11 May 2021, ICE had recorded a total 14,094 positive cases among its detainee population.

11 May 2021

Switzerland

Statistics on Detainees per Category of Detention in Switzerland from 2017 to 2021, (Office Fédéral de la Statistique,
Statistics on Detainees per Category of Detention in Switzerland from 2017 to 2021, (Office Fédéral de la Statistique, "Statistique de la Privation de Liberté: Effectif des Détenus Selon le Type de Détention," 27 April 2021, https://www.bfs.admin.ch/bfs/fr/home/statistiken/kataloge-datenbanken/grafiken.assetdetail.16924790.html)
In early May 2021, the Swiss immigration authority (Secrétariat d’Etat aux Migrations or SEM) launched an investigation into allegations of violence at federal asylum centres in Switzerland. The investigation followed the release of press reports about the use of excessive force by security officers when dealing with some asylum seekers. According to SEM, appropriate procedures and reporting by security staff were not followed properly. By May, 14 private security staff had been suspended at three centres, including eight at Boudry in the Canton of Neuchâtel.

One of the cases reported by Swiss news agencies was that of Ayoub, a young Moroccan national who was housed at the largest centre, in Boudry, in November 2020. He was placed in a container without heating in the middle of winter. Said Ayoub: “It is a very small place. On the floor and on the walls, there were traces of blood. On the ground, traces of vomit and urine. The smell was unbearable and I felt like I was lacking oxygen. It was terribly cold and there was no bed or mattress.” Ayoub was found in a state of advanced hypothermia, and a criminal investigation was launched after medical staff alerted judicial authorities.

The investigation comes as other cases of mistreatment of asylum seekers by officials gain attention in Switzerland.

On 9 May, a Swiss court convicted three border guards of mistreatment of a pregnant Syrian asylum seeker who suffered a miscarriage during her removal to Italy in 2014.

In February 2021, the case of a Guinean national named Abdou Mariga, who died shortly after Switzerland deported him to Guinea in 2019, gained national attention when members of the Swiss Federal Council opened up an investigation into SEM’s decision to deport the young man. This decision was taken despite the fact that he had no family members in that country and the canton he resided in had wanted to regularise his status. Suffering from hepatitis B and destitute, Abdou Mariga was unable to find treatment and died just months after his deportation at the age of 30.

In a separate development, the number of people held in Swiss prisons and detention centres was at its lowest level in a decade as of early 2021. According to experts, the decline is partly due to measures put in place since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. On 31 January 2021, the number of people held in Swiss prisons was 6,316, 8.4 per cent lower than on the same day in 2020. Foreign nationals detained for migration-related procedures made up a small fraction of that number, accounting for only 115 of the country’s total detainee population on that day, down from 267 on that same day in 2019 and 428 in 2009.

However, foreign nationals nevertheless account for the largest percentage of Switzerland’s total prison population, according to a recent Council of Europe study, which found that nearly 75 percent of detainees in Swiss prisons are non-citizens. The Swiss prison system comprises 92 institutions with a total capacity of 7,397 places. Nearly 95 percent of prisoners are men and more than 70 percent are foreign nationals. An important reason for this is that Switzerland has one of the highest percentages of foreign residents in Europe: 25.1 percent in 2017, or 2.1 million people. This translates to “almost three out of every 10 residents in Switzerland.”

Despite the decrease in the overall prison population, Switzerland did not opt to release large number of prisoners after onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, opting instead to impose a series of other measures to prevent the spread of the disease, including restricting visits to prisoners, limiting paroled absences, and cutting back on sporting and other social activities. This resulted in inmates having to spend more time in their cells in isolation. Prisons in some cantons, however, appeared to try to implement comparatively more humane measures. At Champ-Dollon in Geneva, Switzerland’s most overcrowded prison, plexiglass partitions were put up in the visiting area so that family members could still visit. The prison’s population also dropped from 650 to 560 as alternatives to custodial sentences were adopted including, house arrest, electronic bracelets, and an obligation to report to the police. For its part Canton Bern released some three dozen inmates who were in an open prison or in semi-detention as they belonged to at-risk groups, and they waived custodial sentences for individuals serving less than 30 days who were not considered to be a danger to society.

10 May 2021

France

Outside View of the Zone d'Attente pour les Personnes Maintenues en Instance (ZAPI), (C. Bouanchaud,
Outside View of the Zone d'Attente pour les Personnes Maintenues en Instance (ZAPI), (C. Bouanchaud, "Covid-19 : craignant que la zone d’attente de l’aéroport de Roissy ne se transforme en cluster, les associations se retirent," Le Monde, https://www.lemonde.fr/societe/article/2021/04/28/covid-19-craignant-que-la-zone-d-attente-de-l-aeroport-de-roissy-ne-se-transforme-en-cluster-les-associations-se-retirent_6078417_3224.html)
On 26 April 2021, the National Association for Assistance at Borders for Non-Citizens (Association Nationale d’Assistance aux Frontières pour les Étrangers or ANAFE) announced that it was temporarily stopping its operations at the Zone d’Attente pour Personnes en Instance (ZAPI) of Roissy airport, a transit zone where non-citizens without authorisation to enter France are held for brief periods of time. ANAFE took the decision because of the lack of sanitary measures at the facility, including lack of ventilation; cramped corridors; no social distancing; no disinfectant supplies; masks not properly worn or not worn by people in custody or staff members; and no hydroalcoholic gel or self-service soap provided to detainees.

