Covid-19 Global Immigration Detention Platform

As Covid-19 continues to spread across the globe, there are pressing concerns about the impact the pandemic is having on migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. These concerns have particular urgency in the context of border controls, detention measures, and deportation procedures.

This platform reports how countries are responding to the Covid-19 pandemic in their migration control policies as well as calls by independent monitoring bodies, NGOs, and human rights institutions demanding measures to safeguard migrants and asylum seekers.

The information on this platform is regularly updated to reflect evolving circumstances on the ground.

We are eager to hear from 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

You can sign up to receive periodic updates to this platform here: https://mailchi.mp/251be33ed62d/gdp-covid19

DATE COUNTRY UPDATE
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, 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 situation.”

As of 5 May 2020, Algeria had recorded 4,648 Covid-19 cases and a total of 465 deaths related to the disease. The government enacted two Decrees (No. 20-69 and 20-70) on 21 and 24 March, establishing social distancing measures, confinement facilities, movement restrictions, and specific rules on commercial activities. Public transport, flights, trains and taxis have all been suspended. The government has announced that these measures will remain in palce until 14 May.

Refugee camps like the Sahrawi refugee camps, located a few kilometers from Tindouf, are particularly vulnerable to the spread of Covid-19. Due to the lack of medical staff and health care material, the spread of Covid-19 within these camps could cause a catastrophe. A Saharawi doctor, Abdala Banani Saaid, stated that the health personnel has just 600 pairs of gloves and 2000 masks for a population of between 180,000 and 200,000 people. She added that “no health centre is really ready. Even the national hospital does not have respiratory equipment. Let’s hope we don’t get any case, because we really don’t have anything here.”

UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP and five NGO partners have called attention to the challenges faced by Sahrawi refugees. A plan requiring US$ 15 million has been drawn up by the these organisations outlining measures to: “(1) prevent transmission of Covid-19 among Sahrawi refugees; (2) provide adequate care for patients affected by Covid-19 and to support their families and close contacts; and (3) adapt programmes in health, education, food security, protection, and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) to mitigate the worst effects of the pandemic.” Agostino Mulas, UNHCR representative in Algeria stated that “as governments across the world are taking extraordinary measures to contain the spread and mitigate the impact of Covid-19, we must not forget vulnerable populations such as the Sahrawi refugees. I would like to express our gratitude to the Algerian Government for its continued support to this refugee population and for including them in all the Covid-19 national response strategies … I humbly call on all donors, whether governments, foundations or individuals, to support these efforts and help the humanitarian community working in the Tindouf camps to face this unprecedented crisis.”

On 1 April 2020, the Algerian President, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, ordered the release of 5,037 prisoners. Prisoners on remand and those with a sentence of less than 18 months were released while those convicted of terrorism, espionnage, murder or other violent crimes will remain in prison. In the Koléa prison, a prisoner died from Covid-19 on 9 April 2020. Following the death, the prison was placed in isolation and movements in and out of the prison have been suspended, including prisoners attending their hearings in Court. In the Blida prison, 59 prisoners were released to alleviate overcrowding and avoid the spread of Covid-19.

While the country has taken measures to protect prisoners from Covid-19, the GDP has been unable to find reports indicating that authorities have taken measures to assist migrants in detention.


06 May 2020

South Africa

"Inmates Entering a Room Inside Sun City Prison in Johannesburg For Their Video-Hearings," (News 24 Video, ‘’Justice Minister Says 16 000 Inmates Screened For Covid-19 So Far’’, 8 April 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPXTv6k34Sc)

South Africa’s main dedicated immigration detention centre is Lindela, located near Johannesburg. However, the country also uses police stations and prisons routinely to hold undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers. There are some 237 prison and jail facilities in the country, and severe overcrowding is common.

As of 5 May, there 69 cases of confirmed infections amongst prison detainees, and 90 cases amongst prison staff. On 23 April, the Inspecting Judge of Correctional Services suggested that ‘’the number of people remanded to custody be restricted and, so far as possible and justifiable, alternatives to incarceration be considered.’’

Protests erupted in correctional centres across the country in recent weeks as detainees demand to be released from overcrowded prisons. The unrest has come on the heels of concerns that the Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services staged misleading video-recorded visits to prisons, including an early April visit to the Johannesburg prison which holds some 9,000 inmates, that appeared to demonstrate that proper safety procedures were being implemented, including pre-visit tests, wearing of masks, and use of hydroalcoholic gel dispensers. However, on 10 April, journalists visited the prison without any sanitary control, leading to accusations that the Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services was not forthcoming about actual operations at the prison. Staff members at the Johannesburg prison said that the sanitizer “is water and fake.’’ They also reported that no one was wearing masks or gloves, even when making physical contact with inmates to take their fingerprints.

