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.

We are eager to hear from our readers about developments in your countries. We have set up a brief online survey (available in multiple languages) to facilitate sharing of information, which can be accessed here: https://tinyurl.com/yb9c6n3w. You can also share news tips or information with us at: admin@globaldetentionproject.org.

Sign up to receive periodic updates from this platform here: https://mailchi.mp/251be33ed62d/gdp-covid19.

DATE COUNTRY UPDATE
07 August 2020

Poland

J. Plucinska and A. Koper, “Poland Reports Record Increase in COVID  Cases as Coal Mines Hit,” Reuters, 4 August 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-poland/poland-reports-record-increase-in-covid-cases-as-coal-mines-hit-idUSKCN25011C
J. Plucinska and A. Koper, “Poland Reports Record Increase in COVID Cases as Coal Mines Hit,” Reuters, 4 August 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-poland/poland-reports-record-increase-in-covid-cases-as-coal-mines-hit-idUSKCN25011C

Although the number of confirmed cases continues to rise in Poland, authorities have continued to refuse to issue a moratorium on new immigration detention orders (this was previously confirmed by the Polish Commissioner for Human Rights in early July, see 8 July update). According to an international organisation who asked to remain anonymous, but whose identity was verified by the GDP, some new measures have however been put in place, such as the extension of identity documents’ validity, and the release of some detainees when deportations could not be performed due to border closures. (Previously, in early July, the Border Guard had argued that the pandemic did not justify the release of non-citizens already in detention because their detention orders purportedly remained valid.) After undergoing quarantine, the international organisation confirmed that asylum seekers released from detention were placed in open reception facilities.

Reports elsewhere indicate that the number of deportations has been increasing recently. According to one media outlet, removals have affected families with children, elderly persons, and persons with disabilities or chronic illnesses.

With the numbers of confirmed cases rising in Poland, on 31 July it was announced that new restrictions may be imposed for certain parts of the country, as well as mandatory testing for returning travellers and quarantine for individuals coming from specific countries.


06 August 2020

Switzerland

M. Shields, “Switzerland Expands COVID-19 Quarantine watchlist,” Reuters, 22 July 2020, https://www.theguardian.pe.ca/news/world/switzerland-expands-covid-19-quarantine-watchlist-476185/
M. Shields, “Switzerland Expands COVID-19 Quarantine watchlist,” Reuters, 22 July 2020, https://www.theguardian.pe.ca/news/world/switzerland-expands-covid-19-quarantine-watchlist-476185/

As the GDP previously reported (see 27 June update), while Swiss authorities did not issue a moratorium on new detention orders during the pandemic, many immigration detainees were released due to the impossibility of conducting returns. This has been confirmed by Amnesty International Switzerland, which informed the GDP that some cantons declared a moratorium on administrative detention orders within the context of Dublin returns, and that some decided to release detainees who had been in immigration detention related to negative Dublin-decisions. According to the rights watchdog, released asylum seekers were placed in “very basic” structures, “where more or less appropriate measures against Covid-19 have been taken (information, distribution of soap, separation of infected people…, depending on the canton and on the responsible persons for the camps).”

Regarding deportations, there was no general policy implemented. Switzerland’s official position has been that individual case assessments are taken to decide whether a deportation is executable within a reasonable time frame.

Immigration detainees are not under specific measures regarding testing, and are subjected to the same regime as the rest of the country, Amnesty reported. Tests are being conducted only on individuals showing one or more Covid-19 symptoms. With the closing of most borders, asylum applications at the borders have no longer been accepted. Emergency measures have been taken regarding the domestic asylum procedures, such as the opening of new shelters to avoid overcrowding.

As Covid-19 cases declined, borders were reopened to members of the Schengen zone. Switzerland has implemented mandatory quarantine for travelers entering the country from a list of several dozen territories and countries, including recently Spain. Individuals who do not follow quarantine rules face a 10,000 Swiss franc fine. Most of the restrictions in the country were lifted in June, with schools and shops reopening.


05 August 2020

Saudi Arabia

New York Times, “Ethiopian Workers are Forced to Return Home, Some with Coronavirus,” 1 August 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/01/world/africa/ethiopian-migrant-workers-coronavirus.html
New York Times, “Ethiopian Workers are Forced to Return Home, Some with Coronavirus,” 1 August 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/01/world/africa/ethiopian-migrant-workers-coronavirus.html

Although the UN urged Saudi Arabia to cease deportations in April, Riyadh has continued the practice throughout the pandemic. Since March, 2,870 Ethiopian migrant workers have been deported and Ethiopian officials have reported that as of the end of July, some 927 of these deportees were infected with the virus (although the true number is believed to be much higher.) In a country that has ill-equipped medical facilities and few medical resources in rural areas, the high numbers of cases amongst deportees is raising significant concerns. (For more on Saudi’s deportations, see 14 April update.)

Many of those deported have previously been held in overcrowded facilities such as Al Shumaysi Detention Centre--an enormous complex that can hold up to 32,000 persons. Detainees in this facility are held in bunk-bed filled halls, which confine up to 80 persons. As one detainee reported to the Guardian, “We are packed as animals. We sleep on metal beds with no mattress, no proper sanitation. … We drink water from the toilet If you have money you can buy clean water. If you don’t have any, you just take dirty water from the toilet.” Noting the dangers that squalid conditions such as these can pose on confined populations, Human Rights Watch has urged Saudi authorities to release detainees and take steps to reform its detention policies.

In June, the country’s Interior Ministry announced that migrant workers found violating quarantine restrictions in the country (such as gathering in groups of more than five persons) would face fines of up to 200,000 SAR (approximately 53,000 USD), deportation, and a life-long re-entry ban.


04 August 2020

Yemen

New York Times, “African Migrants in Yemen Scapegoated for Coronavirus Outbreak,” 28 June 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/28/world/middleeast/coronavirus-yemen-african-migrants.html
New York Times, “African Migrants in Yemen Scapegoated for Coronavirus Outbreak,” 28 June 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/28/world/middleeast/coronavirus-yemen-african-migrants.html

Although it has been devastated by ongoing civil war and famine, Yemen has continued to serve as an important migrant and refugee transit country--with many people often enduring torture, rape, and extortion, as well crossfire and airstrikes. In 2019, the IOM estimated that some 138,000 migrants departed from the Horn of Africa to Yemen in the hope of finding jobs as housekeepers, servants, and construction workers in oil-rich neighbouring Saudi Arabia.

During the pandemic however, thousands of migrants have found themselves stranded in the country, witnessing growing anti-migrant sentiment and stigmatised as carriers of the virus. Unable to leave the country, more than 14,000 (the majority of whom are Ethiopians) have been rounded and forcibly moved away from urban centres (although it remains unclear whether these round-ups were conducted by Iran-allied Houthi rebels or Saudi-backed government forces). Many are reported to have been abandoned in empty buildings or forced to live on the streets, while others have been confined in detention facilities where they face overcrowding, lack of access to medical services, and inadequate food provision.

Others have reportedly been shot by Houthi militia in an attempt to force migrants out of the area they control--with some forced across the border into Saudi Arabia, where they have also subsequently faced arrest, detention, and deportation (see 14 April update on Saudi Arabia). At one point in April, humanitarian organisations estimated that some 20,000 migrants had been abandoned in “slaughter valleys” along the Yemen-Saudi border, with no food, water, or aid.


03 August 2020

Senegal

A member of the Senegalese graffiti collective
A member of the Senegalese graffiti collective "RBS CREW" paints an informational mural advising how to stop the spread of coronavirus: Human Rights Watch, "Waiting for the Storm: The Coronavirus in Africa," 3 April 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/04/03/waiting-storm-coronavirus-africa

Senegal does not operate a dedicated immigration detention facility, according to information provided by the country’s Ombudsperson (Senegal’s Human Rights Committee, or SHRC). However, SHRC informed the GDP that a network of NGOs has launched a campaign to protect the rights of refugees, asylum seekers, and any other displaced persons during the pandemic. The coalition--which is made up of the Pan-African NGO for Sustainable Development Education, the Senegalese Social Forum, and partners from the Migration and Development Network--seeks to provide refugees and asylum seekers with food and hygiene products, and to encourage decision makers to take into account the rights of migrants and refugees in all response and resilience plans throughout the pandemic.

According to UNHCR, in 2019 there were 37,554 people of concern within the country. Although Senegalese law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, the country’s President must approve each case causing delays of many years. Moreover according to refugee advocates, the government rarely grants refugee status or asylum, but generally allows those with pending applications, and some who have been rejected, to remain in the country. According to the U.S State Department (2019), “Police did not arrest denied asylum seekers for staying illegally in the country. Police did arrest asylum seekers if they committed crimes, but authorities generally contacted UNHCR in such cases to verify their asylum status and ensure they deported no one with a pending claim.”


02 August 2020

Croatia

Border Violence Monitoring Network, “They Stamped on his Leg, Causing it to Break,” 14 July 2020, https://www.borderviolence.eu/violence-reports/july-14-2020-0000-near-vinkovci-croatia/
Border Violence Monitoring Network, “They Stamped on his Leg, Causing it to Break,” 14 July 2020, https://www.borderviolence.eu/violence-reports/july-14-2020-0000-near-vinkovci-croatia/

Visits by Croatia’s National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) are currently suspended, impairing access to data and information relating to immigration detention and removal measures. As such, when the GDP contacted the country’s Ombudsperson’s office requesting information pertaining to immigration detention practices during the pandemic, the office instead recommended contacting the country’s Interior Ministry to obtain relevant information. To-date, however, the GDP has not received a response from the ministry.

As the GDP reported in June (see 22 June update), Croatian police have reportedly engaged in violent border pushbacks of migrants and asylum seekers during the Covid-19 crisis. Although the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants and the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment have both condemned these actions, the Border Violence Monitoring Network continued to report similar episodes throughout July. On 16 July, for instance, Croatian border police apprehended a group of five male Afghan refugees aged between 16 and 30 at the Batrovci-Bajakovo border crossing. Forced to line up along the side of the road, the group was allegedly kicked, punched, and slapped, and their heads were slammed against a wall. They were eventually returned to Serbia. On another occasion, a 42-year-old Tunisian man was allegedly apprehended in a field near Vinkovci, forced to sit at gunpoint; robbed of 1600 EUR, his mobile phone, and backpack; handcuffed; and driven towards the Serbian border where a border officer stamped on his leg - breaking the bone.


31 July 2020

Ireland

Skellig Star residents, Locked Inside the Centre During Quarantine, (CNN,
Skellig Star residents, Locked Inside the Centre During Quarantine, (CNN, "Amid the Pandemic, a Group of Asylum Seekers was moved to a small, rural Irish town. Then they started testing positive for Covid-19," 16 June 2020, https://edition.cnn.com/2020/06/16/europe/ireland-asylum-direct-provision-coronavirus-intl/index.html)

In an email exchange with the Global Detention Project, UNHCR Ireland reported that to their knowledge, deportations and removals had been suspended in light of the Covid-19 crisis. The International Protection Office was still functioning throughout the pandemic and applications were being accepted. However, the number of new applicants had decreased because of fewer arrivals. Applications for international protection at the borders and airports were also being accepted.

In responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, NASC, the Migrant and Refugee Rights Centre, reported that Ireland had not established a moratorium on new immigration detention orders and no immigration detainees had been released due to the pandemic. Moreover, according to NASC, immigration detainees are not treated separately to the general prison population (see also the 25 March Ireland update on this platform). Visits to prisons were restricted and new staffing routines were put in place. No Covid-19 cases have been reported among the prison population in Ireland for the time being.

NASC confirmed that deportations and removals had been suspended due to the pandemic and that there had been an increase in the number of persons denied entry at the border. All immigration permits that were due to expire from 20 March to 20 July, were automatically renewed for a period of two months and those expiring from 20 July to 20 August, were extended for one month (see 16 April Ireland update on this platform). This is due to the fact that no visa applications were processed or issued, save for certain priority categories from 20 March to 20 July.

Designated centres were put in place to allow asylum seekers to self-isolate if diagnosed with the virus (see the 29 April Ireland update on this platform). There were a certain number of outbreaks in some asylum seekers accommodation centres, and these centres were completely locked down to control the spread of the disease.


30 July 2020

Bahrain

Sign Prohibiting Visitors from Entering a Migrant Camp in Bahrain, (Migrant-Rights,
Sign Prohibiting Visitors from Entering a Migrant Camp in Bahrain, (Migrant-Rights, "We are All Going to Die Here: 150 Workers from Orlando Construction Company in Bahrain, Victims of Wage-Theft, Now Contend with Covid-19 Infections," 26 June 2020, https://www.migrant-rights.org/2020/06/we-are-all-going-to-die-here/)

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s request to complete our Covid-19 survey, Bahrain’s National Institution for Human Rights (NIHR) provided a document detailing its role and actions during the coronavirus pandemic. The NIHR’s Committee on Detention & Facilities Visitation, convened on 28 May, affirmed the importance of continuing its visits to correction, rehabilitation, shelter and health and social care centres and houses during the pandemic to ensure compliance with the directives issued regarding preventive and precautionary measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The committee also stated the importance of working to find an appropriate mechanism to monitor the conditions of migrant workers in light of the current exceptional conditions, to ensure the availability of services provided to them.

The NIHR reported that on 19 April they communicated with some expatriate workers, examining their living conditions in isolation, treatment and precautionary quarantine centres and ensured that they enjoy safety, cleanliness and healthcare in accordance with established standards. The NIHR praised the measures taken by the Kingdom of Bahrain in order to provide an appropriate environment for expatriate workers.

Despite efforts from part of the Kingdom of Bahrain to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on migrant workers, up to 90 percent of active cases of Covid-19 in the country were in migrant work camps due to their dense population and lack of resources. The government implemented various measures to curb the spread of Covid-19. Their initial response was to relocate 8,011 individuals out of camps and into several different buildings, including closed schools, to reduce overcrowding. The government pledged to cover migrant workers’ medical expenses and to distribute 30,000 hot meals a day to workers seeking food. Even though IOM applauded Bahrain’s response to Covid-19 in migrant camps, new cases have continued to mount, with 654 confirmed cases on 8 June alone. Nonetheless, testing has reportedly become a priority for the government and Bahrain has also said it has imported more than 100 tons of medical equipment from China and India to increase its mitigation efforts.

On 26 June, Migrant-Rights.org reported that some 150 workers from a construction company had not been paid for three to six months, and that workers, mainly from India and Bangladesh, were struggling to survive in a dilapidated camp without food and income. With three workers testing positive for the disease, the situation had become precarious and two people were transferred to a quarantine facility in Sitra and another isolated in a separate room in the labour camp in Tubli, along with other workers who have shown symptoms. However, although workers have been allocated separate toilets and rooms, they still share the same cooking and dining space, exposing the rest of them to infection. In June 2018, the workers had lodged a complaint at the Ministry of Labour with assistance of social workers and while some wages were retrieved, the company has since reverted to only paying one month’s worth of wages every two to three months. Yet, the company reportedly has faced no repercussions, reflecting Bahrain’s weak regulatory framework. Workers appear to be growing desperate; one Indian worker told Migrants-Rights: “I have been sitting in my room for six months waiting for my salary to go back home, nobody is helping us, and now inside we have corona also. We are all going to die here.”

NIHR indicated that they had visited the Jaw Correction and Rehabilitation Centre on 7 April to review the human rights conditions and medical care provided to inmates in light of the precautionary measures taken by the administration to limit the spread of Covid-19. Ms. Maria Khoury, Chairperson of the NIHR, said: “I’d like to confirm that (the centre) complies with international standards recommended by the WHO for prevention of spread of Coronavirus among the inmates, and that there is a medical staff that provides the necessary medical care and services.” She also added that there were no infections among inmates. In addition, during a seminar organised by the OHCHR Regional Office for the Middle East and North Africa on the effect of Covid-19 on trafficking in persons, the Director General of IOM, Mr. Antonio Vitorino, praised the efforts of the Kingdom of Bahrain in correcting the situation of 17,000 irregular migrant workers as one of the best international practices to deal with the Covid-19 crisis.


30 July 2020

Libya

A Refugee's Bed in a Shared Room Where He Sleeps with 9 Other People in January 2020, (G. Piscitelli,
A Refugee's Bed in a Shared Room Where He Sleeps with 9 Other People in January 2020, (G. Piscitelli, "Conflict and Covid-19 Adds Up to A crisis in Libya," MSF, 2 June 2020, https://www.msf.org/conflict-and-covid-19-adds-crisis-libya)

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, an official from an international organisation, verified by the GDP, reported that no moratorium had been established in the country and that no immigration detainees had been released as a result of the pandemic (see 15 May Libya update on this platform). According to the official, authorities have not established any mechanisms or systems to protect people in case of release. UNHCR, however, has put protocols in place, following WHO recommendations and in coordination with health partners and counterparts, in order to address the Covid-19 situation and ensure the continuation of activities in the protection of refugees and asylum-seekers.

The source also said that immigration detainees were not routinely tested for Covid-19 and that deportations had not been suspended. The country has closed certain airports and increased monitoring at the borders, but no specific policies or laws have been adopted.

On 15 June, UNHCR and WFP launched a joint programme to provide emergency food aid to refugees and asylum-seekers living in the urban community in Tripoli, aiming to reach 10,000 individuals this year. As of 18 June, 4,551 refugees and migrants had been registered as rescued/intercepted at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard and disembarked in Libya. On 17 June, two disembarkation operations took place during which 320 individuals were returned to Tripoli. UNHCR and its partner, the International Rescue Committee, were present to provide urgent medical assistance and core relief items, before individuals were transferred to detention centres by the Libyan authorities. According to UNHCR, there are 48,834 registered refugees and asylum-seekers in Libya and 231 have been released from detention in 2020.

MSF has stated that they are particularly concerned about the situation of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in detention, those in urban settings, and those in need of evacuation/resettlement. MSF indicated that the 1,500 people currently held in detention centres across Libya are being detained in overcrowded conditions with poor access to food, adequate water, hygiene, and no actual possibilities for physical distancing. Those migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers living in urban settings are living in precarious conditions and are at risk of arbitrary arrest and detention, trafficking, and exploitation.

UNHCR and IOM have suspended refugee resettlement departures and evacuations out of Libya, leaving the most vulnerable stranded. Due to border closures and the suspension of repatriation, evacuation, and resettlement, the only option out of Libya is via the sea.

MSF is providing medical and humanitarian assistance to migrants and refugees in one detention centre in Tripoli as others have been emptied or closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the escalating conflict. In Misrata and the Central Region, MSF teams are inter alia, distributing nutrition supplements and hygiene kits to refugees and migrants arbitrarily held in detention centres in Souk Al-Khamis, Zliten, and Dhar El-Jebel. The teams are also providing Covid-19 related training to staff in Zliten, Misrate, Khoms, Yefren, and Bani Walid as well as reinforcing infection prevention and control measures in detention centres.

On 7 April, the Libyan Ministry of Justice announced that “in order to prevent infections of the coronavirus pandemic and reduce overcrowding inside correction and rehabilitation facilities, the process to release those who are detained pending investigations and trials continues.” By the end of March, 1,347 detainees had been released from correction and rehabilitation facilities throughout several cities in the country. The Ministry also announced that health care units would continue to distribute a number of medical and preventive equipment to prisons and rehabilitation centres in Tripoli, including hand sterilisers and disinfectants.

On 2 June, the Embassy of the United States in Libya announced that the U.S. government committed an additional $6.5 million in support of Libya’s Covid-19 response, which includes helping municipalities formalise their crisis response functions, develop emergency management plans and train teams in crisis emergency response. The embassy stated that this additional support would also help increase public awareness and provide assistance to migrants and refugees in Libya during the pandemic.


29 July 2020

Germany

Two Refugees Standing at the Fence of the Suhl Refugee Reception Centre, (Ingmar Björn Nolting, DOCKS Collective,
Two Refugees Standing at the Fence of the Suhl Refugee Reception Centre, (Ingmar Björn Nolting, DOCKS Collective, "A German Photographer Captures Ordinary People Adapting to Life Under Lockdown," Time, 30 April 2020, https://time.com/5829215/germany-coronavirus-crisis-photos/)

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, the German National Agency for the Prevention of Torture, which acts as National Preventive Mechanism (NPM), reported that the country had not implemented a moratorium on immigration detention orders after the onset of the pandemic; however, some detainees had been released as a consequence of the crisis, in particular because of the grounding of removal flights. The NPM also said that only Niedersachsen, Hamburg, and Nordrhein-Westfalen were testing detainees for Covid-19. In addition, they reported that extensive protection and hygiene measures have been introduced in all detention facilities. The staff and immigration detainees were all informed about measures such as social distancing. Only in Niedersachsen’s Hannover detention centre do staff members have to wear mouth and nose protection. The NPM mentioned that new detainees are separated from others for two weeks and placed in quarantine.

As regards deportations, the NPM said that the decision to which countries removals take place to are left to the Länder. Deportations were never completely suspended in Germany, but largely reduced (see 17 July Germany update on this platform).

On 1 July, Germany’s Development Minister, Gerd Müller, said that Germany may see a new “wave of refugees” from poorer countries due to the pandemic. He announced that Germany has earmarked €3 billion for aid to developing countries. In addition, on the day Germany assumed presidency of the Council of the European Union, Müller also criticised the EU budget assigned for aid to developing countries and urged that more aid be provided: “The EU has only assigned €1 billion per year to Africa. ... This is blatantly inadequate. ... That is not the way to overcome future problems to do with the pandemic, climate change and economic recovery for the rapidly rising African population. ... That’s why I am calling for a €50 billion ‘Recovery and Stabilisation’ program from the EU.”

The country’s prisons have largely been spared from Covid-19 and it was only on 14 July that the first prisoner tested positive for the disease in Saxe-Anhalt, shortly after his arrival. Upon arrival, he was placed in quarantine in the medical department of the Burg correctional facility. Despite being asymptomatic, he tested positive for the virus a few days later.


28 July 2020

Sierra Leone

Security Forces Surrounding Pademba Prison in Freetown After a Riot Broke Out, (Cooper Inveen, Reuters,
Security Forces Surrounding Pademba Prison in Freetown After a Riot Broke Out, (Cooper Inveen, Reuters, "Riot Breaks Out in Coronavirus-Struck Prison in Sierra Leone," Al-Jazeera, 29 April 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/04/riot-breaks-coronavirus-struck-prison-sierra-leone-200429141126471.html)

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, an official from an international organisation, verified by the GDP, reported that in Sierra Leone, immigration detainees had not been released from detention and have not been tested for Covid-19. In addition, the source mentioned that the IOM assisted voluntary return and reintegration program had been suspended for the time being, and so no returns were conducted. However, the country’s international airport reopened commercial flights on 22 July. All Africa reported that in preparing for re-opening the airport, the aviation sector, public health authorities, and partners, such as WHO and IOM, are working closely to mitigate the risk of transmission of Covid-19 among passengers as well as staff and service providers at the facility. The country has not implemented policy changes, but the official said that migrants had been stopped from entering the country at the borders.

According to a mid-April UNHCR report on West & Central Africa, due to Covid-19, Sierra Leone has closed its borders but persons still have access to asylum registration. While freedom of movement has been suspended in the country, persons of concern to the UNHCR reportedly have access to health services.

As regards the country’s prisons, on 17 June, authorities reported that 30 detainees contracted the disease at the Pademba Road prison after the arrival of a new prisoner. Prisoners were reportedly left without adequate water supply for 10 days in June which meant that they could not wash their hands or flush toilets. Prisoners were forced to urinate and defecate inside cell toilets and then forced to sleep in those cells without fresh air. At the end of April, a riot broke out in Pademba Prison and 7 persons died, including 5 prisoners and 2 staff members. Authorities have described the riot as an escape attempt. Le Figaro reported that the riot broke out after the announcement by the Minister of Justice that one of the prisons’ detainees had tested positive for Covid-19.


28 July 2020

Chile

Peruvian Migrants Camping Outside the Peruvian Embassy in Santiago, (Coordinadora Nacional de Inmigrantes de Chile,
Peruvian Migrants Camping Outside the Peruvian Embassy in Santiago, (Coordinadora Nacional de Inmigrantes de Chile, "El Drama de los Inmigrantes Sudamericanos Varados en Chile a Causa del Coronavirus," Agencia Andalou, 8 June 2020, https://www.aa.com.tr/es/mundo/el-drama-de-los-inmigrantes-sudamericanos-varados-en-chile-a-causa-del-coronavirus/1869632)

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, a government official, verified by the GDP, reported that in Chile, immigration detention is solely used to conduct deportations of administrative or criminal detainees. Faced with border closures due to the Covid-19 crisis, the governmental source said that they were not aware of any deportations taking place and in consequence, no detention orders had been pronounced either. The Ministry of Interior, however, has indicated that administrative deportations would soon restart and in this sense, it is likely that administrative detention would resume.

The source also said that they were unaware of any detainees being released from administrative detention or any measures taken to assist people following release. In addition, no information regarding the testing of detainees was provided by the source. Chile’s borders were closed due to the pandemic, but certain non-citizens were able to leave the country, in coordination with third countries’ consulates.

Agencia Andalou reported that at the start of June, 750 Bolivian, 300 Peruvian, and 200 Colombian nationals had been camping in front of their national consulates for more than a week. These people have been urging their countries to let them return as they have been left stranded and jobless due to border closures and Covid-19. Although Chilean authorities have managed to set-up temporary shelters to protect migrants from the cold, these are now overcrowded and several Covid-19 cases have now been reported amongst migrants. Chile’s Foreign Minister, Teodoro Ribera, stated that he had been in contact with the foreign ministries of other countries urging them to assist their citizens and allow them to return home. The Peruvian government has asked its nationals in Chile to avoid travelling back until a humanitarian flight is organised. Bolivia thanked Chile for its hospitality and said that nearly 700 Bolivian nationals had been repatriated from Santiago in recent weeks. The Colombian government announced that a plane would be sent to Chile to bring back around 200 of its nationals.

On the other hand, the situation for Venezuelan migrants is slightly different. According to the organisation of American States (OAS), Chile is the third country with most Venezuelan migrants and refugees, with 455,494 Venezuelan nationals in the country, representing 30.5 percent of the foreign population. It has been estimated that around 4,000 Venezuelans are seeking to return to their country, but the Chilean government said that for this to be possible, Venezuela had to open its borders. Although most of these Venezuelan nationals have been accommodated in temporary hostels, after weeks of waiting at the door of their embassy, many of them have now been contaminated with Covid-19, and a Venezuelan national died on 2 June, while waiting for his test results.

As regards the country’s prisons, on 17 June, the police (Gendarmeria) reported that 572 detainees and 769 staff tested positive for Covid-19. By the same date, 5 prisoners and 1 staff member had died from the virus. By July, several prisons around the country, including the Tocopilla, La Gonzalina, and Aysén prison have now had many cases of Covid-19.


27 July 2020

Costa Rica

Centro de Aprehensión Temporal para Extranjeros en Condición Irregular, in San José, (
Centro de Aprehensión Temporal para Extranjeros en Condición Irregular, in San José, ("Centro de Aprehensión Temporal para Extranjeros en Condición Irregular (CATECI) (previously Centro de Aseguramiento para Extranjeros en Transito)," Global Detention Project, https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/americas/costa-rica/detention-centres/120/centro-de-aprehension-temporal-para-extranjeros-en-condicion-irregular-cateci-previously-centro-de-aseguramiento-para-extranjeros-en-transito)

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, Costa Rica’s immigration authority (Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería) reported that during the Covid-19 crisis, immigration police (Dirección de la Policía Profesional de Migración) put in place distinct measures for non-citizens apprehended for administrative reasons. Instead of extending detention measures during the pandemic, non-citizens were required to periodically report to police stations. Costa Rica’s immigration authority reported that the immigration police orders the administrative apprehension of a non-citizens in cases where their record demonstrates a risk for security and public order, in accordance with the Law on Migration and Aliens N°8764 (Ley General de Migración y Extranjería número 8764), or if it considers that the person will seek to evade a deportation order.

After the declaration of the state of emergency on 16 March, the immigration authority issued various protocols and guidelines endorsed by the Ministry of Health for the prevention and care of Covid-19 cases, adapting spaces for isolation and training police personnel. Also, protocols seeking to prevent outbreaks of the disease were implemented, including the use of hygiene products such as disinfectants, soap, deep cleaning, and taking non-citizens’ temperature systematically. The Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería also reported that the immigration detention centre in San José, Centro de Aprehensión Regional Central de la Policía Profesional de Migración, where non-citizens who have committed administrative offences or those that are to be deported are held, was staffed with healthcare professionals and if persons had any Covid-19 symptoms, they were transferred to the closest health centre.

Regarding deportations, the immigration authority indicated that these were still being conducted despite the pandemic, albeit only by land and consequently, only to Nicaragua and Panama, where authorities continued receiving their nationals. Deportations to other countries have been temporarily suspended while arrangements are being made through diplomatic channels with other countries’ authorities such as El Salvador, Honduras, and Colombia.

Moreover, while the immigration authority’s offices were temporarily closed from 17 March to 17 May 2020, and closure has since been extended, non-citizens that arrive in Costa Rica may nonetheless apply for asylum at a border post. As soon as the person states that they wish to apply for international protection, staff from the Refuge Unit are dispatched to the relevant border post to carry out the process. The applicant then undergoes the same process as any other would, but in an expedited manner. Through an agreement with UNHCR, the applicant is accommodated in a hotel in the area, while the procedure for determining refugee status is carried out.


27 July 2020

Montenegro

Prison Staff Receive Protective and Hygiene Equipment from part of EU and CoE, (Council of Europe,
Prison Staff Receive Protective and Hygiene Equipment from part of EU and CoE, (Council of Europe, "Montenegrin prison system receives protective equipment to address COVID-19 crisis," 24 April 2020, https://www.coe.int/en/web/podgorica/-/montenegrin-prison-system-receives-protective-equipment-to-address-covid-19-crisis)

According to an international organisation official, verified by the GDP, Montenegro has not established a moratorium on new immigration detention orders and there have been no releases of immigration detainees. While immigration detainees are reportedly tested for Covid-19, deportations have not been halted.

The official also reported that access to the country and to the asylum procedure were suspended from March to June 2020. Asylum seekers in the Centre for Reception of Foreigners Seeking International Protection, located in Spuz, have been placed in quarantine. Although the situation returned to normal by 8 June, admission to the Reception centre was only allowed following 14 days in quarantine and a negative Covid-19 test. The official also informed the GDP that another asylum facility will soon be opened close to the border with Albania, and will have a capacity of 60 beds.

Regarding the country’s prisons, on 24 April, the European Union and the Council of Europe donated 2,000 masks, 50 liters of disinfectants, and 10 dispensers to Montenegro’s prison administration. By 9 July, two staff members at the Spusk prison had tested positive for the disease; nine inmates and 21 staff members were placed in isolation. No Covid-19 cases have been detected thus far amongst the prison population.


24 July 2020

Norway

Trandum Detention Centre in 2016, (NTB Scanpix,
Trandum Detention Centre in 2016, (NTB Scanpix, "Norway to End Accommodation of Asylum Families at Detention Centre," The Local, 29 December 2017, https://www.thelocal.no/20171229/norwegian-police-to-end-accommodation-of-asylum-families-at-detention-centre)

According to the Norwegian Parliamentary Ombudsperson (Sivilombudsmannen), responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, Norwegian authorities did not impose a moratorium on new immigration detention orders due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the National Police Immigration Service (NPIS) limited the number of immigration detention orders due to the reduced capacity at the police immigration detention centre, mainly caused by the implementation of infection control measures and the cancellation of scheduled returns and deportations. They also reported that the capacity of the immigration detention centre (presumably the Trandum facility near Oslo international airport, Norway’s only dedicated immigration detention centre) has been increased, and each case is therefore assessed individually according to specific criteria in order to decide if a migrant is to be placed in detention or not.

The Ombudsperson confirmed that persons have been released from immigration detention due to the pandemic, as mentioned in previous updates (see 25 April Norway update on this platform). However, no generalised criteria have been established and cases are assessed individually to determine if the legal conditions are still in place for keeping a person in detention pursuant to the Immigration Act. For instance, in some instances, decisions to release immigration detainees were made in order to avoid exceeding the legal time frames for detention provided in the Immigration Act. These cases arose due to flight cancellations and general travel restrictions due to Covid-19.

Upon release, immigration detainees are checked for any Covid-19 symptoms. No further measures are taken apart from encouraging released detainees to follow infection control advice and recommendations provided by the Norwegian government. Within immigration detention, all new arrivals are tested for the disease. Detainees are first placed in a separate quarantine section of the centre, in which they remain until they have been tested and receive a negative result (see 25 April Norway update on this platform). According to NPIS, testing takes place upon arrival and results are normally provided within 24 hours. Non-nationals transferred to the immigration detention centre directly from another prison or detention facility who are free of any Covid-19 related symptoms are not tested. So far, the Ombudsperson reported that no detainees have tested positive at the imigration detention centre.

The majority of accompanied forcible returns have been halted temporarily due to challenges caused by the pandemic, such as closed borders, flight cancellations, issues with transit countries, and safety of the accompanying personnel. A small number of unaccompanied forcible returns were still carried out; however, the amount of rescheduled and cancelled flights has also made these difficult to conduct. There is no list of “approved” countries for deportation but rather continuous assessments are conducted based on developments in the countries. Generally however, countries to which deportation flights were arranged had been determined, following a risk assessment, to be safe for a migrant to travel unaccompanied and where the flight itinerary avoided any transit issues. NPIS has carried out a very limited number of accompanied forcible returns in certain high priority areas. The Ombudsperson did not provide further details in this regard.

In response to the pandemic, Norway adopted several new policies and regulations for immigration and border control. The Ombudsperson indicated that these have mostly consisted of interim acts, regulations and circulars relating to entry restrictions for non-nationals out of concern for public health. For example, limitations to the right of entry of non-nationals who would otherwise be legally entitled to enter Norway under the Immigration Act, when this is necessary to safeguard public health in connection with the outbreak of Covid-19; as well as exemptions from these restrictions for certain groups of non-nationals, including those seeking asylum. As regards border control measures, temporary entry and exit controls have been introduced at the internal Schengen border.


24 July 2020

Russian Federation

Uzbek Nationals Waiting Outside Vnukovo International Airport in Moscow Hoping to Buy Tickets for an Evacuation Flight, (Sergey Ponomarev,
Uzbek Nationals Waiting Outside Vnukovo International Airport in Moscow Hoping to Buy Tickets for an Evacuation Flight, (Sergey Ponomarev, "For Migrants in Russia, Virus Means No Money to Live and No Way to Leave," New York Times, 15 June 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/15/world/europe/russia-coronavirus-migrant-workers.html)

Since issuing a moratorium on new detention orders on 18 April (Decree of the President of Russia No.2745) (see 18 April update), Russia has reportedly not issued any new detention orders. This was confirmed by the Civic Assistance Committee and Memorial in a GDP survey on 21 July. The organisations also noted that some foreign nationals awaiting deportation have been released – including 125 people who were released following successful petitions by the two organisations. Of the 253 cases presented by the organisations, those who were granted release were foreign nationals and stateless persons who were able to stay with Russian citizens or who owned property in the country. (Despite important legal rulings such as that of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Kim v Russia (2014), which called on Russia to take steps to protect stateless persons against detention, Russia continues to detain this vulnerable population. Once released, they are not issued documents that allow them to legally reside in Russia, leaving them vulnerable to re-detention.)

The Civic Assistance Committee and Memorial also note that deportations to countries such as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan—both important migrant-sending countries—have been temporarily halted.

Russia has long been home to large numbers of migrant workers—with a significant proportion hailing from Central Asia. Earning considerably less than Russian citizens, many are forced to live in overcrowded dormitories, which police have locked down if just one resident contracts the virus. During the pandemic, some 40 percent are reported to have permanently lost their jobs, leaving them reliant upon NGO and embassy assistance. With flights suspended, many have been forced to wait in airports or queue outside their embassies in the hope of a charter flight back to their country of origin. According to the New York Times, prior to the pandemic more than 15 flights left each day to various cities in Uzbekistan, but as of 15 June there were only two charter flights a week and the Uzbek embassy’s waiting list included more than 80,000 names.


23 July 2020

Greece

Refugees and Migrants Wearing Masks Wait to Get on a Bus After Their Arrival at the Port of Piraeus on 4 May 2020, (Petros Giannakouris, AP Photo,
Refugees and Migrants Wearing Masks Wait to Get on a Bus After Their Arrival at the Port of Piraeus on 4 May 2020, (Petros Giannakouris, AP Photo, "Two Migrants Test Positive for Covid-19 in Overcrowded Greek Camp," EuroNews, 14 May 2020, https://www.euronews.com/2020/05/13/two-migrants-test-positive-for-covid-19-in-overcrowded-greek-camp)

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, an official from an international organisation said that in Greece no moratorium on new immigration detention orders had been established but that new arrests and detention orders were reduced beginning from late March to mid-May. Since the end of May, the issuing of detention orders has gradually increased, reaching pre-lockdown numbers.

The official also reported that limited numbers of persons were gradually released from pre-removal detention centres (PRDCs) and police stations on the basis of age and vulnerability as well as their overall health condition (see 18 June Greece update on this platform). Yet, the legal basis of the release decisions did not make direct reference to Covid-19, nor were “alternatives to detention” programmes (ATD) employed. No specific measures are being taken to prevent the spread of the infection or to ensure appropriate care for persons released from detention.

According to the source, information on preventive measures against Covid-19 was gradually provided to detainees in PRDCs, with a significant number of released persons having received such information while in detention. But there has not been generalised Covid-19 testing for immigration detainees, despite police authorities in some locations having expressed their intention to do so.

As of 19 March, police authorities gradually restricted access to PRDCs. Transfer to these centres from police stations or other PRDCs have also been gradually reduced. According to the police, emergency cases, including those with Covid-19 symptoms, were exceptionally transferred to the hospital upon communication with the Hellenic National Public Health Organisation (EODY). Although Greece lifted some lockdown measures in May, other measures were still imposed in reception and identification centres as of June (see 18 June Greece update on this platform). While specific areas were made available for infected detainees, the capacity of medical staff in PRDCs remained very limited. Gradually, information on Covid-19 (including EODY material) was provided to detainees through Medical Units S.A., the actor providing medical services in PRDCs where available. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has donated to the police authorities (primarily to PRDCs and certain police facilities), cleaning and hygiene material.

The official stated that returns had been suspended to all countries from mid-March to May 2020. Returns on the basis of the EU-Turkey agreement have still not resumed as of July 2020, but returns of Turkish nationals under the EU-Turkey readmission agreement have gradually resumed since mid-May.

Apart from the suspension of returns from mid-March to May, the Asylum Service and Appeals’ Authority was suspended, and thus all administrative procedures were postponed, including asylum interviews (see 18 June Greece update on this platform). The authorities’ functions resumed in May. In addition, new arrivals were placed in 14 day quarantine, while the restriction of movement of third country nationals residing in all types of reception facilities throughout the country, was extended (for the seventh time) until 2 August 2020, from 21 March, on the basis of the protection of public health, despite the fact that the last restrictions of movement for the general population were lifted on 25 May.

As previously reported on this platform (18 June Greece update), facilities on the islands of Lesvos, Samos, Chios, Kos, and Leros have been criticised for their overcrowding, poor material living conditions, and insufficient service provision. Despite 3,000 people being transferred out of the camps in mid-April, the facilities remain severely overcrowded, with 31,203 persons registered as living in the camps, as of 9 June, sharing only some 6,095 places.


23 July 2020

Georgia

Georgian Servicemen Inspects Cars and People at an Entrance to the Town of Marneuli, some 40 km from the capital of Tbilisi, on 23 March, (Zurab Kurtsikidze, EFE,
Georgian Servicemen Inspects Cars and People at an Entrance to the Town of Marneuli, some 40 km from the capital of Tbilisi, on 23 March, (Zurab Kurtsikidze, EFE, "Georgia’s furious fight against COVID-19," Euractiv, 24 March 2020, https://www.euractiv.com/section/eastern-europe/news/georgias-furious-fight-against-covid-19/)

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Georgia office reported that the country applied a full moratorium on new immigration detention orders during the state of emergency that lasted two months (21 March to 22 May) due to Covid-19. IOM Georgia stated that they were aware of an Indian national being released from immigration detention as there was no prospect of returning him any time soon due to the restrictions on international mobility. imposed by the Georgian government. However, no particular measures are being taken to prevent the spread of infection and ensure the appropriate care of persons released from detention.

Additionally, IOM Georgia indicated that no migrants accommodated in the Temporary Accommodation Centre of the Migration Department had been tested for Covid-19 and that no regular testing was ongoing. Upon admission, migrants usually undergo a general medical examination, temperature check, and are asked if they suffer from any of Covid-19 common symptoms. During their stay, the Centre’s medical staff observe their overall health conditions. If a migrant has or develops any Covid-19 symptoms after the initial medical check by a doctor, they will be transported to a relevant medical facility, tested, and, if needed, will receive treatment outside the detention centre.

Forced returns have been temporarily suspended according to IOM Georgia. The organisation also reported that from the start of the pandemic, the government of Georgia imposed restrictions on all border crossings and that regular passenger movement remains suspended. Thermal screening upon arrival and mandatory 14 day quarantine or self-isolation procedures were put in place for all those entering Georgia. In order for Georgian nationals stranded abroad to return to Georgia during the crisis, the government organised evacuation charter flights from various countries.