During the week of 19 April 2021, 120 people were held in the ZAPI of Roissy, which has 160 places. As of 26 April 2021, 126 people were still being held and every week, several confirmed COVID-19 cases are discovered. The Bar Association of Seine-Saint-Denis also withdrew last week for four days to protest the lack of health measures adopted, while the Red Cross had already withdrawn from the ZAPI of Roissy on 21 April 2021.

Despite reports of conditions and petitions to the courts, on 23 April 2021 a judge (juge des libertés et de la détention) stated that “while conditions in the ZAPI can be improved ... they could not be considered as endangering the health of the occupants.”

Separately, in Mayotte, an overseas department region of France, imposed a strict lockdown in March 2020, halting maritime and air travel and intercepting kwassas-kwassas carrying Comoros nationals. In total, 703 speed boats were detected during 2020, while 470 were interedicted and 3,989 people were arrested by Mayotte authorities. In September 2020, 10 people including a child drowned during the passage, after their kwassa-kwassa carrying 24 capsized. Importantly, Comoros nationals often face administrative detention in Mayotte, which has been criticised for its degrading treatment and lack of procedural safeguards: in June 2020, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the immigration-related administrative detention and expulsion of two Comoros children from Mayotte violated the European Convention on Human Rights.

07 May 2021

Chile

Cuartel de la Policia de Investigaciones de Iquique, (Google Maps, accessed on 7 May 2021, https://tinyurl.com/xwjs7neb)
(Cuartel de la Policía de Investigaciones de Iquique
Cuartel de la Policia de Investigaciones de Iquique, (Google Maps, accessed on 7 May 2021, https://tinyurl.com/xwjs7neb) (Cuartel de la Policía de Investigaciones de Iquique
In late April 2021, several civil society organisations denounced the alleged mistreatment of migrants who had been detained by police in the towns of Arica and Iquique. The Jesuit Migrant Service (Servicio Jesuita a Migrantes or SJM) filed legal appeals claiming that there had been “irregularities” in their treatment, including: improper body searches; lack of access to lawyers representing the detainees at police stations; and people held for more than 24 hours, beyond the legal limit. The SJM country director pointed to “the new Migration Law (Ley de Migracion y Extranjeria) ... that allows those who arrived irregularly into Chile, to leave and request a visa abroad without being sanctioned.” Ureta stated that it does not make sense that while the law provides this possibility, many people are being expelled without giving them the opportunity to engage this process.

The Asamblea Abierta de Migrantes y Promigrantes de Tarapacá, another migrant rights advocacy organisation in Chile, stated that certain expulsion orders were given to migrants that were in health centres in preventive quarantine. The organisation’s spokesperson, Lorena Zambrano, said that “the persons who have been notified and detained, are persons that have been in health centres. Most of them are Venezuelan nationals, but there are also persons from other countries.” Zambrano said that the new Migration Law, which allows persons who have entered the country irregularly to voluntarily leave the country within 180 days of the publication of the new law (20 April 2021) without a penalty, was not being respected.

The National Human Rights Institution of Tarapacá (NHRI, Instituto Nacional de Derechos Humanos Tarapacá) said that approximately 50 people had been notified of their expulsion and detained.

In Arica, 32 people, including children, were detained on 23 April 2021. Nonetheless, the appeal filed by the SJM was accepted by the Appeal Court, who ordered the “immediate release” of the detained migrants and also suspended their expulsion orders.

Importantly, although Chile's law provide for forms of administrative costly for migrants awaiting expulsion, regulations for these detention operations does not explicitly provide for health care screening or other forms of care.

04 May 2021

India

Rohingya Refugees Along with their Luggage outside a Mosque in Jammu, Kashmir (J. Singh, EPA,
Rohingya Refugees Along with their Luggage outside a Mosque in Jammu, Kashmir (J. Singh, EPA, "India Detains Rohingya Refugees and Threatens to Deport them to Myanmar," The Guardian, 8 March 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/mar/08/india-detains-rohingya-refugees-and-threatens-to-deport-them-to-myanmar)
As a second wave of COVID-19 has swept across India, infection and death rates have skyrocketed across the country. On 1 May, some 392,488 new cases were reported--the largest one-day increase on record for any country--as well as 3,689 deaths, although observers suggest that real figures may be significantly higher.