On 25 March, the government announced that asylum seekers whose visas expire after 16 March would not be penalized or arrested. However, officials continued to deport undocumented migrants, justifying this as a measure to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

In order to be tested for Covid-19, individuals need to fill a form (Covid-19 specimen submission) from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases. This form requires a South African identification or passport number, which makes it impossible for undocumented migrants to access the test.


06 May 2020

Oman

There has been a concerted civil society campaign urging authorities in Oman to assist migrant labourers, who form a critical backbone to the economy of Oman as in other Gulf countries. In Gulf countries, workers must be sponsored by an employer to enter the country, under the kafala systems. The employer has then the authority to renew residence permits, which not only makes migrant workers dependent on their employers for their legal status, but also makes them fear deportation.

On 10 April, a coalition of 16 NGO’s called the authorities to ensure that migrant workers receive adequate protection during the Covid-19 pandemic. Previously, in early April, HRW released a statement arguing that in light of the pandemic, people in immigration detention in Gulf countries pending deportation should be given “alternatives to detention.” On 30 April, Amnesty International raised concerns about “the impact of the pandemic on protection of migrant workers in the Gulf, where common issues like overcrowded accommodation now present a public health risk.’’

According to Migrant-Rights.org, ‘’The Omani government provides free testing and treatment to all residents, including those without insurance. However, treatment for nationals and migrants differs; according to sources, while nationals who test positive for Covid19 are immediately brought into isolation, workers are told to quarantine at home until or unless their conditions worsen.’’

In mid-April, the government called on private firms to ask non-Omani employees “to leave permanently’’, and later advocated for the replacement of foreign workers in government sectors by nationals. Omani Health Minister Ahmed Bin Mohammed Al-Saidi reportedly stated in a radio interview, earlier in April, that “our biggest challenge is among expatriate workers.’’

On 5 May 2020, the number of confirmed cases was at 2,735. Out of the 98 new cases in the last 24 hours, 56 affected non-Omanis.


06 May 2020

Belgium

Merksplas Detention Centre, (Ton Wiggenraad,
Merksplas Detention Centre, (Ton Wiggenraad, "200 illegale personen op vrije voeten als gevolg van coronacrisis," HLN, 19 March 2020, https://www.hln.be/nieuws/binnenland/200-illegale-personen-op-vrije-voeten-als-gevolg-van-coronacrisis~a1b17321/?referer=https%3A%2F%2Ft.co%2FKoFwOrmDFr%3Famp%3D1)

Global Detention Project Survey completed by Laura Cleton (@LauraCleton), University of Antwerp

IS THERE A MORATORIUM ON NEW IMMIGRATION DETENTION ORDERS?

There has been no public information on whether new detention orders are still being made. In terms of Orders to Leave the Territory (OLT), the Minister for Social Affairs, Public Health, Migration and Asylum, Maggie de Block, mentions that she has not completely suspended them. If persons get an OLT, they have to leave Belgium and the EU whenever that is possible. Return/removal is still possible for certain countries. Also, individuals can ask for an extension of their OLT’s deadline.

HAVE IMMIGRATION DETAINEES BEEN RELEASED?

Yes, people have been released from immigration detention as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The ministry says that there are two reasons for people to be released from detention. First, because forced removal was no longer possible as a result of the closing of international airspace and limitation on flights. According to law, in certain cases, detention could therefore not be prolonged. Second, detainees were released to guarantee safety of other detainees and personnel. There needed to be less people in the facilities to guarantee the social distancing measures.

On April 8, the minister said that 297 detainees were released from detention, whereas 204 were still residing in detention. This selection was made by the Immigration Services (Dienst Vreemdelingenzaken). Decisions on who gets released and those whose detention is continued are made on an individual basis, file by file. In the first place, the Immigration Services look as to whether removal is still possible within the official term. All elements in the individual file are taken into account, most certainly those having to do with public order. Also those persons in detention whose nationality/identity still need to be established, which can take months, can stay in detention for longer. The current situation, according to Maggie de Block, therefore does not automatically lead to the conclusion that there is no “reasonable prospect of return”. Following the guidelines from the European Commission, detention of the aforementioned groups can be prolonged. There are still judicial procedures in place to check if requirements for (prolonged) detention are still lawfully permitted.

On 19 March, a Belgium newspaper mentioned that at least 200 detainees were released. In the article, the immigration authorities mentioned that people released were mainly “vulnerable persons” and those whose removal could not take place as a result of the closing of airspace. The first group included people with chronic diseases, diabetes or heart conditions. Also people who were detained on the basis of a Dublin claim were released from detention, as removing them is currently not possible. Other people who were released were those who had not committed “offences against public order”. A spokesperson for immigration authorities said that migrants with criminal convictions would remain in detention; this was later reiterated by the Minister for Interior and Migration in a parliamentary debate on 8 April.

On 27 April, there were still 162 detainees in detention centres – 15 in Bruges, 62 at Merksplas, 36 at Vottem, 18 at Steenokkerzeel, 25 at Caricole and 6 at Holsbeek. Minister De Block mentioned that this occupation rate causes no problems for guaranteeing social distancing. She mentions that in some instances, people also sleep in small dorms alone, instead of together.