The government has announced that it will open the country’s borders with only 5 countries (Germany, France, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia) and that regular flights to and from those countries will be available from August onwards. In addition, the government decreed that any non-citizen who was legally residing in Georgia on 14 March and who since has not been able, for objective reasons, to leave the country, will be considered a legal resident until flight restrictions are lifted.


23 July 2020

Mauritania

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), “COVID-19, Communicating with Refugees in Mauritania,” 20 May 2020, https://bit.ly/3jr4UE6
UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), “COVID-19, Communicating with Refugees in Mauritania,” 20 May 2020, https://bit.ly/3jr4UE6

The IOM Mauritania office has informed the GDP that Mauritanian authorities have “informally” placed a moratorium on new detention orders during the crisis; police forces in both Nouakchott and Nouadhibou have reported that they were not detaining migrants. With borders closed and inter-regional movement restrictions in place, deportations from the country have also ceased. Reportedly, however, UNHCR has been seeking to ensure that asylum seekers may still enter the country.

While deportations from Mauritania have ceased, as the GDP previously reported on this platform (see 16 May update), the country appears to have continued to receive returns from Spain--based on an agreement between Spain and Mauritania, and with the support of Frontex. Between mid-2019 and mid-March 2020, nine deportation flights took place, raising concerns that persons wishing to seek asylum in Spain were returned to Mauritania.

Migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in Mauritania have long faced arbitrary arrest and detention, as well as expulsion. Since the 2000s, the country has come under significant pressure from the EU – and in particular Spain – to combat irregular migration flows by reinforcing external border control policies. Yet, as the GDP noted in a recent submission to the Universal Periodic Review (jointly submitted with Italy’s Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration), little information is publicly available regarding where immigration detainees are confined. However - based on the Covid-19 survey information provided by the IOM - it appears that police stations in Nouakchott and Nouadhibou confined non-nationals prior to the pandemic. The UN Committee on Migrant Workers has also reported that migrants and refugees apprehended due to their administrative status are detained in penal establishments alongside ordinary prisoners.

Information regarding length of detention has also remained unavailable, although the IOM reported that “typically in Mauritania due to a lack of resources rather than legal frameworks, it is rare for people to remain in detention for a long time.”

As of May 2020, Mauritania hosted some 63,213 refugees—the majority of whom are from neighbouring Mali, displaced by the political, institutional, and security crisis and many of whom now live in Mbera refugee camp in the south-east of the country. During the crisis, UNHCR has been running a communication campaign sharing key government and WHO health messages with refugees in the camp - as well as those in urban areas. Amongst other actions, the refugee agency has trained community facilitators to conduct door-to-door visits, as well as to conduct WhatsApp messaging campaigns.


22 July 2020

Peru

Police and Armed Forces Standing in the Street, (Getty Images,
Police and Armed Forces Standing in the Street, (Getty Images, "Coronavirus: 17 police officers die of Covid-19 in Peru," BBC News, 26 April 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-52432216)

Peru’s Ombudsman’s office (Defensoría del Pueblo), responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, stated that to their knowledge, no one had been detained for migration reasons during the pandemic. They also noted that there is no formal immigration detention estate in the country.

After the declaration of the state of emergency in the country, Peru’s immigration authority (Superintendencia Nacional de Migraciones) suspended, for a duration of 15 days, administrative sanctions related to overstaying visas and residence permits and also for unauthorised entry onto the territory, through the Superintendency Resolution No. 100-2020. Consequently, deportations for these immigration offences were also suspended. The measure was subsequently extended by Superintendency Resolution No. 107-2020 until the end of the state of emergency. However, on 9 May 2020, Peru’s immigration authority voided the suspension through Superintendency Resolution No. 123-2020. According to the explanatory memorandum, this decision was made to allow the authority to “help mitigate actions affecting public order, national security, or the security of Peru’s citizens, by non-citizens in the country, especially during the state of emergency.”

The Ombudsman stated that there is no official information on the number of deportation orders issued by the country’s immigration authority since the lifting of the suspension of administrative sanctions. The only case that was reported through a press release was that of two Ecuadorian citizens who entered Peruvian territory irregularly through a plane that crashed in Tumbes (a border city between Ecuador and Peru), and were then expelled to Ecuador on 10 June.

While no new immigration or asylum policies have been adopted, certain measures to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 have affected the country’s immigration management strategies and the operation of Peru’s asylum system. As regards immigration management, Peru closed its borders on 16 March through Supreme Decree No. 044-2020-PCM, and with it, the suspension of land, aerial, and maritime transport. This measure means that, save for exceptional cases such as humanitarian flights between countries, the entry or exit of people (nationals and non-nationals) to and from the country is not permitted. In addition to the clear restrictions that this implies for the freedom of movement of migrants, the Ombudsman’s office identified that it could affect the right to seek asylum. Between 16 March and 21 June, no measures were reportedly taken by the government to guarantee access to the territory for asylum seekers. People who had entered the country shortly before the closure of borders, or who entered the country irregularly during the state of emergency, said that they did not know where to go due to the closure of national institutions.

From 22 June, the Special Commission for Refugees (Comisión Especial para los Refugiados or CEPR), the body in charge of the operation of the Peruvian asylum system, established an online platform for people to be able to conduct the following procedures: Apply for asylum; apply for the renewal of work authorisations for asylum seekers; filing appeals for reconsideration or appeal against a negative asylum decision; and applying for family reunification in cases of people with refugee status.

The CEPR has announced that they are working to move all procedures they are in charge of to online platforms as face-to-face meetings cannot be resumed at the moment. It is not yet known whether this system has had positive or negative effects upon the determination of refugee status. However, the Ombudsman is concerned that barriers to accessing the asylum system may arise due to the lack of access of asylum seekers to smartphones, laptops, computers, or the internet as well as the lack of knowledge on how to properly fill out the relevant applications.


22 July 2020

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Sarajevo Immigration Detention Centre Entrance, (Google Maps,
Sarajevo Immigration Detention Centre Entrance, (Google Maps, "Sarajevo Immigration Detention Centre," March 2019, https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/europe/bosnia-and-herzegovina/detention-centres/1708/sarajevo-immigration-detention-centre-lukavica-detention-centre)

According to the Bosnia and Herzegovina Institute of Human Rights (Ombudsman), responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, the country did not establish a moratorium on new immigration detention orders, nor did it consider establishing one. The Ombudsman reported that no immigration detainees were released from detention, except those who were returned to the Republic of Serbia as part of readmission agreements, and placed in temporary reception centres. Prior to their return to Serbia, individuals were tested for Covid-19 and none tested positive. According to the Ombudsman, no alternative to detention programmes were implemented.

People detained in the Sarajevo (Lukavica) immigration centre were not tested for Covid-19, except in cases where the person exhibited symptoms of the disease, despite reports that the centre is overcrowded (see 29 April Bosnia and Herzegovina update on this platform). In addition, the management of the centre adopted a number of measures to prevent the spread of the virus, including suspending all visits to the centre, requesting strict compliance with hygiene and epidemiological measures, providing for mandatory quarantine for new arrivals, and other measures as recommended by the crisis staff.

The Ombudsman also indicated that deportations of non-citizens were suspended due to border closures and the grounding of flights, save for citizens of the Republic of Serbia who were allowed back into the country if they provided negative Covid-19 tests.

In an information request made by the Ombudsman to the Border Police of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), the police indicated that following the first confirmed cases of Covid-19 in BiH, they began implementing measures to detect possible cases of the disease. An action plan was devised and police officers were obligated to wear protective equipment, maintain social distance, measure the body temperature of officers and any other persons entering the official premises of the police, disinfecting official premises and vehicles, as well as maintaining personal hygiene.

As previously reported on this platform (29 April 2020), public attitudes towards migrants and refugees have deteriorated. The country’s Security Minister has suggested that non-citizens should be deported from the country as they represent an economic and security threat. Also, other asylum facilities, such as the Lipa camp, have been opened while arrivals to the country decreased in April 2020 compared with the same period in 2019.


21 July 2020

Czech Republic

Outside View of a Part of the Bela-Jezova Detention Centre for Refugees, (Press TV,
Outside View of a Part of the Bela-Jezova Detention Centre for Refugees, (Press TV, "Conditions at Czech Refugee Camp Miserable: Rights Observer," 13 October 2015, https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2015/10/13/433275/Czech-detention-center-refugees-BelaJezova-Bohemia)

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, the Public Defender of Rights (Ombudsman) of the Czech Republic reported that no moratorium on new immigration detention orders had been established and that no such measure was under consideration. However, the Czech Ombudsman said that despite this, it seems that authorities have minimised the numbers of immigration detention decisions ordered during recent months, especially during the first weeks of the state emergency which had been declared on 12 March 2020 and ended on 17 May 2020. Between 12 March and 19 May, 8 persons were placed in immigration detention, of whom 5 were detained for the purpose of Dublin transfers. On 20-21 May, 25 non-citizens were detained and in the period of 22 May to 7 June, 12 more persons were detained. The Ombudsman office was unable to obtain information on detention orders issued after 7 June.

Since 1 April, the Bělá-Jezová Detention Centre has been operating as a mixed facility, serving as a temporary mandatory quarantine facility for newly arriving asylum seekers and newly detained migrants, who are confined separately from the standard detainee population while in quarantine (see 4 June Czech Republic update on this platform). The “preventive quarantine” section’s staff consists solely of doctors and police officers. All new asylum seekers and newly detained migrants are automatically sent to this centre and they are obliged to abide with all quarantine measures. Following 14 days of quarantine, and if they do not test positive for Covid-19, they are sent to the respective facilities--regular reception centres for asylum seekers or migration detention for people in removal procedures.

Under Czech Republic law, for a person to be legally detained, they must fall under one of the grounds provided by the Foreign Nationals Act 1999 (FNA), including, inter alia, section 124(1), whereby “police may detain a non-citizen who is over 15 years of age: 1) if they have been notified about the commencement of administrative expulsion proceedings; 2) if a final decision on administrative expulsion has been made; or 3) if a re-entry ban has been imposed by another EU member state. The same section subsequently lists the specific grounds justifying detention in the above circumstances. As indicated by the Ombudsman, following this determination, authorities conduct an assessment of whether non-custodial measures would be sufficient. These non-custodial measures (“alternatives to detention” or ATD) are: 1) the obligation to provide the address of one’s place of residence, to reside at that address and report any change of address to the police on the following working day; 2) the obligation to provide a security deposit; 3) the obligation to report in person at a police station within a time limit stipulated by the police on a regular basis; and/or 4) the obligation to stay at a designated place by the police and be present to undergo a residential control.

Of the 25 non-citizens detained on 20-21 May, 23 were issued a detention order according to the above-mentioned reasoning, as they were deemed to not fulfil the conditions for an ATD measure to be imposed. All 23 non-citizens would have to undergo a quarantine because: 1) some of the non-citizens provided an address where they could stay, which was far from the place where the arrest took place. It would be dangerous to let the person travel there, as it may constitute a threat to public health; 2) the security deposit was not sufficient due to the lack of prospect of the foreigner leaving the territory, given that borders were closed and in general, countries imposed travel restrictions; 3) in light of the quarantine measures taken, it was not possible for a non-citizen to report in person to a police station; and 4) police could in theory appoint a specific place for a returnee to stay, but this specific place was dedicated to vulnerable persons and so the non-citizens in question did not fulfil this criterion. Police authorities thus concluded that ATD measures were not sufficient and issued a immigration detention orders.

The Ombudsman office informed that they were not aware of any detainees released from immigration detention and that rather, they had been informed of several detention extension orders. In addition, the Public Defender of Rights said that they were unaware of any measures taken to prevent the spread of Covid-19 when migrants or asylum seekers are released from detention centres.

Before 1 April, detainees were reportedly tested in the facilities where they were held. After that date and following the opening of the temporary quarantine facility at Bělá-Jezová, each person that is sent there is to undergo a Covid-19 test and an x-ray scan. Detainees are then tested again for Covid-19, 13 or 14 days following their arrival. If the second test is also negative, they are to be transferred almost immediately to another facility, depending on his or her legal status.

The Ombudsman office said that as far as they were aware, staff and detainees in detention and reception centres were provided with personal protective equipment. In addition, in these centres, several restrictions were imposed on visits, legal services, group-based activities in the centres, dining rules in collective canteens and others. The temporary facility however has a different regime. A systematic visit under the NPM mandate was carried out in this facility, yet the report has not been made public so far and so the Office of the Public Defender of Rights has refrained from commenting on this issue for the time being.

Moreover, the Ombudsman office stated that removals had been halted in practice. However, they have not received any formal notice of this from the government. With protective measures being lifted progressively, some removals to Slovakia have been carried out in recent weeks.

The government of the Czech Republic took several measures regarding immigration. From 14 March, the government banned the entry of foreign nationals to the country but provided certain exceptions. There was, however, no limitation on lodging applications for asylum. In addition, the government announced a ban on the entry of all foreign nationals arriving from states which were considered as highly risky at the time. This did nonetheless not apply to foreign nationals with a temporary residence permit for more than 90 days, permanent residence permit, and foreign nationals, whose entry was in the interest of the Czech Republic. Embassies of the Czech Republic suspended the processing of applications for visas as well as temporary and permanent residence permits, with the exception of those whose entry was in the interest of the country. Following the end of the state of emergency on 17 May, the Ministry of Health has been regulating cross-border movement by its protective measures. Currently, EU Member States, Norway, the United Kingdom, Iceland, Lichtenstein, and Switzerland are divided into three groups - high, medium and low-risk states. Individuals coming from these states, would have had different measures applied upon them.

The Ombudsman office said that Government Resolution No. 198 stipulated that foreign nationals who were lawfully temporarily or permanently present in the territory of the Czech Republic at the time of the declaration of the state of emergency were entitled to remain in the territory for the duration of the state of emergency. Also, foreign nationals whose visa or residence permit expired during this period are obliged to leave the territory within 60 days from the day when the state of emergency ended (i.e. 16 July 2020). No expulsion proceedings would be initiated against these foreign nationals and they would not be penalised for their stay in the territory during this period.


21 July 2020

Latvia

Mucenieki Reception Centre, (Wikimapia,
Mucenieki Reception Centre, (Wikimapia, "Asylum Seekers Reception Centre Mucenieki," accessed on 21 July, http://wikimapia.org/10914964/Asylum-seekers-reception-centre-%E2%80%9CMucenieki%E2%80%9D)

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, the Latvian Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs, acting as contact point for the European Migration Network (EMN), reported that Latvia had not established a moratorium on new immigration detention orders and that it was not considering the measure. No immigration detainees have been released and they have only been informed about protective measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19. EMN Latvia also indicated that detainees are tested if they present any symptoms of the disease. Newly arrived migrants and asylum seekers staying in detention centres are placed in medical isolation for 14 days under supervision of medical staff. The GDP is aware of two immigration detention centres that are in operation in the country: the Mucenieki and Daugavpils detention centres.

According to the European Migration Network, non-citizens residing in Latvia whose legal residence period has expired after 13 March, may remain in the country during the state of emergency without the need to obtain a new document and retain the right to employment established by the residence permit or visa. In addition, on 3 April, the Latvian Parliament passed a law detailing the operations of state institutions during the state of emergency. According to the legislation, municipalities may grant social services and assistance to target groups not specified in the Law on Social Services and Social Assistance. In effect, this means that all non-citizens with a valid residence permit may apply for such assistance.

The Latvian Red Cross social workers and social mentors have been regularly providing information on security measures for refugees and asylum seekers living in the asylum centre of Mucenieki (80 persons, including 11 pupils) and in the city of Riga (19 people, 6 of them pupils). In cooperation with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the World Health Organisation, the Latvian Red Cross has developed information materials on preventive protection measures as well as on action to be taken when a person is suspected of being infected with Covid-19.


20 July 2020

Romania

Migrants and Refugees in the Courtyard of Timisoara ETC, (UNHCR,
Migrants and Refugees in the Courtyard of Timisoara ETC, (UNHCR, "Refugees Respect Health Rules to Transit Safely Through Crisis," 5 May 2020, https://www.unhcr.org/ceu/12289-refugees-respect-health-rules-to-transit-safely-through-crisis.html)

Romania’s National Preventive Mechanism, the People’s Advocate, requested information from the Interior Ministry’s General Inspectorate for Immigration (IGI) to provide answers to the Global Detention Projet’s Covid-19 survey. Based on information it received from the IGI, the People’s Advocate reported that during the state of emergency, the right of persons to request international protection was not restricted. However, in order to ensure the protection of their staff, IGI suspended the receipt of applications for granting or extending the right of residence, and moved the process to an online application platform. The processing of these applications was not suspended, but a number of additional protection measures were established including obligation to use masks for all people present (IGI staff, applicant, lawyer, and interpreter); conducting interviews through video-conference systems; and the communication of documents by fax and email.

Moreover, People’s Advocate indicated that in Romania, applicants for international protection held in accommodation centres are not deprived of their liberty as the centres have an open regime and the spaces provide for collective accommodation of asylum seekers. As regards the confinement of non-citizens in public custody centres, there were no releases. Certain transfers and returns were conducted, but only after the fulfillment of the conditions imposed by the readmission agreements concluded between Romania and the countries of origin or transit. The People’s Advocate also confirmed that no migrants or asylum seekers were released.

In terms of protective measures in the centres, the Advocate stated that in the centres managed by IGI, a series of prophylactic measures were adopted to prevent the spread of Covid-19, but that no generalised Covid-19 tests were done. In cases of suspicion of infection, individuals were immediately referred to the Local Public Health Directorate. The People’s Advocate mentioned that as of mid-July, there had been no confirmed cases of Covid-19 among asylum seekers or non-citizens in public custody.

Returns were only possible when readmission agreements could be implemented or when charter flights were organised by interested third countries, for the repatriation of their own nationals. The measures implemented by IGI to prevent the spread of the disease have been taken in strict accordance with the provisions issued at national level in this regard, and no new policies have been adopted.


20 July 2020

Luxembourg

Findel Immigration Detention Centre (Centre de Rétention de Findel), (Le Quotidien,
Findel Immigration Detention Centre (Centre de Rétention de Findel), (Le Quotidien, "La Police a Dû Intervenir pour des Violences au Centre de Rétention," 22 October 2018, https://lequotidien.lu/police-justice/la-police-a-du-intervenir-pour-des-violences-au-centre-de-retention/)

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, Luxembourg’s European Migration Network (EMN) contact point, the University of Luxembourg, reported that a moratorium on new immigration detention orders had been established, mainly as returns were no longer possible. EMN Luxembourg said that there had not been any cases of Covid-19 within the Findel Detention Centre (“Centre de Rétention”).

The Minister of Immigration and Asylum, Jean Asselborn, responding to a parliamentary question on 15 May, said that since 18 March 9 detainees had been released from the Findel detention centre as their return was impossible to undertake. By 16 March, 19 detainees had already been released for the same reason, in addition to the determination that social distancing was virtually impossible (see 17 June Luxembourg update on this platform). The Minister also stated that on 29 May the Findel detention centre was holding 25 male detainees and that from the start of the Covid-19 crisis, the centre only held men. The last woman detained at Findel was transferred to the Netherlands on 27 February, while the last family with children left the centre on 3 March.

The minister said that those that had been released were offered accommodation at the Kirchberg Emergency Accommodation Structure (SHUK). The psychosocial staff in the centre takes care of directing released detainees to adequate accommodation structures provided that these persons indicate that they are unable to find their own accommodation. The minister also reported that there were no regularisation plans for the persons detained in the Findel detention centre.

In addition, a bill has been presented at the House of Representatives, seeking to introduce temporary measures to the application of Law of 29 August 2008 on the free movement of persons and immigration on 19 May 2020. The bill (“Projet de loi 7585”) aims to extend certain measures provided for in Articles 13 and 14 of the amended Grand-Ducal Regulation of 18 March 2020, introducing a series of measures in the context of the Covid-19 crisis. It is accompanied by a grand-ducal regulation relating to the duration of the prohibition and the scope of exceptions provided for in Article 2 of the bill. This legislation allows all those concerned that are currently in Luxembourg to leave the territory or to regularise their stay. Beyond these deadlines, the minister will analyse the individual situation of each person.


19 July 2020

France

European Migration Network Logo, (EMN,
European Migration Network Logo, (EMN, "EMN," accessed on 20 July 2020, https://ec.europa.eu/immigration/general-information/emn_en)

France’s contact point for the European Migration Network (EMN), the Direction Générale des Étrangers en France (DGEF), has informed the Global Detention Project that it is not able to answer our Covid-19 survey questions. The GDP had initially written to the DGEF/EMN on 13 May 2020, requesting information on immigration detention and measures taken by states in view of the Covid-19 pandemic. Having not received a response, the GDP sent a reminder on 14 July. Two days later, the French EMN contact responded stating that the “EMN does not have competence to respond to [the GDP’s] questions” and suggested that we contact the “Sous-direction de la lutte contre l’immigration irrégulière,” also part of the Interior Ministry.

Interestingly, many other EMN country contact points have provided detailed responses to the GDP’s survey, including in Austria, Bulgaria, Latvia, Spain, and Sweden. When we pointed this out to the DGEF, they explained that each EMN contact is organised differently and may be part of distinct institutions (universities, international organisations, ministries, or other institutions) and that operating protocols may thus vary from country to country.


17 July 2020

Sweden

A Migration Agency Office in Sweden, (Susanne Lindholm, TT,
A Migration Agency Office in Sweden, (Susanne Lindholm, TT, "Sweden to Take in Quota Refugees Again After Coronavirus Pause," The Local, 15 July 2020, https://www.thelocal.se/20200715/sweden-to-take-in-quota-refugees-again-after-coronavirus-pause).

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, the Swedish Migration Board (Migrationsverket), which also acts as the country’s European Migration Network contact, reported that no moratorium on new immigration detention orders had been established in response to the Covid-19 crisis and that such a measure was not being considered. In addition, the Migration Board said that on 23 March a decision was made to decrease the number of immigration detention spaces from 520 to 302 in order to adhere to rules set by the Public Health Agency. Certain detainees were also released from detention as returns could no longer be made due to the Covid-19 pandemic (see the 6 July and 30 April Sweden updates on this platform). However, no specific health measures were taken for those released from detention. The Migration Board also indicated that detainees are not all tested for Covid-19. A health professional decides whether a test should be made if a detainee presents symptoms.

On 15 July, the Local news agency reported that since April Sweden’s reception of “quota” refugees has been on hold due to the pandemic. Sweden was set to receive 5,000 refugees through the system this year, but the country had only accepted around 1,300 when the system was suspended. However, UNHCR and IOM resumed work on the quota system in June, and Sweden has now determined that it can begin to accept refugees again. The head of the Resettlement Program at the Swedish Migration Board said: “We will carry out the transfers gradually and in close dialogue with the relevant municipalities and regions. In the first stage, it will be about twenty people.” Measures to protect refugees’ health and reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19 have been put in place. Only those that are symptom-free and do not belong to a risk group will travel, and only to municipalities with a low spread of infection. It is expected that the first refugees will arrive in August.

As previously reported on this platform (30 April), the Swedish Network of Refugee Support Groups (FARR) has criticised what it argues is inadequate implementation of the rules and recommendations by health authorities in the country’s detention centres. Responses to a survey circulated by FARR among people detained in five of Sweden’s six immigration detention centres revealed that people continued to be detained and staff regularly changed without undergoing health screenings. In addition, while 57 percent of respondents reported having felt ill and exhibited Covid-19 symptoms including fever, coughs, and sore throats, only 13.8 percent reported that they had seen a nurse. A detainee commented: “It takes a long time before we get to see a doctor, and I’m afraid to get infected by Corona but unfortunately, nobody cares.” Another wrote: “I have told them I want to speak (to a nurse) but nobody comes and those who have seen the nurse just get a sleeping pill.”


17 July 2020

Spain

Permanent Observatory for Immigration Logo, (OPI,
Permanent Observatory for Immigration Logo, (OPI, "Caldendario de Difusion Estadistica," 2019, http://extranjeros.mitramiss.gob.es/es/Estadisticas/Calendario_2019.pdf)

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, the Permanent Observatory for Immigration, part of the Ministry of Labour and Immigration, and acting as European Migration Network (EMN) contact, reported that no moratorium on new immigration detention orders was established, but that immigration detention is no longer justifiable in law as there are no reasonable prospects of removal of persons. For this reason, all Spain’s immigration detention centres (Centros de internamiento de extranjeros) have been emptied (see 15 May Spain update on this platform).

EMN Spain said that when persons were released from immigration detention, authorities verified if the detainee had access to support, either from their families or NGOs. People who are detained in police facilities for entering the territory irregularly and subsequently released are given specific quarantine orders and are tested for Covid-19. EMN Spain also said that all migrants arriving irregularly into the country are tested for Covid-19 and placed in quarantine.


17 July 2020

Germany

Süddeutsche Zeitung, “Quälende Quarantäne,” 14 July 2020, https://bit.ly/30ntg9j
Süddeutsche Zeitung, “Quälende Quarantäne,” 14 July 2020, https://bit.ly/30ntg9j

Observers have repeatedly raised concerns during the pandemic regarding conditions inside reception facilities in Germany, with several centres witnessing Covid-19 outbreaks and others subjecting refugees and asylum seekers to dangerous living conditions (see 10 June update). Recently, volunteers, social workers, and NGOs have warned of the dire living conditions experienced by non-nationals in Munich’s network of reception accommodation. In several facilities, people are granted just thirty minutes of fresh air each day, spending the rest of their time in seven square metres and in temperatures that have reached 50 degrees Celsius. Food is left outside their door; television and internet are often not made available.

While some NGOs have criticised the decision to quarantine entire reception centres when only a few inhabitants have tested positive, the Bavarian health department reported that refugees remain fearful of the virus and that isolation remains necessary. (Although Germany has been easing its lockdown, authorities have been imposing local quarantines to counter fresh outbreaks--such as those centred around abattoirs and their accommodation facilities [see 10 June update].) However, despite the alleged necessity of quarantining entire facilities, humanitarian groups continue to argue that quarantine conditions in these centres are deeply worrisome. Caritas, for example, has denounced the “spatial, security and hygienic conditions” that persist in facilities in Upper Bavaria.

Separately, although the Federal Ministry of Interior has insisted that returns should continue to be carried out during the pandemic (see 20 May update), statistics reveal that deportations have dropped off significantly. Between January and May 2020, a total of 5,022 were deported--a decline of more than 50 percent compared to the same period in 2019 (when 10,951 were deported.) On 14 July, the country carried out its first deportation flight to Pakistan since the crisis began (19 Pakistani nationals were deported to Islamabad), while in mid-June, the government announced the resumption of Dublin returns. (Although the GDP submitted a survey request in May to Germany’s Federal Office for Migration and Refugees [BAMF]--seeking information regarding detention and deportations during the pandemic--the office stated that it was unable to complete to the survey, and that such queries should instead be sent to state authorities [see 20 May update.])


16 July 2020

France

Logo of the Contrôleur Général des Lieux de Privation de Liberté, (Contrôleur Général des Lieux de Privation de Liberté, accessed on 16 July, https://www.cglpl.fr/en/).
Logo of the Contrôleur Général des Lieux de Privation de Liberté, (Contrôleur Général des Lieux de Privation de Liberté, accessed on 16 July, https://www.cglpl.fr/en/).

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, the prison ombudsman, Contrôleur Général des Lieux de Privation de Liberté or CGLPL, which also acts as the country’s National Preventive Mechanism (NPM)), reported that no moratorium on new immigration detention orders had been established. They also indicated that no legislation or regulation had been adopted to regulate non-citizens deprived of their liberty in immigration detention centres (centres de rétention administrative or CRA) or transit zones (zones d’attente or ZA) during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, certain legal orders (ordonnances) were adopted such as order n°2020-305 of 25 March 2020, amending certain rules applicable in administrative courts, such as court appearances.

The CGLPL indicated that the government failed to issue a general decision regarding the release of non-citizens detained in CRAs or ZAs, a move the ombudsman had called for in late April (see the 12 May France update on this platform). However, the suspension of flights led to the closure of several airports and in consequence, also of corresponding ZAs, including those in Marseille-Provence; Montpellier-Méditerranée; Nantes Atlantique; and Paris-Orly. The main ZA, ZA of Paris-Charles-de-Gaulle airport remained open as well as police stations and “holding rooms” located in three terminals of that airport (2A; 2E; and 2F).

While the government did not heed the CGLPL’s call for closing all CRAs, many have been temporarily shut, the latest on 3 April (see 12 May France update on this platform). These include the CRAs in: Hendaye; Geispolsheim; Coquelles; Saint-Jacques-de-la-Lande; Nice; Marseille; Sète; Perpignan; Plaisir; Palaiseau; the CRA 3 of Mesnil-Amelot; and CRA 1 of Paris-Vincennes). In Mayotte, the CRA was emptied on 23 March and transformed into a quarantine centre from 17 April to 15 May. On 15 May, the centre re-opened as an immigration detention centre. During this time, 12 CRAs stayed open: Bordeaux; Guadeloupe; Guyane; Lille; Lyon; Nîmes; Mayotte; Mesnil-Amelot; Oissel-Rouen; Metz; and Toulouse.

In addition, decisions regarding persons detained in ZAs that were subsequently moved to CRAs were taken based on decisions made by local authorities. For example, judges (juges des libertés et de la détention) responsible for monitoring detention decisions at the Bobigny tribunal decided, from mid-March until 8 June, to no longer provide hearings for people held in the ZA of Paris-Charles-de-Gaulle. In effect, this meant that detainees had to be released after four days due to a lack of intervention by a judge, as provided by law. However, this was not the case in all local jurisdictions.

Also, in terms of detention decisions (the maximum duration of which is set at 90 days or, exceptionally, 210 days), judges responsible for monitoring detention decisions refused to extend detention measures in view of the lack of reasonable social distancing measures or insufficient precautionary health measures taken within the CRAs, and even considered the risk of spreading the virus outside France. This in turn led to many CRAs being shut down; those that remained open significantly reduced their capacity (most reduced their capacity by half). On 15 April, the number of persons detained in these centres was around 10 percent of its usual population. Yet, according to the CGLPL, several hundreds of persons were placed in CRAs between 16 March and 2 June.

Furthermore, the CGLPL stated that for those people released from ZAs or CRAs who did not exhibit any symptoms of Covid-19 no specific measures were taken. Those detainees who were released due to their contamination were oriented towards centres managed by the regional health agency (Agence Régionale de la Santé or ARS). However, certain persons were kept in detention after refusal by the ARS.

The CGLPL indicated that in all centres and detention sites, newly arrived detainees would go through a medical examination where their temperature would be taken. Systematic nasopharyngeal tests were only put in place in those places where there had been confirmed Covid-19 cases. In certain centres, detainees were tested this way only if they had symptoms of the disease.

The reduction in the number of persons detained in CRAs or in ZAs and health measures led to a reorganisation of accommodation arrangements. At the start of April, detainees were placed in rooms of two and this arrangement was maintained until 11 May. Nonetheless, detainees were forced to share the dining hall, showers, sinks, telephones, and toilets. The health requirements linked to the state of emergency should have led to a reorganisation of the premises, equipment and services, allowing precautionary measures to be taken.

While the frequency of cleaning and disinfection was stepped up, it reportedly remained insufficient. The availability of disinfectant gel and hydroalcoholic gel for detainees was inadequate, and often only provided at the entrance of the dining hall, at medical units, during meetings with legal aid, and at offices of immigration and integration. In the accommodation area, detainees have had soap and water.

In the Paris-Vincennes CRA, masks were available from mid-April onwards, following positive Covid-19 cases. In other centres, only in May were masks made available. However, no free provision of masks in the accommodation areas of the centres had been reported. On 1 June, one or two masks were provided with the “arrival kit” and could be replaced three to four times a day by requesting it from providers working in the centres. Police staff working in the centres were provided with masks, gloves, and hydroalcoholic gel during the month of April, and with Plexiglas visors at the end of April. Certain staff members have said that they only received such material after 11 May. The CGLPL said that often masks were not worn by police staff or detainees.

As regards removals, a large number of countries closed their borders, causing the suspension of flights. Activity at French airports was therefore drastically reduced as of 17 March. However, the CGLPL explained that persons were nonetheless removed from the 12 CRAs that remained open and the Charles-de-Gaulle ZA. In Mayotte, 210 persons were removed to Comoros, including 41 children. In metropolitan France, a total of 132 persons were deported from 10 different CRAs around the country during the state of emergency. The Paris Prefecture Police, in charge of the Paris-Vincennes CRA, did not provide the CGLPL with the requested information; however, 13 removals from that centre were reported between 16 March and 15 April, and another during the CGLPL’s 3 June visit. Among all these procedures, several “group flights” were organised to Albania and Romania. Compared with the number of removals in 2018 (15,677 forced removals, i.e. more than 1,300 per month) and in 2019 (18,096 forced removals, i.e. more than 1,575 per month), the number of removals have thus far been quite low in 2020.

In addition, the CGLPL reported that on 17 March, EU member states approved directives recommended by the European Commission, recommending the closure of external borders and states were allowed to control their internal borders. On 18 March, France closed its borders to foreign travellers with certain exceptions for residents and European Union citizens. These measures were then amended on 15 April and 12 May, slightly relaxing the measures.


16 July 2020

Israel

Palestinian Labourers Line Up to Enter Israel through the Mitar Checkpoint in the Occupied West Bank City of Hebron, (H. Bader, AFP,
Palestinian Labourers Line Up to Enter Israel through the Mitar Checkpoint in the Occupied West Bank City of Hebron, (H. Bader, AFP, "Palestinian Workers Stay in Israel for Three Weeks in a Row," 9 July 2020, https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/07/israel-palestinian-authority-mohammad-shtayyeh--coronavirus.html).

Prior to the Covid-19 crisis, large numbers of Palestinians travelled to work in Israel on a daily or weekly basis. However, due to fears that such travel could further spread the virus, Israel’s emergency regulations required Palestinian workers to remain in the country and prevented them from returning to the West Bank. (Authorities issued stay permits for 30 or 60 days.) Although employers were required to provide workers with accommodation, reports quickly emerged revealing that Palestinians were being housed in inhumane accommodation—including some units without beds, toilets, or running water—which fell far below the standards of other foreign nationals’ accommodation.

In April, a coalition of NGOs launched a petition urging the Israeli government the ensure the health and living conditions of Palestinian workers. The petitioners wrote, “The State of Israel is exploiting the most disadvantaged workers, keeping them under conditions akin to slavery. Their dignity is trampled upon as they are given accommodation in unsupervised construction sites, their health is neglected as no one provides them insurance during a global health crisis, and their liberty is denied when their employers process their papers but, in fact, bind them to their workplaces.”

Authorities responded, issuing new legislation that required employers to pay for their employees’ health insurance—and eventually amending the emergency regulations to specify the living conditions that employers are required to provide. This was an important step: As countries such as Germany and Singapore have witnessed, poor worker accommodation units have frequently become virus hotspots.

More recently, on 28 June, as cases began to rise again, Israel’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development informed all organisations employing Palestinians that employees would be required to remain in Israel for three weeks, and that they were to be provided with health insurance and adequate accommodation. Reports indicate that Palestinian workers have faced movement restrictions. They have been required to remain within the boundaries of their workplace and nearby accommodation, and may not leave the premises to purchase food or medication—their Israeli employer must instead provide such supplies.


16 July 2020

Libya

Libyan Police Forces Inspecting Some 250 Detained Migrants at the Abu Salim Detention Centre in Gasr Garabulli, (EPA,
Libyan Police Forces Inspecting Some 250 Detained Migrants at the Abu Salim Detention Centre in Gasr Garabulli, (EPA, "Libya: UNHCR Worried for Migrants in Detention Centres," InfoMigrants, 10 July 2020, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/25936/libya-unhcr-worried-for-migrants-in-detention-centers)

UNHCR has reported that more than 2,300 remain confined in centres operated by the UN-backed Government of National Accord. Conditions remain a critical concern, with many detainees facing violence and abuse, food shortages, lack of sanitary facilities, and severe overcrowding. Reportedly, the agency has called for an “orderly release” for all those detained and for alternatives to detention for persons intercepted at sea.

However, many thousands more remain detained in “unofficial” facilities. Operated by militia groups, the conditions faced by those confined in such sites are of even greater concern. Reportedly, the number of such sites have “mushroomed” in the wake of the Libyan government’s decision to shutter several detention facilities in late 2019. According to the IOM, more than 3,000 persons apprehended by the Libyan coastguard have disappeared into unofficial facilities or have remained unaccounted for since the start of 2020.

Since the first Covid-19 case was detected and confirmed in Libya on 25 March, more than 3,100 migrants and refugees have been intercepted at sea and returned to the country. However, none of those returned have been tested for the virus. The country’s National Centre for Disease Control is responsible for Covid-19 testing, but has only been present at a “handful of disembarkations” since March. Across much of the rest of the country, testing is almost entirely unavailable. NGOs including the International Rescue Committee, have flagged this and urged immediate action. “Although we try to carry out basic temperature checks, sometimes even this simple step is not allowed. The lack of something so basic - let alone the ability to carry out proper testing - is a real cause for concern because it means there is a risk that the disease is being spread in the detention centres and in communities, and is going undetected.”


16 July 2020

Romania

Refugees and Asylum Seekers Undertaking Activities in the Timisoara ETC Courtyard, (UNHCR,
Refugees and Asylum Seekers Undertaking Activities in the Timisoara ETC Courtyard, (UNHCR, "Refugees Respect Health Rules to Transit Safely Through Crisis," 5 May 2020, https://www.unhcr.org/ceu/12289-refugees-respect-health-rules-to-transit-safely-through-crisis.html)

According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) office in Bucharest, responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, Romania has not established a moratorium on new immigration detention orders nor is it considering one. In addition, no immigration detainees have been released as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and they are not being tested for the disease. The IOM Bucharest office indicated that all removals have been halted but that no new policies were adopted in response to the pandemic. However, prevention measures were taken in all asylum centres, for instance, depending upon the migration route, newly registered asylum seekers are placed given a 14 days quarantine period.

UNHCR and their partner AIDROM, working in collaboration with the Romanian government, are taking measures to maintain business as usual at the Timisoara Emergency Transit Centre (ETC). Both staff and refugees have been provided with face masks and latex gloves and refugees have been informed of the importance of basic hygiene to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Alcohol-based hand sanitisers, soap, tissues, and cleaning products have also been distributed around the centre. Some governments, such Norway’s, which periodically accept refugees housed at the ETC, have implemented measures to continue assessing potential refugees placements. Instead of having Norwegian officers travel from Oslo, the interviews are conducted online. The UNHCR representative in Romania stated that UNHCR had expressed its appreciation to “the Romanian government for its decision to keep the borders open for people fleeing war and persecution.”

Due to European lockdowns imposed in March as governments tried to contain the spread of Covid-19, many countries were left without the thousands of seasonal workers that they normally rely on, many of whom come from Romania. On 4 April, Romania’s government agreed to allow seasonal workers to fly abroad on charter flights organised by Western European farmers, provided there was agreement with the authorities in the countries of destination. In mid-May, the Romanian Transport Minister informed Parliament that there had been 188 charter flights carrying seasonal workers to Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Italy, Belgium, and Austria.

However, hundreds of Romanian migrant workers were reportedly quickly infected while working at slaughterhouses in Germany and the Netherlands. On 28 April, a coronavirus outbreak at a slaughterhouse in Berkenfeld resulted in the infection of some 200 Romanians, one of whom died. In early May, another outbreak took place at a Dutch meat-processing plant where 270 Romanians work.

In a bid to lure some migrant workers back home, the Romanian Agriculture Minister announced a package of at least 20 million EUR to support young farmers who had previously worked abroad. The minister told Parliament that the government would raise the minimum monthly wage in the agricultural sector to 3000 lei ($690 US dollars) per month to persuade Romanian migrants to remain in the country.

On 28 May, the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) reported that the Romanian border guard agency had been enlarged in an effort to tighten measures to prevent “illegal” migration. ECRE also reported that all Dublin transfers, including family reunification procedures, were suspended and repatriation procedures were suspended or cancelled as air companies have cancelled flights to the Middle East and North Africa.


16 July 2020

Tunisia

Migrants Inside a Room in the El Ouardia Immigration Detention Centre, (R. Cherif,
Migrants Inside a Room in the El Ouardia Immigration Detention Centre, (R. Cherif, "El Ouardia: Des Migrants Saisissent la Justice pour Dénoncer Leur Détention," Le Courrier de l'Atlas, 8 June 2020, http://kapitalis.com/tunisie/2020/04/30/des-ong-salarment-des-migrants-prives-de-leur-liberte-au-centre-el-ouardia/)

On 16 July, in what observers in Tunisia have called an “unprecedented decision,” the Tunisian administrative court suspended the detention of 22 migrants detained arbitrarily at the El Ouardia detention centre. The decision comes after reports of hunger strikes at El Ouardia and calls from civil society organisations for authorities to clarify the legal basis for detainees’ continued detention (see the 5 May and 18 April Tunisia updates on this platform). The court found that the detention measures were contrary to Tunisian law as well as the country’s commitments under international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture.

In a press release that published in the days before the court decision (13 July), the Forum Tunsien pour les Droits Économiques et Sociaux (FTDES), a Tunis-based research and advocacy group that has long documented immigration detention issues in the country, along with other NGO partners (OMCT, ASF, Terre d’Asile), said: “The arbitrary detention of migrants at Ouardia symbolises the flaws of the rule of law” in Tunisia.