Despite COVID rates surging since March, authorities have continued to arrest and detain non-nationals. In early March, an estimated 170 Rohingya refugees were detained in the city of Jammu (Kashmir), after police conducted raids in camps and summoned others to a “verification” exercise. Placed in a “holding centre” in Hiranagar (the Hiranagar Jail, which was reportedly converted into an immigration detention facility that same month), the group were subsequently informed of plans to deport them to Myanmar. Despite several Rohingya refugees challenging the deportation order, on 8 April the Supreme Court rejected an application to stay the deportation of the group, even as violent unrest in Myanmar surged following the 1 February coup. During the hearing, the Chief Justice of India (CJI) commented, “Possibly that is the fear that if they go back to Myanmar, they will be slaughtered. But we cannot control all that. . . We are not called upon to condemn or condone genocide.” The court also accepted the government’s claim that Rohingya refugees constitute a threat to internal security, while also failing to consider the applicability of non-refoulement. Members of the Rohingya community have called the decision a “death warrant.” (To-date, the GDP has been unable to confirm whether the planned deportation has been conducted.)

This case is part of a wider set of restrictions targeting Muslim communities in India since the Modi government came to power in 2014. In 2017, local BJP leaders in Jammu launched a campaign demanding the expulsion of all Rohingya from the region. In West Bengal, where elections are currently being held, the BJP has vowed to deport all Rohingya if the party wins.

Elsewhere in Assam, authorities have been detaining purported “illegal foreigners” (largely Bengali-speaking Muslims) in six detention centres. As previously reported on this platform, in April 2020 the country’s supreme court called for the release of people who had been detained for more than two years--and if they were able to produce two sureties worth 5000 rupees (approximately 53.33 GBP). However, as one observer commented, the court’s decision was not influenced by the dangers posed by COVID to detained populations, “Instead the reasoning implicitly belies the punitive motivation behind detention, by basing release on the amount of time ‘served’.”

28 April 2021

Cape Verde

Military Personnel Carry Ballot Boxes and Voting Equipment to a Polling Station in Praia on 17 April 2021, (AFP, TRT World,
Military Personnel Carry Ballot Boxes and Voting Equipment to a Polling Station in Praia on 17 April 2021, (AFP, TRT World, "Voters go to Polls in Cape Verde to Elect New Government," 18 April 2021, https://www.trtworld.com/africa/voters-go-to-polls-in-cape-verde-to-elect-new-government-46006)
The Republic of Cabo Verde is an island country in the central Atlantic Ocean with a population of approximately 550,000 people. Following the confirmation of the first COVID-19 case in the country on 20 March 2020, a state of emergency was declared and a series of measures were implemented including the suspension of all incoming flights. Certain measures had been eased by early 2021, although people arriving in Cabo Verde must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than 72 hours before travel. As of 27 April 2021, the country had recorded 22,586 cases of COVID-19 and 208 related deaths.

The GDP has been unable to establish the extent to which detention facilities are used in Cabo Verde as part of immigration enforcement procedures or to obtain details on COVID-19 related measures that may have been taken to safeguard people in immigration or criminal custody, or those in international protection situations. According to UNHCR, during 2020, the country reported no refugees or asylum cases, although there were 115 stateless persons.

The UN Committee against Torture, in its concluding observations from its 2017 review of Cabo Verde, noted with concern that “neither the Constitution nor Law No. 99/V/99 on the legal regime of asylum and refugee status include the risk of being subjected to torture in the country of destination as a reason for granting protection. Furthermore, the Committee expresses concern at the absence of an institutional framework for an asylum determination procedure.… While noting that asylum seekers would have a right to judicial review in accordance with Legislative Decree No. 6/97, the Committee regrets that they would not be protected against refoulement during the judicial review process, since the review would not have suspensive effect on an expulsion order.” In consequence, the Committee recommended that the State party “(a) Adopt the necessary legislative measures to explicitly incorporate into its legislation regulating and expulsion of undocumented migrants the principle of non-refoulement set out in Article 3 of the Convention; (b) Promptly establish a national asylum determination procedure that carries out a thorough assessment of the merits of each individual case and a medical and psychological examination when indications of torture or traumatization have been detected among applicants; (c) Set up an asylum registration and screening process at the borders to identify as early as possible victims of torture and trafficking and provide them with immediate rehabilitation and priority access to the asylum determination procedure;” and “(d) Provide for an effective judicial remedy with automatic suspensive effect on the deportation orders of asylum seekers and other undocumented immigrants.”

In 2015, the UN Committee on Migrant Workers recommended that “the State party promote alternatives to detention for migrant workers and members of their families” and “that the State party provide detailed information in the number of migrants arrested, detained and expelled for immigration-related infractions, as well as the reasons for the detention and expulsion of these migrant workers.” Moreover, it recommended that Cabo Verde “repeal all provisions of Decree Law No. 6/97 of May 1997 which are in violation of the Convention.”

In its 2018 state report to the Committee on Migrant Workers, the country stated it had repealed the Legislative Decree No. 6/97 and replaced it with the Law on the entry, stay, exit and removal of foreign nationals from the Cabo Verde (RJE). The country indicated that following the entry into force of the RJE, a process of “extraordinary regularization of irregular citizens in the national territory was conducted in 2015, during which 1,058 citizens were regularized (888 males and 170 females).” Furthermore, according to the state report, “there are no records of migrant children detained in the country and there are no practices of detention of children due to irregular immigration.” In addition, the country reported that “although Law No. 106/V/99, of August 2, foresees the establishment of Temporary Installation Centres for foreign nationals, the establishment of such facilities has not been necessary considering that Cabo Verde does not implement institutional practices towards the detention of persons in irregular migration: alternative measures to detention have been preferred, such as the notification for regularization or voluntary abandonment of the national territory within 10 to 20 days, period which may be extended in cases of children attending school, the presence of other family members and social ties (Article 79 of the RJE).” Cabo Verde also stated that in cases where the return of a person to their country of origin due to prohibited entry of that person, they may be held in a hotel unit or other “decent” facility.