WHAT MEASURES TO PREVENT FORMER DETAINEES FROM BEING INFECTED?

A 19 March newspaper article reported that there was no reception for those who had been released and “it is unclear where the 200 released detainees reside at this moment.” Maggie de Block said that if detainees are released, staff asks them if they have reception with family or friends. She said that this is the case for the majority of cases. If this is not the case, the Belgium government will “look for reception,” though no details were provided. Detainees can be picked up by family members in the proximity of the centre, or released in proximity to public transportation. In principle, local governments are responsible for providing reception for individuals without papers. Minister De Block mentioned the possibilty of demanding that hotels or campsites give up their rooms to accommodate undocumented migrants and other homeless persons.

ARE DETAINEES BEING TESTED FOR COVID-19?

Detainees are only tested when they show symptoms. On 8 April, there were no known COVID-19 cases among detainees in the detention centres. Similar procedures are followed in regular reception centres for asylum seekers (see Q6) – they are isolated and get the necessary medical attention. On 8 April, there were two people in medical isolation, and there were four known cases among detention centre personnel. On 29 April, Minister de Block confirmed that tests remained available in detention centres but that there were still no confirmed cases among detainees.

The minister said on 8 April that measures taken in detention centres were mainly directed to limiting contact between detainees/staff, and enhancing hygiene. For example, detainees are spread out more evenly through common rooms such as dining halls and dorms. Also, the number of persons who can take part in one daytime activities is limited, all to ensure limited contact between different residents. Visits for detainees are also temporarily suspended, but not for all: parliamentary members and attorneys still have the possibility to visit their clients. Detention centres have the possibility of digital visits, offer more flexible use of telephones and expand internet capacities in the centres. Staff in detention centres also wear mouth masks when the required distance cannot be respected. Detainees have also been offered mouth masks.

On 27 April, there were still 162 detainees in detention centres – 15 in Bruges, 62 at Merksplas, 36 at Vottem, 18 at Steenokkerzeel, 25 at Caricole and 6 at Holsbeek. De Block mentioned that, apart from the centre in Bruges, that this occupation is no problem for guaranteeing social distancing, also not in the dorms. She mentions that in some instances, people also sleep in small dorms alone.

HAVE DEPORTATIONS/REMOVALS BEEN STOPPED?

Deporations still take place on a case by case basis. Between 13 March and 8 April, 93 removals took place, according to the minister, however the specific destinations were not provided. A minority of those are Dublin transfers. Escorts on removal flights are not possible anymore, but people are sometimes accompanied until they board the plane. Removal to countries which have “great difficulties,” like Greece, are not possible.

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

On 17 March, the government decided to temporarily stop admitting applications for international protection and postpone them until further notice. The reason given for this was that at the main asylum application centre called ‘Klein Kasteeltje’ in Brussels, there was too little space to uphold the social distancing measures while continuing the necessary proceedings. At the same time, Caritas Belgium mentioned that there was no alternative reception in place for these new asylum seekers, and hence that they were forced to live on the streets, also in case of extremely vulnerable persons, or families with minor children.

During a parliamentary debate on 8 April, it was reported that registration had resumed, yet in a different format: appointments for hearings had to be made via the internet, and asylum seekers could only enter the Immigration Office’s building if they had made an appointment, to prevent waiting-spaces and queuing. Preference is given to vulnerable people, unaccompanied minors, families with minor children, pregnant women, and persons with severe medical complications. Several members of parliament feared that this application procedure might disproportionately impact illiterate asylum seekers, or those without access to the internet. Other measures taken in the application procedure to guarantee safety are altering the rooms in which asylum hearings take place, by amongst others placing Plexiglas. Employees assessing applications for international protection first try to make decisions on cases which already had hearings, and then also look for possibilities via video conference. The minister added that those who come to the Immigration Office for their appointment get a medical screening upon their arrival, and are isolated if an infection is suspected. In the period of 3 – 27 April, 962 questions for an appointment with the Immigration Office were made, and more than 600 still are awaiting a date for their appointment. In the same period, 154 requests for asylum were made.
From mid-April onwards, new asylum seekers can be received in a military base in Sijsele and the reception centre in Marcinelle, which were also in use in 2015, when Belgium received significantly more asylum seekers during the refugee “crisis.” There is a maximum capacity of respectively 300 and 174 persons in these reception facilities. Persons admitted to the facilities will need to reside in pre-registration reception for 7 days first (at Klein Kasteeltje in Brussels), where registration for asylum happens and they are tested for covid-19 symptoms. Only after examination, if they do not show any symptoms, they can move to Sijsele or Marcinelle. They are not all tested – only those who fit the nation-wide “case definition” (risk groups) are tested. The medical services in the reception centres also take preventive measures to limit spreading of the virus, and giving necessary medical attention. All non-essential medical attention is postponed for now.