Recalling the principle that any deprivation of liberty must be based in law, the tribunal opined that the deprivation of liberty of the 22 migrants did not meet the essential conditions required by the law. In effect, the migrants must be immediately released. In the court application, the lawyers for the migrants had denounced the fact that the migrants had been detained without any legal procedure, any judicial control, without having access to a lawyer, and without written notification of the basis of their detention in a centre which is not even officially recognised as a place of deprivation of liberty. Accordingly, the court found the situation amounted to arbitrary detention, in violation of international human rights law and the Tunisian Constitution.

In addition, in order to avoid future human rights violations, the court requested that Tunisian authorities, including in particular the Interior Ministry, clarify the legal status of the El Ourdia detention centre so that it is no longer employed as a site for deprivation of liberty.

The Global Detention Project previously reported, in its March 2020 report “Immigration Detention in Tunisia: Shrouded in Secrecy,” that in Tunisia there are no explicit legal grounds for administrative forms of immigration-related detention. However, the country explicitly criminalises irregular migration for both Tunisian nationals and non-citizens. Tunisian legislation provides penalties for the unauthorised exit of both nationals and non-nationals; fines and imprisonment for non-nationals who enter or exit the country without authorisation or documentation; and fines and imprisonment terms for non-citizens using false documents or providing inaccurate information.


15 July 2020

United Kingdom

Immigration Removal Centres Sign, (E. Hayward,
Immigration Removal Centres Sign, (E. Hayward, "Calls for Release of Detainees in UK Immigration Centres," 16 June 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/06/calls-release-detainees-uk-immigration-centres-200616124747882.html)

Although the UK did not issue a moratorium on new detention orders at the height of the pandemic, the Home Office ceased issuing new detention orders for people who, under normal circumstances, would face removal to one of 49 specified countries. This was confirmed in a GDP Covid-19 survey completed by a UK government official who asked to remain anonymous but whose identity was verified by the GDP.

According to the source, the 49 countries are: Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Austria, Bulgaria,Cameroon, China, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, India, Iraq, Ireland, Jamaica, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Latvia, Lichenstein, Lebanon, Libya, Luxembourg, Mauritania, Morocco, Netherlands,Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Somalia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, Zimbabwe.

While large numbers of immigration detainees were released from UK detention facilities at the height of the pandemic (see 11 May update), according to Home Office statistics some 295 people were placed in detention (Immigration removal centres (IRCs), Short-term holding facilities (STHF), or Pre-departure accommodation (PDAs)) between 23 March and the end of April. This figure does not include people brought into detention centres from UK prisons, so the exact number of new arrivals is likely higher. In spite of this, the total number of people in detention at the start of May was far lower than in previous months: 313 compared to 555 at the end of March 2020, and 1,278 at the end of December 2019. However, numbers are higher when one considers non-nationals detained in prisons: according to Avid Detention, approximately 700 persons remained in detention at the end of May.

Like in many European countries, including notably Spain, there is an emerging debate in the UK over future measures for those who were released from detention during the crisis. Some of those released have been staying in Home Office accommodation or private housing, and have been required to stay in regular contact with government authorities.

The UK is the only country in Europe where immigration detainees can be held indefinitely, a fact that has been the subject of considerable scrutiny and criticism in recent years. In June, as Parliament prepared to debate the new Immigration and Social Security Co-Ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill -- the purpose of which is to end free movement for people from the EU due to Brexit -- the Conservative MP David Davis tabled an amendment that would cap the detention time limit at 28 days. The proposal coincided with the release of a highly critical report from the Jesuit Refugee Service investigating the impact of indefinite detention on migrants and asylum seekers prior to the pandemic. The report found that of those interviewed, many had found the prison-like conditions and lack of a release date deeply traumatic, with many reporting suicidal feelings and psychological damage. One former detainee said, “The most awful thing was an uncertainty: Not knowing whether I will be released and what they’re going to do to me.” Despite the amendment receiving cross-party support, the proposal was rejected.

Although the Ministry of Justice has published daily briefings on the number of persons teste and the number of confirmed cases across the entire prison system, the Home Office has not published information on testing in immigration detention settings. As such, exact figures detailing those with symptoms and confirmed cases have remained unavailable. Avid Detention stated on 28 May, “It is not clear why this same level of transparency is not being applied to detention, given the heightened risk both prisons and detention environments pose.”

In the United Kingdom, due to Covid-19, vulnerable children in prisons are left waiting for months for their postponed trials. In some cases, trials are postponed indefinitely. In addition, according to CNN, Covid-19 prison restrictions mean that children are put in solitary confinement for up to 23.5 hours a day and provided with little education, exercise, and cannot receive any visits.

The latest figures, from May 2020, show that 614 children are in custody in England and Wales. These children have been detained in what UN guidelines define as “solitary confinement”: 22 hours a day without any meaningful human contact. These guidelines stipulate that this level of confinement should never be used on children. The prison service of England and Wales claim to want to relax solitary confinement measures in the coming weeks stating it knows the restrictions are difficult for children, but they claim these measures are based on expert advice and that they help save lives.

Labour MP David Lammy argued that while Covid-19 is a challenge to the system, it is not a call for democratic countries to abandon norms that have been fought hard for. Lammy’s review of English and Welsh prisons found that black and other minority children are overly represented in the prison system, making up over half (52 percent) of children in prison, while minorities are only 14 percent of the UK’s population.


15 July 2020

Armenia

Police Officer Standing Next to a Health Worker Taking a Person's Temperature, (Bloomberg,
Police Officer Standing Next to a Health Worker Taking a Person's Temperature, (Bloomberg, "Armenian Government Stabilizes COVID-19 Cases, but Structural Risk Factors Remain," The JamesTown Foundation, 30 March 2020, https://jamestown.org/program/armenian-government-stabilizes-covid-19-cases-but-structural-risk-factors-remain/)

On 15 July, the GDP received a response to our Covid-19 survey concerning Armenia from a representative of an international organisation who wished to remain anonymous. The official reported that the Armenian government had not established a moratorium on new immigration detention orders and was not considering one. The official indicated that Armenia does not operate an established immigration detention centre. The source explained that detainees in prisons are tested if it is suspected that they may have contracted Covid-19. Nonetheless, detainees are not routinely tested.

In a separate communication with the GDP, Mission Armenia, a local NGO, reported that people who enter the country in violation of border regulations “are transferred to common places of detention functioning within the country.” The country’s criminal code provides that individuals found crossing the state’s border without relevant documents or permits can be punished with imprisonment. However, this does not apply to people who enter the country seeking asylum. Asylum seekers are supposed to be accommodated in reception centres while they undergo refugee status determination procedures, where they receive food, hygiene items, and are not subjected to movement restrictions.

The anonymous source confirmed these details and added that many asylum seekers also apply for support with accommodation to the Migration Service or UNHCR partner NGO’s engaged in the provision of social assistance, or take care of accommodation by themselves. Mission Armenia nonetheless points out that as there sometimes are insufficient places available in reception centres, the NGO accommodates asylum seekers as well as non-nationals in deportation procedures.

The anonymous official said that currently, the Armenian government is developing a State Migration Management Strategy to regulate issues related to immigration detention, including building a dedicated immigration detention centre. The Armenian Ombudsman, however, has called on authorities to use “alternatives to detention,” echoing calls made by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment on 20 March.

As regards deportations, the source reported that they were not aware of any deportation cases among persons of concern since the declaration of the state of emergency by the Armenian government on 16 March 2020. On that date, the government declared a 30-day nationwide state of emergency. This was then prolonged four times and is now declared to be in place until 13 August. The state of emergency imposed movement restrictions, including travel to and from Armenia, particularly for non-citizens. At the same time, a non-citizen or stateless person can apply for asylum in Armenia during this period. However, upon entering the country s/he may undergo certain medical examinations and/or be placed in quarantine for 14 days. The Armenian Migration Service has created an online platform to submit asylum applications.


13 July 2020

Colombia

Venezuelan Migrants in Colombia Trying to Reach the Border to Return to their Country, (Stefano Pozzebon, “Venezuelan Migrants Fleeing Covid-19 Get Stuck at Border,” CNN, accessed on 14 July 2020, https://edition.cnn.com/videos/world/2020/07/13/venezuela-migrants-covid19-stuck-border-colombia-pozzebon-pkg-vpx.cnn/video/playlists/coronavirus-intl/)
Venezuelan Migrants in Colombia Trying to Reach the Border to Return to their Country, (Stefano Pozzebon, “Venezuelan Migrants Fleeing Covid-19 Get Stuck at Border,” CNN, accessed on 14 July 2020, https://edition.cnn.com/videos/world/2020/07/13/venezuela-migrants-covid19-stuck-border-colombia-pozzebon-pkg-vpx.cnn/video/playlists/coronavirus-intl/)

According to the Colombian Ministry of Health, as of 23 June, Colombia had 73,572 cases of Covid-19 and 2,404 deaths related to the disease. As reported by CNN, Venezuelan migrant workers, who left the country when its economy collapsed, are now returning as Covid-19 cases surge across Latin America. The Colombia-Venezuela border crossing has been closed since March and migrants wishing to return to Venezuela find themselves stranded at the border in Cucuta.

According to UNHCR, on 5 June Colombia’s migration authority issued Resolution No. 1265, which outlines the protocol for the return of Venezuelans and details coordination measures between local authorities, Colombia’s immigration authority (Migracion Colombia), local health institutions, and the police. Under this resolution, Venezuelans who decide to return are at risk of losing their refugee status or having their application for asylum rejected.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has called its own citizens “biological weapons” and accused Colombia and other governments of infecting them with Covid-19 to spread the pandemic across Venezuela. Colombia has categorically rejected these accusations, calling them deplorable.

As reported by UNHCR, quotas have been established for the maximum number of returnees that can be received in Venezuela via the humanitarian corridor that is open three days a week (100 people per return day via the Arauca border crossing and 300 per return day in Cucuta). Everyone else must wait in makeshift migrant camps, where many have been waiting for weeks in worsening conditions. Social distancing is non-existent in the Cucuta camp, which increases the risk of contagion and spread of Covid-19. In addition, without toilets or adequate medicines, and with exposed raw sewage and waste, the camps expose children and families to other serious illnesses.

Al Jazeera reported in June that at least 500 Venezuelan migrants who had been left jobless and homeless during the pandemic, built a makeshift camp in the outskirts of Bogota. Most are trying to return home, but the Colombian authorities were preventing them from continuing their trip after the Venezuelan government began limiting the number of returnees, causing bottlenecks along the route. This camp has no running water or electricity and people survive from the charity of others that bring them food and supplies.

UNHCR and its partners are concerned over the increased risks of forced recruitment of adolescents by armed groups. As a result of quarantine measures, families face economic hardship and are therefore more vulnerable to pressure from armed groups. The National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences reported that nine Venezuelan women were killed during the period of mandatory isolation that began on 20 March, representing a 12% increase from the same period in 2019. Also, the Children’s Delegate of the Ombudsperson’s Office identified 54 unaccompanied and separated Venezuelan children in North Santander, 129 in Arauca and 107 in Guajira during the Covid-19 crisis. From 16 March to 12 June, UNHCR registered 2,206 cases of children at risk and 90 cases of unaccompanied and separated children.


10 July 2020

Bangladesh

An Aerial View of the Bhasan Char Refugee Island Camp, (M. Ahmed & R. Beings,
An Aerial View of the Bhasan Char Refugee Island Camp, (M. Ahmed & R. Beings, "Critical Analysis On Why the Island Experiment of Bhasan Char is Not an Option for Rohingya Refugees," The Rohingya Post, 8 May 2020, https://www.rohingyapost.com/critical-analysis-on-why-the-island-experiment-of-bhasan-char-is-not-an-option-for-rohingya-refugees/)

On 9 July 2020, Human Rights Watch urged Bangladeshi authorities to immediately move more than 300 Rohingya refugees, including 33 children, from the silt island of Bhasan Char to the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps to join their families. Despite inviting UNHCR and other UN agencies to Bhasan Char island, the Bangladesh government is yet to allow UN officials to provide protection services and aid to refugees detained on Bhasan Char, who had been stranded at sea for several weeks. As of 19 June, discussions on the parameters of the visit were ongoing.

Bangladeshi authorities stated that the rescued refugees had to be temporarily quarantined on Bhasan Char to avoid spreading Covid-19 amongst the crowded camps. Yet, more than two months later, the refugees remain on the island despite calls from UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres to return them to refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.

Human Rights Watch Asia Director, Brad Adam, said that “Bangladesh authorities are using the pandemic as an excuse to detain refugees on a spit of land in the middle of a churning monsoon sea while their families anxiously pray for their return… The government is inexplicably delaying aid workers’ access to support the refugees with immediate care, and refusing to reunite them with their families in the Cox’s Bazar camps.”

Families in Cox’s Bazar have told Human Rights Watch that their relatives on Bhasan Char are being held without freedom of movement, adequate access to food or medical care, and face severe shortages of safe drinking water. In addition, certain refugees have alleged that they were beaten and ill-treated by Bangladesh authorities on the island.

Humanitarian experts have repeatedly raised concerns over the habitability and conditions on the island. After her visit to the island in January 2019, the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, questioned whether the island was “truly habitable.” Bangladesh authorities assured that no refugees would be involuntarily relocated to Bhasan Char, saying that the government would await a green signal from UN agencies and independent experts. The senior secretary of Bangladesh’s Disaster Management Ministry told the Media on 30 October 2019 that “UN agencies will conduct a technical assessment regarding the safety issues in the island … and we will not start the relocation without any clearance from the UN agencies.” Nonetheless, the government has gone back on this promise by refusing to return the refugees to their families, preventing UN agencies from visiting the refugees to provide protection, medical and verification services, and also by refusing to allow UN agencies access to the island to conduct a transparent assessment of its habitability.

At the same time, Myanmar has yet to take concrete steps to enable safe and voluntary returns. Human Rights Watch urged donors and concerned governments to insist that the Myanmar government and military ensure the security and basic rights of Rohingya, ensure unhindered access for international humanitarian agencies to provide resources and monitor rights, and provide full citizenship for the Rohingya, with all accompanying rights and protections.


10 July 2020

Paraguay

Border Post Between Brazil and Paraguay Reinforced With Tires Following the Interception of 45 Migrants Crossing Irregularly, (Gentileza,
Border Post Between Brazil and Paraguay Reinforced With Tires Following the Interception of 45 Migrants Crossing Irregularly, (Gentileza, "Covid-19: Evitan Cruce Ilegal de 45 Personas en Frontera Entre Paraguay y Brasil," 30 June 2020, https://www.lanacion.com.py/pais/2020/06/30/covid-19-evitan-cruce-ilegal-de-45-personas-en-frontera-entre-paraguay-y-brasil/)

By 9 July, Paraguay had recorded 2,554 cases of Covid-19 and 20 deaths. The country has taken specific measures concerning non-citizens. The Paraguayan migration authority (Dirección General de Migraciones) has prolonged the validity of permits that expired after 13 March 2020. This measure affects people whose temporary residence permits expired after 13 March; non-citizens who have requests pending to present documentation by the immigration authority for the processing of immigration documents, provided that they have expired; non-citizens whose tourist / non-resident permits have expired as of 13 March; and non-citizens who are in the country as tourists / non-residents and whose proof of entry into the country (immigration ticket with entry stamp or immigration stamp in the passport) have expired as of 13 March. The Paraguayan immigration authority also suspended the fine for non-citizens that overstay as many have been left stranded in the country.

According to UNHCR, during May, there were nearly 5,300 persons of concern staying in the country, including 1,016 certified refugees, 694 asylum-seekers, and 3,588 displaced Venezuelans. UNHCR reported that, faced with the Covid-19 situation, their partner agency in the country provided cash assistance to around 64 refugee and migrant families in Asuncion, Alto Parana, and Itapua in May 2020. The agency also distributed food and hygiene items for 164 vulnerable refugee and migrants’ families and hosted a national e-consultation webinar in order to address the socio-economic recovery of refugees and migrants in the framework of the Covid-19 emergency and post emergency. The webinar brought together representatives of key UN agencies, partners, NGO’s specialised in economic integration, the private sector, and refugees and migrants’ organisations.

On 30 June, La Nación reported that immigration officials intercepted 45 Paraguayan and Brazilian nationals who were trying to cross the border. In response, the immigration authority requested greater police presence at certain entry points. There are currently two official border crossings in the Canindeyu department.

In Paraguayan prisons, visits were resumed on 31 May with specific protective measures in place to avoid the spread of Covid-19, such as the filling of a health questionnaire upon arrival, obligation to wear a mask, and people over the age of 65 being prohibited entry. On 25 June, the Minister of Justice, Cecilia Pérez, said that 100 cases of Covid-19 had been confirmed in the Ciudad del Este penitentiary, which currently holds 1,178 persons for 500 spaces.


09 July 2020

Slovenia

Ljubljana Asylum Centre Seen from Above, (Ergyn Zjeci, RTV SLO,
Ljubljana Asylum Centre Seen from Above, (Ergyn Zjeci, RTV SLO, "Refugee Children Going Missing in Slovenia," 13 May 2016, https://www.rtvslo.si/news-in-english/refugee-children-going-missing-in-slovenia/392984)

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, the Slovenian Human Rights Ombudsman reported that no moratorium on new immigration detention orders had been established by Slovenia and that no such measure was under consideration. Contrary to information published by ECRE (see 15 May Slovenia update on this platform), stating that immigration detainees had been released from the Postonja detention centre due to Covid-19, in a 21 April response to a request for information sent by the Ombudsman to the Interior Ministry, the ministry stated that no immigration detainees had been released from detention due to the pandemic and that no special measures had been adopted in case migrants were released. Importantly, however, the Ombudsman did not indicate whether they had received more recent information concerning these issues since the 21 April communications from the Interior Ministry.

The Ombudsman also reported that, to their knowledge, detained migrants are tested if it is suspected that they have Covid-19. New detainees are placed in isolation for six days to reduce the risk of spreading the disease.

Regarding returns, the Ombudsman indicated that in April, the National Preventive Mechanism staff of the Ombudsman’s office carried out monitoring of the return of three persons to North Macedonia. No further information was provided by the Ombudsman.

Furthermore, the Ombudsman’s office said that no new immigration and/or asylum policies as well as border controls in response to Covid-19 were implemented. However, new asylum and immigration legislation is currently being proposed by the government, yet the Ombudsman indicated that the changes do not seem to be directly linked to the crisis.


08 July 2020

Poland

Biala Podlaska Guarded Centre (No Borders Group Warsaw, accessed on 8 July 2020, https://migracja.noblogs.org/obozy-strzezone-detention-camps/biala-podlaska/english/)
Biala Podlaska Guarded Centre (No Borders Group Warsaw, accessed on 8 July 2020, https://migracja.noblogs.org/obozy-strzezone-detention-camps/biala-podlaska/english/)

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, the Polish Commissioner for Human Rights (Ombudsman’s office) contacted the Polish Border Guard to obtain information concerning Covid-19 measures for migrants and refugees.

The commissioner said that the Polish Border Guard had informed them that on 17 March, the Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Border Guard ordered the commanders of the Border Guard units not to impose administrative and criminal sanctions against:

- Non-citizens who exceed the permitted period of stay in the country as a result of restrictions on international traffic, provided that the alleged breach took place after 14 March 2020;

- Non-citizens who fail to depart the country as per Article 299(6) of the Act on Foreigners because of restrictions on international traffic, provided that the alleged breach took place after 14 March;

- Non-citizens who fail to respect the deadline of a voluntary return order, provided that the deadline for the voluntary return expired after 14 March.

In its letter to the commissioner, the Border Guard argued that the Covid-19 pandemic did not justify the release of non-citizens already in detention because those orders purportedly remained valid. In contrast, many other European countries have called into question the validity of many detention orders during the pandemic precisely because one of the key rationales for immigration detention--detention for removal--has become untenable in many cases (see, for example, the updates on this platform for Spain, Switzerland, and Portugal).

The Border Guard said that the legitimacy of non-citizens’ detention was analysed and assessed on a current basis so as to not violate the provisions on the release of non-citizens set out in the Act of 12 December 2013 on foreigners and the Act of 13 June on granting protection to foreigners within the territory of Poland.

In particular, the Border Guard said that removals had continued throughout the crisis period. Regarding forced repatriations that took place from 13 March to 10 April, the Border Guard reported that under the forced repatriation procedure, a total of 49 non-citizens were removed from the territory, of whom 29 had been detained in a “guarded centre,” which is a type of immigration detention facilities in Poland (see GDP report on Poland, link provided below in sources).

The Border Guard also said that removed non-citizens had been effectively transferred to the authorities of “third countries” concerned. No further details were provided about whether this implied deportation (or readmission) to third countries and if so to which.

The Border Guard did not provide any information regarding measures taken to protect migrants and asylum seekers released from immigration detention from Covid-19. However, concerning measures taken within immigration detention centres, the Chief Commandant of the Border Guard said that a uniform procedure had been introduced in all centres, based on the guidelines of the Chief Sanitary Inspector of the Ministry of the Interior and Administration. The procedure is aimed at preventing the spread of Covid-19 and at minimising the effects of the risk of infection. The procedures include:

- The obligation to carry out a medical examination of a detained migrant before their placement in a detention centre. When symptoms are present further actions are carried out in the same way as they would for citizens, including a Covid-19 test.

- After a person is admitted to an immigration detention centre, they are placed in preventive isolation from other persons for the purpose of observation by medical personnel and also subjected to a medical examination within the centre. The person will have minimal contact with others in isolation; only medical personnel, social workers, and security officers are authorised to contact them. Migrants placed in isolation have access to “virtual visits” by way of an “online communicator” or a telephone as well as access to everyday outdoor leisure activities.

- Measurement of the body temperature of all detainees as well as of everybody entering a centre; temperatures of detainees taken daily.

- Restriction of the activities of the detention centre staff requiring direct contact with migrants to the minimum necessary.
Prohibition of visits to the centres. In the detention centres for migrants, a strict prohibition of in-person visits has been introduced, replaced with so-called “virtual visits” using an electronic communicator.

- Restriction of the purchase of products for migrants to the minimum necessary, i.e. only to particularly justified cases.

According to the Commissioner for Human Rights, due to the current epidemiological situation, there have been amendments to Polish legislation under Act of 2 March 2020 on special solutions related to the prevention and combating of Covid-19, other infectious diseases and crisis situations caused by them, providing, inter alia, special solutions for non-citizens in Poland. Current regulations allow for legal stay in the country for persons who wish to remain or those that cannot leave Poland due to the spread of Covid-19.

The Act extends the deadlines (by approximately a month) for leaving Polish territory for non-citizens, under Article 299 p.6 of the Act on Foreigners (e.g. in connection with the delivery of a final decision refusing to grant a temporary residence permit), if these deadlines were to fall within the period of an epidemic emergency. In addition, the deadline for voluntary return specified in a decision to return a non-citizen, the end of which would fall within the period of an epidemic emergency, was extended. This means that such removals would take place 30 days following the lifting of the epidemic emergency. The same applies to deadlines for submitting applications for legalising one’s residence; the validity of issued work permits, seasonal work permits, and declarations on entrusting work to foreigners; as well as for applications for residence permit applications, visa extensions and extensions of stay under the visa-free regime.


07 July 2020

Uganda

An Asylum Seeker with her Children and Others, Sitting After Undergoing a Health Screening Near the Border Crossing in Zombo, Uganda, (Rocco Nuri, UNHCR,
An Asylum Seeker with her Children and Others, Sitting After Undergoing a Health Screening Near the Border Crossing in Zombo, Uganda, (Rocco Nuri, UNHCR, "Over 3,000 Congolese Refugees Arrive in Uganda in Three Days," 7 July 2020, https://www.unhcr.org/news/briefing/2020/7/5f042a5a4/3000-congolese-refugees-arrive-uganda-three-days.html)

Often praised for having an open-door policy for refugees, Uganda closed its borders in March, leaving thousands of refugees and asylum seekers stranded and unable to enter the country (see 6 April update). Since May, approximately 10,000 refugees have been camped out on the Uganda-Democratic Republic of Congo border, having fled escalating violence in eastern DRC. However, following a 16 June decision, President Yoweri Museveni ordered authorities to temporarily re-open some border crossings to allow entry to those seeking protection. During 1-3 July, more than 3,000 Congolese asylum seekers were able to enter the country. The government’s decision was praised by UNHCR, whose spokesman in Uganda said, “It proves that even in the midst of a global crisis like COVID-19, there are ways to manage border restrictions in a manner which respects international human rights and refugee protection standards.” Despite the move, however, people trying to enter from South Sudan continue to be denied entry.

Those permitted entry are quarantined in a facility in Zombo near the border that can accommodate up to 6,000 people. Following mandatory quarantine, all asylum seekers are to be transferred to existing refugee camps within the country. However, as rights groups have highlighted, living conditions in Uganda’s refugee camps are poor and conducive to the spread of the virus. In a statement released shortly after announcement of the order to allow Congolese asylum seekers entry into the country, the Global Refugee-Led Network-Africa Chapter also urged authorities to ensure that quarantine conditions are dignified, “and to develop more general measures to admit people needing international protection at other border points.”

Meanwhile, Ugandan authorities have released groups of prisoners during the crisis—including 74 Congolese fishermen who had been confined in penal facilities in Katwe and Mubuku since 2018/2019. (Between July 2018 and the end of 2019, Uganda stepped up its patrols on Lake Edouard, and arrested more than 400 Congolese fishermen found in Ugandan waters.)


06 July 2020

Sweden

Swedish Parliamentary Ombudsman Office logo, (Ombudsman website, https://www.jo.se/en/)
Swedish Parliamentary Ombudsman Office logo, (Ombudsman website, https://www.jo.se/en/)

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, the Swedish Parliamentary Ombudsman’s office reported that Sweden had not established a moratorium on new immigration detention orders and that no such measure was under consideration. The Ombudsman’s office indicated that the Swedish police released immigration detainees in cases where expulsion could not be executed in the foreseeable future. Migrants and asylum seekers released from detention must observe the rules that the Public Health Agency has issued, for instance, physical distancing, washing hands, staying home if one has symptoms of Covid-19, and no using public transport unless absolutely necessary.

The Ombudsman’s office also stated that immigration detainees may be tested for Covid-19 if they have symptoms of the disease. If a detainee has symptoms, they will be placed in a separate unit in isolation. In addition, there is to be limited and specially designated staff who are authorised to work in that separate unit to avoid spreading the infection to other detainees.

Regarding removals, the Ombudsman’s office indicated that they did not have information to which countries removals were taking place and stated that Sweden had not adopted new immigration or asylum policies in response to Covid-19.


05 July 2020

Estonia

Rae Detention Centre, (Global Detention Project,
Rae Detention Centre, (Global Detention Project, "Immigration Detention in Estonia," May 2019, https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/europe/estonia/detention-centres/2258/rae-detention-centre)

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, a governmental actor, verified by the GDP, reported that no moratorium on new immigration detention orders had been established due to the pandemic and that no such measure was under consideration.

According to the source, the Estonian Police and Border Guard (PBGB) did not release any immigration detainees; however, there were only a few people in immigration detention at the start of the pandemic. During the state of emergency declared by the government (12 March to 17 May 2020), the court allowed the detention of two persons. In another decision, the court did not give the PBGB permission to detain a person. The court considered travel restrictions and personal circumstances to reach their decision. In another case, according to data provided by the PBGB to the governmental actor who responded to the survey, the police board decided not to detain two persons waiting to be expelled during the emergency situation, but rather to apply surveillance measures. The PBGB considered that there was no threat of absconding as border controls were re-established at the internal borders of the country.

In addition, the source stated that there were a few cases where the PBGB applied to the court to receive permission to prolong the detention of individuals. However, in these cases, the court did not analyse whether detention continued to be justified in the context of the pandemic. In only one case, the court prohibited the extension of a detention order as it could not be justified on any ground. The court only noted the emergency situation as an additional aspect to be considered.

The governmental actor also stated that two released detainees were allowed to live with their relatives. However, the PBGB did not arrange accommodation for these persons. Both individuals had provided assurances to the PBGB that they had sufficient means to meet daily needs.

The source indicated that persons seeking international protection reside in two accommodation units located in Vao and Vägeva. These units are administered by Hoolekandeteenused Ltd, which is contracted by the Estonian Ministry of Social Affairs. The function of the centres is to arrange, as necessary, for the provision of services in assistance to applicants during proceedings for international protection or proceedings for temporary protection, as provided by section 32 of the Act on Granting International Protection to Aliens. During the emergency period, newly arrived persons were accommodated separately and tested for Covid-19 if deemed necessary. Medical assistance is also provided in the centres.

According to the source, during the emergency situation, visits to the Rae detention centre, located in the Rae Municipality, were suspended, except for officials, lawyers, and National Preventive Mechanism staff. New detainees were held separately until an initial medical check was carried out and if any Covid-19 symptoms were observed, the detainee would be tested for the disease. The source said that the number of detained non-citizens had been relatively low in the past months. For instance, on 12 April, there were 10 detainees at the centre, which remained constant until 15 June. From 8 April to 15 June, there were only 7 new non-citizens that arrived at the Rae detention centre and 7 were released at that time. So far, there have not been any Covid-19 cases within the detention centre.

The source reported that deportations were not halted by the PBGB during the emergency period. These were arranged to the countries where it was possible, for example to the Russian Federation and to Latvia. During the emergency period, eight people were deported; since the emergency period ended, nine more had been deported as of 2 July. Currently, deportations are being carried out to the Russian Federation, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, and Bulgaria.

The country also reintroduced border controls during the Covid-19 crisis. People were not allowed to enter Estonia, save in particular cases. The PBGB confirmed to the source that people were able to submit applications for international protection. While internal border checks have now ended, restrictions on the right to enter the country are still applicable. According to the source, on 12 March the head of the PBGB issued a decree that prolonged the legal right to stay in Estonia for persons staying legally until the end of the emergency period if the person was unable to return to their country of origin. Nonetheless, these permits expired ten days after the end of the emergency period. Also, the Parliament adopted an amendment to the Aliens Act that enables non-citizens who were already residing in Estonia to continue working in the agricultural sector until 31 July 2020.

The head of the PBGB issued a decree suspending all proceedings related to residence permits and immigration status. However, the Chancellor of Justice found that this decree was unlawful and misleading. According to the law, the PBGB is allowed to prolong the deadlines of the proceedings, if circumstances justify the measure, but it is not allowed to suspend all proceedings.

The source also indicated that the government had issued a decree prohibiting the arrival of non-citizens into the country during this period, except in exceptional circumstances. Therefore, non-citizens who had already received permission to come to work in Estonia were refused entry. The Chancellor of Justice nonetheless said that this limitation for foreign workers may no longer be justified and therefore the government has begun allowing workers to enter from other countries as it is possible to apply less restrictive measures.

Some politicians have declared that, taking into account the impact of the pandemic, it is necessary to protect the local labour market and therefore locals should be employed rather than non-citizens. Some restrictions for the employment of non-citizens are currently under consideration, but no legislation has yet been amended.


04 July 2020

Greece

Global Detention Project,
Global Detention Project, "Immigration Detention in Greece - 2019 Update," September 2019, https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/europe/greece

Despite repeated criticisms of its continued lockdown of refugee and migrant camps (see 18 June update), Greece recently announced its fifth extension of these lockdown measures. As of 4 July, camps are to be quarantined until 19 July, with migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers continuing to face movement restrictions. According to the country’s migration ministry, those held in these facilities are only permitted to leave between 7am and 9pm in groups of less than 10 persons, and no more than 150 persons are allowed to exit each hour.

Activists and NGOs have reiterated their criticism that these lock-down measures have nothing to do with public health concerns given that no confirmed cases of the virus have yet been detected within these settings. Moreover, instead of protecting those inside these facilities, the continued lockdown appears to be placing them at greater risk of harm. As Oxfam and the Greek Council for Refugees reported, in Moria camp reports of sexual harassment, domestic violence, and rape have risen during the lockdown period. According to the Centre for Research on Women’s Issues (CRWI) Diotima, a women’s NGO, the inhumane living conditions and current legislation have “created suffocating conditions for these people, and particularly for persons who are in need of special protection, who find themselves further exposed. When you don’t have money and you don’t have a house, but you do have some kind of vulnerability, then you will become an almost certain victim of [further] exploitation and abuse.”


03 July 2020

Austria

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, the Austrian Ministry of Interior reported that no moratorium on new immigration detention orders had been established and that no such measure was under consideration. In addition, the Ministry said that no persons had been released from immigration detention, but that former detainees who had previously been released were subject to the same health-related rules and legal responsibilities as all residents in Austria.

The Ministry of Interior also indicated that immigration detainees were only tested for Covid-19 if an infection was suspected. In these cases, detainees would be placed in isolation until a result is known. While no general screening was conducted, general protective measures were implemented to prevent the spread of the virus among detainees.

In addition, the ministry explained that deportations had not been halted because of the pandemic although border closures, flight cancellations, and refusal of readmission prevented removals from taking place. Also, in Austria, temporary internal border controls to all neighbouring countries were introduced on 11 March, however, these were lifted on 16 June.


02 July 2020

Spain

65 Algerian Migrants Arriving at the port of Motril in Granada, (Alba Feixas, EFE,
65 Algerian Migrants Arriving at the port of Motril in Granada, (Alba Feixas, EFE, "La Llegada de Más Simpapeles Coincide con los Centros de Internamiento Cerrados," Lavanguardia, 3 June 2020, https://www.lavanguardia.com/vida/20200603/481582372581/inmigrantes-pateras-espana-pandemia.html)

After the release of immigration detainees from detention centres (Centros de Internamiento de Extranjeros or CIEs), there has been considerable discussion on the future of the country’s detention policies. The Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de Andalucía (APDH) reports that “since CIEs have been closed and detainees released, no catastrophe has ensued” and the organisation urged the country not to re-open the centres. In addition, Spanish police have conceded that it will be difficult to re-detain people released from immigration detention after the Covid-19 crisis recedes (see 26 May Spain update on this platform).

Lavanguardia has reported since the closure of CIEs in Spain, departure points of boats carrying migrants have been changed as Morocco was maintaining strict confinement of its population, making it hard for boats to leave. Boats are currently leaving from Algeria and arriving in Almeria, Murcia, and Baleares. While at the end of 2018, the Spanish ombudsman reported that of the 7,855 people detained in Spain’s CIE, 2,801 were Moroccan nationals and 2,513 were Algerian nationals, at present, Algerian nationals are the largest population arriving by boat to Spain. Also, since CIEs have been shut, in May 2020 the number of ships arriving at the Spanish coast has doubled compared to May 2019.

On 2 July, 11 migrants arrived in Ibiza on a small boat. Under new protocols, they were all tested for Covid-19, and none of them tested positive for the disease. All of those on board were Algerian nationals, including one minor. Ten were transferred to Madrid where they will be released and placed under the supervision of the Comisión Española de Ayuda al Refugiado (CEAR), an NGO providing support to refugees. According to Nouidiari, an expulsion proceeding had been opened for the intercepted migrants that will likely be completed once Algeriàs borders re-open.


01 July 2020

Australia

"Detainees in immigration detention centre fear they will get coronavirus," AAP, 27 March 2020, (https://www.sbs.com.au/news/home-affairs-rejects-calls-to-release-immigration-detainees-fearful-of-coronavirus)

Despite recommendations from infectious disease experts, medical professionals, civil society, and international human rights observers to reduce detainee populations (see 26 April update), the numbers of non-nationals detained in Australia have increased during the pandemic. This is according to the country’s Commonwealth Ombudsman, Michael Manthorpe, who warned, “There is a risk that upward pressure on numbers in detention will continue in the medium term. This will make adherence to CDNA Guidelines harder and increase the risk should COVID-19 virus occur in one of the facilities. … It has become apparent in other residential settings that just one mishap can lead to a serious outbreak in facilities where large numbers of people are housed in close proximity to one another. For example, a person without symptoms could innocently bring the virus into a facility without their knowledge. … All this being so, we consider that it would be highly desirable for fewer people to be held in immigration detention.”

This assessment followed the completion of the Ombudsman’s investigation into the management of Covid-19 risks in Australia’s immigration detention estate. Aside from the rising numbers of persons in detention, he noted - amongst other points - that although screening was generally in place in most facilities, in several centres there was no oversight of persons exiting the premises. The Ombudsman also flagged the failure to implement compound separation in at least one facility - a failure which resulted in detainees from different compounds using the same communal facilities at the same time.

Some positive points, however, were also noted. These included the fact that facility staff had clearly messaged to detainees that they are able to access personal effects and entertainment during periods of medical isolation - an important policy to help alleviate any reluctance amongst detainees to self-report, given fears of isolation during testing.

This investigation was prompted by a complaint lodged by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) in May on behalf of 14 men held in onshore detention facilities. The men were unable to follow public health advice and practice social distancing in overcrowded detention centres, and their complaint called for an urgent inspection of detention sites in order to assess the adequacy of detention conditions during the crisis.

What this investigation did not refer to, however, was the country’s proposed new law that will see mobile phones banned in onshore detention facilities. According to Australia’s Immigration Minister, who described mobiles as an “unacceptable risk,” this ban is necessary to stop the spread of drugs and contraband items in detention centres. Civil society and NGOs have challenged the proposed policy, arguing that phones are a “lifeline” for detainees - particularly due to their role in helping to support persons’ mental health and wellbeing. With visits suspended during the Covid-19 crisis, mobile phones have played an even greater role for many detainees in the past few months, helping to prevent acute isolation.


30 June 2020

Azerbaijan

Migrants at Baku’s IOM-supported Shelter for Victims of Trafficking  Making Masks to Help in the COVID-19 Effort, (IOM,
Migrants at Baku’s IOM-supported Shelter for Victims of Trafficking Making Masks to Help in the COVID-19 Effort, (IOM, "Trafficking Victims Join Fight Against COVID-19 in Azerbaijan," 27 March 2020, https://www.iom.int/news/trafficking-victims-join-fight-against-covid-19-azerbaijan)

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, the State Migration Service of the Republic of Azerbaijan reported that since the application of the special quarantine regime in the country on 24 March, the placement of foreigners and stateless persons, present in the country irregularly, has been suspended. The country’s immigration authority also indicated that assessments were conducted to identify vulnerable groups, particularly at risk from Covid-19, currently in immigration detention and that medical examinations and monitoring of detainees are being carried out. Due to measures applied to reduce the risk of contagion of Covid-19, the daily outdoor walks for immigration detainees are conducted in accordance with the rules of internal discipline. Sanitary supplies are provided to individuals detained in immigration detention centres.

According to the Azerbaijan Migration Service, all foreigners placed in or leaving detention centres undergo a medical examination. In addition, the same sanitary-epidemiological requirements applied to citizens of the Republic of Azerbaijan are also applied to non-citizens that have left immigration detention as well as asylum seekers during their stay in the country.

The country’s immigration authority said that detainees who are in need of medical care receive treatment outside the Baku detention centre whenever possible. Taking into account the special quarantine regime applied by the government, social distancing measures, regular examination of detainees as well as general compliance with sanitary norms and hygiene rules are being strictly monitored.

The Migration Service also indicated that the administrative expulsion of foreigners and stateless persons staying irregularly in the country has not been carried out since the date of the application of the special quarantine regime (24 March 2020). The authority reported that restrictions on entry and exit to the country’s territory have been applied until 1 August and that the requirement to apply for an extension of temporary stay in the country for non-citizens living in the country and who cannot leave, has been suspended. Permits that expire while special measures are applied in the country have been extended without the need for applications. However, non-citizens whose permits were automatically extended will have to leave the country or apply for temporary residence permits shortly after border restrictions are lifted. The Migration Service indicated that to protect the health and safety of non-citizens and stateless persons during the quarantine period, many of its services were moved to online platforms. As a result, the number of non-citizens using e-services has increased during the quarantine period.

The Migration Service also advised that they engaged in awareness-raising activities and shared information via the Service’s website, Facebook, Twitter accounts, and their Call Centre.

The International Legal Initiative Foundation (ILI), based in Kazakhstan, confirmed that according to information it had received authorities in Azerbaijan extended permits for migrants to remain in the country for 30-60 days. In addition, Sputnik News indicated that 134,298 non-citizens are currently living in Azerbaijan and that since January 2020, there has been a decrease in the amount of migrants arriving in the country by around 44% compared to the same period in 2019. According to the Migration Code of Azerbaijan, non-citizens and stateless persons who wish to remain in the country for more than 15 days (maximum of 90 days) must register at a temporary address. In case of non-compliance with the specific period, persons can incur a fine of 300 to 400 manat.


28 June 2020

United States

Asylum Seekers Leaving a Cafeteria at the ICE South Texas Family Residential Centre in Dilley, Texas, (Eric Gay, Associated Press,
Asylum Seekers Leaving a Cafeteria at the ICE South Texas Family Residential Centre in Dilley, Texas, (Eric Gay, Associated Press, "Judge Orders U.S. to Release Migrant Children from Family Detention Centers," Reuters, 26 June 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-usa-deportations/u-s-deports-400-migrant-children-under-new-coronavirus-rules-idUSKBN21P354)

On 26 June, a federal Judge ordered the release of children held with their parents in immigration detention centres. District Judge Dolly M. Gee’s order applies to children held for more than 20 days at three family detention centres in Texas and Pennsylvania operated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Due to the recent spread of Covid-19 in two of the three facilities, the judge set a deadline of 17 July for children to either be released with their parents or sent to family sponsors. However, according to the lawyers for the families, last month, most parents refused to designate a sponsor when asked who could take their children if they remained detained.

According to the judge's order, 124 children are being detained in ICE’s centres, which are separate from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services facilities for unaccompanied children that were holding some 1,000 children at the start of June. Numbers have reportedly fallen due to the U.S. expelling most people trying to cross the border or requiring them to wait for their immigration cases in Mexico.