The country received numerous relevant recommendations during its review for the third cycle of the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2018, including: “ratify the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (Democratic Republic of the Congo) (para. 112.7)” and “consider enhancing coordination between institutions and services that deal with migration-related issues to aid in the effective implementation of rights under the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (Ghana) (para. 112.156).”

In May 2020, the country’s National Human Rights Commission recommended the early release of prisoners in order to decongest prisons and avoid a spread of COVID-19. On 20 August 2020, the Ministry of Health revealed that they had identified 25 COVID-19 cases in the Praia jail.

23 April 2021

Canada

J. Kestler-D’Amours, “Immigration Detainees Are on a Hunger Strike Over Coronavirus Fears,” Vice, 26 March 2020, https://www.vice.com/en_ca/article/939v7v/laval-quebec-immigration-detainees-are-on-a-hunger-strike-over-coronavirus-fears
J. Kestler-D’Amours, “Immigration Detainees Are on a Hunger Strike Over Coronavirus Fears,” Vice, 26 March 2020, https://www.vice.com/en_ca/article/939v7v/laval-quebec-immigration-detainees-are-on-a-hunger-strike-over-coronavirus-fears
[From the GDP’s April 2021 Canada Report]

As previously reported on this platform, calls for releasing people in prisons and other Canadian detention settings began soon after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In mid-March, immigration detainees submitted an open letter to Canada’s Public Safety Minister demanding their release—pointing to the close quarters where they were held, the lack of medical checks for newly arriving detainees, and the frequent comings and goings of guards Shortly thereafter, detainees at the Laval IHC launched a hunger strike to highlight their fears that conditions in the facility would lead to a “coronavirus disaster. In April 2020, a large outbreak of COVID-19 at a medium security federal correctional facility in British Columbia highlighted the acute risks posed by the virus to people in detention settings.

According to data provided by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), by 19 April the number of immigration detainees had been reduced by more than a half. Having recorded 353 foreign nationals in provincial jails and dedicated holding centres on 17 March, by 19 April the number of detainees had decreased to 147—117 of whom were being held in provincial jails. By November 2020, 138 persons remained in detention. Although this decrease was not the result of a general release policy (detainees were instead released following individualised detention review hearings), reports indicate that the threat of exposure to COVID-19 was factored into release decisions. In an analysis of 17 release decisions between mid-March and mid-May 2020 in Ontario and British Columbia, researchers Arbel and Joeck found that the Immigration Division of the Immigration and Refugee Board “recognized COVID-19 as a condition of detention relevant to the release analysis in sixteen cases. In eleven cases, the ID ordered release, at least in part on the basis of COVID-19.”

Despite a temporary halt in deportations, released detainees were kept within deportation procedures, in the form of “alternatives to detention” (ATD) programmes. In particular, a number of people released from detention were required to wear electronic ankle monitors. This was described as a “temporary measure guiding the use of detention and the consideration of alternatives to detention” by the CBSA. In May 2020, the agency reported that the Electronic Monitoring Program was being employed in the Greater Toronto Area and Quebec regions. Observers quickly condemned the programme: Montreal-based NGO Solidarity Across Borders said that it represented an “enormous expansion” in surveillance that would “never stand in any other context.”

Some people who remained in immigration detention centres, meanwhile, expressed frustrations and fears for their safety. In March 2021 it was reported that seven detainees had launched a hunger strike at Laval IHC to protest conditions, amidst reports from community advocates that detainees in the facility had contracted the virus. While the CBSA reports that detainees who test positive are placed in solitary confinement, Solidarity Beyond Borders claimed that CBSA was holding all male detainees in solitary confinement (or “segregation”) as a virus containment measure. A detainee at the facility told The Concordian that cleaning in some parts of the facility was little more than a wipe using a rag, that staff repeatedly took off their masks, and that in the washrooms “blood is smeared on the door from the inside, and mould grows on the shower curtains.”

On 12 August 2020, the CBSA reported that there had been ten confirmed cases of COVID-19 within immigration holding centres (IHCs). Although it did not clarify whether any immigration detainees in provincial facilities had contracted the virus, the CBSA noted that it “continues to work collaboratively with its provincial partners on measures aimed at ensuring the safety and security of CBSA detainees who are being detained in provincial facilities.”

In correspondence with the GDP about whether COVID-related measures had been taken to safeguard immigration detainees in provincial prisons, the Office of the Correctional Investigator was unable to provide any details, stating that to get information about the treatment of immigration detainees in provincial prisons, it is necessary to request the information from “relevant provincial correctional authorities and/or from the provincial ombudsmen.” An immigration lawyer in Canada told the GDP, “There is no publicly available information that would suggest special measures have been instituted for immigration detainees held in provincial jails.” She added that “once immigration detainees are transferred to provincial jails, they come under the jurisdiction of the jails and are generally treated like other inmates in those facilities.”