Several members of parliament questioned whether it was possible to uphold the social distancing measures at place in these facilities. Minister de Block said that all residents of reception centres follow the rules in force in Belgium at large. Persons with symptoms are immediately placed in isolation, and if necessary seen by a doctor. Those with severe complications are sent to a hospital, where it is decided if the person needs to be tested and hospitalized. This procedure is similar to other collective reception structures. Residents are being notified on the measures in place through information in their own language.

Minister de Block also announced that migrants with legal status, but whose right to reside in Belgium is about to expire, can ask for a prolonging of their residence.


05 May 2020

Thailand

Immigration Detainees Stand Behind Bars at an Immigration Detention Centre in Bangkok, (Romeo Gacad, AFP, Getty Images,
Immigration Detainees Stand Behind Bars at an Immigration Detention Centre in Bangkok, (Romeo Gacad, AFP, Getty Images, "Thailand's Outbreak Spike Exposes Conditions in Migration Detention Centre," Thai Enquirer, 30 April 2020, https://www.thaienquirer.com/12519/thailands-outbreak-spike-exposes-conditions-in-migrant-detention-centre/)

As of 4 May 2020, Thailand had recorded 2,987 cases of Covid-19 and 54 deaths related to the disease. Among those with the infection are immigration detainees. On 25 April, 42 detainees in the Sadoa Immigration Detention Centre tested positive. The Immigration Police Chief told the press that 73 migrant detainees (out of a total 115) still had to be tested, including children.

Thailand’s 22 detention centres house “illegal immigrants,” a category that ranges from visitors who have overstayed a 90-day tourist visa, to asylum seekers and refugees. Amnesty International reported that official regulations allow for cell sizes to be a minimum of 1.19 meters per person. According to the NGO Fortify Right, “detention centres were meant for people to stay for 15 days, and then leave. But in Thailand, you can stay there for years, and it’s not designed for that.”

The Global Detention Project previously reported that the length of stay for detainees in Thailand ranges from 3 days to 12 years, with asylum seekers and refugees having been detained for periods of over two years. Several reports of lengthy detention periods originate from Bangkok’s Detention Centre: Suan Phlu. The centre is reported to have the highest number of detainees in the country. While NGOs and detainees maintain that there are over one thousand detainees in the centre, the government has refused to publish official statistics.

A former detainee in Suan Phlu stated that the centre “was so crowded, some of us slept standing up, or in turns. If you turn your legs, you will lose your space.” In addition, detainees have revealed that they are separated by gender and perceived ethnicity: “room 8 for the black people, Room 11 for the brown people.” Certain measures have been put in place to remedy this, including the expansion of Sadao detention centre with a new building and the relocation of certain detainees from the Suan Phlu centre.

While officials maintain that they are conducting widespread testing in detention facilities, other healthcare provisions are limited. Former detainees have said that there is only one nurse in Suan Phlu detention centre. On 25 April, the government stated that detainees, mostly from Myanmar and others from Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia, would receive proper treatment in accordance with humanitarian standards.


05 May 2020

Kenya

Aerial View of the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, (Thomas Mukoya, Reuters,
Aerial View of the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, (Thomas Mukoya, Reuters, "Two Refugees Explain What Covid-19 Means in Their Precarious World," World Economic Forum, 10 April 2020, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/covid-19-poses-its-own-set-of-challenges-for-refugees/)

Irregular migrants in Kenya are detained in immigration holding facilities, but also in prisons or in general police custody. The conditions in Kenya’s prisons are worrying, as migrants may face assault and sexual abuse, with limited legal assistance. The National Council for the Administration of Justice announced on 2 April the release of 4,000 prisoners convicted of minor offenses.

Human rights groups have expressed alarm over the government’s response to the Covid-19 crisis, pointing to a surge in police violence and exceedingly strict containment measures. On 29 April, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights accused Kenyan authorities of using quarantine as punishment. The commission said that ‘’the rounding up of citizens by security agents for breaking the curfew rules is likely to exacerbate the pandemic.’’

Since 27 March 2020, a countrywide curfew was put in place to combat Covid-19 outbreaks. Individuals are not allowed to leave their homes from 7pm to 5am and any transgression of this measure may result in imprisonment. It is also mandatory to wear a face mask in public and the non-respect of this rule may lead to a fine up to 20,000 KES and imprisonment for up to six months. In Kakuma refugee camp, which hosts more than 194,000 refugees and asylum seekers, the curfew also applies. Kenyan authorities announced on 26 April a 21 days extension of the curfew.

The Kenyan Red Cross and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) distributed soaps along with devices to wash hands in prisons. Along with these sanitary measures, visits in prisons are suspended until 11 May. The Nairobi prison has been under full lockdown since 28 March, a decision which was met with protests from prison staff.