In court filings, ICE said that 11 children and parents had tested positive for the disease at the family detention centre in Karnes City, Texas. Also, at the detention centre near Dilley, at least three parents and children, including a two year old child, were placed in isolation after two private contractors and an ICE official tested positive for the virus.

In total, more than 2,500 people held in ICE custody have tested positive for Covid-19. ICE said it has released at least 900 people considered to be particularly at risk and reduced the populations at its three family detention centres. Yet, in court filings last month, ICE explained it considered most of the people in family detention to be flight risks as they had pending deportation orders or cases under review.

In April, Reuters reported that U.S. immigration officials had deported some 400 migrant children intercepted at the U.S.-Mexico border from around 24 March to 7 April. The Trump administration implemented new border rules in late 21 March, allowing officials to quickly remove people without standard immigration proceedings. Since the new procedures took effect on 21 March, approximately 7,000 people have been expelled to Mexico, of whom 377 were minors. 120 of the minors, who arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border without a parent or legal guardian, were sent to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Prior to the new rules, unaccompanied minors caught at the border were placed in shelters run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


27 June 2020

Switzerland

Image of a Dormitory in Asylum Accommodation, (Blick TV,
Image of a Dormitory in Asylum Accommodation, (Blick TV, "Genug Schutz vor Corona?," 20 April 2020, https://www.blick.ch/news/schweiz/zuerich/asylzentrum-genug-schutz-vor-corona-id15853493.html)

Responding to the Global Detention Project Covid-19 survey, AsyLex reported that although Switzerland has not established a moratorium on new immigration detention orders, many immigration detainees have been released because returns are no longer possible. Certain local governments (cantonal authorities) have released all detainees, confirming information provided to the GDP by the Director General of the Geneva Cantonal Population and Migration Office (Office Cantonal de la Population et des Migrations) (see 9 June Switzerland update on this platform), whereas other local authorities have not released anyone. However, all detainees in Dublin procedures were released towards the end of March.

Asylex indicated that for released detainees, no “alternatives to detention” programs were used; instead, according to AsyLex, people were returned to crowded “camps,” referring to “asylum accommodation” (Asylunterkünften) or “asylum centres” (Asylzentren), which they said may lack adequate protections for preventing the spread of Covid-19. AsyLex explained that these places are often underground, with up to 15 people sleeping in one room. Blick TV investigated these facilities and published a video filmed by a detainee showing an overcrowded dormitory where social distancing is impossible to implement (see link below).

Asylex also said that immigration detainees have only been tested for Covid-19 if infection is suspected. In addition, according to the organisation, deportations were not halted as removals to Serbia and Albania took place and potentially to other countries.

On 9 June, the Swiss Supreme Court handed down a judgment in a case brought by AsyLex concerning the detention of a Somali national prior to deportation. The Court found that due to limitations on the ability to deport people, “detention pending removal” was unlawful during this period. AsyLex explained that the law stipulates that to detain people under this provision deportation must be foreseeable, as per Article 76 of the Federal Act on Foreign Nationals and Integration (AIG).

In a statement on their website published on 11 June, AsyLex also mentioned that they presented challenges in more than 40 cases throughout Switzerland during the Covid-19 pandemic, invoking various provisions (Articles 78(6)(a); 80(a)(6); and 80(a)(7)) of the AIG as well as Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights. More than 30 of their clients were released from detention, while other cases are still pending.


26 June 2020

Peru

IOM Worker Handing Food Parcels to Migrants, (IOM,
IOM Worker Handing Food Parcels to Migrants, (IOM, "Perú y la ONU se Alían Para Ayudar a los Refugiados y Migrantes Venezolanos Afectados por el Coronavirus," UN News, 17 April 2020, https://news.un.org/es/story/2020/04/1473012)

The Covid-19 crisis has had a dramatic impact on Peru’s economic and social situation. As of 25 May 2020, Peru had recorded more than 260,000 cases and 8,586 deaths related to the disease, making it the Latin American country with most cases and deaths from Covid-19 after Brazil.

A report by the World Bank Group reported that Venezuelan migrants residing in Peru (around 830,000) are particularly at risk from Covid-19 due to several factors, including inadequate access to health and social services as well as loss of employment. The report stated that when falling ill, only 33 percent of Venezuelan migrants (compared to 48 percent of Peruvians) sought medical care in a health centre or a doctor’s office, mostly due to a lack of financial resources and insurance coverage. Many Venezuelan migrants in Peru work in the informal sector and due to the Covid-19 crisis have lost their employment and income, leaving many in a situation of extreme poverty.

UN agencies have distributed food parcels and water, provided by the private sector, to some 5,000 families in vulnerable situations. This was intended to cover essential needs during the sanitary emergency to avoid people going out to buy food. According to the IOM director in Peru, “more than 80% of the Venezuelan population in Peru works in the informal sector and that people live off daily income. After 25 days of compulsory social isolation, these persons are in great need of assistance.”

Migrants and refugees are being accommodated in overpopulated shelters. “Accion contra el Hambre” has been distributing food, water, and hygiene kits across the shelters as well as providing support to improve their sanitation infrastructure and hygiene conditions. The organisation has reported that Venezuelan migrants are suffering from increased xenophobia and that this vulnerable population has been left out of subsidy plans during the pandemic.

Certain measures have been taken to reduce the spread of Covid-19 within penal institutions. Peruvian authorities announced the creation of 60 temporary facilities to treat prisoners suffering from Covid-19 on 20 April and thousands of prisoners have been released since April. On 19 May, 933 prisoners were released, most of whom were at least 60 years old and had been sentenced for minor offences. The following day, the Minister of Justice announced that they expect to release approximately 10,000 prisoners on remand and at least 2,500 convicted offenders.

A riot took place on 27 April at the Miguel Castro Castro prison in Lima, which is severely overpopulated. Although it has a capacity of only 1,140 places, there are reportedly 5,500 prisoners. Three prisoners were killed following an operation led by the police and prison guards intended to regain control of the prison. As of 20 May, 2,800 members of staff (out of 11,000) and 3,212 prisoners (out of 96,870) were tested for the disease and 674 employees and 1,223 prisoners tested positive.


25 June 2020

Indonesia

A Fishing Boat Carrying Dozens of Rohingya Refugees is Rescued in the Waters of North Aceh on 24 June 2020, (Nova Wahyudi, Antara,
A Fishing Boat Carrying Dozens of Rohingya Refugees is Rescued in the Waters of North Aceh on 24 June 2020, (Nova Wahyudi, Antara, "Amnesty Urges Indonesia to Protect Rohingya Stranded in Aceh Waters," The Jakarta Post, 25 June 2020, https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/06/25/amnesty-urges-indonesia-to-protect-rohingya-stranded-in-aceh-waters.html)

Amnesty International reported (24 June) that a boat carrying 94 Rohingya refugees was stranded in waters just off Aceh. In a statement, the rights group urged the Indonesian authorities to ensure the group’s rescue, disembarkation, and protection. As the Executive Director of Amnesty International Indonesia said, “In the time of COVID-19, we urge all countries in the region to ensure the wellbeing of refugees and not to send them back to the sea. Under international law, all countries have the obligation to protect and rescue people at risk of serious harm.” However, the Indonesian government stated that the group would be pushed back once their broken vessel is fixed. In videos shared by the Asia Pacific Refugee RIghts Network (APRRN), locals can be seen demonstrating, urging the Indonesian government to alter its policy and allow the stranded women, children, and men to disembark. Reports subsequently suggested that the local community had helped the group of refugees to land. (Numerous other countries in the Asia-Pacific region have refused to rescue Rohingya boats during the pandemic, including Malaysia and Thailand. See our updates on this platform)

Although Indonesia recognised refugees and asylum seekers as a vulnerable group during the pandemic, authorities have reportedly not conducted any practical actions to protect such communities. According to ARPPN, refugees have not been provided with protective equipment such as masks and hand sanitiser, despite many continuing to live in overcrowded and cramped apartments (see 4 April update). Information about the virus was also not delivered to refugees by the government in a language they could understand—authorities have instead relied upon NGOs to translate and relay crucial health information during the crisis. Undocumented migrants, meanwhile, many of whom have previously faced rejections from hospitals, remain unwilling to access treatment and testing. While the IOM provides some healthcare to non-nationals, this is limited to emergency care only.

Ahead of World Refugee Day on 20 June, activists called on the government to do more to uphold the rights of refugees in the country—particularly given the limited attention that authorities provided to them in their response to the pandemic. Although the country has not signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, according to UNHCR, some 13,534 refugees were registered in the country in May 2020.


24 June 2020

Tunisia

Migrants Carrying Aid Boxes Distributed at the Raoued Town Hall in Tunis, (Mohamed Messara, EPA,
Migrants Carrying Aid Boxes Distributed at the Raoued Town Hall in Tunis, (Mohamed Messara, EPA, "53% of Migrants Lost Jobs in Tunisia in COVID-19 lockdown," Info Migrants, 8 May 2020, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/24614/53-of-migrants-lost-jobs-in-tunisia-in-covid-19-lockdown)

Responding to the Global Detention Project Covid-19 survey, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Tunis office reported that on 7 April 2020, the government held an inter-ministerial meeting, which included the Interior Ministry, to discuss measures to be taken with respect to migrants in response to the pandemic. These included the suspension of visa termination dates, financial assistance, and non-arrest for irregular residence for those already in the country. However, the IOM said that they were not aware of any migration detainees being released during the pandemic.

While no arrests appear to have been made for immigration-related reasons during the confinement period, according to IOM, people attempting to enter the country without authorisation continue to be arrested (the country has closed its borders until 27 June). These people are supposed to be tested for Covid-19, if the tests are negative, may be referred to humanitarian assistance agencies for accommodation and care, including the IOM, Red Crescent, and Terre d’Asile. However, the IOM pointed out that they are not present at points of entry so could not confirm all the procedures that may be taken.

Anyone arrested following a judicial decision is to be tested for Covid-19 and is to spend 14 days in confinement. The IOM said that authorities prepared specific spaces for solitary confinement within places of detention.

During the pandemic, deportations were reportedly halted and Tunisia adopted mechanisms for the inclusion of vulnerable migrants in financial aid programs and health care so that movement was minimised while ensuring that migrants arrested for irregular border crossings were tested for Covid-19 and referred to aid organisations.


23 June 2020

Mexico

Migrants Waiting for their Turn at an Immigration Office at the Guatemala-Mexico Border, (AFP,
Migrants Waiting for their Turn at an Immigration Office at the Guatemala-Mexico Border, (AFP, "4 Novedades de la Caravana Migrante que Partió de Honduras a Estados Unidos," BBC News, 18 January 2019, https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-america-latina-46914252)

Responding to the Global Detention Project survey, Mexico’s immigration authority, the Instituto Nacional de Migración (INM), did not provide answers to the survey question but responded with an explanation of measures taken to protect detained migrants from Covid-19 contagion.

The INM explained that on 4 March, their officials at all different levels, including those working in detention centres (estancias y estaciones migratorias), were made aware of measures they should be taken to minimise the risks of infection. On 17 March, all immigration authority staff were informed of the work undertaken by the Mexican government to prevent the spread of the disease.

The INM provided a list of recommendations that were provided to staff and detainees in Mexico’s immigration detention centres. These include:

- Avoiding close contact with ill-persons;
- Avoid touching one’s eyes, mouth and nose;
- Remaining at home if one is ill;
- Covering one’s mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing;
- Cleaning and disinfecting objects and surfaces which are frequently used, with cleaning products;
- Using face-masks;
- Frequently washing one’s hands with water and soap for at least 20 seconds, especially after eating, going to the bathroom and sneezing or coughing;
- If no water or soap are available, using disinfectant to wash one’s hands;
- Taking one’s temperature three times a day;
- Constantly cleaning the centres;
- Strictly monitoring cooking facilities and staff must follow hygiene protocols including, using masks and gloves to protect food from contamination;
- Serving food at different times to avoid overcrowding during breakfast, lunch and dinner times;
- Avoiding grouping people so as to respect social distancing; and
- Consistently disinfecting phones that are used by detainees and staff members.

The INM also mentioned that a protocol on procedures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and measures to take in case of infection within immigration detention centres was published on their website in April (listed as a source below).

The Mexican immigration authority said that following recommendations by Mexican health authorities as well as national and international human rights organisations, vulnerable groups were released from detention. The INM mentioned that religious institutions have accommodated many released migrants in their facilities.


23 June 2020

Guatemala

Two Asylum Seekers, One from El Salvador, One from Honduras, Wait Inside a Migrant House in Guatemala City after Being Sent to Guatemala from the United States on 3 December 2019, Under An “Asylum Cooperative Agreement” Between the Two Countries,
Two Asylum Seekers, One from El Salvador, One from Honduras, Wait Inside a Migrant House in Guatemala City after Being Sent to Guatemala from the United States on 3 December 2019, Under An “Asylum Cooperative Agreement” Between the Two Countries," (Oliverde Ros, AP Photo, "US: Abusive Transfers of Asylum Seekers to Guatemala," HRW, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/05/19/us-abusive-transfers-asylum-seekers-guatemala)

Responding to the GDP Covid-19 survey, the Guatemalan Ombudsman office (Procuraduría para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos or PDH) said that the Guatemalan Foreign Ministry has reported a notable reduction in the number of flights returning migrants to Guatemala. Guatemala has also suspended numerous deportation flights from the United States (see 19 June Guatemala update on this platform) and suspended the implementation of the ACA (Acuerdo de Cooperación y Asilo) agreement with the United States in March until further notice. Under the agreement, the United States transferred non-Guatemalan asylum seekers to Guatemala without allowing them to lodge asylum claims in the United States. In a report by Refugees International and Human Rights Watch (listed as a source below), the organisations showed that ACA did not meet the criteria in United States’ law for a Safe Third Country Agreement that would enable Salvadorans and Hondurans to seek asylum in a safe country other than the United States. The PDH confirmed that currently, only Guatemalan nationals are being returned to Guatemala.

The PDH said that only certain returnees were being tested for Covid-19 upon their arrival and that returnees were placed in quarantine in special reception centres, prior to being allowed to return to their local communities.

However, in their response to the GDP survey, the PDH said that they were unable to provide information on whether persons in immigration detention had been released or give any information concerning measures taken to protect detainees from Covid-19. The information submitted to the GDP mostly focused on returns from the United States and did not provide specific answers as regards immigration detention in the country.


22 June 2020

Croatia

A Group of Migrants Walk Through Countryside in Northern Bosnia after Being Physically Expelled by Police from Croatia, (Elvis Barukcic, AFP, Getty Images,
A Group of Migrants Walk Through Countryside in Northern Bosnia after Being Physically Expelled by Police from Croatia, (Elvis Barukcic, AFP, Getty Images, "Croatian Police Use Violence to Push Back Migrants, President Admits," The Guardian, 16 July 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jul/16/croatian-police-use-violence-to-push-back-migrants-says-president#img-1)

In a joint statement published on 19 June, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Felipe González Morales, and the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Nils Melzer, said that they “are deeply concerned about the repeated and ongoing disproportionate use of force by Croatian police against migrants in pushback operations. Victims, including children, have suffered physical abuse and humiliation simply because of their migration status.”

The Special Rapporteurs mentioned that physical violence and treatment against migrants had been reported in more than 60 percent of all recorded pushbacks from Croatia between January and May 2020. The reported abuse included physical beatings, use of electric socks, forced river crossings, stripping of clothes despite adverse weather conditions, forced stress positions, gender insensitive body searches and spray-painting the heads of migrants with crosses (see 21 May Croatia update on this platform).

González Morales stated that such violent pushbacks without proper or official procedure or any due process safeguards constituted a violation of the prohibition of collective expulsions and the principle of non-refoulement. Melzer requested that Croatian authorities investigate all reported cases of violence against migrants and to hold perpetrators and their superiors to account.

The UN Special Rapporteurs were also concerned that in several cases, Croatian police officers ignored requests from migrants to seek asylum or other protection under international law. The statement comes following an official visit from González Morales to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) in 2019 where he had already received information concerning violent pushbacks by Croatian police to BiH. Melzer had received similar information during his official visit to Serbia and Kosovo in 2017.


21 June 2020

Mozambique

Amnesty International, “Mozambique: Failure to Release African Asylum Seekers and Refugees Reveals Disturbing Flaws in Justice System,” 20 June 2020, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/06/mozambique-failure-to-release-african-refugees-and-asylum-seekers-reveals-disturbing-flaws-in-justice-system/
Amnesty International, “Mozambique: Failure to Release African Asylum Seekers and Refugees Reveals Disturbing Flaws in Justice System,” 20 June 2020, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/06/mozambique-failure-to-release-african-refugees-and-asylum-seekers-reveals-disturbing-flaws-in-justice-system/

On World Refugee Day (20 June), rights groups called on Mozambican authorities to release a group of 16 African refugees and asylum seekers detained in the country since 2019 and who are held in conditions in which their health is not safeguarded. The group, which includes 15 Congolese people and one Ethiopian man, were arrested (and allegedly beaten) by police and immigration officers in Maratane Refugee Camp in the north-east of the country and have since been arbitrarily detained in Pemba, Cabo Delgado province. According to Amnesty International, the group have been held in inhuman conditions with no access to clean drinking water and no toilet in their cell, and no measures have been implemented in the prison to prevent the spread of Covid-19. They have not been provided with beds and instead are reported to be sleeping on sheets of paper on the floor. In June 2019, it was also reported that the group had been denied food and medical attention, and in April 2019 the prison in which they are held was reported to have been flooded and damaged by Cyclone Kenneth.

Amnesty said in a 20 June statement, “The Mozambican government must immediately and unconditionally end the arbitrary detention of these refugees and release them without any delay or charge them with internationally recognizable offences if they have committed any crime.” In January 2019, Mozambican authorities had attempted to deport seven of the asylum seekers to the Democratic Republic of Congo, but Congolese immigration authorities denied them entry.

In a previous case in 2018 involving the six-month detention of three asylum seekers, a High Court ordered their release, affirming the rights of asylum seekers within the country. According to the Southern Africa Litigation Centre, despite Article 11 of the country’s Refugee Act stating that any criminal or administrative proceedings directly connected with illegal entry shall be suspended immediately upon the submission of the petition, asylum seekers have continued to be arrested and detained for illegal entry.


19 June 2020

Guatemala

M. G. Diaz, “Coronavirus en Guatemala: los Contagios de Covid-19 entre Migrantes que Llevaron al Pais a Suspender los Vuelos de Deportados desde EE.UU.,” BBC News, 21 April 2020, https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-america-latina-52364025
M. G. Diaz, “Coronavirus en Guatemala: los Contagios de Covid-19 entre Migrantes que Llevaron al Pais a Suspender los Vuelos de Deportados desde EE.UU.,” BBC News, 21 April 2020, https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-america-latina-52364025

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, Guatemala’s immigration authority (Instituto Guatemalteco de Migración) reported that no moratorium on new immigration detention orders has been established. The Guatemalan immigration authority also reported that currently only Guatemalan national residents and accredited consular diplomats are allowed to enter the country. Non-citizens are only allowed to leave the country and are prohibited from entering.

The greatest impact of Covid-19 on the migration situation facing Guatemala has been U.S. deportations, which continued even after concerns were raised about infected Guatemalans being deported. According to news reports, on 20 April, more than 5,000 Guatemalan nationals were in the custody of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service (ICE) and the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in the United States. Of these, almost 4,000 were detained for immigration reasons and more than 1,000 were children. Deportations from the United States to Guatemala have not been suspended and from 29 March to 22 May, 1,200 undocumented migrants were deported. On 11 May, official statistics reported that 102 infected migrants had been deported back to Guatemala.

The Guatemalan government has suspended several deportation flights and requested that the United States provide a health certificate for every deportee attesting that they are clear of Covid-19. However, according to the president of the “Cooperacion Migrante” organisation, migrants carrying the virus continue to arrive as the United States is only carrying out Covid-19 tests at random. In addition, Douglas Gonzales, an academic and political analyst, said that the main obstacle to controlling the importation of Covid-19 cases is not in deportations from the USA but rather that the country does “not have the capacity to control migratory flows on a land border as large as the one with Mexico.”

The Guatemalan Ombudsman (Procuraduría de Derechos Humanos Guatemalteca) criticised the government for the conditions in which returned migrants were held (in a makeshift reception centre located in the Guatemala City airport). The BBC reported that returnees were given mats to sleep on the floor of a room inside the airport (see image).

Guatemalan prisons hold 26,160 persons with 52 percent of prisoners serving prison sentences and 48% placed on remand. On 5 June, the country's Ministry of Health confirmed the death of two prisoners from Covid-19 in the Centro de Detencion Preventiva para Hombres de la Zona 18, which currently has a population of 4,751 persons. On 28 May, the Ombudsman criticised the lack of protective equipment and sanitary products such as antibacterial gel, masks, and gloves in the country’s 21 prisons.


18 June 2020

Greece

Refugee Rights Europe, “The Invisible Islands: Covid-19 Restrictions and the Future of Detention on Kos and Leros,” June 2020, https://refugee-rights.eu/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/RRE_TheInvisibleIslands.pdf
Refugee Rights Europe, “The Invisible Islands: Covid-19 Restrictions and the Future of Detention on Kos and Leros,” June 2020, https://refugee-rights.eu/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/RRE_TheInvisibleIslands.pdf

Although Greece lifted its lockdown measures in May, authorities have continued to impose movement restrictions upon migrants and refugees held in Reception and Identification Centres (RICs) on the Aegean islands as well as facilities on the country’s mainland. Initially extended until 10 May, lockdown measures for such facilities were later extended until 7 June—and now until 21 June. The continuation of lockdown measures in these facilities has been strongly condemned by NGOs and rights observers. Human Rights Watch stated on 12 June, “There have been no Covid-19 cases reported in the islands’ camps. And those on the mainland haven’t recorded any cases since April. Yet despite insufficient evidence to justify stronger restrictions in the camps than elsewhere in the country, these discriminatory lockdowns continue for all of them.” Some observers have warned that these lockdown measures may have an ulterior motive - to convert the reception sites into closed detention facilities, in line with the controversial International Protection Bill (Law 4636/2019), which entered into force on 1 January 2020.

Facilities on the Greek islands of Lesvos, Samos, Chios, Kos, and Leros have long been criticised for their overcrowding, poor material living conditions, and insufficient service provision. While rights groups and NGOs called for their decongestion at the start of the crisis, Greece instead opted to seal off the facilities (see 23 April update). Since mid-April, 3,000 people have reportedly been transferred out of the camps, but facilities remain severely overcrowded: As of 9 June, 31,203 people were registered as living in the camps, a number that far surpasses the 6,095 capacity of the facilities. According to the NGO Refugee Rights Europe, promised measures in RICs—including the establishment of special health units including medical clinics and isolation spaces—have not yet been implemented.

Since March, Greece has also been arbitrarily detaining newly arrived asylum seekers—including children, persons with disabilities, older persons, and pregnant women—in two mainland detention facilities (in Malakassa and Serres). Although authorities have presented their detention as a necessary health measure to avoid the spread of the virus, the facilities are reported to lack even basic health and sanitation provisions.

Several media outlets reported pushbacks at the country’s land and sea borders. According to a report by Der Spiegal, Report Mainz, and Lighthouse Reports, masked Greek coast guard officers were intercepting refugee boats and returning them to Turkey. The report provides video footage that appears to corroborate this claim. On 12 June, UNHCR urged Greece to immediately investigate the reports and stated, “Greece has the legitimate right to control its borders and manage irregular migration while respecting international human rights and refugee protection standards. Controls and practices must guarantee the rights of asylum seekers and they should not be turned away at Greece’s borders.”

Having suspended asylum procedures in March until 1 April after Turkey opened its western border to allow non-nationals to cross into the EU, Greece’s asylum system was again suspended through to 18 May. On 5 June however, HRW reported that asylum procedures had finally restarted.


17 June 2020

Luxembourg

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, Luxembourg’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported (on 17 June) that the country has not established a moratorium on new immigration detention orders and has not implemented new immigration, asylum or border policies. The ministry stated that on 16 March, 19 detainees (“retenus”) were released, in part because of a determination that it would not be possible to deport them in the required period of time. Since 18 March, nine additional detainees have been released from the Findel detention centre (“Centre de rétention”) because they could not be deported. The ministry also said that forced returns had been suspended since 11 March.

According to the ministry, released detainees are offered accommodation in the Kirchberg Emergency Facility. Staff members of the Findel detention centre refer released detainees towards adequate accommodation facilities, if these people are unable to find accommodation for themselves.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry also reported that all new arrivals are placed in quarantine for a duration of seven days in a specialised unit. New arrivals are tested within 24 hours of their admission by medical staff in the centre. A second test is then conducted six days after the first and if the result is negative, they are integrated into the normal units. Each time a detainee moves from their unit, save for when they are outside, they must wear a protective mask. Disinfectant gel is also made available to detainees in multiple locations around the centre. The rate of cleaning and disinfection, which are conducted by a private company, has been increased to reduce the risk of contagion. Staff, visitors, and service providers have their temperature taken prior to entering and if their temperature is above 38°C, they are not allowed to enter the centre. It is also an obligation for visitors to constantly wear a mask within the centre and use disinfectant gel. Visits had been temporarily suspended, but resumed in mid-June after protective measures were put in place to ensure social distancing. The ministry also added that the capacity of the Findel detention centre has been reduced as well as the quantity of staff in order to reduce the risk of infection.


17 June 2020

Nicaragua

Persecuted Nicaraguan Woman in a Shelter in Costa Rica, (Daniel Dreifuss, UNHCR,
Persecuted Nicaraguan Woman in a Shelter in Costa Rica, (Daniel Dreifuss, UNHCR, "Nicaragua: After two years of crisis, more than 100,000 have fled the country," UN News, 10 March 2020, https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/03/1059051)

The Covid-19 crisis has had an important impact on Nicaragua, in particular on people seeking to leave the country, whose numbers have grown considerably in recent years. In early March 2020, a UNHCR spokesperson said that “serious political and social crises in the country have prompted Nicaraguan students, human rights defenders, journalists and farmers to flee their country at an average rate of 4,000 people every month.” Since the initial violent clampdown following popular protests in 2018, most Nicaraguans have fled to Costa Rica, which as of March was hosting 77,000 refugees and asylum seekers. More than 8,000 people have fled to Panama and 9,000 to Europe. The UN estimates that there are around 103,600 Nicaraguan refugees and asylum seekers worldwide.

On 16 April, news reports indicated that Costa Rica had reinforced its border with Nicaragua and rejected 5,000 undocumented migrants in a month. According to the Nicaraguan immigration authority (Dirección de Migración), since Costa Rica closed its borders, there have been 5,300 people have been refused entry into the country, monstly undocumented Nicaraguan citizens. The Costa Rican immigration authority (Dirección de Migración y Extranjería) reported that 700 Nicaraguan citizens have given up their asylum claim in Costa Rica due to the deterioration of their economic conditions and have now returned to Nicaragua.

In addition, on 22 April, news reports stated that groups of Nicaraguan nationals were being prevented from entering the country at its borders with El Salvador. During the weekend of 18-19 April, a plane carrying 160 Nicaraguan nationals to Managua was prohibited from entering the country. In response, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, urged Latin American countries to open their borders to their own nationals, stating that “under international law, everyone has the right to return to their country of origin, even during a pandemic.”

As regards the country’s prisons, on 12 June the organisation “Victimas de Abril” denounced the inhumane conditions of imprisonment of 86 political prisoners, of whom 45 have shown Covid-19 symptoms. Detainees have reported that within the Jorge Navarro prison, they have only received one medical visit in 10 weeks and are only provided with two buckets of water a day. Access to hygienic products is limited and visits have not yet been suspended. One wing of the prison has been dedicated to prisoners showing symptoms of the disease, yet, certain prisoners have developed symptoms while cleaning the facility.


16 June 2020

Netherlands

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, a government official who asked to remain anonymous reported that no moratorium on new immigration detention orders had been established and that no such measure was under consideration. The official confirmed that people who were awaiting removal to another EU member state under the Dublin Regulation have been released from detention as their return could not be realised within the prescribed six weeks. However, for all other detention measures, the Dutch Repatriation and Departure Service made individual assessments on whether a return would still be possible. Detention was continued for those individuals who did not cooperate with the assessment to determine their nationality. Also, the official stated that in cases of detainees for which travel documents were available, an assessment was made on whether return would be possible within a short timeframe. If such a return was not possible, the detention measure was lifted.

The government official said that depending upon whether a person has a right to reception under the Dutch Aliens Act, they will receive support. If this is not the case, the official said that any person can ask the municipality to be placed in a homeless shelter. All municipalities received additional funds to create more shelter spaces and according to the official all shelters will follow the rules of the Dutch Health Authority to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Reception centres, as shelters, are open centres and so persons can move freely. In consequence, the official said that it was the person’s responsibility to follow the guidelines of the Dutch Health Authority. In the reception centres, the guidelines have been provided in several languages as well as sign language.

Tests are reportedly conducted for detainees who make health complaints to doctors and where there is suspicion of Covid-19 contamination. The government official added that removals from the Netherlands have not been completely halted. Removals are still possible to several countries, including Indonesia, Brazil, and Poland. Cases are treated on a case-by-case basis and an individual decision is taken whether a return is possible and what travel route may be used.


16 June 2020

Argentina

Prisoners Rioting on the Roof of the Villa Devoto Prison, (Getty Images,
Prisoners Rioting on the Roof of the Villa Devoto Prison, (Getty Images, "Coronavirus en Argentina: por qué genera tanta polémica la decisión de sacar de la cárcel a algunos presos por riesgo a que contraigan el Covid-19," BBC News, 1 May 2020, https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-america-latina-52496655)

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, the country’s prison ombudsman (Procuración Penitenciaria de la Nación or PPN), reported that the country’s immigration authority (Dirección Nacional de Migraciones or DNM) had informed them that deportations had been temporarily suspended. This measure was adopted through Disposition 1717/2020 of the DNM ordering the “suspension of expulsion operations ordered by the courts within the framework of Article 64 of Law 25.871 for the term of thirty calendar days, from 17 March 2020.” This suspension was then extended by DNM Disposition 1923/2020 of 17 April and subsequently by DNM Disposition 2205/2020 of 14 May. Nonetheless, the PPN reported that six Bolivian nationals detained at the ‘Complejo Penitenciario Federal de CABA’ were expelled from Argentina through the land border with Bolivia and further expulsions are planned. In addition, three Spanish citizens are waiting to be expelled to their country as well. These expulsions were carried out with coordinated efforts between the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights of the Nation (Ministerio de Justicia y Derechos Humanos de la Nación) and the respective embassies or consulates. The PPN indicated that they tried obtaining further information in this respect, but were unsuccessful in doing so.

The PPN also reported that the national state of emergency measures have had an impact upon immigration policies. According to the Decree of Necessity and Urgency (Decreto de Necesidad y Urgencia or DNU) 274/2020 of 16 March, non-residents were prohibited from entering the country’s territory through ports, airports, and all other entry points. Initially, borders were closed for 15 days, with the possibility to extend if the measure was deemed necessary. On 27 March, according to DNU 274/2020, the prohibition of entry was extended to include all residents and Argentinean nationals residing out of the country. The prohibition of entry for Argentinean nationals residing outside of the country was lifted on 1 April through DNU 331/2020, while all other restrictions were kept in place. Only the Ezeiza International Airport was opened along with specific border crossing points:

- Paso de los Libres/Uruguayana (border crossing to Brazil)
- Gualeguaychu/Fray Bentos (border crossing to Uruguay)
- Salvador Mazza / Yacuiba (border crossing to Bolivia)
- Cristo Redentor (border crossing to Chile)
- Paso San Sebastian (border crossing to Chile)

Further, the prohibition of entry onto national territory was subsequently extended until 24 May through DNU 493/2020. The PPN indicated that these measures in addition to lockdown measures have made it impossible for people to circulate through the territory.

In responding to the GDP Covid-19 survey questions, the PPN also indicated that they did not have information concerning whether the country had put in place a moratorium on new immigration detention orders nor did they have information regarding whether immigration detainees had been released. In addition, the PPN stated that they did not have access to information regarding whether immigration detainees are tested for Covid-19 or as regards what measures have been put in place to prevent the spread of the disease within detention centres and penitentiaries.

Concerning the country’s prisons, on 27 May President Alberto Fernandez announced the construction of 12 hospital units (288 beds) for prisons in the province of Buenos Aires to ensure that prisoners are isolated to prevent the spread of Covid-19. According to Prison Insider’s “World Map of Coronavirus in Prison,” one prisoner has died from Covid-19 and there are 68 infected prisoners in the country’s prisons.


15 June 2020

Republic of Korea (South Korea)

Non-Citizens Staying Irregularly in South Korea Wait to Report their Voluntary Departure at an Immigration Office at Incheon International Airport in South Korea, (Yonhap, EPA-EFE,
Non-Citizens Staying Irregularly in South Korea Wait to Report their Voluntary Departure at an Immigration Office at Incheon International Airport in South Korea, (Yonhap, EPA-EFE, "Hundreds of Undocumented Migrants leaving South Korea," UPI, 13 March 2020, https://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2020/03/13/Hundreds-of-undocumented-migrants-leaving-South-Korea/2241584119568/)

As of the end of 2019, there were an estimated 360,000 undocumented foreign nationals living in South Korea. Amidst fears that they would not seek testing and treatment for fear of being arrested, in late January South Korean authorities announced that they were scrapping the requirement for medical staff to report undocumented migrant patients to immigration authorities. Authorities have thus appeared to create a “firewall” similar to other countries, like Ireland, which have taken on added importance because of the Covid-19 crisis (see 29 April update). Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said on 29 April, “Due to their unstable status, there is a high chance that they won’t seek testing even though they have suspected (COVID-19) symptoms and this is a blind spot that is possibly leading to community transmission. … If we label them illegal immigrants and crack down on them, they will go into hiding more deeply, which could create a blind spot.” Problematically however, many undocumented migrants are not aware of this new protection, and activists have reported that some are still fearful of seeking assistance.

Prior to the start of the crisis, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) introduced a Illegal Resident Reduction Plan in December 2019 to encourage undocumented workers to leave the country voluntarily. According to the plan, undocumented foreign nationals have until 30 June 2020 to voluntarily leave the country. According to the Ministry of Justice, from 1 July 2020 onwards, operations will be initiated to reduce the size of the undocumented population within the country by arresting, detaining, and deporting them. Undocumented migrants will also face fines (and black-listing if they fail to pay the fines.)

According to this scheme, persons who leave South Korea before 30 June 2020 will be exempted from fines and entry bans, and will instead be given a chance to re-enter Korea with a C-3 visa (single, valid for up to 90 consecutive days). Those re-entering Korea with a C-3 single visa will later gain an opportunity to be eligible for obtaining a C-3 multiple visa (valid for one year allowing consecutive stay for up to 90 days) if they successfully leave Korea before their C-3 single visa expires. The C-3 visa does not grant holders the right to work. The minimum waiting period required before applying for a C-3 single visa varies depending on when undocumented workers declare their voluntary departure. (Those who declared their wish to voluntarily leave the country by 31 March will be able to apply for a C-3 single visa three months after the departure date. Those who declared a wish to depart in April would face a four month wait; while those who declared in May face a five month wait; and those who declare in June will face a six month wait.) If an undocumented person is required to quarantine due to coronavirus, the declaration period will be extended to the date when the quarantine period ends, provided they submit a medical record that they have received treatment for the infectious disease. The day that they seek medical help will be recognized as the day of the declaration.

On 21 January 2020, the MOJ reported that 8,033 foreign nationals had voluntarily departed since the announcement of the scheme in December 2019. In early March, it was reported that more than 5,000 undocumented Thai nationals had opted to leave South Korea due to the increase in COVID-19 cases in the country. On 11 March 2020, the MOJ established an online system for undocumented migrants to declare their voluntary departures. The declaration must take place at least three days before the departure date. Between 11 to 13 March 2020, the MOJ announced that 416 people had self-reported their intention to depart.


15 June 2020

Canada

Corridor Inside a Quebec Prison, (Matthew Ansley, Unsplash,
Corridor Inside a Quebec Prison, (Matthew Ansley, Unsplash, "« Les prisons n’étaient pas prêtes » : la COVID-19 inquiète le milieu carcéral," Radio Canada, 6 May 2020, https://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelle/1700371/coronavirus-prisons-propagation-craintes-tensions-bordeaux-laval)

Since a peak on 3 May, the number of COVID-19 confirmed cases has significantly declined in Canada in the past month. The province of Quebec has been the most affected during the pandemic, with almost half of the total number of cases. Two COVID-19 related deaths have been recorded in a provincial and a federal prison in Montreal.

In a webinar organized by the UNHCR on 29 May, the agency’s Head of Office in Canada, Denise Otis, stated that three detainees remained in the CBSA Laval Centre located in the province of Quebec. She said that the temporary U.S.-Canadian border closure (21 March - 21 April) had had an important impact on the number of asylum seekers entering the country. While there were 63,830 asylum applications in 2019, there were 12,380 between January and March 2020.

With COVID-19 measures, individuals entering Canada from the U.S. were temporarily sent back to the U.S. While being subject to a Removal Order usually means that individuals cannot file a refugee claim, Canada has announced that asylum seekers who received a Removal Order during the pandemic will be allowed to resubmit a refugee claim once the situation is restored. The details of this policy and its implementation had not yet been announced at the time of this writing.

On 6 May, the first COVID-19 related death was recorded in a federal prison in Canada. The prisoner reportedly received medical treatment in a hospital, where he contracted the virus. He was not placed in isolation when he returned to the Laval prison, leading to the spreading of the virus.

When a 72-years-old prisoner from a provincial prison, Montreal’s Bordeaux jail, died of COVID-19 later in May, the Ligue des droits et libertés called out the government, stating that “the only solution to counter the spread and avoid a humanitarian catastrophe in prisons is to reduce the prison population.” At the beginning of May, only 44 of the 960 inmates had been tested for COVID-19 at the Bordeaux prison. Individuals from Solidarity Across Borders protested in front of the centre on 17 May, to denounce the living conditions of detainees, as well as the use of electronic tracking devices on released migrants.

On 23 May and 6 June, demonstrations took place downtown Montreal to ask for the permanent residence for all asylum seekers working as health care providers.


14 June 2020

Kazakhstan

A Group of Tajik Migrants at the Silk Road Checkpoint, (Azattyq.org,
A Group of Tajik Migrants at the Silk Road Checkpoint, (Azattyq.org, "Застрявших на казахско-узбекской границе таджикистанцев вернули на родину," Fergana, 3 June 2020, https://fergana.agency/news/118753/)

According to information submitted to the GDP by the International Legal Initiative (ILI), Kazakhstan has introduced a moratorium on new detention orders related to violations of migration legislation, and has temporarily ceased deportation proceedings. However, persons who commit other offences may still be placed in immigration detention, and no persons have been released. Meetings with lawyers, as well as relatives, have also been suspended. This system is due to remain in place until 10 July. While some detainees have been tested for Covid-19 (nine were confirmed to have the virus in Almaty), the ILI reports that not all detainees have had access to testing.

In recent years, increasing numbers of migrants have entered Kazakhstan. Most come from Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, and many enter the country in search of employment in the construction and agriculture sectors. Although the country is today believed to host some 3.5 million migrants, more than half of these are believed to be undocumented due to difficulties navigating the registration system after their temporary registration period elapses. Lacking official IDs and registration papers, undocumented migrants are vulnerable to arrest, detention, and deportation.

According to the Central Asian Bueau for Analytical Reporting, although the government introduced unemployment benefits (100.42 USD per month) to help mitigate the economic effects of the lockdown, undocumented migrants cannot not access such payments. Without official IDs or residence permits, they may also not access key health services – and many have expressed fears that they will be arrested should they present themselves for testing or treatment. (Similar concerns about the lack of a “firewall” between health care and immigration authorities have been expressed by migrants and refugees in countries such as Germany (10 June update), Lebanon (2 June update) and South Africa (26 May update) during the pandemic.)

According to several reports, a group of more than 230 Tajik migrants—including pregnant women and children—were trapped for two months at the country’s border with Uzbekistan, in a car park in the Turkestan region. The group were attempting to return to Tajikistan but were blocked by closed borders until 2 June, when authorities facilitated their return home.


13 June 2020

United Arab Emirates

Prisoners Reading inside the Dubai's Central Prison Library, (Giuseppe Cacace, AFP,
Prisoners Reading inside the Dubai's Central Prison Library, (Giuseppe Cacace, AFP, "Coronavirus: Dubai's Main Prison Frees Hundreds to Reduce Population," The National, 24 May 2020, https://www.thenational.ae/uae/government/coronavirus-dubai-s-main-prison-frees-hundreds-to-reduce-population-1.1024244#5)

The country’s lockdown measures, including the temporary closure of hotels, have left many migrant workers out of work. Although UAE authorities have allowed repatriation flights to take place, many countries have refused to allow their own nationals to return. Migrant workers in the UAE also have higher numbers of COVID-19 cases, mainly due to their living conditions in labour camps and the impossibility of maintaining social distancing.

After demonstrations outside the Pakistani Embassy in Abu Dhabi and Consulate in Dubai, the UAE government released 400 Pakistani prisoners in mid-April. These individuals had been jailed for minor offences and were repatriated on special flights. This measure was taken considering the COVID-19 pandemic. The International Campaign for Freedom in the United Arab Emirates (ICFUAE) subsequently called on UAE authorities to “release all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally, particularly those held beyond their release dates and in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which prisoners remain one of the most vulnerable groups of people to the disease.”