Having initially stated that asylum seekers entering the country would be required to quarantine upon entry, on 20 March authorities shifted their stance and announced that “a foreign national is prohibited from entering Canada from the United States for the purpose of making a claim for refugee protection.”Several reports indicated that people attempting to seek asylum in Canada were returned to the United States, where they were arrested by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and placed in removal proceedings. Amnesty International responded to these developments, saying in a statement, “Canadian government measures relating to the COVID-19 pandemic must respect human rights standards and obligations under Canadian law, as well as treaties to protect refugee claimants, allowing anyone who enters Canada, whether or not at an official port of entry, to apply for refugee protection.”

Although deportations were temporarily halted in March 2020, they were resumed on 30 November 2020—despite the dangers that removals continued to pose amidst the ongoing pandemic (at the time that they were resumed, Canada was in the midst of a deadly second wave). According to a Reuters report, CBSA data seen by its journalists reveal that during 2020, 12,122 people were removed from the country—the highest number since 2015. (According to the CBSA, these numbers were high because they included people who decided to leave on their own accord.)

One particular case that attracted widespread criticism was that of Ebrahim Touré, who had previously spent five and a half years in detention until his release on bail in 2018. In November 2020 he was temporarily re-detained and informed of his pending deportation, facilitated by the use of—what transpired to be—a fraudulent passport and birth certificate obtained by a CBSA officer. However, following an investigation in Gambia, Gambian authorities confirmed that the passport had been fraudulently issued—prompting the CBSA to pause his deportation until an investigation into the issue had been concluded.

22 April 2021

United Kingdom

The Guardian, “MPs and Peers Urge Priti Patel to Shut Napier Barracks Asylum Site,” 17 April 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/apr/17/mps-peers-urge-priti-patel-shut-napier-barracks-asylum-site
The Guardian, “MPs and Peers Urge Priti Patel to Shut Napier Barracks Asylum Site,” 17 April 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/apr/17/mps-peers-urge-priti-patel-shut-napier-barracks-asylum-site
Cross-party parliamentarians have urged UK Home Secretary Priti Patel to cease the use of former military barracks for confining asylum seekers. In a letter to the Home Secretary, members of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Immigration Detention wrote: “We do not believe such sites provide the safe, stable accommodation that people seeking asylum – many of whom have histories of torture, trafficking and other serious trauma – need in order to recover and rebuild their lives.” (Although authorities have now closed Penally Camp in Wales, they are continuing to employ Napier Barracks--a facility that was the site of a large COVID-19 outbreak earlier this year. See 4 February 2021 update on this platform.)

In early March, the Independent Inspector of Borders and Immigration and the Inspection Team Leader at HM Inspectorate of Prisons published their initial findings following site visits to both Napier and Penally. In their report, the inspectors highlighted serious concerns, including the lack of COVID security in accommodation (given large communal sleeping areas); poor fire safety; the presence of inexperienced managers lacking the necessary skills to run such facilities; and isolation blocks deemed unfit for habitation. In a survey conducted by the inspectors, a third of respondents among detainees as Napier reported having felt suicidal, and at Penally the vast majority reported that they did not feel they were being kept safe from the risk of infection.

Meanwhile, as UK authorities race to vaccinate the country’s population, some have warned that migrants’ fear of deportation may be stopping many from accessing the vaccine. Although government guidelines state that non-nationals--including undocumented migrants--can access the vaccine free of charge, numerous reports have suggested that undocumented migrants are afraid to register with a GP to access the vaccination out of fear that their data will be shared with the Home Office. In a letter to the UK’s Vaccine Minister, Labour MP Sarah Owen and Conservative Peer Lord Sheikh asked how the government planned on reaching those who might be reluctant to access the vaccine. They added: “We are deeply concerned that the large numbers of people who are undocumented will be highly vulnerable and disproportionately impacted by Covid-19, while also being some of the most hesitant to reach out to receive their vaccine.” In February, over 140 NGOs, faith groups, local authorities, and medical organisations urged authorities to establish a firewall between medical bodies and immigration authorities.

15 April 2021

Burundi

Human Rights Watch, “Burundi: Free Forcibly Returned Refugees,” 8 March 2021, https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/03/08/burundi-free-forcibly-returned-refugees
Human Rights Watch, “Burundi: Free Forcibly Returned Refugees,” 8 March 2021, https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/03/08/burundi-free-forcibly-returned-refugees
Since 2015, when deadly clashes were witnessed surrounding Burundi’s presidential election, large numbers of Burundians have fled the country. Today, some 150,000 are estimated to be living in neighbouring Tanzania. Burundian authorities have repeatedly spoken of the need for refugees to return from exile, and in recent years reports have emerged highlighting instances in which Burundians have been abducted, tortured, arbitrarily detained, and forcibly returned to Burundi by Tanzanian authorities--reportedly with the assistance from Burundi. On 13 April 2021, UN experts--including members of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances--criticised the Burundian authorities’ involvement in these rights abuses. (For more information on these reports, see 14 April Tanzania update on this platform).