05 May 2020

Burkina Faso

A Soldier Standing Behind ICRC Provided Equipment for Prisons, (
A Soldier Standing Behind ICRC Provided Equipment for Prisons, ("Prévention du Covid-19 dans les Prisons: Le CICR Fournit du Matériel au Ministère de la Justice," Lefaso.net, 14 April 2020, https://lefaso.net/spip.php?article96172)

Burkina Faso has rapidly turned into an “unprecedented humanitarian emergency” as conflicts in the Sahel region have displaced hundreds of thousands of people in the past two years, according to MSF. As the Covid-19 pandemic takes hold in the country, UNHCR has expressed alarm over “the growing insecurity in Burkina Faso, where violence is forcing thousands of people to flee their homes every day.’’

On 3 May, there were 652 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Burkina Faso, making it the most affected of the West African Sahel country. Authorities declared a state of sanitary emergency on 27 March, closed its borders, and announced a quarantine in eight cities. A week before, on 19 March, the Ministry of Justice suspended most visits in prisons, allowing only lawyers to visit clients if they respected sanitary measures.

On 3 April, the president announced the release of 1,207 detainees based on their age, state of health, amount of time served. At that time, 7,621 people were imprisoned in the country and the occupancy level in prisons, based on official capacity, was at approximately 190 percent. In 2019, the UN Committee against Torture expressed concern ‘’about conditions of detention, impunity, impacts of counterterrorism measures on human rights, and actions by members of self-defence militias (Koglweogo) who are reportedly carrying out illegal arrests, detention, murder and acts of torture.’’

On 10 April, the ICRC distributed medical equipment to the country. Soap, antiseptic gel and thermometers, amongst other things, were then re-distributed by the government to prison facilities.

In the Goudoubo refugee camp, located in the northeast, attacks from armed groups forced refugees to flee in early April. A UNHCR spokesperson reported that “Some took refuge in the overcrowded sites initially reserved for the internally displaced.’’


05 May 2020

China

A Group of Men Standing in Front of Closed Shops in Guangzhou, (D. Vincent,
A Group of Men Standing in Front of Closed Shops in Guangzhou, (D. Vincent, "Africans in China: We Face Coronavirus Discrimination," BBC, 17 April 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-52309414)

On 11 January 2020, Chinese state media reported the first known death from COVID-19. On 23 January, in the middle of the Lunar New Year holiday and almost overnight, China instituted an internal travel lockdown on people in Wuhan and other cities in Hubei in an effort to contain the domestic spread of the virus. Many other cities, districts, and counties in other provinces followed suit in restricting entry and exit of persons. On 26 March, China announced that it would temporarily suspend entry by foreign nationals holding visas or residence permits. The lockdown on Wuhan was partially lifted on 8 April, with residents being able to leave the city; however, residents have still been urged to avoid unnecessary travel. Restrictions in other cities across China have also eased, as the number of deaths reported by state media have slowly decreased.

Little is known about immigration detention in China. Article 60 of the country’s 2012 Exit and Entry Law provides that persons suspected of violating regulations on exit/entry administration can be detained for investigation. Article 63 of the same law states: “Persons who are detained for investigation or who are to be repatriated upon decision but cannot be repatriated promptly shall be held in custody in detention houses or places of repatriation.”

It is unclear about whether there have been any changes to immigration detention policy in China in light of Covid-19. According to the Shanghai municipal government’s social media, officers working in Shanghai Minhang District Detention Center have been required to remain at their work stations for 30 days, in order to avoid infecting their families and friends. A report from Chutian Metropolis Daily similarly notes that one officer had been stationed and was working at a detention centre in Wuhan continuously for 50 days (starting on 6 February), before dying of illness on 8 April. It appears that legal proceedings in different detention centres are taking place by video call rather than with a full court. In certain detention centres, lawyers have been able to meet their clients within the centres.

On 7 April, Chinese state media reported that five Nigerian nationals in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, had tested positive for Covid-19, and that four of them had frequently visited a local restaurant, subsequently infecting the owner and her eight-year-old daughter, and transmitting the virus to a three year-old boy in Jieyang, another city in Guangdong Province. The state media report sought to dispel rumours that African nationals in Yuexiu District in Guangzhou (a district known for a high number of African migrants) had been subject to a lockdown, with the local Centre for Disease Control claiming that people wearing masks could enter and exit pending temperature checks. Nonetheless, the report noted that the cause of the rumours was likely from “growing concerns over mounting pressure from imported cases on the southern Chinese city [Guangzhou], where 111 imported infections have been reported so far. Among them, 25 are foreign nationals, with nine from Nigeria, three from Angola, two from Democratic Republic of the Congo and two from Niger. One each from France, Brazil, UK, Australia, Ethiopia, Syria, Burkina Faso, Madagascar and Russia has also been reported.”

The Guangzhou health department subsequently announced that it would begin widespread testing of African nationals. It was later reported that the department had tested every African national in the city and found that 111 of the more than 4,500 Africans in Guangzhou tested positive. The local government also established a hotline for "foreigners who experience discrimination".