Human Rights Watch denounced the poor conditions in UAE prisons on 10 June, calling authorities to reduce prison populations to allow for social distancing.

The director general of correctional institutions announced on 24 May the release of some inmates in Dubai’s main prison, in order to reduce the population during the COVID-19 outbreak. He confirmed that since the beginning of the pandemic, there are around 35 per cent fewer prisoners in the prison.

Other protests were organized in early May by young migrants, in a labour camp near Abu Dhabi. Many have lost their jobs due to the pandemic and did not receive the payment of their wages.


12 June 2020

Denmark

Refugees in their Beds at the Refugee Tent Camp in Thisted, Northern Jutland, Denmark in 2016, (Sara Gangsted/EPA,
Refugees in their Beds at the Refugee Tent Camp in Thisted, Northern Jutland, Denmark in 2016, (Sara Gangsted/EPA, "Denmark refugees feel left out from lauded coronavirus policies," AlJazeera, 6 April 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/denmark-refugees-feel-left-lauded-coronavirus-policies-200403131644645.html)

In response to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, the Danish Ombudsman’s office, which also acts as the country’s National Preventive Mechanism (NPM), forwarded to the GDP a letter it had sent to the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT), the international body established by the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture. The letter was issued on 27 April following a request from the SPT for information from NPMs about their activities in response to Covid-19.

The letter reported that the Danish Ombudsman’s office halted visits to detention sites on 12 March to reduce the risk of spreading infection. The Ombudsman's office also confirmed, in telephone conversation with the Global Detention Project, that this included visits to immigration detention facilities. Monitoring would still take place through data and information collection.

Regarding the Prison and Probation Service, the Ombudsman’s office reported that:

- Prisoners were not allowed to receive visitors apart from lawyers and priests; they were not allowed to go on leave; if they presented any Covid-19 symptoms, prisoners would be isolated and the prisoners’ right to normal community would be restricted to 10 persons or less;
- Prisoners were allowed more telephone time - in “open” prisons, prisoners had access to their mobile phones in order to FaceTime; leave days could be accumulated for later use; a medical doctor would be informed on the suspicion of Covid-19;
- As of 12 March 2020, the Prison and Probation Service decided not to receive new prisoners;
- 20-25 prisoners had been isolated on the suspicion of Covid-19 contagion;
- Only one prisoner had tested positive for Covid-19; and
- The number of prisoners had decreased and the slight overcrowding ended on 1 April 2020. Approximately 96-97 percent of the capacity was in use of 14 April 2020.

The Danish Ombudsman’s office reported that no new places of detention had been established and no persons had been placed in quarantine without consent. The Ombudsman’s office had also received some 100 letters from inmates asking for a postponement of their imprisonment, although the Ombudsman’s office reported that it does not have the power to do so, which was communicated to the inmates.

The Ombudsman also said that they were in close contact with their partners, the Danish Institute Against Torture (DIGNITY) and the Danish Institution for Human Rights (DIHR). DIGNITY has published “Global guidance and recommendations on how to prevent and manage Covid-19 in prisons” and DIHR was in the process of analysing the various Covid-19 laws and regulations as to their coherence with human rights.

On 24 April, UNHCR thanked Denmark for its contribution ($14.8M USD) to support the organisation’s Covid-19 appeal to protect refugees and their host communities around the world from the threat of the pandemic. The contribution places Denmark among the top four country donors to UNCHR’s Covid-19 response efforts.

In their 5 May newsletter, ECRE reported that forced and voluntary returns were not being carried out and that departure deadlines for cases where departure dates were planned prior to the lock-down had been extended and were under review. They added that the government had not adopted any policy on the release of immigration detainees, leaving this question to judicial authorities. ECRE also reported that when asylum seekers are released from detention, they are directed to take up residence at an asylum centre pending the outcome of their case.

Denmark currently hosts 39,000 refugees and asylum seekers. The Ministry of Health has published fliers and educational videos in multiple languages to help refugees understand the new rules about Covid-19. The Danish Refugee Council used Facebook to help refugee students with their homework by matching them with local volunteers.


11 June 2020

Thailand

Rohingya Refugees Sit Behind Bars at a Police Station in Satun Province, Thailand, (AP Photo,
Rohingya Refugees Sit Behind Bars at a Police Station in Satun Province, Thailand, (AP Photo, "Thailand: Let UN Refugee Agency Screen Rohingya," 21 May 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/05/21/thailand-let-un-refugee-agency-screen-rohingya)

In mid-May, the governor of the Tak Province in Thailand issued a warning about the movement of Muslims from Myanmar and Bangladesh entering Thailand, stating that this posed a purported Covid-19-related threat. The announcement stated: “Tak is a province bordering the country of Myanmar that has movements of [migrant] workers, and also the COVID-19 pandemic in Myanmar and Bangladesh is still happening, and patients are still being found. Muslim people from both countries are expected to move to Tak Province.”

The announcement coincided with stepped up efforts in Tak Province to arrest undocumented migrants and refugees. Between 7 May and 1 June, Thai security arrested 35 Rohingya, including six women and 16 children, in the town Mae Sot in Tak Province, at the border of Thailand and Myanmar. They were being held at Tak Immigration Office in Thailand. Thai authorities have denied that the detainees are ethnic Rohingya, instead alleging they are “Myanmar Muslims.” However, the human rights organization Fortify Rights claims to have verified that the 35 people are Rohingya from Myanmar, and had previously travelled overland for approximately one to three months from Rakhine State and camps in Cox’s Bazar before arriving in the country. At least four Rohingya reportedly died en route. Reportedly, brokers collected payments of 500,000 to 900,000 Myanmar Kyat (about US$350 to US$645) for transportation to Malaysia and required some to provide further payments upon arrival in Malaysia.

Human Rights Watch estimates that approximately 200 Rohingya are being held in immigration detention and other facilities across Thailand. In May, it called on the Thai government to allow the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) unhindered access to Rohingya from Myanmar to determine whether they qualify for refugee status. Fortify Rights have called on the Thai government to protect Rohingya refugees from forced return and indefinite detention, and to screen them to determine if they are survivors of trafficking.

On 8 May, Human Rights Watch reported that at least 65 (out of 115) detainees in Thailand’s Songkhla immigration detention center – including 18 ethnic Rohingya women and children – had tested positive for Covid-19. At least 18 of these detainees are refugees who have been detained since 2015. Officials traced the infection cluster to an immigration officer who worked at Sadao border checkpoint and visited the center, who later tested positive for the virus. Songkhla governor Jaruwat Kliangklao said that the infected detainees would be treated until fully recovered before being deported to their respective countries. He said that the detention facility would be turned into a field hospital for the purpose of providing medical treatment to infected detainees.


10 June 2020

Guatemala

Mattresses on the Floor of the Guatemala City Airport, Placed for Returned Migrants, (PDH Guatemala,
Mattresses on the Floor of the Guatemala City Airport, Placed for Returned Migrants, (PDH Guatemala, "Coronavirus en Guatemala: los contagios de covid-19 entre migrantes que llevaron al país a suspender los vuelos de deportados desde EE.UU.," BBC News, 21 April 2020, https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-america-latina-52364025)

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, Guatemala’s immigration authority (Instituto Guatealteco de Migración) reported that no moratorium on new immigration detention orders has been established. The Guatemalan immigration authority also reported that currently only Guatemalan national residents and accredited consular diplomats are allowed to enter the country. Non-citizens are only allowed to leave the country and are prohibited from entering.

According to news reports, on 20 April, more than 5,000 Guatemalan nationals were in the custody of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service (ICE) and the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in the United States. Of these, almost 4,000 were detained for immigration reasons and more than 1,000 were children. Deportations from the United States to Guatemala have not been suspended and from 29 March to 22 May, 1,200 undocumented migrants have been deported. On 11 May, official statistics reported that 102 contaminated migrants had been deported back to Guatemala.

The Guatemalan government has suspended several deportation flights and requested that the United States provide a health certificate for every deportee attesting that they are clear from Covid-19. However, according to the president of the “Cooperacion Migrante” organisation, migrants carrying the virus continue to arrive as the United States is carrying out Covid-19 tests at random. In addition, Douglas Gonzales, an academic and political analyst, said that the main obstacle to controlling the importation of Covid-19 cases is not in deportations from the USA but rather that the country does “not have the capacity to control migratory flows on a land border as large as the one with Mexico.”

The Guatemalan Ombudsman (Procuraduría de Derechos Humanos Guatemalteca) criticised the government for the conditions in which returned migrants were held in a makeshift reception centre located in the Guatemala City airport. The BBC reported that returnees were only given mats to sleep on the floor of a room inside the airport (see image).

Guatemalan prisons hold 26,160 persons with 52 percent of prisoners serving prison sentences and 48% placed on remand. On 5 June, the Ministry of Health of Guatemala confirmed the death of two prisoners from Covid-19 in the Centro de Detencion Preventiva para Hombres de la Zona 18, which currently has a population of 4,751 persons. On 28 May, the Ombudsman criticised the lack of protective equipment and sanitary products such as antibacterial gel, masks and gloves, in the country’s 21 prisons.

On 13 May, Prensa Libre reported that the National Preventive Mechanism (the national office for the prevention of torture) conducted visits in the Quetzaltenango prisons, hospitals and “migration centres” which hold returned migrants. According to the national office, the Cantel Prison has 2,312 prisoners and is vastly overcrowded, running at around 200% of its capacity. There are very few sanitary measures in place and there is a lack of hygienic products.


10 June 2020

Ukraine

Border Guard Controlling Cars at the Shegyni-Medyka Checkpoint on the Border with Poland, (AFP,
Border Guard Controlling Cars at the Shegyni-Medyka Checkpoint on the Border with Poland, (AFP, "Border guards chief says number of illegal migrants detained in Ukraine increasing," Kyiv Post, 24 December 2018, https://www.kyivpost.com/ukraine-politics/border-guards-chief-says-number-of-illegal-migrants-detained-in-ukraine-increasing.html)

According to information submitted to the GDP by the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Ukraine, the number of newly detained migrants in the country has decreased during the pandemic. In Zakarpattia Oblast, those who have been apprehended while entering the country during the crisis have been placed in Border Guard Temporary Holding Facilities (THFs) and Specially Equipped Premises (SPs) (Mukachevo THF, Onokivzi SP, Velukuj SP, and Solotvino SP). THFs are designed for holding non-nationals for up to 72 hours (or for up to ten days with permission from the prosecutor), while SPs are designed for holding non-nationals for three hours (or up to three days if necessary and provided the public prosecutor is notified within 24 hours). Usually, persons who need to be detained longer are transferred to one of three state-run migrant custody centres (MCCs). However, during the pandemic such transfers have been halted leaving detainees confined in THFs and SPs for far longer than legislation permits.

Although Ukrainian authorities announced a non-discriminatory approach to the pandemic, significant barriers exist in the country, preventing many undocumented nationals from accessing assistance during the pandemic. Individuals without identity documents—including thousands of stateless persons—are not entitled to access state services including medical examinations (which are free of charge to any documented individual). In a survey conducted by Right to Protection among stateless persons in Ukraine between April and May, 92 percent of stateless persons reported that they do not have a family doctor—and approximately half of all respondents reported that they had been denied registering due to their lack of identity documents. Although UNHCR estimates that there are 35,600 stateless persons in the country, in 2019 only 5,642 had a stateless person residence permit. Few are able to regularise their situation due to the fact that the country lacks a statelessness determination procedure (a draft law, #2335, which would establish this, is currently awaiting parliamentary debate).


10 June 2020

Germany

"Andocken" health clinic in Hamburg provides medical care to undocumented migrants - who otherwise face arrest, detention, and deportation if found accessing state medical services (A. Grunau, “Coronavirus Pandemic Poses Threat to Undocumented Migrants,” DW, 13 May 2020, https://www.dw.com/en/coronavirus-pandemic-poses-threat-to-undocumented-migrants/a-53425104)

There are an estimated 200,000 - 600,000 undocumented migrants in Germany. Authorities have stated that everyone, regardless of their status, may access Covid-19 testing and treatment. Although this is technically true, migrant rights advocates have highlighted concerns amongst undocumented migrants that should they seek testing and treatment, they will face sanctions. Hospitals and GPs in Germany are obliged to provide emergency treatment to undocumented migrants, and medical practitioners are not required to pass information to immigration authorities. However, should an undocumented migrant wish to access planned care, postnatal care, preventive care, postnatal care, and care for infectious or sexually transmitted diseases, they must provide a document from the social welfare office—and these welfare offices are required to report undocumented migrants to immigration authorities. Reportedly, migrants must present this card should they seek Covid-19 testing and treatment—thus exposing them to the risk of arrest, detention, and deportation. Advocates, however, insist that “in the context of a spreading pandemic, states must ensure that preventative care, goods, services and information are available and accessible to everyone, regardless of their residence permit” (PICUM).

Although the pandemic has made most removals from Germany impossible, the country’s Interior Ministry has rejected calls for a nationwide ban on deportation flights. According to German media, some states and the federal government contine to attempt to conduct deportations when possible. (For more on deportations from Germany, see the 20 May update).

As lockdown measures began to ease in Germany in May, a handful of new virus hotspots were identified centred around the country’s meat industry. According to trade union estimates, migrant workers make up some 80 percent of the industry, with most originating from eastern and southern European states having been hired by sub-contractors. These workers are often required to work well beyond the legal limit of 10 hours, receive poor pay, and are housed by the sub-contractors in overcrowded and unhygienic dorms. Often, they share rooms with five other persons. With hundreds of confirmed cases now connected to the country’s slaughterhouses (in some factories, more than half of the workforce have tested positive) and with workers unable to isolate in overcrowded dormitories, entire blocks have been placed in quarantine and migrants have faced movement restrictions—but some subcontractors have reportedly failed to provide those quarantined with essential supplies.

Significant criticism has been levelled at the sub-contractors responsible for these migrant workers—in particular, their failure to provide workers with adequate living and working conditions. Calls for municipalities to have greater control over migrant living conditions have thus grown, and in late May the Federal Cabinet approved draft legislation which will bar subcontractors from the meat industry from January 2021.

Away from the country’s meat industry, another hotspot that was identified in mid-May centred around a reception centre for asylum seekers outside Bonn. More than 160 people tested positive in the Sankt Augustin Reception Centre (including several staff members), prompting some politicians to call for improved living conditions inside such facilities. Asylum seekers in Germany are required to live in reception centres or shared accommodation during their asylum procedures, and the facilities they are placed in have long been criticised by refugee and rights observers. Additional outbreaks were also identified in reception facilities in Bonn and Berlin.

(CORRECTION: This update was corrected on 17 June 2020. Previously, we incorrectly reported that medical practitioners are required to report undocumented migrants to immigration authorities.)


09 June 2020

Panama

A Queue at the Entrance of the Santiago Prison in Veraguas, (La Prensa,
A Queue at the Entrance of the Santiago Prison in Veraguas, (La Prensa, "Hacinamiento y Covid-19: un cóctel letal en las cárceles," 2 June 2020, https://www.prensa.com/impresa/panorama/hacinamiento-y-covid-19-un-coctel-letal-en-las-carceles/)

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, the director of the Panamanian section of “Fe y Alegria” an NGO part of the Jesuit Migration Network, reported that a moratorium on new immigration detention orders had been established until 8 June 2020, but that no immigration detainees were released and that those who were in detention prior to the start of the pandemic have remained in detention. The NGO indicated that authorities are carrying out tests and are monitoring migrants in the Lajas Blancas, Las Peñitas (on the Colombian border) and Los Planes (on the Costa Rican border) “albergues” (shelters or camps). In other parts of the country, migrants are only tested if they show symptoms of the disease. In addition, Fe y Alegria said that interviews to apply for refugee status or to resolve immigration status claims have been suspended along with deportation flights. He said that only “humanitarian flights” are being carried out.

On 9 June, Reuters reported that Panama had confined some 200 migrants in a camp in the jungle to contain a new Covid-19 outbreak among a large group of migrants from Africa, Cuba, and Haiti, that have been left stranded by the Covid-19 crisis in the remote Darién region. During a visit of the Lajas Blancas camp on 5 June, Reuters said that some migrants were wearing masks, some were laying in tents or under tarps, enclosed by a wired fence. Medical workers were making rounds taking migrants’ temperature and blood pressure levels.

Of the four migrants Reuters was able to speak to, one said that the food was of poor quality and had sickened some people at the camp. Migrants are reportedly not allowed out of the camp without authorisation, although they are allowed to buy supplies and food in nearby stores. According to Panama’s Minister of Security, six migrants in the camp have contracted Covid-19. In addition, he mentioned that the Panamanian government will soon start building a new camp with 500 spaces in the Darién region.

Regarding the country’s penitentiaries, Health authorities reported a large increase in the number of Covid-19 cases on 29 May. More than 333 prisoners tested positive in the Santiago prison in Vargas. This represents around two-thirds of the total facility’s population, which was initially intended to hold 150 people. On 2 June, the prison administration announced the first death of a prisoner due to Covid-19 in the Santiago prison. Also, the Nueva Joya prison has now recorded 228 cases of Covid-19, making it the second most infected prison in the country.


09 June 2020

Switzerland

Champ-Dollon Prison in Geneva, (EaG,
Champ-Dollon Prison in Geneva, (EaG, "Protestation à Champ-Dollon: les détenu-e-s doivent aussi être protégé-e-s face au Covid-19," 3 April 2020, https://eag-ge.ch/mutinerie-a-champ-dollon-les-detenus-doivent-aussi-etre-proteges-face-au-covid-19/)

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, the Geneva Cantonal Population and Migration Office (Office Cantonal de la Population et des Migrations or OCPM) reported that while Geneva had not established a moratorium on new immigration detention orders, no new orders have been issued since the end of April, owing to the impossibility of deporting people. The OCPM also confirmed that all immigration detainees in the canton had been released towards the end of April by orders of the OCPM and the Geneva first instance administrative tribunal.

The Migration Office stated that two immigration detainees had tested positive for Covid-19 and that they had been placed in isolation in the Champ-Dollon prison in Geneva. One of the positive Covid-19 cases received medical assistance at the Cantonal Hospital (HUG) and the other remained in isolation in prison and was serving a prison sentence.

Immigration detainees placed in the Frambois immigration detention centre since the end of May have not been tested for Covid-19 upon entry. As former criminal prisoners subject to deportation orders, the protocol followed requires the nurse to contact the facility where these persons were previously detained prior to their transfer to Frambois in order to enquire about their health and to know whether a Covid-19 test has been undertaken. At present, it seems that only persons showing symptoms of the disease are tested in criminal facilities.


09 June 2020

Finland

Joutseno Immigration Detention Centre, (Jessica Stolzmann, Asylsökande bakom lås och bom i gammalt fängelse, Yle, 28 October 2014, https://svenska.yle.fi/artikel/2014/10/28/asylsokande-bakom-las-och-bom-i-gammalt-fangelse)
Joutseno Immigration Detention Centre, (Jessica Stolzmann, Asylsökande bakom lås och bom i gammalt fängelse, Yle, 28 October 2014, https://svenska.yle.fi/artikel/2014/10/28/asylsokande-bakom-las-och-bom-i-gammalt-fangelse)

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, the Finnish Parliamentary Ombudsman, which also acts as National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) for the country, reported that Finland has not established a moratorium on new immigration detention orders. However, according to the police, the threshold for immigration detention has been higher than usual. The Ombudsman indicated that detention is mainly ordered for reasons related to order and security (crime-related cases) and individual circumstances. While the Ombudsman reported that some persons have been released from immigration detention by police or court decisions and that an action plan was established to protect detainees and staff from Covid-19 infection, the office did not have information regarding measures taken for those released detainees. Immigration detainees reportedly go through a medical check upon arrival to the detention centre and if needed, they are tested for Covid-19.

As regards deportations, the Ombudsman said that not all removals have been halted. Only removals requiring police escorts were halted until 1 June 2020 and Dublin removals were halted until 13 May 2020. The Ombudsman also said that authorities have drafted new immigration, asylum and border control policies, action plans and guidelines in response to the Covid-19 crisis.


09 June 2020

United States

Immigrants are led onto a flight in the United States, (John Miller, Associated Press,
Immigrants are led onto a flight in the United States, (John Miller, Associated Press, " Migrants deported by U.S. make up more than 15% of Guatemala’s coronavirus cases," Los Angeles Times, 4 May 2020, https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2020-05-04/u-s-deportation-flights-to-guatemala-resume-with-assurances-of-coronavirus-testing)

The death of a second detainee in ICE custody from Covid19-related causes was reported on 4 June. More than 800 detainees across all ICE facilities have tested positive, although only 10 percent of the detainee population had been tested as of 30 May. Multiple transfers between facilities have reportedly spread the virus and led to outbreaks in Texas, Ohio, Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

In March 2020, ICE began a review of the 38,000 people detained in its facilities across the country and subsequently released only 693 elderly or otherwise vulnerable detainees, stating in mid-April that no other detainees would be released at that time. Other informants have reported increases during certain periods since the Covid-19 crisis began. The New Mexico Immigrant Law Centre reported in a GDP survey that in May ICE detention centers in New Mexico were still receiving new arrivals every day and that although some detainees had been tested for COVID-19, no regular testing was taking place.

According to a 4 June exposé published in the New York Times Magazine, while the numbers of intakes have fallen ICE officials have been reluctant to release more detainees because of an apparent concern that this may impact their ability to detain people post-crisis. According to the NYT report: “The agency’s reluctance to release detainees seems to stem less from any public threats posed by the people it detains than from an existential sort of anxiety about its own future. In response to one federal lawsuit filed on March 26 in California on behalf of two detained men, ICE lawyers wrote, ‘The disruptive effect of ordering petitioners released on this slim, hypothetical basis would long survive the Covid-19 pandemic, and the precedent would serve to release many aliens eligible for removal back into the general public’.”

The New York Times Magazine exposé focuses on the Irwin County Detention Centre in south Georgia, run by the Louisiana-based private company LaSalle Corrections. Many of the nearly 700 detainees at the facility had been asking officials for weeks after the onset of the pandemic to provide them with masks, temperature checks, and other safeguards, including that guards be required to wear masks and that no new detainees be brought into their units. Apart from some additional cleaning and temperature checks for new arrivals, little however changed, as confirmed by an independent medical examiner.

Lawyers with the Southern Poverty Law Centre and Asian Americans Advancing Justice filed a habeas petition on behalf of certain detainees at the Georgia facility, all of whom were medically vulnerable. In response to the habeas action, ICE said that fears of infection were “purely speculative” and “conjectural.” On 9 April, a 55 year-old Colombian national, recently brought to the facility, and a contracted transportation guard tested positive for Covid-19. Yet, only three of the 699 people detained in the facility had been tested. On the following day, the federal judge in the habeas case concerning the Georgia facility denied the request for the detainees’ release stating that the facility could fix the problems and alleviate any constitutional violations without releasing the eight people concerned.

Following several coordinated protests by detainees in different dorms in the centre and a video showing detention conditions, on 7 May, the judge presiding over the habeas petition agreed to allow a correctional-medicine expert to evaluate whether the centre was operating in a way that could keep detainees safe. The expert concluded that the facility was not complying with C.D.C. guidelines. On 13 May, ICE reported that a total of six detainees in Irwin detention centre had tested positive for Covid-19. The following day, some 40 men from different dorms were loaded onto a bus and transferred to the Steward Detention centre rather than being released. On 24 May, a Guatemalan man became the first Stewart detainee to die of Covid-19. The lawyers that had filed the habeas petition returned to court on 28 May, but on the question of the detainees’ release, Judge Land said: “I have not heard anything terribly persuasive to change my mind.”

The Georgia filing is one of dozens across the country demanding the release of elderly people and those with medical conditions. In at least 18 federal court districts, judges have acceded to these petitions and have ordered the release of detainees. As of 28 May, 392 people have been let out by order of federal courts. In California, a judge ordered ICE to identify older and medically vulnerable detainees. ICE identified 4,409 people who were at “heightened risk of severe illness and death.” However, at the end of May, the agency had only released 200 people “at risk” for a total of 900. In an email response to the New York Times Magazine, the agency spokesperson wrote that they had taken “extensive steps to safeguard all detainees, staff and contractors, including: reducing the number of detainees in custody by placing individuals on alternatives to detention programs, suspending social visitation, incorporating social distancing practices with staggered meals and recreation times, and through the use of cohorting and medical isolation.” However, as Covid-19 spread from ICE facility to the next, the agency continued to play down the risk, according to the NYT.

Freedom for Immigrants and the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice filed a joint complaint to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on 21 May concerning the exposure of people in ICE detention to hazardous chemicals. In Adelanto, guards are spraying HDQ Neutral, a very strong disinfectant, every 15 to 30 minutes around the housing units, “causing allergies and a lot of detainees are sneezing and coughing up blood.” Information submitted to the GDP by Alison Ly from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), indicated that the chemical is meant to be used in a well-ventilated and outdoor spaces, and warns that users must wear protective equipment and use a cloth to make sure the liquid does not aerosolize as it is toxic to inhale. In addition, staff are reportedly not warning detainees about the harmful effects of the chemical nor providing medical treatment to detainees. Freedom for Immigrants has received complaints from detainees who reported nausea, burning eyes, headaches and other side effects.

Deportations continue to take place. Deportees undergo basic health screenings but are not systematically tested for COVID-19. As reported in the GDP’s previous update, 21 deportation flights were made to Guatemala between 15 March and 24 April 2020. On 30 March, Guatemalan Vice President Castillo said he begged the U.S. to halt these flights. On 4 May, the Guatemalan Foreign Ministry reported that deportees from the United States accounted for more than 15 percent of all infections in the country. Human Rights Watch has called on the United States to stop deportations, on 4 June, stating that “with these reckless deportations, the Trump administration is contributing to the spread of Covid-19 and endangering public health globally.”


08 June 2020

Sweden

Märsta Detention Centre, (SVT News,
Märsta Detention Centre, (SVT News, "Över 250 rymningar från fem förvar," 12 May 2017, https://www.svt.se/nyheter/lokalt/stockholm/over-250-rymningar-fran-fem-forvar)

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, the Swedish Parliamentary Ombudsman’s office reported that as far as they were aware, Sweden had not established a moratorium on new detention orders and was not contemplating such a measure. The Ombudsman stated that while some 200 detainees had been released from immigration detention, they were unable to provide information on any measures taken to prevent the spread of Covid-19 amongst released detainees or whether any “alternative to detention” (ATD) programs have been put in place. The Ombudsman’s office also said that only detainees who showed symptoms of Covid-19 were being tested and that as of late May, only a minority of those showing symptoms were actually tested.

Concerning removals, the Ombudsman’s office reported that although they did not have official statistics, news reports from April indicated that the number of deportations had gone down sharply during March-April 2020, in comparison to the same period in 2019. Sweden has also placed a temporary ban on all non-essential travel to Sweden from all countries except the EU, Norway, Iceland and Switzerland. The travel ban has been extended until 15 June 2020. All visa applications for non-EU nationals are being rejected by the Swedish Migration Agency at this time.


08 June 2020

Qatar

A Migrant Worker from Bangladesh Rests in his Bedroom at a Private Camp Housing Foreign Workers in Doha, Qatar, on 3 May 2015, (Marwan Naamani, AFP, Getty Images,
A Migrant Worker from Bangladesh Rests in his Bedroom at a Private Camp Housing Foreign Workers in Doha, Qatar, on 3 May 2015, (Marwan Naamani, AFP, Getty Images, "Coronavirus Spreads "Exponentially" in Qatar's Labor Camps," CBS News, 15 May 2020, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/coronavirus-in-qatar-spreads-exponentially-in-migrant-worker-labor-camps/)

As reported previously on this platform (Qatar 7 May), migrant workers in Qatar, who make up the majority of the country's workforce, appear to have been disproportionately impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic in the country, which reported 1,595 new cases on 7 June. Qatar’s overcrowded labor camps are a “fertile ground for transmission of COVID-19,” according to a health expert with the World Bank (CBS 15 May).

In Doha’s central prison, detention conditions have deteriorated, according to detainees interviewed by Human Rights Watch (HRW). Reports denounce the lack of antiseptic gel and the limited access to soap and water. Due to the overcrowding in the buildings, the social distancing is impossible to maintain. HRW called out the government on the outbreak in the central prison, to which Qatar’s communications office responded shortly after. They declared that the report of an outbreak was false, and that “prisoners were being provided with health services ‘equal’ to the rest of the country's residents.”

On 17 May, Qatar announced that individuals not wearing a protection mask in public spaces would be arrested and jailed for up to 3 months.

On 8 June, 250 Bangladeshi were released from prisons or detention camps in Qatar and taken to Bangladesh on a special flight.


07 June 2020

Panama

Image of Humanitarian Temporary Station for Migrants in Panama in 2019, (IOM,
Image of Humanitarian Temporary Station for Migrants in Panama in 2019, (IOM, "Reporte de Monitoreo - Darien," 2 September 2019, https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/iom_boletin_reporte_monitoreo_darien_02.09.2019.pdf)

As reported previously on this platform (see the 1 June Panama update), Panama has shifted many undocumented migrants to the border with Costa Rica. The two countries have an agreement regarding migrant mobility, but the agreement cannot be enforced as Nicaragua has closed its borders. The director of the immigration authority in Costa Rica, Raquel Vargas, said that “non-citizens in Panama will not cross to Costa Rica” as Nicaragua has announced they would block the path for migrants. This has left thousands of third-country nationals in limbo in Panama, according to the UN human rights regional office in Panama ROCA.

In an email to the GDP (5 June), the UN office reported that “in Panama, there are Humanitarian Temporary Stations for Migrants on the borders with Colombia and Costa Rica. Currently, there are more than 2,500 migrants from Haiti, Cuba, African and Asian countries who are in detention waiting for the borders to open to continue their journey to the North.” The UN office pointed to a recent ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which was previously discussed on this platform, saying that the court had “issued precautionary measures to Panama to protect the integrity and health of these people, given that they are in overcrowded conditions and facing an outbreak of COVID-19.”


06 June 2020

Costa Rica

Handcuffed Migrant Being Escorted by Immigration Police, (AFP,
Handcuffed Migrant Being Escorted by Immigration Police, (AFP, "Costa Rica Aísla Centro de Detención de Migrantes por Brote de COVID-19," 5 May 2020, https://www.informa-tico.com/5-05-2020/costa-rica-aisla-centro-detencion-migrantes-brote-covid-19)

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 Survey, the UN Human Rights regional office in Panama (ROCA) reported on 1 June that Costa Rica has not established a moratorium on new immigration detention orders and that the country is not contemplating the measure. ROCA also explained that no immigration detainees have been released and that there are no “alternatives to detention” programmes employed in the country. ROCA reported that people are tested for Covid-19 in immigration detention centres.

Regarding expulsions, the UN office said that while these have been temporarily suspended, there is no specific measure prohibiting them in the country.

On 14 May, news reports indicated that four positive cases of Covid-19 had been detected on people returning from Spain, as well as nine others in an immigration detention centre in the country. From 5 May, Costa Rica closed its borders to non-citizens, with the exception of residents and cargo transport personnel. In total, 23 foreign cargo transports have been refused entry into the country.

On 5 May, Costa Rica placed in isolation one of its main immigration detention centres after 12 cases of Covid-19 were discovered within the facility. News reports indicated that the 12 confirmed cases had been contaminated by two persons detained for having entered the country irregularly that were carrying the disease. Authorities did not specify their nationality.

As regards the country’s prisons, no cases of Covid-19 have been reported on part of staff and prisoners.


05 June 2020

Bulgaria

Lyubimetz Detention Center - Bulgaria, (bordermonitoring.eu,
Lyubimetz Detention Center - Bulgaria, (bordermonitoring.eu, "Lyubimets Detention Centre (Special Home for Temporary Accommodation of Foreigners (SHAF))", https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/europe/bulgaria/detention-centres/1234/lyubimets-detention-centre-special-home-for-temporary-accommodation-of-foreigners-shaf)

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior reported that the country has not established a moratorium on new detention orders and that the measure is not being contemplated. The Ministry also explained that no immigration detainees have been released from “special homes for temporary accommodation of foreigners (closed detention centres) managed by the Migration Directorate with the Ministry of Interior” due to the Covid-19 crisis. According to the Ministry, alternative measures to detention are applied under the provisions of the Law on Foreigners and in consequence are not related to the Covid-19 pandemic. Regarding the measures taken to protect immigration detainees, the Ministry said that:

- Detained migrants are tested for Covid-19 only if they have symptoms of infection;
- Special anti-epidemic measures have been introduced in the special homes for temporary accommodation (SHTAFs) to prevent the spread of Covid-19;
- All newly arrived foreigners are examined by the medical personnel on duty from the Medical Service of the SHTAF-Sofia by measuring body temperature with a thermometer and by taking an epidemiological history. A questionnaire is filled in according to a template provided by the Medical Institute of the Ministry of Interior;
- All newly accommodated foreigners are quarantined for 14 days in premises specifically determined for this purpose, separately from other accommodated persons;
- Social distancing measures have been implemented by separating newly accommodated non-citizens from all other third-country nationals in specifically determined premises for a period of 14 days. Also, those placed in quarantine do not mix with other detainees during meals, outdoor walks and personal time. Following the declaration of the state of emergency and the special anti-epidemic measures in the country, organised group activities have been suspended; and
- As a temporary measure, a visitation ban has been introduced for relatives and acquaintances. Lawyers, human rights organisation representatives and officers of other structures of the Ministry of the Interior may still meet detainees. However, these meetings are held in compliance with the relevant anti-epidemic measures for personal protection.

The Ministry of Interior of Bulgaria stated that for the time being, there have not been any cases of Covid-19 amongst the immigration detainee population detained in SHTAFs.


04 June 2020

Israel

Migrant Workers in South Tel Aviv Queue to get Tested for Covid-19, (Negev Abbas,
Migrant Workers in South Tel Aviv Queue to get Tested for Covid-19, (Negev Abbas, "Virus cases among foreign workers ring alarm bells for Israel officials," Ynetnews.com, 31 May 2020, https://www.ynetnews.com/article/B1Ois111nU)

After deconfinement began on 27 in Israel, new Covid infections increased sharply. However, the real number of infections in the country is difficult to assess because of fears amongst workers about the consequences of presenting themselves for testing. Migrant workers and asylum seekers appear to have a much higher infection rate than the rest of the population. The government's National Information and Knowledge Center reports that 25 percent of tested foreign workers were positive for COVID-19. However, due to the fear of losing their jobs if they are infected, many asylum-seekers do not get tested. Official estimates put the number of foreign workers in Tel Aviv alone at roughly 40,000.

In a joint press statement on 11 May, UN officials called for the release of all children detained by the Israeli authorities in prisons and detention centres. Mentioning the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the statement said that “since the start of the COVID-19 crisis in Israel, legal proceedings are on hold, almost all prison visits are cancelled, and children are denied in-person access to their families and their lawyers. This creates additional hardship, psychological suffering, and prevents the child from receiving the legal advice to which they are entitled.”

At the end of March, UN officials estimated that 194 Palestinian were detained in Israel. On 16 April, a Palestinian NGO pressed Israeli authorities to ensure the rights of detainees. The organisation, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, highlighted “overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and inadequate access to healthcare” while pointing out that Palestinian prisoner are classified separately to regular prisoners. A petition was submitted to the Israeli High Court of Justice to demand that inmates be allowed to communicate with their family. At the time of this update, the court only responded by allowing minors a 10-minute call every two weeks.

On 14 April, a coalition of NGOs issued an open letter to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) urging the body to do more to protect “Palestinian prisoners’ right to health, particularly as many are minors, chronically ill, members of vulnerable groups, or held under administrative detention in contravention of international law.” The letter states that Israeli occupying authorities have disregarded Covid-19 guidelines in dealing with Palestinian prisoners and mentions that while the Israeli government released some 400 non-violent prisoners selected on the basis of health conditions and age, the government has not established the same release policy for Palestinian prisoners. Although some Palestinian prisoners had been freed, the government had not established any health or safety precautions to assist those infected or to protect the communities they are returning to.


04 June 2020

Czech Republic

Belá-Jezová Detention Centre (Photo credit: Refugee Facilities Administration, http://www.suz.cz/co-delame/provoz-zarizeni/zzc-bela-jezova/)
Belá-Jezová Detention Centre (Photo credit: Refugee Facilities Administration, http://www.suz.cz/co-delame/provoz-zarizeni/zzc-bela-jezova/)

According to information provided to the GDP by Hana Frankova (Organisation for Aid to Refugees), Czech authorities have continued to arrest non-nationals during the pandemic. After their arrest, non-nationals have been moved to Bělá Jezová Detention Centre, which has been temporarily converted into a quarantine reception centre. All new asylum seekers have also been required to quarantine at this facility – but they have been held separately to migrant detainees. Quarantine lasts for 14 days, and everyone held in the facility is tested for the virus. Prior to Bělá Jezová’s conversion into a quarantine facility, new detainees who were held at the Vyšní Lhoty and Balková detention centres were tested for the virus at the beginning and end of their quarantine period. In all three detention facilities, detainees have been provided with face masks and disinfectant.

While deportations were not officially halted by authorities, the closure of borders and suspension of international travel prevented both Dublin transfers and administrative expulsions. (However, according to one non-governmental source who contacted the GDP on the condition of anonymity, since mid-May authorities have sought to resume Dublin transfers to EU states to which direct flights are operating.) Those awaiting deportation have not been released. Instead, their detention has been prolonged—and these extensions have been conducted without the usual procedural steps taking place. The Organization for Aid to Refugees is, however, aware of at least one case in which a detainee’s detention was not prolonged and the individual was instead released.

Having ramped up its detention capacity in recent years, authorities have also been systematically detaining asylum seekers--despite repeated criticisms from human rights bodies, including the Committee against Torture (in 2018) and the Human Rights Committee (in 2013). During the crisis, however, authorities reportedly moved detained asylum seekers to open reception facilities (or “accommodation centres”).


04 June 2020

Malaysia

Undocumented Migrants are Handcuffed Together as they are Escorted to an Immigration Detention Centre after a Raid on May 20 in an Area of Petaling Jaya, (Hasnoor Hussain, Al Jazeera,
Undocumented Migrants are Handcuffed Together as they are Escorted to an Immigration Detention Centre after a Raid on May 20 in an Area of Petaling Jaya, (Hasnoor Hussain, Al Jazeera, "Immigration detention centres become Malaysia coronavirus hotspot," Al-Jazeera, 2 June 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/06/immigration-detention-centres-malaysia-coronavirus-hotspot-200602004727890.html)

On 4 June, Malaysia recorded 277 COVID-19 cases—the highest daily figure recorded since the start of the outbreak. 270 of these cases involved foreigners detained at the Bukit Jalil Immigration Detention Depot, which has a reported capacity of 1,500 people.

Previously, on 25 May, the country’s Director General for Health Noor Hisham Abdullah announced that there were 172 confirmed cases of COVID-19, of which 159 were foreigners, including 112 cases in three of the country’s immigration detention facilities (in Sepang, Bukit Jalil, and Semenyih). Subsequently, Ministry of Health authorities announced that they would undertake measures to contain the outbreak at Bukit Jalil Immigration Detention Depot, including disinfecting the site, and ensuring that people housed there practice social distancing and wash their hands frequently.

According to one report, detainees who test positive are sent to one of three quarantine and treatment centres, including an agricultural exhibition space that state media has reported is "under heavy guard."

In total, there have been 608 confirmed cases of COVID-19 from immigration detention centres, including two that have recovered. Human rights groups and the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia have criticised the government’s round-up of migrants (including Rohingya refugees), its failure to erect a firewall between immigration control and healthcare services, as well as its continued policies of detention of foreigners. Preethi Bhardwaj, interim executive director of Amnesty International Malaysia told Al Jazeera: "[Detainees'] health and lives have been put at risk."


04 June 2020

El Salvador

Inside a Temporary Quarantine Centre, Gimnasio Adolfo Pineda, (El Faro,
Inside a Temporary Quarantine Centre, Gimnasio Adolfo Pineda, (El Faro, "Cuatro Deportados por Estados Unidos Dieron Positivo al Covid-19 en El Salvador," 29 May 2020, https://elfaro.net/es/202005/el_salvador/24467/Cuatro-deportados-por-Estados-Unidos-dieron-positivo-al-covid-19-en-El-Salvador.htm)

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 Survey, the UN Human Rights regional office in Panama (ROCA) reported that El Salvador has not established a moratorium on new immigration detention orders and that the country is not contemplating the measure. ROCA also explained that no immigration detainees have been released and that there are no “alternatives to detention” programmes employed in the country. As regards deportations and expulsions, the UN office said that while these have been temporarily suspended, there is no specific measure prohibiting them. ROCA also stated that returned migrants who are detained in quarantine centres are tested for Covid-19. According to IOM, more than 1,100 people have been returned to El Salvador, mostly from the United States (more than 95 percent) during 11 March - 30 April.