At least eight Burundians forcibly returned are known to have been detained without charge in Bubanza Prison and Muramvya Prison. Despite calls to release the detainees, on 26 February 2021 the Muha High Court in Bujumbura ruled against their provisional release--despite the fact that the prosecution had failed to produce any evidence to justify their continued detention.

Conditions in these prisons--and others in the country--are known to be extremely poor. In April 2020, the UN Commission of Enquiry on Burundi reported that prisons were severely overcrowded, and that detainees faced restricted access to medical care, food, and hygiene supplies, raising concerns for the safety of detainees amidst the pandemic. (In May 2020, Muramvya Prison--which has capacity for 100 detainees--was confining 866.)

14 April 2021

Tanzania

Foreign Policy, “Kicking Refugees Out Makes Everyone Less Safe,” 18 February 2021, https://bit.ly/3siYV7u
Foreign Policy, “Kicking Refugees Out Makes Everyone Less Safe,” 18 February 2021, https://bit.ly/3siYV7u
In a statement released on 13 April, UN experts--including members of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Special Rapporteur on Torture--called on the Tanzanian and Burundian governments to respect the rights of Burundian refugees and asylum seekers in Tanzania.

Tanzania currently hosts an estimated 150,000 Burundian refugees, the majority of whom fled the country following deadly clashes surrounding Burundi’s 2015 presidential election. Authorities impose a strict encampment policy, and most refugees live in three refugee camps located in the north-west’s Kigoma region--Nyarugusu, Mtendeli, and Nduta. They are prohibited from leaving these camps to work or to access schools.

In recent years, reports have highlighted repeated intimidations and severe abuses of Burundian refugees by Tanzanian authorities (often in cooperation with Burundian authorities), including abductions and disappearances, torture, arbitrary detention, and forced returns. In late August 2019, Tanzanian and Burundian authorities announced that all Burundian refugees would be returned, and in September 2019 Amnesty International reported having seen a confidential document signed by Tanzania’s Minister of Home Affairs and Burundi’s Minister of Interior agreeing to conduct returns with or without the refugee’s consent.

"In addition to the strict encampment policy imposed on them by the Government of Tanzania, Burundian refugees and asylum-seekers now live in fear of being abducted in the middle of the night by Tanzanian security forces and taken to an unknown location or being forcefully returned to Burundi," write the UN experts. The group cite reports alleging that Burundian political opponents have been tracked among the refugee population by undercover Burundian intelligence agents, and later apprehended by Tanzanian authorities.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), between October 2019 and August 2020, at least 11 Burundians were arbitrarily detained for up to several weeks in “abysmal conditions” in a police station in Kibondo. “The Burundians said that Tanzanian police detained them in rooms with no electricity or windows, took them to a separate building on the police station grounds, and hanged them from the ceiling by their handcuffs. Some said that police and intelligence agents gave them electric shocks, rubbed their faces and genitals with chili, and beat and whipped them. In some cases, police and intelligence officers told them they had received information from Burundian authorities about them, suggesting collusion between agents from the two countries.” According to HRW, three were released in Tanzania, while the remaining eight were forcibly returned to Burundi where they were immediately detained in Muramvya and Bubanza prisons without charge.

More recently, in February 2021 UNHCR reported its concerns following a series of distressed messages from Burundian asylum seekers held in a detention facility in Mutukula. According to the rights agency, the refugees had expressed fears for their safety should they be returned to Burundi. To-date, the GDP has not been able to ascertain further information regarding the exact location of--or conditions in--this detention centre.

13 April 2021

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Sanitation Supplies Donated by CARICOM IMPACS  to the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prison Service, (Searchlight,
Sanitation Supplies Donated by CARICOM IMPACS to the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prison Service, (Searchlight, "CARICOM IMPACS Donates Sanitation Supplies to Prisons," 29 May 2020, https://searchlight.vc/searchlight/press-release/2020/05/29/caricom-impacs-donates-sanitation-supplies-to-prisons/?fbclid=IwAR2aAvLv5jDhxVGqULM8xUGcNTAW5AtEa2mcEQMBq-HjHP1iIRmyPqYM0DE)
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is an island country in the Carribean with a population of around 110,000 people. Following confirmation of COVID-19 cases in March 2020, the country implemented international travel restrictions including requiring arriving passengers from high-risk countries to present a negative COVID-19 PCR test upon arrival and quarantine at a government-approved facility. In January 2021, the country’s prime minister rejected calls for imposing curfew restrictions, a state of emergency, or any lockdown measures in response to the pandemic. As of 12 April 2021, the country had recorded 1,792 cases of COVID-19 and 10 related deaths.

On 9 April 2021, the La Soufrière volcano erupted, forcing more than 16,000 people to evacuate their homes.

The GDP has been unable to establish the extent to which detention facilities are used in Saint-Vincent and the Grenadines 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, in 2019 and in 2020, there were no refugees or asylum seekers in the country, but there were 38 displaced Venezuelan nationals. The country has ratified several relevant human rights treaties, including the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. However, at the time of this report, the country had yet to submit its first state report to many treaty bodies, including the Committee on Migrant Workers.