Reports began to surface of Black African migrants in Guangzhou being subject to racist attacks, including being evicted from apartments and refused entry into hotels and restaurants. Many African students were forcibly quarantined on their university campuses, with little to no material support or access to food. Some Africans have criticised the local government’s policy of quarantining African people who have tested negative for the virus for 14 days for being discriminatory.

Observers underscore the broader context of xenophobic attitudes towards African migrants in China, pointing to the widespread portrayal of African migrants as ‘illegal immigrants’, ‘drug dealers’, ‘rapists’, and ‘spreaders of AIDS’. In 2011 (prior to the statewide 2012 Exit and Entry Law), Guangdong Province implemented the Interim Provisions of Guangdong Province on Administration of and Services to Aliens. These provisions empowered Chinese citizens to report on people suspected to be illegal migrants, expanded the authority of the local police alongside the foreign affairs police to stop foreigners and verify their passports, and also introduced new powers on the part of city or county Public Security Bureaus to “restrict aliens or foreign institutions from establishing residences or offices in certain areas”, namely ‘areas adjacent to Party and government buildings or military restricted zones’. In effect, this Act became a tool of spatialized and racialized control over Black African migrants. Many provisions of this Act were, as argued by Lan (2014), integrated into the statewide 2012 Exit and Entry Law.

On the ground, grassroots community groups comprising of local residents, students, and scholars, have mobilized to provide material support to African communities. The issue of the treatment of Black African nationals in Guangzhou has become an issue of geopolitical tension between China and different African countries.

There is also growing concern regarding the effect of COVID-19 on Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minority groups detained in detention centres and camps in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. As of 28 February, the Chinese government had confirmed at least 76 cases of coronavirus and two deaths in the region, albeit international human rights organizations, activists, and journalists have noted that the actual number may be much higher. This is particularly concerning given reports of overcrowding, malnutrition, lack of sufficient medical facilities, and other human rights abuses in these so-called ‘voluntary vocational training centres’, though the communication blackout and widespread censorship makes it difficult to ascertain the exact conditions within them. Uyghur Muslims in the diaspora have taken to social media to raise concerns about the risks in detention centres, calling on the WHO to send a delegation to the region to evaluate the spread of the virus; the international community to pressure the Chinese government to release all detained persons; and for medical supplies and other humanitarian support to be sent to the region. In response, the Chinese government has denied that COVID-19 will pose a serious threat to minority groups.


05 May 2020

Tunisia

Tunisian civil society organisations have called on authorities to clarify the legal basis for detainees’ continued detention (FTDES, 29 April 2020).
Tunisian civil society organisations have called on authorities to clarify the legal basis for detainees’ continued detention (FTDES, 29 April 2020).

Following reports of protests and hunger strikes in El Ouardia Detention Centre by detainees demanding their release (see 18 April update), Tunisian civil society organisations have called on authorities to clarify the legal basis for detainees’ continued detention. According to the NGOs, migrants and asylum seekers continue to be arrested and detained in Tunisia, despite the health risks associated with detention.

“All detainees are foreign nationals and are unaware of the legal basis for their detention,” the statement said. The lack of information regarding detainees’ legal situation has, the NGOs added, prompted concerns that persons are being detained arbitrarily, contrary to the Tunisian constitution. “The situation is all the more important for detainees in this period of health crisis caused by the spread of Covid-19. The health risk is indeed greater in detention centres where barriers and social distancing cannot be observed as easily as outside. This risk could increase with the arrival of new detainees, hence the urgency of clarifying the legal status of this centre and of the people deprived of their liberty.”


05 May 2020

Iran

Many Afghan migrants in search of work cross the border to Iran from Herat province (BBC, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-52523048?CMP=share_btn_me)
Many Afghan migrants in search of work cross the border to Iran from Herat province (BBC, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-52523048?CMP=share_btn_me)

On 1 May, reports emerged detailing Iranian border guards beating, torturing, and forcing a group of Afghan migrants into the Harirud River in an attempt to prevent them from entering the country from Afghanistan’s Herat Province. According to one migrant who witnessed the incident, Iranian guards “warned us that if we do not throw ourselves into the water, we will be shot.”

As of 3 May, at least seven Afghans are believed to have drowned, and more than 30 remain missing. Doctors at Herat District Hospital stated that they had received several bodies - four of whom reportedly displayed clear signs of death by drowning. In a statement released the following day, Afghanistan’s Foreign Ministry announced that an inquiry had been launched, however the Iranian consulate in Herat denied all allegations.

It is estimated that between 1.5 and 3 million Afghans live and work in Iran - many as wage labourers on construction projects. Following the outbreak of Covid-19, which hit Iran particularly acutely, large numbers returned to Afghanistan. With Iran starting to ease its restrictions, some have sought to return in search of employment.