On 7 April, 70 Salvadoran nationals were returned from the United States on a flight from Houston airport. Upon arrival, they were transferred to one of the 11 quarantine centres in the country for a duration of 30 days. Five days after their arrival, one returnee developed symptoms of Covid-19, but medical authorities only provided him paracetamol and did not test him for the disease. A month later, when around 100 people were in the quarantine centre, the government decided to test all detainees. A week later, it was confirmed that a few had been infected. El Faro reported that these Salvadoran detainees had been detained in different detention centres in the United States and none of them had been tested upon entry to the centres or prior to deportation. On 22 May, the country’s Ombudsman (Procuraduría para Derechos Humanos or PDDH) announced that they had received complaints from people detained in one of the quarantine centres, the Gimnasio Nacional centre, regarding three positive Covid-19 cases. However, the Ombudsman said that relevant authorities had not communicated the exact number of Covid-19 cases within the centre and that the director of the Salvadoran immigration authority, Ricardo Cucalon, had violated the PDDH law as he had refused to provide information to the ombudsman. The director did not respond to two requests sent on 27 April and 11 May and requested his personnel not to collaborate with the PDDH.
As of 29 May, there remained 108 Salvadoran nationals in the Gimnasio Nacional quarantine centre.

On 14 May 2020, a habeas corpus action was presented to the Supreme Court by twenty-two returnees urging authorities to allow them to return to their homes as they have been detained for forty-five days and have been tested for Covid-19 twice. The returnees’ legal representative said that another reason such a request is being made are the poor hygienic conditions within the centre. Social distancing is not being implemented and when it rains, mattresses get wet and the centre floods. On 20 May, the Ministry of Health informed detainees that they would be transferred to their homes. Nonetheless, there are still migrants in the Gimnasio Nacional that are waiting for a third Covid-19 test and have not yet been released.

As regards the country’s prisons, on 26 May, health authorities in the country announced that there have been at least 36 positive cases of Covid-19. Twenty five were detected in a prison in San Vincente and 11 in the Quezaltepeque prison. The news comes after reports indicating an extreme toughening of detention conditions following violence in the past few weeks. Photographs showing detainees grouped together and wearing only underwear and without adequate protection or physical distancing have been published (see 2 May El Salvador update on this platform).


03 June 2020

Mexico

Migrants Waiting to be Returned to their Countries of Origin Following their Release from Immigration Detention Centres, (Reuters,
Migrants Waiting to be Returned to their Countries of Origin Following their Release from Immigration Detention Centres, (Reuters, "Segob confirma el desalojo de 3,759 migrantes de las estaciones migratorias para evitar brotes de Covid-19," El Economista, 28 April 2020, https://www.eleconomista.com.mx/politica/Segob-confirma-el-desalojo-de-3759-migrantes-de-las-estaciones-migratorias-para-evitar-brotes-de-Covid-19-20200428-0102.html)

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, the UN human rights (OHCHR) country office in Mexico reported that while the country had not adopted a moratorium on new immigration detention orders it had released most people detained for migration-related reasons. Responding to the same survey, the Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Matías de Córdova AC also confirmed that there was a decrease in the amount of people placed in immigration detention. The number of detainees fell from 2,940 in March to 1,532 in April and then to less than 292 by the start of May. As of 29 May, there were 234 people detained in the 65 immigration detention centres (estaciones migratorias) in the country, which have a total capacity of 8,524 spaces.

In its response, Fray Matías emphasized the fact that not all detainees had been released. Certain groups of people remain in detention, including those:
- with ongoing court cases;
- with some type of immigration alert;
- detained while their immigration status was being verified (this process can last for up to a week) or while their asylum application is being processed; and
- returned from the United States from third countries.

Regarding the last category of detainees, Mexico has accepted to take Central American migrants and refugees and place them in immigration detention centres. Fray Matías explained that in certain cases, these people were not placed in temporary isolation and no health checks were undertaken, considerably increasing the risk of spreading infection.

Despite the releases from detention, the OHCHR country office said that authorities had failed to adhere to human rights standards in the treatment of people after they were released. Most returns to Central American countries, usually conducted via land, were blocked because Guatemala’s borders had been closed. The border closures and ensuing riots that took place in immigration detention centres as fears about contagion spread among detainees (see the 7 April Mexico update on this platform) spurred Mexico’s immigration authority (Instituto Nacional de Migracion, or INM) to start releasing people and transporting them a few kilometers from the border with Guatemala, where they were abandoned. Fray Matías also said that they had received information stating that migrants and asylum seekers released from detention had been abandoned or deported to their countries of origin, which may violate the principle of non-refoulement. Some of the released migrants were transferred to civil society shelters, putting the people already accommodated in those facilities at risk of contagion. The OHCHR Mexico country office said that migrants were not being tested for Covid-19 and they were unable to confirm whether any measures had been taken to prevent the spread of Covid-19 amongst released migrants. Fray Matías said that according to information provided directly from released detainees, upon arrival to the detention centres, migrants and asylum seekers are asked a few questions regarding Covid-19 symptoms, they are then placed in isolation for a few hours and later, they join the general population.

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, Fray Matías said that the INM was using certain “alternatives to detention” for asylum seekers. However, the organisation said that this was not an effective measure as they were not released within the context of a regularisation programme or humanitarian aid program. Asylum seekers may be left homeless and without support as civil society shelters are overcrowded and do not receive much government support.

The OHCHR Mexico country office also reported that deporations were not completely suspended for migrants arriving from Central America and that 4,935 persons had been returned during the period 21 March to 29 May (2,461 were returned by air to Honduras, 406 to El Salvador, and 67 to Nicaragua, as well as 2,001 via land routes to Guatemala).

Prior to the release of most immigration detainees (see 29 April Mexico update on this platform), on 17 April, following a legal action supported by more than 40 civil society organisations, a first instance Court ordered the immediate release of vulnerable detainees held in immigration detention centres and that they be provided with a temporary status which would allow them to access health care. The Court also ordered the INM to develop a report detailing the number of persons detained as well as a strategy for migrants and asylum seekers to be able to benefit from economic support.


02 June 2020

Lebanon

Syrian refugees outside their tents, in the Bekaa Valley town of Saadnayel, east Lebanon (Syrian Association for Citizens’ Dignity, “SACD Analysis: Impact of Covid-19 on Syrian Refugees in Lebanon,” Medium, 25 May 2020, https://medium.com/@SACD/sacd-analysis-impact-of-covid-19-on-syrian-refugees-in-lebanon-fd328b9f87f1)
Syrian refugees outside their tents, in the Bekaa Valley town of Saadnayel, east Lebanon (Syrian Association for Citizens’ Dignity, “SACD Analysis: Impact of Covid-19 on Syrian Refugees in Lebanon,” Medium, 25 May 2020, https://medium.com/@SACD/sacd-analysis-impact-of-covid-19-on-syrian-refugees-in-lebanon-fd328b9f87f1)

While the Lebanese government has so far managed to keep infections down, the pandemic has exposed barriers that refugees face in the country. Despite hosting the highest per capita concentration of refugees worldwide, Lebanon is not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol. An estimated 73 percent of Syrian refugees in the country lack legal status, limiting their access to essential services including health care, and rendering them vulnerable to arrest and detention. Detention conditions have repeatedly been flagged by international observers as unacceptable, and in 2019, authorities forcibly deported more than 2,500 people back to Syria.

The fact that many refugees have been unable to reside legally in the country has given rise to significant concerns during the crisis. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, any person experiencing symptoms has been required to contact a national health ministry hotline for advice on testing and treatment. Both UNHCR (responsible for Syrian refugees) and UNRWA (responsible for Palestinian refugees), who are responsible for covering refugee health care, have said that they will only cover testing and treatment costs if the refugee has first contacted this hotline and followed instructions. However, many refugees have expressed fears of using the hotline and providing their personal information—largely due to their concern that their illegal status will be reported, and that they will subsequently face detention and deportation. The lack of a “firewall” between health care and immigration authorities during the pandemic, as witnessed in numerous other countries, threatens both refugees’ health—and the health of the wider community. As Human Rights Watch stated on 22 April, “The authorities should proactively reassure refugees that they will not face retribution or stigmatization if they seek testing or treatment for COVID-19.”

According to the Access Center for Human Rights, some municipalities (particularly those affiliated to political parties that oppose the presence of Syrian refugees in the country) have also deported Syrians under the pretext of combatting the virus. Amongst those deported have been several families who were removed after purchasing medicines. In one case, a boy in Mount Lebanon Governorate was followed home after purchasing pain relief. Volunteers overseeing movement restrictions raised fears that he may be suffering from the virus, and demanded the municipality deport his family. At least nine refugee camps have also been raided by security forces, searching registration papers and residency permits.

As of 29 May, a handful of Syrian refugees in the country had tested positive: 15 cases were detected in the village of Majdal Anjar in Bekaa, close to the Syrian border; 10 Palestinian refugees have also contracted the virus.

According to the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor, a circular issued on 1 May stipulated that only Lebanese nationals stranded overseas were permitted to return to Lebanon during the crisis. Meanwhile, Palestinian refugees who usually reside in the country but who were stranded outside were barred from returning. The rights group stated in a press release, “The circular includes heinous racial discrimination against Palestinian refugees holding Lebanese travel documents. The holder of this document should receive similar treatment to the Lebanese citizen in cases of deportation. In addition, preventing Palestinian refugees who only hold Lebanese travel documents from traveling constitutes a flagrant violation of their right to freedom of travel and movement.”


01 June 2020

Portugal

Medical Staff Stand Next to Asylum Seekers Evacuated from a Hostel as they Arrive at the Central Mosque to be Tested for Covid-19, (Rafael Marchante, Reuters,
Medical Staff Stand Next to Asylum Seekers Evacuated from a Hostel as they Arrive at the Central Mosque to be Tested for Covid-19, (Rafael Marchante, Reuters, "Coronavirus sweeps through Portuguese hostel housing asylum seekers," SwissInfo, 20 April 2020, https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/reuters/coronavirus-sweeps-through-portuguese-hostel-housing-asylum-seekers/45703058)

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, IOM Portugal reported that no moratorium on new immigration detention orders has been established and that there has been no indication in the legislation that detention is to be halted. However, since the onset of the Covid-19 crisis, the number of detention orders issued by judges has decreased significantly.

As previously reported by the Portuguese Ombudsman’s office, responding to the GDP’s Covid-19 survey (see 14 May update), IOM Portugal said that the temporary detention facilities at the Lisbon airport were closed following the declaration of the state of emergency and that people detained in those facilities were released. Nonetheless, it is unclear whether the decision was due to the pandemic or due to the death of a migrant in the facilities in March.

IOM Portugal also also stated that, to their knowledge, immigration detainees are tested for Covid-19. But the source was unable to provide details regarding what measures may have been taken as regards migrants or asylum seekers released from detention to prevent spreading Covid-19 and to ensure the care of this vulnerable population.

Some removals have taken place during the pandemic. According to IOM Portugal, these were forced removals issued as a penalty for the commission of a crime, which entailed expulsion following the completion of a prison sentence. The country has also adopted rules to temporarily regularise migrants who had submitted their applications prior to 18 March 2020.


01 June 2020

Panama

Migrants Crossing the 'Rio Turquesa' Close to the First Panamanian Village on the Border with Colombia, (William Urdaneta, UNICEF,
Migrants Crossing the 'Rio Turquesa' Close to the First Panamanian Village on the Border with Colombia, (William Urdaneta, UNICEF, "Migrantes en Panamá: entre sueños y esperanzas en medio del COVID-19," 15 May 2020, https://news.un.org/es/story/2020/05/1474492)

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 Survey, the UN human rights regional office in Panama (ROCA) reported that Panama has not established a moratorium on new immigration detention orders and that the country is not contemplating the measure. ROCA also explained that no immigration detainees have been released and that there are no “alternatives to detention” programs employed in the country. As regards deportations and expulsions, the UN office said that while these have been temporarily suspended, there is no specific measure prohibiting them. Panama has extended refugee applicants’ permits for the duration of the quarantine so that these do not expire during the crisis.

IOM reported that per year, Panama receives around 25,000 migrants and/or asylum seekers (2,000 per month), most of whom are seeking to journey to the United States. Due to border closures caused by the Covid-19 crisis, vulnerable migrant and refugee populations are stranded between Panama, Colombia and Costa Rica. The IOM Director in Panama, said that “migrants and refugees are the most at risk and vulnerable population, and in consequence, we should not exclude them from the Covid-19 strategy response, given that protecting their rights and dignity signifies responding to the humanitarian needs of all.” IOM, in collaboration with UNHCR, has been providing food and sanitary products to alleviate the risk of contagion. In its survey response, the UN human rights office reported that immigration detainees are tested for Covid-19 in migrant reception centres.

On 15 May, the UN reported in a news release that the four immigration reception centres in Panama are currently holding 2,527 persons with most originating from Haiti, Congo, Bangladesh, and Yemen. One of the centres, “La Peñita,” houses 1,724 persons, of which 500 are children. Prior to the start of the Covid-19 crisis, migrants would, on average, spend a week in immigration centres, during which fingerprints would be taken and any other medical examinations would be conducted by the Ministry of Health. However, since the start of the Covid-19 crisis, migrants have been obliged to stay in the centres until borders are re-opened, creating uncertainty as to how long they will be held.

On 30 May, the Panamanian government announced that it intends to transport around 1,900 migrants, who have been stranded in the country due to Covid-19, closer to the border with Costa Rica, following a resolution by the Inter-American Court. Three days earlier, the Court requested that Panama provide “access to essential health services without discrimination to all persons that are held in the immigration reception centres of La Peñita and Laja Blanca, including Covid-19 screening.” In the former centre, at least 17 people have tested positive for the virus. The Court’s decision was motivated by several factors including overcrowding, lack of primary health services and measures to avoid contagion, as well as border closures. In relation to overcrowding, it was mentioned that one of the centres was seven times over its capacity and that the country’s explanations were insufficient to justify or demonstrate the observance of WHO standards. In consequence, the Court requested that urgent measures be adopted and asked Panama to prepare a report, before 10 June, on compliance with the requested measures.


31 May 2020

Cyprus

Migrants and Asylum Seekers Protesting at a Fence in the Pournara Refugee Camp in Kokkinotrimithia, (Knews,
Migrants and Asylum Seekers Protesting at a Fence in the Pournara Refugee Camp in Kokkinotrimithia, (Knews, "Asylum seekers continue to protest confinement at Pournara camp," 27 May 2020, https://knews.kathimerini.com.cy/en/news/asylum-seekers-continue-to-protest-confinement-at-pournara-camp)

Cyprus has experienced increasing tumult in its reception system even as the country has continued to deport people during the pandemic. Approximately 200 Georgian citizens were deported from Cyprus during the month of May after their asylum applications were rejected. The Interior Minister also announced the “voluntary return” of 150 Cameroonians.

On 6 May, following a hunger strike, a protest took place at the Pournara emergency reception camp. Three people were arrested as they were protesting over the overcrowding at the camp, and overall living conditions. The three men were arrested on assault charges, and it is unclear where they were taken and if they were deported. The Interior Ministry later accused the protester of being “anarchists, trying to steer off course the government’s response to a migration crisis.”

At that time, around 600 people were living in the camp. Migrants also demanded to be allowed to exit the camp, which has been prohibited since the COVID-19 outbreak. The Cyprus Ombudswoman, who visited the camp in April, stated that “asylum seekers should not under any circumstances be barred from exiting the campground.”

On 19 May, the Health Ministry declared the camp as a “local infected area under public health laws” due to 30 confirmed cases of scabies infection. Despite the ease of the country’s restrictions, since 4 May, the lockdown continues at Pournara. The camp was originally designed to host asylum seekers for a maximum of 72 hours. Although the movement restrictions were lifted on 21 May, asylum seekers still cannot exit the camp freely due to the scabies infection.

On 27 May, there were around 700 people at Pournara. A protest was organized that day, and took the form of a sit-in. Although police were present, they reportedly did not intervene.


29 May 2020

Algeria

A Queue of People in Assamaka on the Niger/Algeria Border, (IOM,
A Queue of People in Assamaka on the Niger/Algeria Border, (IOM, "Coronavirus border closures strand tens of thousands of people across Africa," The Guardian, 5 May 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/05/coronavirus-border-closures-strand-tens-of-thousands-of-people-across-africa#maincontent)

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, a non-governmental actor in Algeria reported that expulsions of undocumented people have been halted since 21 March 2020, though information from news sources appears to contradict this claim. The source, who asked to remain anonymous but whose identity was verified by the GDP, said that they did not have any information regarding whether a moratorium on new immigration detention orders had been put in place or if the country had adopted new immigration and/or asylum policies. The source also stated that they were not aware if immigration detainees were being tested for Covid-19 or whether detainees had been released at all.

On 5 May, however, reports indicated that between mid-March and mid-April, hundreds of migrants were forcibly expelled from Algeria and now find themselves stranded in transit centres across Niger in harsh conditions in makeshift quarantine camps in Agadez.

As previously reported (see 6 May update on this platform), refugee camps such as the Sahrawi camps are particularly vulnerable to the spread of Covid-19. Reports indicate that as of 8 May, more than 170,000 people were living in the Sahrawi refugee camps, where healthcare centres have no ventilators and are not equipped to deal with the consequences of a Covid-19 spread. In the Tindouf province, where the camps are located, nine cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed. Oxfam’s Country Director in Algeria, Haissam Minkara said: “The new confirmed cases are very close to the camps, which means the risk of an outbreak is now imminent and would be disastrous for the refugee population - one that has already suffered four decades of conflict.”

Because refugees in the camps are living in close quarters and many of them suffer from health conditions, including acute malnutrition, diabetes, and anemia, an outbreak would be devastating. Oxfam reported that within the camps, health centres are already experiencing a shortage of beds, medical supplies, protective equipment for staff, and hygiene products. In addition, all non-essential businesses have been closed in the camps and travel between the five camps has been restricted by Algerian authorities. Oxfam stated that although suspending humanitarian aid activities is essential for preventing an outbreak, this also complicates life for people already on the brink. As camps are geographically and economically isolated, and with most economic activities in the camps halted, refugees’ ability to purchase food and hygiene items is increasingly limited.

Oxfam and its partners report that they are providing protective equipment and hygiene items to meet the needs of the 33 health facilities and clinics in the camps in addition to manufacturing and installing handwashing units throughout the camps. Oxfam is appealing to the international community to support funding needed to help respond to the crisis. Oxfam’s country director stated: “The Sahrawi refugee crisis has been overlooked for four decades and now, more than ever, the stakes couldn’t be higher for those already left behind by the international community. We are mobilising resources, but it will not be enough. Oxfam is looking to the international community for support to strengthen our capacity to deal with an outbreak.”

On 18 April, the country has also opened sewing workshops in 30 of its penitentiaries with the aim of producing 200,000 masks. An extension of this initiative is being planned, by which prisoners would also produce protective suits for medical personnel and disinfection cabins.


29 May 2020

Macedonia

Photograph of the Migrants' Fractured Arm After Being Treated by a Medical Volunteer in Thessaloniki, (BVMN,
Photograph of the Migrants' Fractured Arm After Being Treated by a Medical Volunteer in Thessaloniki, (BVMN, "THEY WANT TO KILL US. THEY WANT TO KILL US," 22 April 2020, https://www.borderviolence.eu/violence-reports/april-22-2020-0200-gevgelia/)

In response to the Covid-19 crisis, North Macedonia announced on 17 March the closure of all its borders. President Stevo Pendarovski called a state of emergency for 30 days, which was later extended for an additional month. Strict measures were put in place, including curfew and the compulsory use of masks in public places where a safe distance cannot be adhered to. However, these regulations are difficult to adhere to for transit groups as they do not have fixed accommodation or access to face masks.

A 2020 report drafted by the Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN) stated that push backs at the borders continue to take place. In April, masked officers ordered a mass transfer from a camp in Serbia, informing residents that they would be taken to Presevo as a health precaution. Instead, they were driven to the border with North Macedonia and pushed back at gunpoint. The group was later apprehended by North Macedonian authorities and pushed back to Greece. BVMN has recorded four cases of push-backs from North Macedonia to Greece in April. The country’s president has emphasised their “zero tolerance” approach towards migrants crossing the borders: “Regardless of the corona crisis, we are closely monitoring the situation, but mainly there is no difference in our attitude.”

In two cases in April, officers working in the border regions employed violence, resulting in one migrant being unable to walk without crutches and another suffering from a fractured arm. In the latter incident, after having been beaten, four migrants were driven to the border with Greece and the officers “opened the door of the border” and chased the group shouting “go, go, never come back.” As a result, the group decided to make their way back to Thessaloniki.

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, a non-governmental actor in North Macedonia stated that immigration detainees in the country have not been released despite the Covid-19 crisis and detention orders are still being issued. The source, who asked to remain anonymous but whose identity was verified by the GDP, said added that some detainees were taken to quarantine facilities but that no alternatives to detention programs are employed in the country.

Regarding the country’s prisons, it is unclear if measures to protect detainees have been adopted. However, on 9 April, a 47-year-old detainee in the prison of Sutka in Skopje died from Covid-19. A second prisoner died of Covid-19 on 15 April in the pretrial prison in Suto Orizari.

The GDP has been unable to find reports indicating that authorities have adopted any measures to assist migrants in detention.


29 May 2020

Honduras

Migrants Coming Out of the Temporary Quarantine Centre in Tegucigalpa after having Been Deported From Mexico, (Jorge Cabrera, Reuters,
Migrants Coming Out of the Temporary Quarantine Centre in Tegucigalpa after having Been Deported From Mexico, (Jorge Cabrera, Reuters, "Migrantes y refugiados, entre los más afectados por el Covid-19," France 24, 5 May 2020, https://www.france24.com/es/20200504-migrantes-refugiados-afectados-covid19-pandemia-coronavirus)

As of early May, Honduras continued to receive some 100 returned men and women from the United States every day, according to the IOM (5 May). Although no cases of Covid-19 amongst returnees had yet to be detected, IOM reported that it was helping prepare Honduran authorities in the case of an outbreak, including working jointly with the US Agency for International Development on distributing testing kits.

The Honduran government has established locations in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula to house returned migrants from the United States and Mexico as they pass a 14-day period in quarantine. Data from the Consular and Immigration Observatory has revealed that between 1 March and 26 April, 5,822 persons were returned from the United States and Mexico. In addition, on 21 May, UNICEF reported that since early March, at least 1,000 unaccompanied migrant children have been returned from the USA to Mexico and northern Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras). Over the same period, at least 447 migrant children were returned from Mexico to Guatemala and Honduras. On 10 May, Mexico deported 42 Honduran nationals to Tegucigalpa, where they were placed in quarantine for 14 days. Amongst the returnees, there are two children, two women and 38 men.

UNICEF and other agencies have reported that limited public information about Covid-19 has caused confusion and fear among returnees and the communities they return to across the region. Within certain communities, there are worries that children and families returned from the US and Mexico could be carrying the virus. UNICEF has received reports of communities in Guatemala and Honduras barring physical entry to outside groups or strangers, including returnees, to prevent local transmission of the disease. A centre for returned migrants had to be closed as the local population protested as they feared that they would contract the disease.

The GDP has been unable to determine what if any measures have been taken to protect people in immigration proceedings in Honduras. However, the country has taken some steps in its prisons. On 12 March, when the government announced a state of emergency, all visits to prisons were suspended. In addition, staff and inmates received masks to wear during medical appointments or court hearings. As of mid-May, there had been three confirmed cases of Covid-19 within the country’s prisons and one death related to the disease in the prison of El Pozo. On 19 May, one detainee tested positive in the prison of El Porvenir. Authorities also announced that there would not be any new arrivals until further notice. Subsequently, on 21 May, an investigation revealed a lack of testing and isolation of prisoners who have had contact with sick inmates. 70 inmates shared common areas with the deceased prisoner and yet, very few measures have been taken since. Only 22 tests have reportedly been undertaken in the ‘El Pozo’ and ‘Tamara’ prisons.


28 May 2020

Bulgaria

The Gate and Walls Surrounding the Busmantsi Detention Centre, (
The Gate and Walls Surrounding the Busmantsi Detention Centre, ("Sofia Busmantsi Detention Centre (Special Home for Temporary Accomodation of Foreigners)," https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/europe/bulgaria/detention-centres/1047/sofia-busmantsi-detention-centre-special-home-for-temporary-accommodation-of-foreignersshaf)

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, a non-governmental actor in Bulgaria reported that while the country has not declared a moratorium on new detention orders officials have worked to limit detainee populations in its detention centres. The source, who asked to remain anonymous but whose identity was verified by the GDP, said that Bulgaria’s two detention centres—Busmantsi and Lyubimets—have been operating at no more than 15 percent occupancy rate to allow for social distancing. However, there has been no routine testing of detainees.

Regarding asylum procedures, the source reported that all activities related to the asylum procedure have been suspended “apart from registration of new applicants. 14 days quarantine was introduced for newly-accommodated persons in open centres and detention centres.” The source added: “Persons who apply for asylum while in immigration detention are released to open centres managed by the State Agency for Refugees (SAR) which implemented strict measures including limiting the possibility to leave the centres to essential trips - for work, shopping, medical reasons.” However, those expressing intention to apply for asylum while detained must enter 14-day quarantine before submitting their asylum application. Asylum applicants who are determined to be children are released to SAR and undergo 14-day quarantine.

The source reported that while most removals have been suspended, a “few returns have taken place, primarily to neighbouring countries and concerning nationals of these countries.”

The source added: “While a general prohibition of entry of third country nationals to Bulgaria was introduced, persons travelling for humanitarian reasons were explicitly exempted from it. … Asylum-seekers in open centres were subject to restrictions on leaving the centres - they were allowed to leave for essential reasons only. The restriction ended once the state declared the end of the emergency measures (13 May).”


28 May 2020

Switzerland

Bunkbeds in a Dormitory of a Federal Asylum Centre, (Anthony Anex, Keystone,
Bunkbeds in a Dormitory of a Federal Asylum Centre, (Anthony Anex, Keystone, "Die Schweiz stoppt Ausschaffungen von Asylbewerbern – erster Corona-Fall im Bundeszentrum Zürich," Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 26 March 2020, https://www.nzz.ch/schweiz/die-schweiz-stoppt-ausschaffungen-von-asylbewerbern-erster-corona-fall-im-bundeszentrum-zuerich-ld.1548486?reduced=true#back-register)

Since the beginning of April, certain immigration detention centres, including the Frambois and Favra centres in Geneva, have been closed. Around 30 people were detained in the centres at the time. Reports suggest that they may have been assigned to a temporary residence or may be prohibited from entering a specific perimeter or region. The situation in Geneva is complicated by the fact that detention spaces in the canton are shared with other cantons as part of an agreement, or “concordat.” However, according to Tribune de Genève, Geneva is taking charge of all detainees previously held in the Vaud and Neuchâtel cantons.

In Bern, certain immigration detainees have been released by order of the court. Nonetheless, the Director of Security of Bern rejected a request to release all immigration detainees and stated that every case is examined individually. At the end of March, it was reported that around a dozen asylum seekers and seven employees had been infected with the virus in the federal asylum centres.

The halt of deportations may also have legal consequences, as reported by the Neue Zürcher Zeitung. As authorities have a period of six months to return rejected asylum seekers in Dublin procedures, depending upon the duration of the Covid-19 crisis, numerous deportations may no longer be feasible. As stated by Marcel Suter from the cantonal migration authorities, “if returns are stopped for a long time, it is difficult to get them going again.”

Migrant workers in irregular situations in Switzerland (estimated at 100,000) have been left in a precarious situation due to the coronavirus crisis. Various organisations and support centres in Zurich, Lucerne, Basel, Bern, Geneva, and Lausanne have been providing food and food vouchers. However, requests for advice and financial support have continued to flood in. Bea Schwager, head of the Zurich centre SPAZ (Sans-Papiers Anlaufstelle Zürich), said that “in Zurich, over 400 people have called us for financial aid to cover essential expenses during confinement.” She added that the organisation had “received about CHF 100,000 but much of that money has already been spent.” In Lausanne, before the crisis, the Protestant church gave out 80 food rations, whereas today, it distributes 350. In mid-April, the Protestant Social Centre and the Vaud Collective Support of Sans Papiers, together with other organisations, wrote to the federal, cantonal, and municipal authorities requesting financial aid and other support for the most vulnerable. For now however, no response has been provided.

On 1 April, the Swiss Federal Council passed a legal order (ordonnance Covid-19 asile) regarding the measures taken with respect to asylum in view of the Covid-19 crisis. Article 6 of the order allows the Swiss Migration Secretariat (Secrétariat d’Etat aux Migrations, or SEM) to conduct an interview without a legal representative being present with the asylum seeker. In addition, following a review of the asylum legislation in March 2019, time limits for appeals against negative asylum decisions had been reduced from 30 days to 7. The order has now amended this time-frame and re-established a 30 day period for people to respond to decisions by the SEM.

In some of the country’s prisons, alternatives to incarceration have been implemented. In Bern, 27 vulnerable prisoners that were accommodated in open or semi-open prisons have been released. In addition, sentences of less than 30 days for prisoners that “do not present any risk for society” have been suspended. In the Champ-Dollon prison in Geneva, the number of inmates has been reduced from 650 to 560 as certain detainees have been assigned to house arrest, given electronic tags and others have been given reporting obligations. As of 15 April, authorities had confirmed that there were 35 people that tested positive in prisons, including 33 staff members.


28 May 2020

Afghanistan

Afghan Prisoners Prepare to be released from Pul-e-Charkhi prison in Kabul, (Rahmat Gul, AP,
Afghan Prisoners Prepare to be released from Pul-e-Charkhi prison in Kabul, (Rahmat Gul, AP, "Afghan Prison Chief Laments Conditions In Country's Jails," Gandhara, 22 April 2020, https://gandhara.rferl.org/a/afghan-prison-chief-laments-conditions-in-country-s-jails/30569489.html)

As of 28 May, Afghanistan had reported 13,036 cases of Covid-19 and 235 deaths related to the disease.

As previously reported (See the 30 April Sweden update), the Afghan Ministry for Refugees wrote an open letter on 18 March 2020 to European countries requesting that they halt all deportations to Afghanistan due to the Covid-19 threat. On 31 March, the German government announced it would cease deportations to Afghanistan for the time being with the last flight having taken place on 12 March. The request to halt deportations came at a time where IOM reported that approximately 100,000 Afghans were deported or returned voluntarily from Iran. IOM said that 53,069 undocumented Afghans returned from Iran through the Milnak and Herat borders between 8-14 March, representing a 171 percent increase. The organisation added that since 1 January, the total number of undocumented returnees from Iran is of 136,186 persons, including unaccompanied migrant children, single parent families, physically disabled persons and elders.

On 6 May, the prison authority announced that 10 prisoners tested positive for Covid-19 out of 600 tested. A prisoner detained in the Pul-e-Charkhi prison stated that three prisoners had died after contracting Covid-19. In addition, on 17 May at least 13 detainees tested positive in a prison in the province of Herat.

On 22 April, more than 5,000 prisoners were reportedly freed, mostly women, juveniles and sick prisoners, to reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading. On the same day, Afghanistan’s new prison chief, Ahmad Rashid Totakhail, complained to journalists about widespread abuses in the country’s prison system. He described problems ranging from the lack of a comprehensive database on the length of detainees’ sentences to sexual abuse of underage prisoners and a general lack of access to medical care. Subsequently, on 27 April, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani issued a decree to release over 12,000 inmates and to reform various prisons as part of measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19.


27 May 2020

Malta

Migrants Swimming after Maltese Navy Boat Reportedly Pushed Back Migrant Dinghy Sending it to Italy, (
Migrants Swimming after Maltese Navy Boat Reportedly Pushed Back Migrant Dinghy Sending it to Italy, ("Footage appears to Show Maltese Navy Boat Pushing Back Migrant Dinghy and Sending it to Italy," Footage by Alarm Phone, Published by The Guardian, 19 May 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watchtime_continue=51&v=tDQhJ2f2KgM&feature=emb_title)

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, a non-governmental actor in Malta reported that immigration detainees in the country have not been released despite the Covid-19 crisis and detention orders are still being issued. The source, who asked to remain anonymous but whose identity was verified by the GDP, said that non-governmental actors have been raising awareness regarding Covid-19 in detention centres by circulating posters, voice messages and videos to detainees as detainees are only tested for the disease if they exhibit symptoms. Malta has reportedly halted deportations and borders have been closed. According to the source, only vulnerable people arriving on boats from Libya via the Mediterranean route, such as pregnant women and children, have been allowed to disembark on the island.

The Maltese government is reportedly using private vessels, acting at the behest of its armed forces, in order to intercept migrant crossings and return refugees to Libyan detention centres. Evidence of Malta’s strategy to push migrants back to Libya was revealed by a woman who survived a Mediterranean crossing in which 12 people died in April. The woman stated that the boat on which she was attempting to reach Europe had been intercepted by a ship enlisted by the Maltese authorities, which took them back to Tripoli. Upon arrival in Libya, the passengers were moved to the detention centre of Tariq al-Sikka, where they remain. In a statement released on 15 April, authorities confirmed that it “coordinated the rescue of an immigrant boat assisted by a commercial vessel.” A spokesperson for Alarm Phone, a hotline service for migrants in distress at sea, said: “Twelve people have died while Malta and Europe were watching. We should never forget that these deaths are the direct result of Malta’s and Europe’s non-assistance policies, and their clear intention to let people die at sea. These deaths could and should have been prevented.”

On 20 May, it was reported that Malta’s armed forces allegedly turned away at gunpoint a boat carrying migrants from their waters, after giving them fuel and the GPS coordinates to reach Italy. One of the passengers told the Guardian that the armed forces explained that: “Malta has a virus called corona if you’ve heard about it. We can’t take you there because everyone is sick in Malta. And Malta is small and can’t take all of you.” The passenger added: “they gave us red life vests, a new engine and fuel and told us they would show us the route to Italy. Then they pointed guns at us and said: ‘We give you 30 minutes’.”


26 May 2020

Spain

Police Surrounding the Aluche Detention Centre in Madrid, (Paco Campos,
Police Surrounding the Aluche Detention Centre in Madrid, (Paco Campos, "Motivos por los que no reabrir los CIE cuando pase el coronavirus," CuartoPoder, 15 April 2020, https://www.cuartopoder.es/derechos-sociales/2020/04/15/motivos-por-los-que-no-reabrir-los-cie-cuando-pase-el-coronavirus/)

Spain’s decision to temporarily shut its “foreigner internment centres” (CIEs)--which were empty as of 6 May--in response to the Covid-19 crisis has raised questions about the treatment of released detainees. In late March the Ministry of Inclusion, Social Security, and Migration announced that it would work in coordination with the Immigration and Border police to accommodate all those released from CIEs.

As of 20 March, the CIE in Barcelona had been emptied and most of the 40 detainees were wherever possible returned to their family homes and some were referred to social services. Those who were not returned home were directed to social organisations like Fundacion Cepaim, which has assisted nearly 50 former detainees, providing shelter, food, and counseling as part of the NGO’s “humanitarian aid” program. The program lasts for three months and aims to integrate undocumented migrants that cannot be returned or deported to their countries of origin. The program is in place in 22 cities and towns in Spain and social workers and other professionals implement the plan. Accommodation is provided in shared apartments (6 persons) as well as food, clothing, and sanitary products. They are also given travel cards for public transport with a certain amount of fares and are offered legal and social support to resolve their immigration status.

Jesuit Refugee Services - Spain has started a campaign for the Spanish government to not reopen CIEs and put an end to immigration detention in the country. A petition has been launched urging the government to close CIEs definitively and to never detain vulnerable persons. Police experts have conceded that “once the Covid-19 crisis is over, it will be very difficult to bring back all those released into CIEs,” thus casting further doubt upon the measures that will be taken.

As regards the country’s prisons, on 30 April 2020, the Ministry of Justice announced that “Covid-19 had affected the prison population four times less than the outside population.” From the start of the pandemic until 12 May, the prison system confirmed that 254 prison staff members and 56 inmates tested positive for Covid-19. 18 women imprisoned with their children were freed under electronic monitoring on 12 May and two days later, the Interior Minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, declared that inmates will once again be allowed to take leaves and to receive family visits.


26 May 2020

South Africa

People Affected by the Coronavirus Economic Crisis Line Up to Receive Food Donations at the Iterileng Inroaml Settlement Near Laudium, Pretoria on 20 May 2020, (Themba Hadebe, AP Photo,
People Affected by the Coronavirus Economic Crisis Line Up to Receive Food Donations at the Iterileng Inroaml Settlement Near Laudium, Pretoria on 20 May 2020, (Themba Hadebe, AP Photo, "South Africa: End Bias in Covid-19 Food Aid," Human Rights Watch, 20 May 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/05/20/south-africa-end-bias-covid-19-food-aid)

Despite some positive steps announced by the South African government, including regarding the non-penalisation of migrants and asylum seekers whose visas expire during the pandemic (see 6 May update), migrants have continued to be arrested throughout the crisis. Some politicians have publicly celebrated these arrests - including Faith Mazibuko, a member of the Executive Council in the Guateng Provincial Government. Reportedly, migrants have been arrested for violating lock-down measures.

While the country has launched a food aid programme, providing supplies to vulnerable citizens in an attempt to mitigate the impacts of the two-month lockdown, the programme requires recipients to possess a national ID card. This has prevented refugees and migrants from accessing supplies.

Human Rights Watch reported in a statement on 20 May, “The South African authorities should ensure that essential goods and services are provided to everyone in need without discrimination. … Special arrangements should be made to protect the rights of vulnerable groups, including refugees, asylum seekers, and the homeless, who may not normally have access to basic goods, including food, water – potable and washing – and health care.” Other countries, like Ireland (see our 29 April update on the country), have put up “firewalls” between agencies to enable undocumented people to access social services during the crisis without risking enforcement measures.

As well as the denial of food aid to non-nationals, many have been unable to access health care. This was highlighted in a joint statement from the University of Pretoria’s Centre for Human Rights and the University of Witwatersrand’s Centre for Applied Legal Studies. Together, they point to section 27(3) of South Africa’s Constitution, which provides that “no one may be refused emergency medical treatment,” but note that a lack of solidarity with migrants and refugees has been displayed in the government’s response to the virus. “It is not in the best interest of the country if people from a segment of the society are prosecuted when they present themselves for screening, testing and treatment, or if they are excluded from medical and other essential services.”

Significant numbers of migrants in South Africa are reportedly homeless. At the start of the crisis, police rounded up hundreds of homeless persons, transferring them to Strandfontein Camp – a tented facility set up by Cape Town authorities in response to the pandemic. Conditions in this camp were quickly flagged by the South African Human Rights Commission and MSF, both of which documented severe movement restrictions, poor quality bedding, insufficient hygiene levels, and the inability to social distance. Although the facility closed on 20 May, a group of 180 who had been confined in the facilty were reportedly moved at night to an un-serviced site under a highway overpass in Culemborg, central Cape Town.


26 May 2020

Malaysia

Immigration Director-General Datuk Khairul Dzaimee Daud (left) and other Immigration officers check the papers of a detained non-national (The Star, https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2020/05/12/immigration-detains-1368-illegals-after-kuala-lumpur-wholesale-market-raid-monday-may-11)
Immigration Director-General Datuk Khairul Dzaimee Daud (left) and other Immigration officers check the papers of a detained non-national (The Star, https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2020/05/12/immigration-detains-1368-illegals-after-kuala-lumpur-wholesale-market-raid-monday-may-11)

According to information submitted to the GDP by Kendra Rinas, the IOM’s Chief of Mission in Malaysia, all immigration detainees (believed by the IOM to number over 13,000 people) are now being tested for the virus, and on 26 May authorities ceased issuing new detention orders. These developments emerged following news of rapidly rising numbers of confirmed cases inside Malaysian immigration “depots.”

Despite the threat the pandemic poses to detained populations, Malaysian authorities have scaled up immigration arrests, carrying out raids in areas with large numbers of migrants and refugees (see 3 May update). On 21 May, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Felipe González Morales, criticised the country for its treatment of non-nationals during the crisis, pointing to the raids and arrests and warning, “In such a situation, migrants might not come forward anymore for testing, or access health services even when showing symptoms of the coronavirus.”

Malaysia is one of several countries - another notable case being South Africa (see our 26 May update on the country) - that have failed to put up “firewalls” between agencies during the crisis that would enable undocumented people to access services without risk of enforcement measures like arrest or detention, which risks exasperating the crisis.

As many have feared, cases of Covid-19 amongst the country’s immigration detainee population began to rise in the wake of these raids. On 25 May, the country’s Director General for Health Noor Hisham Abdullah announced 172 new cases – of which 159 were foreigners, including 112 cases in three of the country’s immigration detention facilities (in Sepang, Bukit Jalil, and Semenyih).

According to the IOM, deportations have continued throughout the pandemic. On 12 May, almost 400 Myanmar nationals were deported on charter flights – reportedly in an effort to free up additional space in detention facilities. (The previous day, for example, saw more than 1,300 non-nationals—including 98 children—arrested in a raid in Kuala Lumpur.) Rinas also adds that several embassies have been working with immigration authorities to expedite deportations in order to prevent lengthy stays in detention.


25 May 2020

Serbia

Tents in Morovic Camp - originally intended to be used for quarantining Serbian nationals returning home, but now being used to deain migrants and asylum seekers, (mod.gov.rs,
Tents in Morovic Camp - originally intended to be used for quarantining Serbian nationals returning home, but now being used to deain migrants and asylum seekers, (mod.gov.rs, "BIRN Fact-check: When Did Serbia Order All Arrivals to Self-Isolate?" Balkan Insight, 8 April 2020, https://balkaninsight.com/2020/04/08/birn-fact-check-when-did-serbia-order-all-arrivals-to-self-isolate/)

Since March, all transit and asylum centres have been in lock-down. Raids of squats and informal accommodation have increased since then, with migrants and asylum seekers apprehended and transferred to camps across the country. According to the Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN), the government temporarily opened several “camps,” which have been quickly filled with new arrivals. These sites are in Morović, Subotica, and Miratovac. Reportedly, the facility in Morović has been used to confine overflow from other sites and “troublemakers” from facilities elsewhere. Some of these, including the tented facility in Morović - had originally been intended to be used for quarantining Serbian nationals returning home.