In its concluding observations in 2018, the Committee on Migrant Workers said it was concerned over “the lack of information regarding due process guarantees for migrant workers (...) in criminal and administrative proceedings, including detention and expulsion. It is also concerned that the Immigration (Restriction) Act, which was amended in 2017, criminalises irregular entry into the State party.” The committee recommended that Saint Vincent and the Grenadines “(a) Ensure that in administrative and judicial proceedings, including detention and expulsion proceedings, migrant workers and members of their families, particularly those in an irregular situation, are guaranteed due process on an equal basis with nationals of the State party before the courts and tribunals; (b) Decriminalise irregular entry and ensure that the minimum guarantees enshrined in the Convention are assured with regard to administrative and judicial procedures against migrant workers and members of their families, in line with Articles 16 and 17 of the Convention.”

The country received numerous relevant recommendations during its review for the second cycle of the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2016, including: “harmonise its national legislation with international human rights standards (Morocco) (para. 80.29)” and “take immediate steps to bring conditions at all detention facilities, including Her Majesty’s Prison and Fort Charlotte Prison, into line with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Canada) (para. 80.87).” Additionally, UNHCR recommended that the country “(b) Take measures to ensure the early identification of persons in need of international protection and facilitate their access to asylum procedures, including persons in detention, through further training and sensitisation of immigration officers; (c) seek alternatives to detention of asylum-seekers.”

As of 29 May 2020, there had been no reported COVID-19 cases at Saint Vincent and the Grenadines’ prisons. On 20 May 2020, the Carribean Community (CARICOM) donated basic sanitation supplies to the country’s prison system to help minimise the risk of infection and transmission of COVID-19 in prisons. These products included infrared thermometers, cleaning products and hand sanitisers.

11 April 2021

Antigua and Barbuda

Prison Officer Protesting in Antigua and Barbuda, (Dominican News Online,
Prison Officer Protesting in Antigua and Barbuda, (Dominican News Online, "Prison Officers in Antigua and Barbuda Protest Over Concerns Made Worse By COVID-19," 22 March 2021, https://dominicanewsonline.com/news/covid-19/prison-officers-in-antigua-and-barbuda-protest-over-concerns-made-worse-by-covid-19with-video/)
Antigua and Barbuda is a Caribbean archipelago with a population of approximately 100,000 that relies heavily on tourism. After its initial COVID-19 cases were detected in March 2020, the government declared a two-week state of emergency, established a nightly curfew (8PM to 6AM), and shut all non-essential services and businesses. In June 2020, the country reopened its national borders, with arriving passengers having to present a valid medical certificate stating a negative COVID-19 test result within the previous 48 hours. In March 2021, the government started loosening other restrictions, including curfews. As of 9 April 2021, the country had recorded 1,180 cases of COVID-19 and 29 related deaths. On 8 April 2021, the country received 24,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines, through the COVAX Facility.

The country has ratified several human rights treaties, including the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. However, at the time of this report, the country had not yet ratified the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families and the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.

In its concluding observations in 2017, the Committee against Torture (CAT) expressed concern about the country’s practice of detaining migrants and asylum seekers and the lack of information about migrants detained at the detention and removal centre at St. John’s police station. The committee recommended that the “State party should refrain from detaining refugees, asylum seekers and undocumented migrants for prolonged periods, especially when they are not charged with any offence under the law; use detention only as a measure of last resort and for as short a period as possible; and promote alternatives to detention.”

Also in 2017, the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) said that while the country had established an ad hoc committee to deal with asylum, it remained concerned about the absence of legislation or a specific regulation governing asylum procedures, leaving refugee children vulnerable to trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation. The committee recommended that “the State party accede to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and establish referral mechanisms to ensure the proper identification and protection of victims of trafficking, especially unaccompanied children, and to provide victims of trafficking, including children, an effective opportunity to seek asylum.”

During its review for the second cycle of the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR), Antigua and Barbuda received numerous recommendations, including: to “establish a formal procedure to identify victims of trafficking, search for alternatives to the detention of the victims, and transfer them to the necessary services, including, when pertinent, the asylum procedure (Mexico) (para. 76.29)” and “consider acceding to all core United Nations human rights instruments, including the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (Indonesia) (para. 77.5).” In its submission for Antigua and Barbuda’s review for the second cycle of the UPR, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) encouraged the government “to pursue alternatives to detention for migration management, to ensure that any restriction on migrants’ freedom of movement is applied only under those circumstances where it is necessary, reasonable, and proportionate to the legitimate purpose achieved and justified by international law, and that any detention of migrants is neither arbitrary nor indefinite.”

Prison conditions are harsh due to inadequate sanitary conditions and overcrowding. The country’s only prison has a capacity of 150 people, but as of August 2020 it held 269. Overcrowding has created serious COVID-19 infection risks for the prisoners and the staff and the government reportedly failed to provide information regarding numbers of COVID-19 infections in the prison. On 22 March 2021, correctional officers staged a protest to highlight problems. Two weeks earlier, 34 prisoners tested positive for the virus two weeks prior to the protest and junior staff said they were being forced to work for more than 24 hours without the required protective gears while interacting with COVID-19 positive inmates.