04 May 2020

Maldives

Migrant Workers in Their Room in the Maldives, (Transparency Maldives, “Police Place Six Expatriate Accommodation Blocks Under Surveillance,” A. Shareef, The Edition, 23 April 2020, https://edition.mv/news/16336)
Migrant Workers in Their Room in the Maldives, (Transparency Maldives, “Police Place Six Expatriate Accommodation Blocks Under Surveillance,” A. Shareef, The Edition, 23 April 2020, https://edition.mv/news/16336)

The Maldives has more than 100,000 migrant workers—comprising almost 25 percent of the islands’ total population. A large number of these migrants are from Bangladesh, and many are undocumented. With numbers of migrants increasing in recent years, authorities have increasingly cracked down on irregular migration, opening a new dedicated detention centre in Hulhamale (outside Malé) in May 2019.

Although employers are legally obligated to provide health insurance, coverage is often minimal and employers are reported to regularly confiscate workers’ papers – making accessing care difficult. On 11 March, the government announced the opening of a dedicated Covid-19 clinic specifically for migrant workers in a preschool near Malé. According to the government’s Covid-19 spokesperson, migrants using the service are not required to show work permits or other forms of documentation.

With increasing numbers of migrants testing positive for Covid-19, living conditions have come under increased scrutiny. On 6 April, authorities announced plans to relocate some 1,500 migrant workers living in areas deemed as too congested. According to the Minister of Economic Development, in some areas more than 25, 30, or even 50 migrants share rooms. Reportedly, the state plans to temporarily move the individuals to housing units in Hulhumale and residences in Gulhifalhu, Kaafu Atol. On 27 April, the country’s Minister of Tourism stated, "Expatriates are also people who provide a service to Maldives, just as Maldivians do. Even under these circumstances, protecting and respecting humanity is the biggest priority for the state. Unless safety can be provided for everyone, neither Maldivians nor foreigners will be able to emerge from this pandemic.”

At the same time, six overcrowded accommodation blocks were placed under quarantine. With police surveillance in place, migrants have been prevented from entering or exiting. Simultaneously, authorities appear to have deported some undocumented Bangladeshi migrants. On 21 April, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that 68 persons had been returned to Bangladesh.

As of 30 April, more Bangladeshi migrants had tested positive for Covid-19 than Maldivian nationals.


04 May 2020

Japan

Police in Protective Gear Take a Suspect to the Prosecutor's Office in Osaka, (Kyodo,
Police in Protective Gear Take a Suspect to the Prosecutor's Office in Osaka, (Kyodo, "Spread of COVID-19 in Japanese Prisons Spurs Calls for Releases," The Japan Times, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/04/21/national/crime-legal/covid-19-japanese-prisons/)

There have been many cases of COVID-19 infections in the country’s prisons, albeit none reported in immigration detention facilities (as of 27 April 2020). According to a report in The Japan Times, all new detainees are placed under quarantine to prevent new transmissions.

At least 20 people from the Higashi-Nihon Immigration Center in Ushiku, Ibaraki Prefecture have been granted temporary release from detention. On 15 April, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations issued a statement calling on the government to grant detainees special or temporary permission to reside in Japan. On 17 April, an official from the Immigration Services Agency said: “The practice of releasing detainees for health reasons isn’t new, but we are offering more flexibility due to the coronavirus threat.”

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations has previously criticised conditions at detention facilities, noting the lack of windows and the issue of overcrowding, which increases the risk of transmission. The Japan Association for Refugees has previously raised concerns regarding inadequate medical facilities within detention facilities which may, in the case of an outbreak, violate detainees’ rights to health.

A journalist from the newspaper Mainichi Shimbun visited the detention facility of the Tokyo Immigration Bureau on 1 and 2 April 2020.The journalist noted that staff members at reception were using protective visors, gloves, and masks, and visitors were checked for their temperatures; however, when asked about conditions within the facility, one detainee said: “Compared to the workers, we do not have any such protective equipment. In our living quarters, I have not seen any sanitizer. I don’t know why. I have already told staff members that I want our communal telephones to be disinfected; but I don’t know whether they are doing this.” Another detainee told the journalist: “There are only 30cm between me and the next person.”

On 27 April 2020, it was reported that 28 detainees (predominantly male, from 17 different countries) held in the Higashi-Nihon Immigration Center had issued demands to the detention centre, including requesting for more people to be temporarily released in order to combat the risk of transmission.

Amnesty International Japan has launched a petition requesting the Minister of Justice to end the practice of re-detention of protesting detainees after a short-term release; ensure the principle of non-refoulement is respected in any circumstance; and incorporate an upper limit on the duration of immigration detention for only shortest period necessary to implement deportation orders. It has been signed by over 7400 people (as of 30 April 2020).