Despite Serbia lifting its state of emergency on 6 May, on 16 May the government announced that it would be deploying troops to “secure” and “protect” three migrant reception centres located on the country’s border with Croatia. Reportedly these three facilities - Principovac, Sid-Stanica, and Adasevci - currently confine 1,500 migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, most of whom are from Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. President Vučić reportedly told a local media outlet that the deployment was also to protect locals in the area. Since the country had begun to lift lockdown, he claimed, “the migrants started venturing outside the camps, committing petty crimes and illegal entries into houses.”

Pushbacks from Serbia into North Macedonia have continued during the crisis. In one case documented by the BVMN in early April, a group of 15 adult men and one minor in Tutin camp were informed that they were being transferred to a site in Prescevo. Crammed into a police van, they were driven for nine hours before being forced outside and, with guns pointed at them, ordered to cross into North Macedonia. The group attempted to re-enter Serbia four times, but on each occasion they were pushed back across the border.

As the GDP reported on 23 April, anti-migrant sentiment has been growing in Serbia. Since March, one of the fastest growing Facebook groups in the country is called “Stop Migrant Settlement.” Some of the group’s members have voiced their belief that authorities introduced curfews not to stem the virus’s spread, but so that they could quietly settle migrants across the country. In early May, a car was driven into a migrant centre in Obrenovac, with the driver live-streaming the attack on his Facebook page.


25 May 2020

Netherlands

Gates of the Zeist Detention Centre in Utrecht, (Ziarah Utara,
Gates of the Zeist Detention Centre in Utrecht, (Ziarah Utara, "Detention centers in The Netherlands," 6 November 2014, https://dispereertniet.wordpress.com/2014/11/06/detention-centers-in-the-netherlands/)

In a response to a GDP survey, Revijara Oosterhuis from the Immigration Detention Hotline (Meldpunt Vreemdelingendetentie) confirmed that as of 15 May, 260 persons remained in detention in the Netherlands. 64 persons with Dublin claims had been released and placed in shelters, followed by an additional 130 persons – although this second group did not receive shelter.

Those who remain in detention have complained about several issues, including the lack of soap and hot water, the fact that guards do not wear masks, the suspension of visits, and the fact that cell doors remain closed for up to 21 hours each day and that no activities are provided for out-of-cell hours. Detainees are held in double cells, which has prompted concerns that they cannot maintain social distancing and conform to hygiene regulations. As the Immigration Detention Hotline noted, “we receive a lot of phone calls from detainees that are stressed out because of the measures, or from detainees that are scared to be infected by the virus.” Worryingly, as Laura Cleton (University of Antwerp) noted in recent correspondence with the GDP, the country’s Ministry of Justice and Security stated in a press release that Covid-19 measures in prisons and immigration detention centres would continue after 19 May until further notice: “this in practice thus still means no visits, limited ‘outdoor time’ and long times locked in cells.”

Although the Immigration Detention Hotline had not heard of any deportations from the country’s immigration detention centres during the pandemic, Oosterhuis added that “a removal to Poland on the 12th of May took place by land. It is also said that they have still deported about 90 persons from the 9th March until the 10th of May – but it is unclear if these persons were refused at the border in the first place and sent back directly.”

During the pandemic, the Netherlands suspended asylum procedures. However, authorities opened a dedicated shelter (Naussaukazerne) in Zoutkamp to house those who sought protection. Asylum applicants were confined in the facility and unable to leave the area, despite the lack of juridical grounds implementing such a rule. However, since 13 May the Zoutkamp facility has instead been used to house infected asylum seekers with their families. Those who were previously here were transferred to regular reception facilities in Ter Apel and Budel, where they can commence “pre-registration” for their asylum application. As of 22 May, approximately 60 persons were held in the facility. According to Cleton, “if their quarantine (2 weeks) is over, they will be transferred again to the reception center in Sneek, where they resided before. The government chose for separate reception to further prevent the spread among other residents of the center.”


22 May 2020

Hungary

Gates of a Transit Zone in Hungary, (P. Gorondi, Picture-Alliance,
Gates of a Transit Zone in Hungary, (P. Gorondi, Picture-Alliance, "Hungary to close transit zone camps for asylum-seekers," DW, 21 May 2020, https://www.dw.com/en/hungary-to-close-transit-zone-camps-for-asylum-seekers/a-53524417)

Following the CJEU’s ruling on 14 May, (see our 15 April update on Hungary) in which the Court held that Hungary had been illegally detaining asylum-seekers as “the placing of asylum seekers or third-country nationals… in the Rözke transit zone… must be classified as ‘detention,’” the government announced it will be closing transit zone camps. In a tweet, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee said: “Release from unlawful detention is indeed super important for implementing the CJEU judgment, but full implementation also requires other steps. The ruling was also about other issues beyond detention, such as inadmissibility of asylum claims.”

Approximately 280 asylum seekers are currently being held in border camps while their applications are being processed. Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff said asylum seekers will now be moved to reception centres across the country. Gergely Gulyas said: “The Hungarian government disagrees with the ruling, we consider it a risk with regard to European security, but as an EU member state, we will adhere to all court rulings.” He also added that in future, asylum requests may only be submitted at Hungarian embassies and consulates.


21 May 2020

Croatia

Croatian police have been accused of spray painting asylum seekers heads (The Guardian, 12 May 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/may/12/croatian-police-accused-of-shaving-and-spray-painting-heads-of-asylum-seekers)
Croatian police have been accused of spray painting asylum seekers heads (The Guardian, 12 May 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/may/12/croatian-police-accused-of-shaving-and-spray-painting-heads-of-asylum-seekers)

Allegations of pushbacks at Croatia’s borders with Serbia and Bosnia have increased in recent years - as the GDP reported in its 2019 country profile. According to the Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN), these pushbacks have escalated during the pandemic, “confirming that illegal removal practices have not stopped, in spite of the formal closure of borders.” In several instances, migrants and asylum seekers have reported Croatian police spray-painting crosses on their heads as they were pushed back into Bosnia.

According to the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor, “The actions of spray-painting asylum seekers carry several disturbing meanings, including humiliating asylum seekers, marking repeat border crossers, and traumatizing predominantly Muslim asylum seekers by painting a religious symbol of the cross on their heads. This mirrors discriminatory and racist abuse against civilians that contravenes international human rights law.”

With many monitors unable to assess actions at the border due to movement restrictions, these operations are taking place in “increased silence.” However, this practice was noted with alarm by UNHCR, which urged Croatian authorities to immediately investigate.

According to the BVMN, the Covid-19 guidelines issued by the European Commission on 16 March invited rights breaches at borders such as these pushbacks. The network highlights the following statement, which they argue indirectly implicated migrants and asylum seekers as virus carriers: “Member States have the possibility to refuse entry to non-resident third country nationals where they present relevant symptoms or have been particularly exposed to risk of infection and are considered to be a threat to public health.”

Additional concerns have been noted regarding a confirmed case amongst the Croatian border guard. According to Are You Syrious, the confirmed case involved an officer who worked directly with those attempting to cross the border, putting migrants and asylum seekers at significant risk.


21 May 2020

India

In mid-April, India’s Supreme Court directed the government to release “illegal foreigners” detained in Assam for more than two years in order to avoid overcrowding (India Today, https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/coronavirus-sc-orders-release-of-illegal-foreigners-in-assam-detained-for-2-years-to-avoid-overcrowding-1666633-2020-04-13)
In mid-April, India’s Supreme Court directed the government to release “illegal foreigners” detained in Assam for more than two years in order to avoid overcrowding (India Today, https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/coronavirus-sc-orders-release-of-illegal-foreigners-in-assam-detained-for-2-years-to-avoid-overcrowding-1666633-2020-04-13)

In mid-April, India’s Supreme Court directed the government to release “illegal foreigners” detained in Assam for more than two years in order to avoid overcrowding.

Assam has become a hotspot for immigration detention in India, as scholar Sujata Ramachandran reported in a 2019 Working Paper for the Global Detention Project: “The country’s detention and deportation policies have begun to receive widespread international attention in the wake of a recent crackdown on purported “illegal” residents in the Indian state of Assam, which is located in the far northeastern corner of the country. Sharing borders with Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, and a few other small Indian states, Assam is connected to the rest of the Indian mainland only by a narrow strip of land. Here, the process of identifying and removing ‘irregular Bangladeshis’ has gained considerable momentum as the state updates its ‘National Registry of Citizens,’ which threatens millions of Assam residents with imminent statelessness, in particular Bengali-speaking Muslims who have been targeted as part of a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led campaign against Muslim-majority and Bengali-speaking Bangladeshis, including many who were born in India but lack documentation.” (For more on detention in Assam during the pandemic, see our 10 April update.)

Indian law does not distinguish between refugees and illegal immigrants and the central government grants asylum and provides assistance only for certain refugee populations. India is nonetheless host to a large population of refugees and the Government allows UNHCR recognised refugees to apply for visas.

The country has set up quarantine facilities for those returning from abroad. However, it has been reported that these facilities have poor hygiene levels and limited access to healthcare. People who arrived at New Delhi airport in March reported that after being screened at the airport, they were loaded into a bus packed with other passengers who had travelled from abroad and sent to an isolation facility in Dwarka. In that facility, more than 40 people were held with only three washrooms and three bedrooms. Similar reports arose from quarantine facilities in Kashmir where around 1,800 people were placed in similar facilities. One person who was quarantined in Kashmir stated that authorities had not provided them with liquid soaps and sanitisers and that they were forced to use a dirty washroom.

People detained in prisons, correctional homes, or immigration detention centres are at high risk owing to the closed setting and proximity in common living space. In India, this risk was acknowledged by the Supreme Court on 16 March: “The bitter truth is that our prisons are overcrowded, making it difficult for prisoners to maintain social distancing. … like any other viral diseases susceptibility of Covid-19 is greater in over-crowded places, mass gatherings, etc. Studies indicate that contagious viruses like Covid-19 proliferate in closed spaces such as prisons. Studies also suggest that prison inmates are highly prone to contagious viruses. The rate of ingress and egress in prisons is very high, especially since persons (accused, convicts, detenues etc.) are brought to the prison on a daily basis. Apart from them, several correctional officers and other prison staff enter the prison regularly, and so do visitors (kith and kin of prisoners) and lawyers. Therefore there is a high risk of transmission of Covid-19 virus to the prison inmates… we are of the opinion that there is an imminent need to take steps on an urgent basis to prevent contagion of Covid-19 virus in our prisons.”

On 11 May 2020, the National Commission for women announced that more than 1,700 women on remand had been released since 25 March. On the next day, the High Power Committee appointed for the emergency release on parole or bail of prison inmates, decided to release around 17,000 out of 35,239 prisoners from prisons in the state of Maharashtra. In the whole of India, 61,100 prisoners have been released. However, these releases have not necessarily included detained foreign nationals - rising numbers of whom are being held in Indian prisons. In the state of Odisha for example, where almost one thousand prison inmates have been released, the group of persons denied release include those convicted for rape and sexual offences, and foreign nationals. Similar guidelines are also in place in Jammu and Kashmir.

As of 19 May 2020, 388 positive cases of Covid-19 have been identified among prisoners and three prisoners have died from the disease.


20 May 2020

Germany

Officials in Protective Equipment at the St. Augustin Refugee Home, (M. Kusch, DPA,
Officials in Protective Equipment at the St. Augustin Refugee Home, (M. Kusch, DPA, "Coronavirus Outbreak Hits Refugee Home in Germany," DW, 18 May 2020, https://www.dw.com/en/coronavirus-outbreak-hits-refugee-home-in-germany/a-53474875)

In response to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, which has been sent to all national contact points of the European Migration Network, Germany’s Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) repeated its standard response to questions concerning immigration detention in the country: that all such queries must be forwarded to state (Land) authorities. They wrote (on 13 May): “In accordance with its state and constitutional structure, the individual federal states are responsible for the management of detention facilities in Germany. The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees as a federal authority can therefore not answer questions in this regard. I would therefore encourage you to consult the competent authorities at the state („Länder“) level.”

Over many years, the GDP has repeatedly received responses like this one to queries and official information requests that we have sent to German authorities. However, given the unprecedented nature of the Covid19 threat to detainees, the GDP considered it relevant to address the survey to BAMF as they are the EMN contact point in the country. Thus, we sent a follow up message (on 14 may) to the BAMF contact point, asking: “Would it be accurate for us to interpret your response as indicating that the German EMN focal point is unaware of what is happening in immigration detention centres in the Länder during the Covid-19 crisis? We would very much appreciate it if you could confirm this for us so that we can accurately report this situation to our readers.” As of 20 May, the GDP had yet to receive a response to this query.

As of 20 May, Germany had recorded 177,827 cases of Covid-19 and 8,193 deaths related to the disease. On 15 April, it was reported that within five days, the number of Covid-19 cases within the Ellwangen reception centre for refugees and asylum seekers had increased from seven to 251. None of the residents of the centre (606 people from 26 nations) are believed to be in a critical condition, although one person was transferred to hospital. Despite being under lockdown since 5 April and authorities stating they have tested new arrivals for Covid-19 since March, residents have complained about the crowded conditions, shared facilities and a lack of protective equipment and disinfectant. One of the residents of the centre said: “we stayed in the same building and flat as people who had been tested positive for two days. We used the same kitchens and had meals with them. Because of this neglect, we will also get corona.” The refugee council for the state of Baden-Wurttemberg expressed concern on 15 April regarding these reports from inside the Ellwangen facility and called on states across Germany to reduce cramped conditions within migrant centres. In Freiburg, 30 refugees were moved from a reception centre to hotels or hostels that had rooms standing empty during the lockdown.

On 18 May, it was reported that at least 70 people tested positive for Covid-19 out of the 300 tested at a refugee centre outside the city of Bonn. Green Party politician Horst Becker said that they had “repeatedly called for blanket testing in these homes. Now we can see that this is happening far too late.” Outbreaks have also been reported at other refugee homes in Bonn, Berlin and other areas of Germany.

On 11 May, a Court ruled that protections against Covid-19 at a refugee centre in the town of Rheine were “inadequate.” A pregnant woman and her husband living at the facility will no longer be required to live there. The couple raised numerous health concerns arguing it was impossible to implement social distancing rules inside the cramped facility. The Court stated that the local authorities were unable to disprove the couple’s claims, leading the court to assume the “hygienic conditions were inadequate in this area.”

According to figures released by the German government in response to an inquiry by the Left party (Die Linke), 4,099 people were deported from Germany between January and March of this year, a drop of 27 percent in comparison to last year’s figure of 5,613 for the same period. Due to the pandemic, most chartered deportation flights scheduled for March were cancelled and countries of origin denied entry or suspended air traffic altogether. Yet, the Interior Ministry had rejected implementing a general ban on deportations in light of the pandemic, a decision criticised by Ulla Jelpke: “In many countries of origin and transit countries, refugees not only face persecution, war and a lack of perspective, there are also no functioning health systems in place.” On the other hand, in February, Dublin transfers to Italy were suspended and at the end of March, the German government suspended Dublin transfers to other EU member states, plus Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein “until further notice” but that deportations to third countries could still take place.


20 May 2020

Cambodia

Prison Personnel Sitting at an ICRC Training on Chlorine Disinfection to Prevent the Spread of Covid-19, (
Prison Personnel Sitting at an ICRC Training on Chlorine Disinfection to Prevent the Spread of Covid-19, ("Prison Staff Receive Red Cross Training," The Phnom Penh Post, 20 April 2020, https://bit.ly/3e6RUjJ)

Cambodia has had few confirmed cases of Covid-19, numbering just over 100 as of mid-May. The country has taken a number of measures to prevent the spread of the disease. On 20 March, the border with Vietnam was closed and general entry restrictions were implemented for foreign travelers. On 30 March, it suspended the issuance of visas for all foreign nationals. In April, travel between provinces and districts was restricted.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many businesses have closed in Thailand and in consequence, more than 90,000 Cambodian migrant workers have lost their employment and many have returned to Cambodia. UN agencies report that they are working with the Cambodian Government to ensure that migrant workers and their families receive assistance in terms of shelter and food. The UN and partners are working to include migrants in the social protection support package being proposed as part of the exceptional measures created by the Government to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 among vulnerable groups.

IOM Cambodia has printed and distributed information, education and communication materials developed by the Ministry of Health and the WHO. The organisation is also collaborating with UNICEF to manage a hotline providing returning migrants with information regarding access to essential healthcare and psychological support. In addition, IOM Cambodia says that it is working with border authorities to monitor migrants’ cross border movement in order to understand their mobility, respond to their needs, and inform preparedness and response strategies.

Human Rights Watch says that Cambodian authorities are using the Covid-19 pandemic to carry out arbitrary arrests of opposition supporters and government critics. At least 30 people, including 12 linked to the now dissolved Cambodian National Rescue Party have been arrested on charges of spreading “fake news” and other offences. HRW has urged the government to immediately and unconditionally drop the charges against all those accused of crimes in violation of their rights to freedom of expression and association.

Human rights groups have called on the government to take measures in the country’s prisons, which reportedly have nearly 40,000 inmates despite a capacity of just over 25,000. Due to overcrowding, social distancing measures are effectively impossible in the country’s prisons. Human Rights Watch called on the government to “immediately release people who should not be in custody, including pretrial detainees held for minor offenses, and political prisoners.” According to Amnesty International, Cambodian detention facilities “are a ‘ticking time bomb’ for a potentially disastrous coronavirus outbreak.” Footage releases by the organization revealed terrible conditions in which inmates are being held. The Director in the Office of the Secretary-General at Amnesty International called out the government to “urgently ease this overcrowding crisis while giving all detainees access to appropriate healthcare without discrimination.”

ICRC reports that it has been working in prisons to prevent the spread of Covid-19. On 10 April, the organisation signed an agreement with the General Department of Prisons for the donation of 20 tonnes of medical materials including 50kg of calcium hypochlorite powder, protective clothing, boots, gloves, goggles, water spray buckets, sanitisers and medical face masks. On 20 April, it organised training on disinfection of prisons with chlorine for 28 different prisons. The Ministry of Health insisted that prisoners must wash their hands regularly, not touch their faces and wear masks.

In late March, HRW reported that Cambodian Muslims had been facing discrimination since the beginning of the pandemic. They were accused by the Health Ministry of spreading the virus, which led to “led to an outburst of discriminatory and hateful comments online, and discriminatory daily interactions at markets, shops, and community areas against Cambodia’s minority Muslim communities.”


20 May 2020

Ecuador

Ecuadorian Red Cross Distributing Hygiene Kits, (IFRC,
Ecuadorian Red Cross Distributing Hygiene Kits, (IFRC, "Cruz Roja Ecuatoriana Brinda Soporte a Migrantes Durante la Emergencia por Covid-19," 27 April 2020, https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/2020/04/27/cruz-roja-ecuatoriana-brinda-soporte-migrantes-durante-la-emergencia-por-covid-19/?lang=es)

While the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases has exploded in Brazil, Ecuador has experienced the region’s highest number of deaths per capita and the country has introduced strict containment measures - including curfews between 2pm and 5am, and heavy fines for quarantine violations. Having closed its land borders, the government launched a military operation in coordination with the Colombian military to monitor the border and to prevent irregular border crossings.

Ecuador was hosting at least 330,000 Venezuelan migrants and asylum seekers by the end of 2016, although the real numbers are thought to be considerably higher. In the past year, reports of anti-Venezuelan hostility have grown following a January 2019 incident in which an Ecuadorian woman was killed by her Venezuelan boyfriend. In response, President Moreno announced that he would increase patrols in streets and work-places to control the Venezuelan population and increase restrictions on those coming into the country. (The new system requires Venezuelans to be in possession of a valid passport, undergo a consulate interview, and pay a $45 fee.) Reports suggest that during the pandemic, anti-Venezuelan hostility has continued to grow which, coupled with many losing their previously meagre sources of income, has resulted in large numbers seeking to return to Venezuela.

Despite the closed border, some migrants are leaving each day. According to the Ecuadorian Red Cross, up to 700 are departing every day, though sometimes much fewer. However, the situation at the border with Columbia has been reported to be critical, with one newspaper reporting that on 1 May, “the [Columbia] police intervened with tear gas to prevent a group of Venezuelan migrants from crossing the Rumichaca International Bridge en masse.” Those who manage to return to Venezuela, meanwhile, face two weeks in government quarantine facilities. Information regarding the facilities is scarce, with NGOs denied access, but some migrant testimonies have painted a stark picture: schools and other similar facilities converted into quarantine centres holding hundreds of migrants at once, insufficient food and water provisions, and abuse from guards.

According to the Ministry of Health, as of 20 April 22 Venezuelans in Ecuador had tested positive, but most believe this to be an under-estimate. Although those who remain in Ecuador can access health care without documentation, one researcher commented that doctors must choose who to prioritise and in the current climate, they may place Ecuadorian nationals first. The Ministry of Economic and Social Inclusion is providing a pandemic aid package to the most vulnerable, which includes food and some legal services as well as emergency grants of $60 to families whose monthly income is less than $400, and the government has opened shelters to house the country’s homeless. But such assistance has not been aimed at the migrant community.

Moreno also announced the creation of a fund, the National Humanitarian Emergency Fund (Cuenta Nacional de Emergencia Humanitaria), to which all companies that generate income of more than US$1 million must contribute 5 percent of their profits in three monthly payments. However, the initiative was firmly rejected by both the industry and the country’s union sector. In addition, the government announced that a series of legal provisions would be enacted that would prevent the eviction of families for non-payment of rent while the state of emergency lasts and for 60 days after it ends.

The Ecuadorian Red Cross reports that it is providing support to migrants and refugees in the country, including distributing hygiene kits and food.

On 18 April, a prisoner died from Covid-19 in the temporary detention centre of El Inca in Quito, which currently holds 1,400 prisoners. In addition, three staff members employed in the same prison were diagnosed with Covid-19 and subsequently placed in isolation.


20 May 2020

Nigeria

A Quarantine Facility Constructio Site in Pulka where 56014 People Live in Camps, (IOM,
A Quarantine Facility Constructio Site in Pulka where 56014 People Live in Camps, (IOM, "Nigeria: IOM Builds Quarantine Shelters as Conflict-Affected Borno State Records First COVID-19 Cases," 24 April 2020, https://www.iom.int/news/nigeria-iom-builds-quarantine-shelters-conflict-affected-borno-state-records-first-covid-19)

Amnesty International has warned about the potential spread of Covid-19 in the country’s overcrowded prisons and detention centres. It highlights the case of Kaduna Prison which although having a capacity of only 473 inmates, as of early April had “1,480 prisoners; while Enugu Maximum Security Prison with capacity for 638, now has 2,077 prisoners.”

In Kaduna Prison, two uprisings among inmates on 31 March and 3 April led to the death of 9 prisoners, leaving many injured. Panic related to the pandemic and sanitary conditions led to an escape attempt in Aba prison on 16 May, where one inmate was killed.

On 22 April, Nigeria’s President Buhari urged the chief judge to release prison inmates awaiting trial for more than six years, as well as elderly prisoners and those who are terminally ill. He stated that “42 percent of Nigeria's 74,000 or so prisoners were awaiting trial.” On 9 April, the government announced the upcoming release of 2,670 prisoners during the pandemic and on 15 May, the chief justice called for the speed up of the decongestion of custodial centres. However, immigration arrests are still being conducted during the pandemic, according to reports from 1 May.


19 May 2020

Brazil

A Queue of People Forms at an MSF Clinic Where Staff Evaluate and Screen Homeless People for Covid-19 in Sao Paulo, (Médecins Sans Frontières,
A Queue of People Forms at an MSF Clinic Where Staff Evaluate and Screen Homeless People for Covid-19 in Sao Paulo, (Médecins Sans Frontières, "MSF Provides Care to Vulnerable People During Covid-19 Response in Brazil," 22 April 2020, https://www.msf.org/providing-care-vulnerable-people-during-covid-19-brazil)

Brazil has the most Covid-19 cases and deaths in South America, (241,080 cases and 16,122 deaths as of 18 May). However, the Bolsonaro government has been notoriously dismissive of the pandemic, with the president saying that “unemployment, hunger and misery will be the future of those who support the tyranny of total isolation.” On 23 April, when asked about the rapidly increasing numbers of Covid-19 cases by journalists, the President shrugged off the news by responding: “So what”?

On 31 March, Brazil suspended the entry of foreign nationals by air for 30 days in order to slow the spread of Covid-19. The ban does not apply to Brazilian nationals.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reports that it is working to assist migrants and asylum seekers in the country to respond to Covid-19 with teams working in São Paulo, Boa Vista and Rio de Janeiro. In Boa Vista, MSF is working with Venezuelan migrants and asylum seekers who live in precarious conditions, with little space and often without regular access to water. Ana de Lemos, executive director of MSF-Brazil said, “At times like this, it is crucial to have a clear orientation, but unfortunately we have witnessed the dissemination of contradictory guidelines that hinder compliance with the necessary measures.” In São Paulo, MSF began working with homeless people, migrants and refugees, drug users and the elderly given that these groups were already particularly vulnerable. MSF teams have been providing medical consultations for screening and detention of people with suspected cases of Covid-19 and referring patients in more serious conditions to hospitals.

UNHCR is also assisting Venezuelan refugees and migrants living in shelters in Manaus by distributing kits including thermometers, gloves and alcohol gel hand sanitiser. UNFPA also distributed 1,000 kits for migrant and refugee people in Roraima to help combat the spread of Covid-19. With these kits, UNFPA seeks to guarantee access to items such as soap, deodorant, toothbrushes, intimate pads and alcohol gel to vulnerable people.

On 11 May, it was reported that 35 percent of prisons in the state of Sao Paulo (62 out of 176 facilities) had confirmed or suspected Covid-19 cases. 79 detainees were placed in quarantine and 232 staff members were told to stay at home. There have been 13 confirmed deaths due to the virus (7 prisoners and 6 staff members). According to Prison Insider, no coordinated measures between the Ministry of Justice and prison authorities have been put in place to deal with the health crisis. Measures taken vary between facilities, especially depending on whether they are federal or local prisons. In federal prisons, the Ministry of Justice announced on 16 March, the suspension of visits for 15 days, while in state prisons, measures vary including the partial or total suspension of visits and informing prisoners of preventive measures to be adopted.

The GDP has nonetheless been unable to find reports indicating that authorities have adopted measures to assist any migrants in detention.


19 May 2020

Malta

Armed Forces of Malta in Protective Clothing Stand Near Rescued Migrants on a Military Vessel After it Arrived in Senglea in Valletta, After an Outbreak of the Coronavirus Disease, (Darrin Zammit, Lupi/Reuters,
Armed Forces of Malta in Protective Clothing Stand Near Rescued Migrants on a Military Vessel After it Arrived in Senglea in Valletta, After an Outbreak of the Coronavirus Disease, (Darrin Zammit, Lupi/Reuters, "Malta Takes in Migrants Hours After Announcing Coronavirus Ban," Al Jazeera, 10 April 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/04/malta-takes-migrants-hours-announcing-coronavirus-ban-200410160333984.html)

Global Detention Project Survey completed by the Aditus Foundation (Claire Delom) in Malta.

IS THERE A MORATORIUM ON NEW IMMIGRATION DETENTION ORDERS BECAUSE OF THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC?

No

HAVE PEOPLE BEEN RELEASED FROM IMMIGRATION DETENTION BECAUSE OF THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC?

Some asylum-seekers who could provide an address and justify a place to stay were released. No pre-return detainees were released. All new arrivals (boat disembarkation) are immediately detained under health regulation and are not released.

WHAT MEASURES ARE BEING TAKEN TO PREVENT SPREADING OF THE INFECTION AND TO ENSURE APPROPRIATE CARE FOR RELEASED DETAINEES? ARE “ALTERNATIVES TO DETENTION” (ATD) PROGRAMS USED?

No special measure is taken when people are released, they only have to provide an address. No ATD to our knowledge (please note most of these detentions were illegal).

ARE IMMIGRATION DETAINEES TESTED FOR COVID-19?

To our knowledge detainees are tested before being released.

HAVE DEPORTATIONS/REMOVALS BEEN HALTED BECAUSE OF THE PANDEMIC?

To our knowledge, no removal has been carried out during this period.

HAS THE COUNTRY ADOPTED NEW IMMIGRATION AND/OR ASYLUM POLICIES AS WELL AS BORDER CONTROLS IN RESPONSE TO THE COVID-19 CRISIS?

Malta closed its ports and does not accept any disembarkation. Borders are closed.


19 May 2020

Cyprus

Refugees at the Kokkinotrimithia Reception Centre in Pournara, (
Refugees at the Kokkinotrimithia Reception Centre in Pournara, ("Refugees at Kokkinotrimithia Reception Centre Go on Hunger Strike," Cyprus Mail, 5 May 2020, https://cyprus-mail.com/2020/05/05/refugees-at-kokkinotrimithia-reception-centre-go-on-hunger-strike/)

According to information sent to the GDP by the Cyprus Refugee Council (CRC), Cyprus has not ordered a moratorium on new immigration detention orders. Instead, the government’s newly initiated Action Plan – developed before the start of the pandemic in order to address the large number of asylum applications, but presented as a response to the virus – shows the state’s intention to increase the use of detention (as well as lower reception standards and swiftly conduct removals upon the rejection of asylum claims). In March, the state also stopped accepting new asylum applications which has resulted in persons who were attempting to apply remaining undocumented. This practice is expected to be in effect until 21 May 2020.

Noting the government’s increasingly anti-migrant stance, the CRC wrote, “for the first time in mid-March 2020, we had a pushback of a boat carrying migrants from Syria. The authorities fave food supplies and fuel to the passengers and told them that they cannot be allowed to disembark in the country, asking them to go back.”

With the exception of one couple over the age of 60 who had underlying health conditions, there have been no releases of asylum seekers and third country nationals from immigration detention – despite the suspension of removal procedures. Instead, it appears that the use of detention has intensified. Having converted the first Reception Centre into a closed detention centre overnight, authorities moved asylum seekers residing in hostels with government provisions, as well as some undocumented migrants in the process of applying for asylum who were living in abandoned buildings, into the closed facility. Worryingly, these transfers were taking place at cases peaked in the country. Persons are currently being held here indefinitely and without detention orders, and most had no warning of their transfer – they were not even permitted to collect their belongings. The conditions in this facility are substandard: sanitary facilities are poor and the majority of detainees are living in tents.

The country’s main immigration detention centre – Menoyia Detention Centre – has stopped receiving new detainees (on average, the number of people detained remains between 60 and 70), with the exception of a small number (two persons at a given time) who have been transferred from the Central Prison. Non-nationals who are apprehended are instead being held in holding cells in police stations across the country: in April, it was estimated that 35 persons had been detained in such a way.

Detainees in Menoyia who display symptoms such as a fever, cough, or runny nose are being tested for Covid-19. Such individuals are also confined separately in a wing of the facility that was not previously operating. To-date, there have been no confirmed cases in the centre. Additional measures have also been introduced within the facility including: the suspension of visits; new arrivals (although this is a small number) are quarantined in a separate area before being placed with the rest of the detainees; and the provision of disinfectants/hand sanitiser for detainees to use.

The CRC is running an EPIM-funded ATD project (now in its third year), which is based on engagement-based ATDs, namely case management. However, the organisation does not have the capacity to provide accommodation. “Following the pandemic we have submitted recommendations for the release of persons with vulnerabilities; who have vulnerable family members living in the community; who have accommodation available, and provided suggestions on how these persons will engage with the authorities and remain in compliance with procedures, through our pilot. There was no official response provided by the state.”


18 May 2020

Morocco

A Disinfection Operation at the Local Prison of Taourirt, (MAP, Y. Hatim,
A Disinfection Operation at the Local Prison of Taourirt, (MAP, Y. Hatim, "Moroccan Prisons Start Getting Covid-19 Under Control," Morocco World News, 8 May 2020, https://www.moroccoworldnews.com/2020/05/301958/moroccan-prisons-start-getting-covid-19-under-control/)

Migrants and asylum seekers in Morocco have reportedly been deported to the Algerian border and left in the desert. According to the NGO Caminando Fronteras, even though borders have been shut due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Morocco has deported more than 100 people, including children. A sub-saharan migrant reported that he was left in Maghnia in Algeria during the night and that his passport was taken away by Moroccan police officers. He stated that he was obliged to walk 90 kilometers over six days without access to food or water.

After Morocco declared the state of emergency, closing all borders, many migrants were trapped in the country. In April, 41 undocumented migrants died while trying to cross to the Canary Islands from Morocco, after a shipwreck.

According to official estimates, there are approximately 80,000 inmates in prisons across the country. On 10 May, 301 had tested positive to Covid-19. Morocco’s General Delegation for Prison Administration and Reintegration (DGAPR) started testing for Covid-19 in all the country’s prisons at the end of April. Family visits were banned, and staff members began working on two weeks shifts. All officers undergo testing before their shift.

Tens of thousands of Moroccan nationals are reportedly now stuck abroad. These include many undocumented workers in Spain, some of whom have sought to return home because of the lack of access to health care and high unemployment rates.


18 May 2020

Philippines

Prisoners in the Quezon City Jail Seen From Above, (Maria Tan, AFP,
Prisoners in the Quezon City Jail Seen From Above, (Maria Tan, AFP, "While government stalls, coronavirus breaks into PH jails," Rappler, 18 April 2020, https://www.rappler.com/newsbreak/in-depth/258297-while-government-stalls-coronavirus-breaks-into-philippine-jails)

As of mid-May, the Philippines had nearly 12,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 800 deaths. Since March 15, the Metro Manila region of the country has been subject to a lockdown, including a ban on entry and exit by land, domestic air, and domestic sea, and mandatory home quarantine and social distancing. Restrictions have also been introduced in other regions of the country. The Duterte administration has come under fire from human rights organisations for sanctioning the use of lethal force by the police and security forces to enforce the lockdown, which has resulted in multiple killings and tens of thousands of arrests.

The Philippines is notorious for its overcrowded jails and prisons. On April 17, 9 inmates and 9 prison employees at the Quezon City jail tested positive for COVID-19. On April 21, 18 inmates and one worker in the Correctional Institution for Women in Mandaluyong were reported to be infected with COVID-19 after coming into contact with a sick inmate.

Following those incidents in correctional facilities and prisons, on April 22, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) said that it would move to “decongest its detention center in Bicutan, Taguig City to reduce the risk of COVID-19 outbreak among the foreigners confined in the facility.” It stated that “overcrowding in the facility exposes both the inmates and their guards to the risk of getting infected with the virus.” The Commissioner of the Bureau, Jaime Morente, “ordered the bureau’s legal division and other concerned offices to speed up the resolution of deportation cases against foreigners presently detained at the BI Warden Facility (BIWF) in Camp Bagong Diwa, Bicutan.” He also said that the BI “might consider granting bail and release via recognizance for aliens who cannot be deported yet due to pending court cases.” The same press release noted that BIWF had identified high-risk detainees within the facility, including three pregnant women. Two of these women were released on bail and one was deported.

Regarding conditions in the facility, the press release stated: “Morente previously ordered the creation of a BI-Covid Task Force that would ensure all employees, as well as wards, receive appropriate medical response and Covid-related concerns are properly addressed… To ensure sanitized premises, all wards were advised to always take a bath, and are not allowed to enter common facilities without properly sanitizing themselves. They were likewise informed of DOH protocols in proper handwashing and sanitizing.” No visitors are allowed to enter BIWF. The Philippine National Police has been tapped to assist in securing the facility’s premises.


17 May 2020

Singapore

A Migrant Dormitory Seen from Far, (Roslan Rahman, AFP, Getty Images,
A Migrant Dormitory Seen from Far, (Roslan Rahman, AFP, Getty Images, "Singapore's Migrant Workers are Suffering the Brunt of the Country's Coronavirus Outbreak," CNN, 25 April 2020, https://edition.cnn.com/2020/04/24/asia/singapore-coronavirus-foreign-workers-intl-hnk/index.html)

There are more than 26,000 recorded cases of Covid-19 cases in Singapore. The vast majority are migrant workers who live in crowded dormitories. As was reported previously on this platform (see 22 April update on Singapore), there are 43 migrant worker dormitories in Singapore, which house around more than 200,000 male workers holding a work permit (with no permanent residency). In total there are an estimated 1.4 million migrant workers in the country. Each dorm houses about 10 to 20 residents, who share toilet and shower facilities, eat in common areas and sleep just feet away from each other. In this context, it is impossible to conduct social distancing.

On 14 April 2020, the government placed all migrant worker quarters in quarantine and moved those who tested positive or showed symptoms out of the dorms for treatment. Around 7,000 workers were also moved into alternative accommodation such as military camps, floating hotels and vacant government apartments.


16 May 2020

Mauritania

Empty Streets of Nouakchott, Mauritania's capital, on 5 April 2020 (Cheyakhey Ali, Andalou Agency, AFP,
Empty Streets of Nouakchott, Mauritania's capital, on 5 April 2020 (Cheyakhey Ali, Andalou Agency, AFP, "Covid-19 : avec plus aucun cas positif, la Mauritanie semble avoir trouvé une stratégie gagnante contre l'épidémie," France Info, 23 April 2020, https://www.francetvinfo.fr/monde/afrique/societe-africaine/covid-19-plus-aucun-cas-positif-la-mauritanie-semble-avoir-trouve-une-strategie-gagnante-contre-l-epidemie_3928929.html)

With the support of Frontex, an agreement between Spain and Mauritania allows for the return of Mauritanian nationals or migrants arriving in the Canary Islands. In 2018, four flights were carried out. However, from mid 2019 to mid March 2020, nine flights took place. According to the Mixed Migration Centre, at the beginning of the pandemic, Mauritania did not close its borders to its nationals. Rather, it “imposed a quarantine on those returned from the Canary Islands, making deportation flights more challenging, but it had not stopped them entirely.’’

This procedure raised concerns, as many undocumented people were reportedly deported despite wishing to seek asylum in Spain.

As of early May, Mauritania had only nine confirmed cases of Covid-19. A curfew was imposed as soon as the first case was declared on 13 March, and borders were closed on 25 March. Many Mauritanian nationals are stuck abroad and can not enter the country. The army has been stationed along the Senegal River to prevent undocumented migrants from crossing. On 4 May, the IOM reported that over 1,000 people were waiting for a reopening of the border.

At the M’Béra refugee camp, which hosts tens of thousands of Malian refugees, UNHCR is assisting refugees and working to make sure that they are aware of Covid-19 sanitary measures.

According to the ICRC delegation in Mauritania, the Covid-19 crisis would have a ‘’dramatic’’ impact in the country’s prisons given the already existing issues related to access to water and sanitary products. It has been providing food and health care services in prisons and is now coordinating with the Mauritanian prison administration to raise awareness of the virus and prevention measures. Maret explained that for now, the country’s prisons are in a prevention and preparation phase. The ICRC has spoken with the country’s Ministry of Justice highlighting the need to decongest prisons, as has been done in other countries, by releasing the most vulnerable and imposing alternatives to detention. Authorities have released some prisoners although no official statement has been released by the government yet.


15 May 2020

Slovenia

Tents Set Up on the Outskirts of Trieste for Quarantining Migrants who Arrive in the Province, (Alice Rita Fumis, ANSA,
Tents Set Up on the Outskirts of Trieste for Quarantining Migrants who Arrive in the Province, (Alice Rita Fumis, ANSA, "Not Just Migrant Disemberkations, Balkan Route Resumes," InfoMigants, 11 May 2020, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/24639/not-just-migrant-disembarkations-balkan-route-resumes)

As of 13 May 2020, Slovenia had recorded 1,461 cases of Covid-19 and 102 deaths related to the disease.

As of 5 May, the detention centre in Postojna was still open. Migrants in the return procedure were released, with a temporary stay status of up to 6 months or until their removal. However, ECRE revealed that after their releases, these people were left without accommodation or support. Dublin transfers are suspended, without asylum seekers being made aware. ECRE also raised a red flag regarding the Slovenian Act on Provisional Measures for Judicial, Administrative and other Public Matters, which could “potentially be interpreted to mean that asylum procedures are not urgent. This would result in a suspension of asylum requests, submissions, interviews and decisions on family reunification.’’

On 13 March, visits to prisons were suspended. Some inmates with less than six months remaining to their sentence have been released, starting 20 March.

Asylum seekers were informed about Covid-19 by the Government Office for the Support and Integration of Migrants, and were provided with masks and protection equipment. Asylum Centres are disinfected and cleaned frequently, and newly arrived migrants are placed in quarantine. Only urgent asylum applications are being processed and according to EMN, ‘’ the application for international protection could be lodged only once the quarantine period has ended and the medical examination was conducted.’’

The government announced a plan on 14 March to set up 40 kilometers of fence along the border, to prevent people from moving along the Balkan route. However, migrants are still crossing the border to get to Italy, passing through Slovenia. Mayors in the south of the country have called out the Slovenian government to send the army along the border with Croatia. Their petition was published on 22 April, and they feared that “a larger number of infected persons could enter Slovenia, since the virus is already present among migrants and a major spread among them will be impossible to prevent given their accommodation situation in Europe and Turkey.’’


15 May 2020

Albania

The Gates of the National Centre for Asylum Seekers in Babrru, Tirana, (Vladimir Karaj,
The Gates of the National Centre for Asylum Seekers in Babrru, Tirana, (Vladimir Karaj, "Violence and Hunger Stalk: Refugees and Migrants in Albania," Balkan Insight, 6 May 2020, https://balkaninsight.com/2020/05/06/violence-and-hunger-stalk-refugees-and-migrants-in-albania/)

The numbers of migrants and refugees in Albania have risen in recent years. According to the Department of Border and Migration, 11,344 people were detained at the border between January 2019 and February 2020.