10 April 2021

San Marino

Guaita Tower View, (TNT Magazine,
Guaita Tower View, (TNT Magazine, "San Marino's Only Prisoner Has a Private Library, Gym and TV Room," 26 April 2012, https://www.tntmagazine.com/news/weird/san-marinos-only-prisoner-has-a-private-library-gym-and-tv-room)
The microstate San Marino, located in a mountainous region close to Italy’s Adriatic coast and with a population of some 35,000, only slowly responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the International Organisation for Migration’s COVID-19 Travel Restriction Monitoring, San Marino did not implement travel restrictions until late 2020 and early 2021. As of 19 March 2021, entry into the country from areas outside of Italy and the Vatican City is subject to a negative PCR test or vaccine injection. Travels to and from orange and red zones in Italy are only allowed for work, health, and highly necessary reasons. There is also a night curfew and mask obligation in place.

The GDP has been unable to establish whether San Marino practices immigration-related detention. To date, the GDP has not identified any dedicated immigration removal facilities nor collected statistics related to immigration enforcement in the country. The country has not ratified the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, but allows for extraordinary residence permits to be given for humanitarian protection needs, and to victims of violence and/or trafficking.

In January 2020, the country only had two people in prison. Most people convicted of crimes in the state and sentenced to prison terms serve their sentences in Italian prisons. The country released its two inmates by 15 April 2020, however this was reportedly not a preventative measure related to COVID-19.

09 April 2021

Namibia

Osire Refugee Camp Entrance (Namibian Broadcasting Corporation,
Osire Refugee Camp Entrance (Namibian Broadcasting Corporation, "Mass COVID-19 Testing to be Carried Out at Osire Refugee Camp," 27 September 2020, https://www.nbc.na/news/mass-covid-19-testing-be-carried-out-osire-refugee-camp.36376)
Namibia, located in southwestern Africa and with a population of approximately 2.5 million, had recorded 44,374 COVID-19 cases and 528 related deaths as of 1 April 2021. The country appeared to avoid severe outbreaks of infection during the early months of the pandemic. However, the number of cases has continued to surge since mid-2020. At the time of this report, the country was awaiting vaccine doses from the COVAX scheme; it had already received donations from China (Sinopharm) and India (Covishield).

Namibia lacks important legal protections for refugees and migrant workers, leading to criticism from several regional and international human rights bodies. In 2021, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, in a submission to the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review, recommended that the country improve its management of refugees and migrant workers.

In 2017, the Committee against Torture (CAT) recommended that Namibia repeal section 24 (1) of its Refugees (Recognition and Control) Act of 1999. Repealing that provision, according to CAT, would help bring Nambia in line with its obligations to prohibit refoulement when there is a risk of torture.

In 2016, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed concern over restrictions on the freedom of movement of asylum seekers and refugees in the Osire refugee settlement. The settlement has existed since 1992 and hosts thousands of refugees from neighbouring countries. The camp was placed in lockdown and underwent mass COVID testing in mid-September 2020, after a surge in cases and turmoil sparked by the death of a DRC asylum seeker who had passed away due to COVID-19.

According to Namibian law, the Minister of Home Affairs may restrict the freedom of movement of recognised refugees, applicants, and their families. Recognised refugees and protected persons can also be arrested, detained, and deported if “it is in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of Namibia, national security, public order, decency or morality” (Section 24.1, Namibia Refugee Act 2). The Namibian government reportedly frequently detains migrants entering the country irregularly. In 2019, Namibia imprisoned 286 foreign citizens from Zambia, Angola, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Tanzania, and other countries. Many of these were imprisoned on immigration offenses, including 41 Zambians. More recently, in October 2020, 53 people (30 of whom were children) from DRC and Burundi were detained at the Katima Mulilo police station. According to one account, the “threat for detention increases for those seeking refugee status and asylum protection in Namibia” in the absence of “clear policies on refugee rights and access to information” (New Era, 27.11.2020).

In March 2021, some 900 Angolans crossed into Namibia without authorization driven by drought-related food and water shortages. Although the migrants do not appear to have been arrested or detained, they were only provided with open-air shelter that lacked sanitation. Conditions in jails and other places of detention have been described as poor, especially in pretrial holding cells, which are often overcrowded, have poor sanitation, lack medical provisions, and have frequent tuberculosis outbreaks (U.S. Department of State 2019).

The GDP was unable to establish whether parts of the prisoner population were released in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, new admissions were halted at some correctional facilities, such as Oluno. In order to combat the spread of the pandemic within correctional facilities, authorities made attempts to improve access to sanitary and hygiene items and services, increase awareness on the need of these practices, implement risk assessment and prevention schemes, prepared isolation stations, and introduced a specialised task force to monitor psychosocial well-being of isolated/quarantined detainees. The UN also helped to establish a soap production facility run by inmates at the Windhoek Facility. By November 2020, national media reported that correctional facilities were nearly cleared of infections, after 1,985 inmates and 610 officials were tested. In total, there had been around 600 positive cases in facilities all over the country.

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).