The Euro-Med Monitor called on the government of Albania ‘’to immediately undertake necessary measures to provide adequate housing and sufficient food supplies to refugees and migrants in its custody, in addition to ensuring their safety from gang violence.’’

The imposition of a curfew on 16 March has impacted undocumented migrants across the country. Refugee centres have been closed, and migrants and asylum seekers left outside, looking for food.

There were 876 confirmed cases of Covid-19 as of 13 May in the country.

On 4 March, the Albanian government announced the temporary release of around 600 prisoners for 3 months. This measure concerns inmates held for minor offences, as well as the elderly and individuals suffering from chronic diseases. There is an estimate of 5,500 prisoners in Albania, whose penitentiaries are overcrowded.

On 10 April, a group of more than 30 human rights organisations issued an open letter to the government protesting a plan to imprison individuals who disobey quarantine orders. The penal code was indeed amended on 16 April to impose two to eight years of jail time for rule-breakers.

19 inmates tested positive to Covid-19 on 20 April, and were isolated immediately. The Tirana penitentiary hospital had been dedicated exclusively to inmates who tested positive to the coronavirus.


15 May 2020

Spain

Immigration detainees held in Aluche CIE Protest Their Detention at the Start of the Covid-19
Pandemic (JuanJo Martín, EFE, 17 March 2020,
Immigration detainees held in Aluche CIE Protest Their Detention at the Start of the Covid-19 Pandemic (JuanJo Martín, EFE, 17 March 2020, "Immigration Detention in Spain: A Rapid Response to Covid-19," Global Detention Project, May 2020, https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/immigration-detention-in-spain-a-rapid-response-to-covid-19)

For the first time in its history, Spain reported that its long-term immigration detention centres--Centros de Internamiento de Extranjeros--were emptied, a result of measures implemented in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The final four detainees were released on 5-6 May from the Algeciras detention centre. The Interior Ministry had been progressively releasing detainees for the past 50 days due to the border closures, flights being suspended, and Spanish legislation prohibiting detention of over 60 days prior to deportation.

The Campaña Por el Cierre de los Centros de Internamiento para Extranjeros celebrated the release but highlighted that detainees were left without support or place of residence, and were not referred to reception centres.

As the Global Detention Project reports in its new report on Spain, published today, despite Spain’s quick and progressive response to the Covid crisis, “enormous questions remain, including what is to happen to these facilities if the crisis eventually passes, how are former detainees being cared for, and what is being done to protect the thousands of people stranded in Spain’s Moroccan enclaves, where nominally ‘open’ reception centres were placed under lockdown.” (See: https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/europe/spain)

Temporary Stay Centres (Centros de Estancia Temporal de Inmigrantes, ‘CETIs’) in the enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta remain open and have been placed under lockdown, effectively turning the nominally “open” centres into detention sites. On 17 April, it was reported that 1,650 persons were detained in the Melilla CETI for a total of 782 places, thus running at more than 200 percent of its capacity. Usually, periodic transfers to the peninsula would be undertaken to alleviate overcrowding, but due to the state of emergency, these have been suspended. 57 asylum seekers are also being held in Melilla in a temporary ‘shelter’ made up of tents. A complaint has been lodged before the Spanish State Attorney General by lawyers representing the asylum seekers due to the living conditions in the temporary shelter. Due to the heavy rain, the tents have now been completely flooded, leaving the beds and clothes of asylum seekers completely wet. An immediate intervention from the State Attorney General was requested and the complaint highlighted the lack of food, lack of medical care and urged the transfer to the hospital of a child with a broken ankle, as detainees are not allowed out. The complaint also reported the conditions inside the Melilla CETI including overcrowding, insufficient showers, bathrooms and hygiene products, lack of laundry facilities and hot water, meaning that the recommendations to prevent the spread of Covid-19 are not being followed.

On 27 March 2020, 13 detainees in the Ceuta CETI began a hunger strike requesting their release. One of the detainees said: “this is our response, because we are tired. We do not know for how long we will have to stay here and no-one in the centre is giving us an answer. They tell us to wait, but we cannot wait anymore.” The detainee also mentioned that in spaces of no more than 16 squared meters, up to 10 people are held.


15 May 2020

Libya

UNHCR Staff Distributing Emergency Aid in Tripoli to Assist Vulnerable People During Ramadan, (Mohamed Alalem, UNHCR,
UNHCR Staff Distributing Emergency Aid in Tripoli to Assist Vulnerable People During Ramadan, (Mohamed Alalem, UNHCR, "UNHCR Steps up Emergency Assistance in Libya as Continued Conflict and Covid-19 Create more Hardship," UNHCR, 15 May 2020, https://www.unhcr.org/news/briefing/2020/5/5ebe44134/unhcr-steps-emergency-assistance-libya-continued-conflict-covid-19-create.html)

Reports indicate that while Libya has taken steps to release some prisoners, its detention centres for holding migrants and asylum seekers remain in operation.

In Tripoli, 466 prisoners were released in early April.

Although many migrant detention centres are still functioning, staff have reportedly been reduced to a minimum. Doctors Without Borders reported that the number of detainees has not been reduced since the beginning of the pandemic, and there are apparently no plans to close the centres. According to Info-Migrants, the situation is critical in the detention centres that do not benefit from NGOs support. Human Rights Watch highlighted the fact that with the conflict in Libya, the health care system is not sufficient to "provide adequate care to the thousands of detainees who live in overcrowded and unsanitary prisons, or to migrants held in abusive detention centers.’’

A spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration said that “the situation for migrants in Libya is worse than it has ever been.’’ The pandemic has not reduced the flow of migrants and when vehicles are intercepted by Libyan border guards, migrants are apprehended and removed to locations in cities.

On 15 May, UNHCR reported, “Amidst deteriorating security conditions, as well as restrictions on movement due to COVID19 … the UN Refugee Agency has provided emergency assistance to some 3,500 refugees and internally displaced Libyans during the last two weeks. The assistance package helped some 1,600 urban refugees, more than 700 refugees being held in detention and close to 1,500 displaced Libyans in different sites across Libya, and included one month’s worth of food and hygiene kits.”

In mid-April, lockdown was established in the West region of the country. There were 64 confirmed cases of Covid-19 on 14 May. The curfew, implemented from 6pm to 6am, has been extended until 17 May. These measures, alongside the increased presence of police in the streets, has greatly impacted undocumented migrants. The fear of deportation prevents them from leaving their home, challenging their ability to access food.

The ICRC warned that "restrictions such as curfews and the closing of borders, while important to curb the spread of the disease, create new challenges in providing humanitarian assistance and maintaining supply chains for food, medicines and basic necessities.’’ On 12 April, the authorities confirmed the deportation of 236 undocumented migrants to Sudan, Chad, Nigeria, Ghana, Mali, Ethiopia, and Somalia.


15 May 2020

Hungary

Rözke Transit Zone in Hungary, (MP Ákos Hadházy, 22 August 2019, https://bit.ly/2E4nLCD)
Rözke Transit Zone in Hungary, (MP Ákos Hadházy, 22 August 2019, https://bit.ly/2E4nLCD)

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled on 14 May that “the placing of asylum seekers or third-country nationals who are the subject of a return decision in the Rözke transit zone at the Serbian-Hungarian border must be classified as ‘detention’.” The Court came to that conclusion as “the conditions prevailing in the Rözke transit zone amount to a deprivation of liberty, inter alia because the persons concerned cannot lawfully leave that zone of their own free will in any direction whatsoever. In particular, they may not leave that zone for Serbia since such an attempt (i) would be considered unlawful by the Serbian authorities and would therefore expose them to penalties and (ii) might result in their losing any chance of obtaining refugee status in Hungary.”

The ruling came as the rate of Covid-19 infections in the country continues to rise. As of 15 May, Hungary had recorded 3,417 Covid-19 cases and 442 deaths. The response by the country’s authorities to the Covid-19 crisis has been focused on blaming immigrants for the spread of the disease (see 27 March update) rather than providing support to vulnerable populations. On 6 April, the Hungarian government passed a decree which extends the validity of residence permits for 45 days after the end of the state of emergency. The decree also modified the provisions of the law on the right to asylum in that, until the end of the state of emergency, access to the institutions maintained by the National Directorate of Immigration may be restricted by the Director General of the Directorate General of Immigration.

The CJEU judgment follows the Advocate General’s Opinion of 23 April 2020, which stated that the “evidence shows a situation of isolation and a high degree of restriction of the freedom of movement of asylum seekers to such an extent that it constitutes detention in the sector of the Rözke transit zone. Accordingly, the Advocate General concludes that the asylum seekers in question are in ‘detention’ in the sector of the Rözke transit zone.”

Previously, in 2018, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) had suspended its visit to Hungary as they were denied access to the Rözke and Tompa transit zones at the border with Serbia. The experts said that: “unimpeded access to all places of deprivation of liberty including these transit zones must be guaranteed to independent international, regional and national organisations. This is vital for the protection of the human rights in a country governed by rule of law.” The members of the WGAD said that “there can be no doubt that holding migrants in these ‘transit centres’ constitutes deprivation of liberty in accordance with international law.”


14 May 2020

Portugal

Portuguese Authorities Testing Migrants in a Hostel in Lisbon for Coronavirus, (Rafael Marchante, Reuters,
Portuguese Authorities Testing Migrants in a Hostel in Lisbon for Coronavirus, (Rafael Marchante, Reuters, "138 Migrants Infected with Coronavirus in Portugal Shelter," InfoMigrants, 21 April 2020, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/24247/138-migrants-infected-with-coronavirus-in-portugal-shelter)

Global Detention Project Survey completed by Portugal’s Provedor de Justiça (Ombudsman).

IS THERE A MORATORIUM ON NEW IMMIGRATION DETENTION ORDERS?

Yes. Migrants who have not legalized their presence in the country and had pending cases before the authorities, as well as asylum seekers, were granted a special temporary authorization of residence, with their cases being suspended until further notice. Asylum seekers who request international protection at the border do not remain detained at the temporary detention centers of the airports, being also granted a special visa that allows them to enter the country.

At the moment, there are no cases of migrants arriving via air and being refused entry at the border, since most flights to/from Portugal have been halted and entry to those is reserved to Portuguese citizens or foreigners with residence permit (family reunion being one exception).


HAVE IMMIGRATION DETAINEES BEEN RELEASED?

Yes. Asylum seekers have been granted temporary entry visas. The same solution was given to 3 non admissible persons who it was impossible to send back.

According to the latest information received, the detained population is comprised of:

UHSA (the sole immigration detention centre in Portugal): seven migrants detained, pending the execution of their forced returns.

EECIT Porto (temporary detention centre at the Porto airport): empty since the 15th of April, when two asylum seekers were granted temporary visas and allowed to enter the country.

EECIT Lisboa: the temporary detention centre of the Lisbon airport was closed by decree of the Minister of Internal Affairs on the 8th of April, following the investigation of the alleged murder of an Ukrainian citizen by border police officers. It will remain closed until the 1st of June, according to the latest information received. When it closed, on April 8th, there was no citizen detained therein.

EECIT Faro: it is open but without detainees in the last month.

EECIT Ponta Delgada and EECIT Funchal: due to lack of international or even internal flights, these centres are not being currently used.


FOR PEOPLE RELEASED FROM DETENTION, WHAT MEASURES ARE BEING TAKEN TO PREVENT SPREADING OF THE INFECTION AND TO ENSURE APPROPRIATE CARE?
ARE ALTERNATIVES TO DETENTION BEING USED? IF SO, WHICH?
Although not previously detained, some migrants and refugees have been placed in hostels and at two military bases (Tavira and Ota) which were converted into temporary shelters, testing them for COVID-19 and providing them with basic goods.

The Government has not yet clarified which measures are being used for third-country nationals who benefited from temporary solutions.


ARE IMMIGRATION DETAINEES TESTED FOR COVID? PLEASE DESCRIBE ANY MEASURES THAT ARE BEING TAKEN TO TEST AND PROTECT DETAINEES.

Yes, at UHSA. Further, the authorities put in place a contingency plan in line based on recommendations from the Directorate-General for Health, which include special areas of confinement for suspicious cases and the strengthening of communication with local health centres, should there be a case for concern.

No, at EECIT Porto. According to the authorities, tests would only be conducted when citizens show symptoms of COVID-19.


HAVE DEPORTATIONS / REMOVALS BEEN HALTED BECAUSE OF THE PANDEMIC? TO WHICH COUNTRIES ARE REMOVALS TAKING PLACE?

Yes. Portugal has suspended on March 13th the transfers pursuant to the Dublin Regulation. Because of the suspension of most flights in/out of the country, deportations/removals might be delayed. Repatriation flights organised by the respective country have occurred.


BROADLY, HAS THE COUNTRY ADOPTED NEW IMMIGRATION AND/OR ASYLUM POLICIES AS WELL AS BORDER CONTROLS IN RESPONSE TO THE COVID-19 CRISIS?
PLEASE BRIEFLY DESCRIBE ANY CHANGES.

Yes. Besides what was already mentioned, according to the State of Emergency declaration (the first one was issued on the 18th March), the right to international movement was suspended, thus allowing for reintroducing border checks on persons and goods, including health checks at ports and airports, in liaison with the European authorities and in strict compliance with the Treaties on European Union, in order to prevent entry into national territory or to make such entry subject to compliance with the conditions necessary to prevent the risk of the spread of the epidemic or the overburdening of resources allocated to combating it, in particular by imposing compulsory confinement of persons in a place defined by the competent authorities. This suspension was maintained in the following two renewals of the State of Emergency and in the current situation (State of Calamity).

On the Government’s regulation of this declaration, flights for humanitarian reasons were maintained.


13 May 2020

Belarus

A Person Walking by a Wall of the Centre for Isolation of Offenders (Центр изоляции правонарушителей), (Spring96, www.spring96.org)
A Person Walking by a Wall of the Centre for Isolation of Offenders (Центр изоляции правонарушителей), (Spring96, www.spring96.org)

In response to an information request submitted by the Global Detention Project and the NGO Human Constanta, Belarus Deputy Minister of the Interior Ministry Aleksandr Barsukov confirmed that during the pandemic non-nationals who violate the country’s legislation may continue to face detention and deportation. He wrote, “For foreigners violating the legislation of the Republic of Belarus on the plight of foreign citizens and persons who have taken citizenship, measures are applied in accordance with the requirements of the Code of Administrative Offenses, including deportation.” However, he specified that foreigners stuck in the country for reasons outside their control will be granted stay extensions: “Foreigners who cannot leave the Republic of Belarus for reasons beyond their control, the length of stay is extended.”

Belarus has attracted significant criticism for its slow and limited response to the pandemic, and few official containment measures have been adopted. With President Lukashenko publicly downplaying the pandemic--which he has dismissed as a “psychosis”-- authorities have refused to cancel large public events such as football matches or the country’s Victory Day military parade. Several small measures were, however, adopted with regards to prisons, with authorities suspending visits on 16 March and issuing new guidance on supplies to be delivered to inmates. Reportedly, every 30 days prisoners may receive food packages weighing up to 10kg, but they may only contain items authorities deem necessary for the prevention of respiratory illnesses (specifically: citrus fruits, garlic, onions, and apples).

To date, however, no steps have been taken to release prisoners - or foreign detainees - prompting the United Civic Party to launch a petition in April calling for prisoners to be released. It warned that if measures were not taken, prisons will “turn into mass graves.” Family members of inmates sent an open letter to the president requesting an amnesty bill which will permit the release or reduced sentencing of vulnerable people and those sentenced for non-violent crimes.

On 7 May, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Belarus and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention urged the government to release all children and young people imprisoned for drug-related offences. They called on authorities “to avoid by all means the detention of children, to release those who do not pose a threat to society … which is especially necessary in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.”


13 May 2020

Italy

Asylum Seekers Queuing in Italy in April 2017, (UNHCR,
Asylum Seekers Queuing in Italy in April 2017, (UNHCR, "Italy to Regularise 600,000 Undocumented Migrants," The African Courier, 6 May 2020, https://www.theafricancourier.de/migration/italy-to-regularise-600000-undocumented-migrants/)

The Italian Minister for Agricultural Policies, Teresa Bellanova, said (6 May) that she wants to regularise some 600,000 undocumented workers. She said: “If this doesn’t happen, the State becomes not only an accomplice but also a promoter of illegality in which these workers are forced.” The confederation of Italian farmers said the regularisation of undocumented workers working in the agricultural industry would bring an additional 1.2 billion euros into the national economy.

Italy maintains a network of seven Return Detention Centres (CPRs). The total capacity of these was 751 as of 2019. According to the European Migration Network contact in Italy, the CPRs are required to take particular precautions in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, including:

- Informing migrants of the proper safeguards to be adopted to prevent the spread of Covid-19;
- Ensuring social distancing;
- Providing personal hygiene products;
- Cleaning and sanitising the premises on a regular basis

During the period January-March, there were 2,794 maritime arrivals.

Médecins Sans Frontières has reported that they are providing medical assistance in a clinic at Selam Palace, a building hosting more than 500 refugees in Rome. In addition, on 7 April 2020, the Italian government informed the German foreign ministry that due to the Covid-19 crisis, it will not allow the disembarkation of migrants rescued by German Search and Rescue NGOs, even if other EU Member States accept relocation.

Despite the impossibility of carrying out returns due to flight suspensions, Italy has not formally suspended forced repatriation measures. Also, no general policy on releasing immigration detainees from detention centres has been developed, not even regarding the Gradisca Detention Centre, where Covid-19 cases have been confirmed. ECRE reported that the number of detainees was reduced, but as of late April, there were still 229 people detained.

Following the adoption of a decree modifying regulations concerning house arrest on 16 March 2020, the prison population was reported to have been reduced by 6,000 on 18 March 2020. Nonetheless, on 30 March, two prison guards were reported to have died from Covid-19. On 23 April, 68 prisoners at the Lorusso e Cutugno prison in Turin tested positive for the disease and five were transferred to hospital.


12 May 2020

Hong Kong (China)

Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre in Tuen Mun, (Handout,
Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre in Tuen Mun, (Handout, "Coronavirus: Hong Kong Lawyers, Lawmakers Flag Hygiene Issues at Detention Centre, but Immigration Says Health Measures in Place," South China Morning Post, 26 April 2020, https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/3081544/coronavirus-hong-kong-lawyers-lawmakers-flag)

Human rights lawyers and lawmakers have raised concerns about conditions in the Castle Peak Bay Immigration Detention Centre, saying they are worried about the risk of Covid-19 spreading among detainees. The Immigration Department nonetheless stated that the health and safety of staff and detainees is a prime concern and that appropriate measures have been put in place to avoid contamination. In addition, a spokesman for the Department of Health said that if detainees “show any symptoms of Covid-19, they will be sent to public hospitals.” Opened in 2005, the Castle Peak Bay (CPB) facility has a total capacity of around 400 places, although it is not known how many people are currently detained there. Most detainees are from Vietnam, Central America, South America, India, and Pakistan. Men and women are held on different floors in the facility.

Concerns were voiced following reports of “rats in the premises, malfunctioning toilets, a lack of bleach for disinfection, no access or insufficient access to soap and hand sanitisers.” Karen McClellan, a lawyer at Daly & Associates, said that they were very concerned about Covid-19 spreading in immigration detention centres: “This is an area that we’re very concerned is falling through the cracks, putting an already vulnerable group even more at risk.”

Dr. Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, a Hong Kong politician, also raised concerns about hygiene after visiting the centre on 12 March. He was shocked to see detainees in a day room using ladles to scoop water from a plastic bucket to drink. He also observed that detainees spent most of their time in day rooms the size of a regular classroom, with around 40 to 60 people in each room.

The Immigration Department stated that cleaning and disinfection had been stepped up at the centre since the outbreak of the disease. New arrivals with recent travel history outside Hong Kong have reportedly been segregated and observed and the centre has been collecting saliva samples for Covid-19 tests, but the Department did not mention when this began or how many detainees have been tested for now."

In the past, many NGOs have criticised conditions at Hong Kong's two detention facilities, including abuses by security guards and lack of food and unsanitary conditions. Multiple incidents of mistreatment have previously been reported at CPB. In 2019, Yuli Riswati, an Indonesian migrant domestic worker and journalist, was deported from Hong Kong to Indonesia after reporting on the 2019 anti-extradition law protests. Before she was deported, Yuli was detained for 28 days. While in detention, Yuli was subject to a strip-search by male doctors (despite being Muslim) and was declined adequate medical treatment despite suffering from vomiting and flu. This resulted in her physical deterioration and psychological depression.


12 May 2020

France

Detainees in the Courtyard of the Mesnil-Amelot Detention Centre, (FranceInfo,
Detainees in the Courtyard of the Mesnil-Amelot Detention Centre, (FranceInfo, "VIDEO. Masques Inexistants, WC Inondés, Expulsions Retardées... L'inquiétude monte au Centre de Rétention du Mesnil-Amelot," 5 May 2020, https://www.francetvinfo.fr/replay-jt/france-2/20-heures/video-policiers-et-etrangers-inquiets-du-covid-19-au-centre-de-retention-du-mesnil-amelot_3950205.html)

On 1 May, a journalist from France Info visited a detention centre for migrants (Centres de retention administrative – CRA) near Paris. They confirmed that there are new arrivals every week; at the time, 59 detainees were at the centre. In the absence of international flights in destinations of non-european countries, detainees awaiting deportation are held indefinitely in CRAs. A French deputy who also visited the centre declared that the sanitary conditions were not sufficient to avoid the spread of Covid-19. Detainees and staff members are not wearing masks.

On 20 April, the General Inspector of Places of Deprivation of Liberty called out the Ministry of Interior in a letter to close all CRAs, given the impossibility to respect barrier gestures. The Inspector pointed out the ‘’the health risk weighting on those detained’’ which she described as a ‘’serious violation of their fundamental rights’’. The Interior Ministry refused to give to the journalists the number of deportations that were made since the beginning of the pandemic. However, they declared that since deportations were still happening, it was not necessary to close CRAs.

In the Bois de Vincennes CRA, also located near Paris, several cases of Covid-19 were confirmed at the end of April. Despite a request from the Val-de-Marne mayor, the centre was not shut down, but placements were suspended for two weeks.
On 8 May, there were 118 inmates and 292 staff members with confirmed cases of Covid-19 in French prisons. However, the Observatoire international des prisons denounced the absence of tests in many prisons, which casts doubt on the numbers declared.

The prison's occupancy level dropped under 100 percent by 29 April, when the Ministry of Justice announced that there were 11,500 less inmates since the beginning of the pandemic. In some detention centres, staff members reported that this reduction allowed them to work in better conditions and ensured that inmates were in individual cells. However, on 4 May, the Minister of Justice declared that the prison population would increase after the confinement. She announced measures to avoid overcrowding, such as house arrests for short prison terms.

This reduction in prison population is due mainly to the reduction in judicial activity, rather than releases. Amnesty International underlined, on 6 May, the fact that France introduced a prison sentence during the confinement for repeated violations. While the confinement ended on 11 May, the country is still in a state of sanitary emergency, during which all pre-trial detention times are automatically extended. On 4 May, 5,300 inmates had been released from prisons.

In 140 prisons across the country, inmates are making fabric masks intended for hospital staff, earning 6 euros a day. In the meantime, they do not have masks for themselves, a situation that was denounced in a letter from 150 people to the Ministry of Justice. Families and friends of inmates wrote that the sanitary conditions in prisons, considering Covid-19, weren’t sufficient.


11 May 2020

Ukraine

Inside Lukyanivska Prison in Kyiv - a facility which is notorious for its terrible conditions, 2018 (Radio Free Liberty, https://www.rferl.org/a/ukraine-detention-center/29067856.html)
Inside Lukyanivska Prison in Kyiv - a facility which is notorious for its terrible conditions, 2018 (Radio Free Liberty, https://www.rferl.org/a/ukraine-detention-center/29067856.html)

According to information provided to the Global Detention Project (GDP) by the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG), the Ukrainian government is currently preparing to release inmates from prisons across Ukraine in an effort to stem the spread of the virus. Together with the Ministry of Justice, KHPG has prepared two bills on amnesty and parole which have been approved by the government, and which are now awaiting parliamentary approval. According to the KHPG, rights groups hope for 40 percent of the prison population to be released from the country’s “chronically underfunded” penitentiary system. On 30 April, the head of the UN Monitoring Mission for Human Rights in Ukraine called on the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Health to strengthen their response to Covid-19 in the country’s penitentiary system.

There do not appear to be any specific plans to release people from migration-related detention, and to-date, KHPG is not aware of any calls from civil society to protect non-citizens. According to the rights group, some lawyers and government officials view - if inaccurately - immigration detention facilities as resembling hotels rather than prisons. They also hold that with deportation impossible and no alternative accommodation options in place, it would be “dangerous” to release non-citizens.

In recent years, the number of people detained at Temporary Holding Centres for Foreign Nationals and Stateless Persons (THCs) for the purpose of expulsion has increased: from 407 in 2014 to 1,481 in 2018. KHPG says that there is significant overcrowding at THCs, which have a maximum capacity of 473, and that detainees have limited access to assistance. According to the Ombudsman’s 2018 report, detention conditions are inadequate in THCs - those inside have limited space, and are restricted in their ability to communicate with the outside world. Within the context of a pandemic, such conditions raise significant concerns.

In early May, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights also reported concerns regarding the detention of Ukrainian nationals (and others who have not taken Russian citizenship) in both Russia and occupied Ukrainian territories. Noting that Crimean Tatars detained in the Russian Federation and occupied Crimea lack sufficient space, ventilation, and sanitary conditions, she pointed to reports that they are not being provided with PPE, disinfectants, or medicines.


11 May 2020

United Kingdom

Protesters Outside Yarl's Wood Detention Centre Calling for its Immediate Closure in June 2015, (
Protesters Outside Yarl's Wood Detention Centre Calling for its Immediate Closure in June 2015, ("Coronavirus: UK Detention Centres 'Emptied in Weeks'," BBC, 7 May 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-52560093)

Despite an unsuccessful legal challenge from Detention Action seeking the release of all immigration detainees at the High Court in March (see 5 April update), more than 700 detainees were released between 16 March and 21 April as the government responded to concerns about the spread of Covid-19 within immigration detention facilities. The organisation has begun a petition requesting the release of all remaining immigration detainees. Official figures recorded 1,225 people in detention centres on 1 January and 368 at the latest count, which amounts to a reduction of almost three-quarters. According to detainees, there are 13 women left at the Yarl’s Wood immigration removal in Bedfordshire and the Tinsley House and Dungavel centres are thought to be nearly empty. Also, about 50 people are believed to have been deported during the crisis.

Detention Action told the BBC (7 May) that the litigation had “forced major, rapid concessions from the government, including the release of 350 detainees in one week and a halt on new detentions of people facing removal to 49 countries.”

Another NGO, Movement for Justice, commented: "Now we also know the centres can be easily emptied and people can manage their cases in the community."

However, the Home Office has pushed back on this idea, arguing that “the vast majority of those in detention, at this time, are foreign national offenders. It is only right that we continue to protect the public from dangerous criminals.”

Immigration detainees have reportedly been unable to access coronavirus tests despite living in shared accommodation centres where there have been confirmed cases of the virus. The managing Director of Mitie, a private firm contracted by the Home Office to run Harmondsworth and Colnbrook removal centres, told the Home Affairs Select Committee on 7 May 2020 that while all staff in the centre were able to access tests, there was at present “no particular policy” around testing for detainees. He added that Mitie had “recently written to the Home Office asking that testing becomes available as a matter of routine for detainees.”

In English and Welsh prisons, it is estimated that around 1,800 prisoners could be infected with Covid-19, in addition to the 304 already confirmed cases, according to Public Health England (PHE). PHE also added that to avoid a further spread of the disease, protective measures within penitentiaries would have to be maintained until the end of the financial year (April 2021). With these measures in place, PHE has estimated that there will be around 2,800 infections and 100 deaths.


09 May 2020

Trinidad and Tobago

National Security Minister Stuart Young speaks to Venezuelan nationals detained at the Aripo Immigration Detention Centre during his visit to the facility on 2 April 2019, (
National Security Minister Stuart Young speaks to Venezuelan nationals detained at the Aripo Immigration Detention Centre during his visit to the facility on 2 April 2019, ("T&T National Security Minister tells detained Venezuelans: Amnesty coming," 3 April 2020, https://www.stabroeknews.com/2019/04/03/news/regional/trinidad/tt-national-security-minister-tells-detained-venezuelans-amnesty-coming/)

Trinidad and Tobago reportedly operates one dedicated immigration detention centre, the Aripo Detention Centre in Arima, which has a total capacity of 150 places. In recent years, the country has cracked down on Venezuelan migrants and asylum seekers who have fled violence and economic hardship in their country. The Covid-19 pandemic reached the Carribean in March 2020, and it is expected that the outbreak will increase further in the coming weeks. As of 8 May, the country had recorded a total of 116 cases and 8 deaths.

As a response to Covid-19, the government implemented confinement measures for all the “non-essential labour force” from 29 March until 15 April. This was later extended to 30 April. The government had announced, on 22 March, the closure of its borders to all international flights for an indefinite period and visas for non-citizens are currently suspended until further notice. The government also introduced a series of financial and economic measures to provide income, food and rental fee support to nationals and permanent residents who have been financially affected by the Covid-19 crisis. Most Venezuelan migrants and refugees as well as other non-nationals, will not benefit from these measures, but are entitled to public primary health care.

According to the International Detention Coalition, the government is keeping migrants and asylum seekers in immigration detention centres with a history of poor healthcare and sanitation, disregarding the risks for detainees in contracting Covid-19. Amnesty International has also begun a petition urging the governments of the USA, Mexico, Canada, Curacao and Trinidad and Tobago to release migrants and asylum seekers from immigration detention so they can be protected from Covid-19 infection.

UNHCR implemented several measures aimed at ensuring protection for persons of concern during this pandemic. Three hotlines have been established to provide assistance and information. In the first month, the hotline received 1,111 queries from persons of concern requesting information on cash (51%) or food (16%) assistance. A cash-based intervention was put in place and 215 applications have already been approved. Also, through an implementing partner in the country, Living Water Community, UNHCR is providing food to around 200 families. Other measures such as a public information campaign, ensuring education access and providing medical and psychosocial health services have been set up by UNHCR and their implementing partners.

On 3 April, the general prosecutor announced the release of 388 prisoners out of the country’s 3,959 total prison population. Only those sentenced for “minor” infractions were released and a medical examination prior to release is conducted on the prisoners. Following the suspension of visits to prisoners on 31 March, alternatives such as electronic communications and video calls were organised in the Golden Grove women’s prison. Each prisoner will get 10 minutes every two weeks to speak with their family.

While the country has taken measures to protect prisoners, including release and suspension of visits, the GDP has been unable to find reports indicating that authorities have adopted any measures to assist migrants in detention.


08 May 2020

United States

The Otay Mesa Detention Center, operated by the private prison company CoreCivic (formerly the Corrections Corporation of America), where the first Covid-19 fatality among US immigration detainees had been detained.
The Otay Mesa Detention Center, operated by the private prison company CoreCivic (formerly the Corrections Corporation of America), where the first Covid-19 fatality among US immigration detainees had been detained.

Health officials in the state of California announced the first COVID-19 fatality of an immigration detainee on 7 May. The person had been detained at the Otay Mesa Detention Center, which is operated by the prison prison company CoreCivic (formerly the Corrections Corporation of America) in San Diego. The ACLU, in a tweet, said: “The first confirmed death of someone in @ICEgov detention from COVID-19 was predictable and preventable. The administration's obsession with incarcerating people was dangerous before COVID-19. Now, it is a death sentence.”

According to Al Jazeera (7 May): “A 57-year-old man, who was held at the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego before being hospitalised in late April, died on Wednesday. ... The Otay Mesa facility near the US-Mexico border can hold up to nearly 2,000 ICE detainees and US Marshals Service inmates. It reported its first positive case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, in late March. The centre now has more infections - 132 - than any other centre in the country, according to ICE. Overall, more than 700 immigrants in the ICE custody have tested positive for the virus out of about 1,400 who have been tested nationally.”

The report adds: “While ICE has dialled back arrest operations and agreed to review cases of some at-risk immigrants in custody, it still has tens of thousands in detention and is proceeding with deportation flights. … Lawyers have filed lawsuits seeking parole for many detainees and so far, ICE said, nearly 200 have been released after court orders and most of them had criminal charges or convictions.”

Despite evidence that people deported from the US are testing positive for Covid-19 upon arrival in their home countries (see 22 April update below), the United States has refused to halt many deportation measures. The Centre for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) has reported that ICE Air continues to deport thousands of migrants held in detention centres throughout the United States, and as those facilities have become hotspots for Covid-19 outbreaks, this means the United States is exporting the virus to countries throughout the region.

According to the Center for Migration Studies, the number of migrants in ICE detention facilities dropped from 38,058 on 21 March 2020 to 29,675 on 25 April. During a webinar on 6 May organized by the Center for Migration Studies, Hiroko Kusuda (Clinic Professor, Loyola University) referred to the immigration detention system as a "deportation machine."

Since the Trump administration declared a national emergency on 13 March in response to the Covid-19 outbreak, one ICE Air contractor has reportedly undertaken at least 72 deportation flights to 11 Latin American and Carribean countries. The CEPR also reported that from 15 March to 24 April 2020, ICE Air appears to have made 21 deportation flights to Guatemala, 18 to Honduras, 12 to El Salvador, six to Brazil, three each to Nicaragua, Ecuador, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and one each to Colombia and Jamaica.

Most of the flights seem to have departed from two airports: Brownsville, Texas and Alexandria, Louisiana. The CEPR reported that the Alexandria ICE staging facility, run by a private company (GEO Group), has been particularly hard hit by Covid-19, as at least 11 employees have tested positive for the disease. One of the planes carrying around 40 confirmed Covid-19 cases to Guatemala departed from the Alexandria airport. The Guatemalan government has estimated that around 20 percent of the country’s Covid-19 cases are recently returned immigrants.

In addition, ICE has reportedly refused to test detainees prior to deportations, although officials have recently indicated they would begin partial testing. According to the Washington Post, ICE "is unlikely to administer tests to every deportee unless foreign governments make that a condition for taking people back."

According to the Immigration Campaign director at the Mississippi Center for Justice Amelia S. McGowan, the detention conditions in ICE facilities are dangerous in times of a pandemic, given "the overcrowding, the regular transfers of detained people and the severely limited access to cleaning and hygiene products." Moreover, some guards were reportedly told not to wear mask, to avoid scaring the detainees.


07 May 2020

Qatar

Volunteers Working for Qatar Charity Preparing Meals for 4,000 Migrant Workers, (Karim Jaafar, AFP,
Volunteers Working for Qatar Charity Preparing Meals for 4,000 Migrant Workers, (Karim Jaafar, AFP, "Qatari Charity Feeds Expat Workers in Virus Limbo," 16 April 2020, https://www.dailystar.com.lb//News/Middle-East/2020/Apr-16/504493-qatari-charity-feeds-expat-workers-in-virus-limbo.ashx)

With more than 17,000 cases of Covid-19, Qatar has the highest infection rate in the Gulf. Most cases concern migrant workers, who make up 95 percent of the country’s workforce. Since 2010, in preparation for the 2022 World Cup, there has been an important increase in the numbers of migrant workers, in particular in sectors such as construction, hotel, and domestic work.

Most of these workers reside in a work camp near Doha, an industrial zone that was placed under quarantine. There were reportedly shortages of food during the first days of the confinement. The NGO Qatar Charity distributed meals to some 4,000 migrant workers, but the total number of residents in the camp is estimated to be several tens of thousands. The conditions in the work camp are particularly worrying because migrants do not have the space to socially distance and most of them do not have access to health care or proper sanitation.

Many migrant workers were arrested and deported to Nepal, according to Amnesty International. They were told that they were being taken to screening centres, and that they would return to their accommodation later. Instead, they were taken to detention centres, where ‘’they were kept in abominable conditions for several days’’, as reported by Amnesty International.

On 1 April, a coalition of rights groups, including Migrant-Rigths.org and Amnesty International, issued a joint letter “urging Qatar to take adequate steps to protect migrant workers amid the COVID-19 crisis.” The letter, which was also sent to the other Gulf countries, made the following recommendations:

1. Ensure that all workers, quarantined or otherwise, whose living conditions leave them particularly vulnerable to infection, are tested and provided with appropriate medical treatment, and that undocumented worker can seek medical treatment without fear of detention. All workers should have access to adequate housing facilities, including a facility to isolate themselves if necessary, as well as water and sanitation, so they can effectively protect themselves;
2. No one, including migrant workers, is detained for violating quarantine;
3. Migrant workers who are unable to work, either due to preventive quarantine or testing positive for COVID-19, continue to receive their full wages;
4. Provide the public with information to ensure that migrant workers, including domestic workers, do not face discrimination or stigma in relation to the COVID-19 virus;
5. Ensure domestic workers are provided with access to timely and adequate protective measures and healthcare and receive sick pay if they are unable to work due to illness.


07 May 2020

Egypt

The Entrance to Cairo's Tora Prison, (Getty Images,
The Entrance to Cairo's Tora Prison, (Getty Images, "Egypt Pardons Hundreds of Prisoners, Without Mention of Covid-19," The New Arab, 17 April 2020, https://english.alaraby.co.uk/english/news/2020/4/17/egypt-pardons-hundreds-of-prisoners-without-mention-of-covid-19)

Egypt does not operate dedicated facilities for immigration-related detention, nor is there an official list of detention sites for this purpose. However, according to Decree 659 (1986), the following prisons should be used for the temporary custody of foreigners awaiting deportation: Qanater El-Kharereya Men’s Prison, Qanater El-Khayereya Women’s Prison, Alexandria Prison, Port Said Prison, and Tora Prison.

In mid-April, the Presidency pardoned 460 prisoners and announced plans to release additional persons – however neither of these announcements mentioned Covid-19 as the reason for the pardons (instead, they were to commemorate the 68th anniversary of the Battle of Ismailia, and Sinai Liberation Day), and the Global Detention Project has not been able to determine whether any migrants or asylum seekers were amongst those released. There is little information available regarding steps taken to protect prisoners, and rights activists have argued that the government is using the virus to further isolate detainees from the outside world. However, according to one Egyptian observer, social-distancing is not being implemented in cells, prison staff are not following health regulations, medical and sanitary supplies are not being allowed inside, and guards rarely wear masks.

According to Article 18 of the Egyptian Constitution, “denying any form of medical treatment to any human in emergency or life-threatening situations is a crime.” On 28 April, Egypt’s Foreign Minister said that refugees are to be provided assistance within the health care system as needed during the crisis, and that no efforts were being made to return people to their countries of origin. However, reports indicate that undocumented migrants and failed asylum seekers fear accessing health care, given the country’s track-record for detaining and deporting non-citizens.


07 May 2020

Jordan

Migrant workers in Jordan have been given a deadline to leave the country, as authorities announced that they would prioritise the employment of Jordanian citizens in the wake of the crisis. Having initiated a strict lock-down to control the virus, the country has started to loosen measures and businesses have now been given the green light to re-open. According to the country’s Labour Minister, at least 75 percent of employees of any business wishing to reopen would have to be Jordanian.

Jordan is currently home to up to 100,000 migrant workers, who largely work in the construction, agricultural, and catering industries. Many of them face enormous barriers to securing basic rights and are particularly vulnerable to arbitrary arrest and detention - including at the hands of their employers. According to authorities, they must leave the country by Saturday 9 May – and all fines and fees, including for undocumented migrants, will be waived if they depart within this time. With limited international transport, the feasibility of this remains unclear.


06 May 2020

Algeria

A Sahrawi Refugee Camp near Tindouf, (European Commission DG ECHO, Flickr, “La Patience des Sahraouis,” Asile.ch, 12 February 2016, https://asile.ch/2016/02/12/rtn-la-patience-des-sahraouis/)
A Sahrawi Refugee Camp near Tindouf, (European Commission DG ECHO, Flickr, “La Patience des Sahraouis,” Asile.ch, 12 February 2016, https://asile.ch/2016/02/12/rtn-la-patience-des-sahraouis/)

In correspondence with the Global Detention Project (GDP), UNHCR Algeria reports that the Algerian Government “suspended collective expulsions of migrants in irregular situations in Algeria in mid-March due to the Covid-19 crisis. However, it is reported that groups of nationals from Niger continued to be removed to Niger in March and April, although in smaller numbers than before. However, cross-border movement restrictions taken to contain the spread of Covid-19 might currently impact on the possibility for refugees to access the territory and asylum, which must be maintained even as governments take measures to protect public health.”

UNHCR Algeria also told the GDP that “Algeria has not adopted any new asylum policies or practices in response to the Covid-19 crisis. UNHCR office in Algiers receives and registers asylum applications and conducts refugee status determination. Due to the Covid-19 situation, the number of asylum applications received has decreased since March 2020. Reception and appointment for refugees and asylum-seekers in UNHCR office have been temporarily suspended to prevent the virus transmission, and remote pre-registration and interviewing modalities were introduced. Through its Call Centre numbers, Hotline and UNHCR Help website for Algeria (https://help.unhcr.org/algeria/), UNHCR is providing practical information and assistance on a daily basis on procedures and services available to refugees and asylum-seekers during the Covid-19