03 May 2020

Malaysia

Still from video of migrant raids in Kuala Lumpur, 1 May 2020, Youtube, https://youtu.be/tGxGcPp-kfM
Still from video of migrant raids in Kuala Lumpur, 1 May 2020, Youtube, https://youtu.be/tGxGcPp-kfM

Refugees and undocumented migrant workers in Malaysia are being targeted as part of a purported anti-Covid-19 campaign, which has included mass arrests and raids across the country since the start of May. According to Al Jazeera, “There has been growing public anger in recent days over the presence of migrant foreigners, with some in Malaysia accusing them of spreading the coronavirus and being a burden on government resources.”

Malaysia has approximately two million registered foreign workers, however thousands more live and work in the country without proper documents. This is in part due to the fact that Malaysia does not recognise refugees and considers them to be undocumented migrants. The country is also notorious for terrible conditions in its immigration detention centres as well as its brutal penalties, including caning, for being in the country without authorisation. The Global Detention Project has documented some two dozen detention centres in the country, which are called “immigration depots.”

Rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN), reported that hundreds of migrants were taken into custody during May Day raids, including children. "Malaysian government does a U-turn on its earlier pledge not to arrest and detain undocumented migrants. Children as young as one year old have also been detained," Lilianne Fan, chairman of the Rohingya Working Group at APRRN, said in a statement. The group posted a video on Twitter reportedly showing long lines of migrants being led through the streets of Kuala Lumpur after a raid.

According to the BBC, “The raids took place in a part of the capital known to house foreigners. The UN has urged the Malaysian authorities to release children and vulnerable individuals from the detention camps where migrants are held. Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch tweeted that the detentions risked worsening the pandemic in Malaysia, both in terms of potential outbreaks inside the camps but also by making undocumented people less likely to co-operate.”

According to The Guardian, “Those detained included young children and ethnic Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Social media posts, including some by Malaysian politicians, have recently blamed Rohingya of committing crimes and accused them of dominating areas of the capital. The xenophobic campaigns have included activists having their names and photos circulated alongside inflammatory accusations, and have injected further fear into a community struggling for food and shelter through the pandemic lockdown. Police said the operation was aimed at preventing undocumented migrants from travelling to other areas amid movement curbs imposed to contain the spread of the virus outbreak, the state news agency Bernama reported.”

The day before the May Day raids, Home Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin said that “Rohingya nationals who are holders of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) card have no status, rights or basis to make any claims on the government.” According to a report in The Star, the Home Minister also said that anyone claiming to represent Rohingya in Malaysia would be considered illegal under the Registrar of Societies Act (RoS). He said, “The Home Ministry has made checks with the RoS and found no organisations under the name 'Rohingya' are registered in Malaysia. Any organisation that claims to represent the Rohingya ethnic group is illegal under the RoS Act, and legal action can be taken.”


02 May 2020

United States

During the week of 27 April 2020, two ICE guards in a Louisiana detention centre died after contracting Covid-19. Relatives reported that they believed both men had contracted the virus while working at Richwood Correctional Centre in Monroe. In addition, reports indicate that although 45 detainees had tested positive for the virus, guards were allegedly barred from wearing masks. Across the United States, 449 detainees and 36 guards had contracted the virus by the end of April, according to data released by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement website.

ICE has not yet recorded any deaths in its facilities. Of the 30,000 people detained across their facilities however, only 1,000 have been tested for Covid-19. Associated Press reported that ICE will be receiving 2,000 tests a month from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to ramp up its testing.

Advocates are concerned that with hunger strikes emerging in some facilities and detainees with health conditions still being held, “it may only be a matter of time before detainees add to the pandemic’s rising national death toll.”

The pandemic has also struck the U.S. prison system. In Marion prison in Ohio, more than 1,800 prisoners and 109 prison staff tested positive for Covid on. In a California prison, a prisoner died.

Meanwhile, news reports have revealed how officials in the White House have capitalized on the crisis to implement a long-sought wish list of extreme anti-immigration measures, misleadingly arguing, as one administration official was quoted in the New York Times as saying: “This is not about immigration. What’s transpiring right now is purely about infectious disease and public health.”

A key official behind this effort has been Stephen Miller, an adviser to President Donald Trump. Reports the New York Times: "From the early days of the Trump administration, Stephen Miller, the president’s chief adviser on immigration, has repeatedly tried to use an obscure law designed to protect the nation from diseases overseas as a way to tighten the borders. The question was, which disease? Mr. Miller pushed for invoking the president’s broad public health powers in 2019, when an outbreak of mumps spread through immigration detention facilities in six states. He tried again that year when Border Patrol stations were hit with the flu. When vast caravans of migrants surged toward the border in 2018, Mr. Miller looked for evidence that they carried illnesses. He asked for updates on American communities that received migrants to see if new disease was spreading there. In 2018, dozens of migrants became seriously ill in federal custody, and two under the age of 10 died within three weeks of each other. While many viewed the incidents as resulting from negligence on the part of the border authorities, Mr. Miller instead argued that they supported his argument that President Trump should use his public health powers to justify sealing the borders. On some occasions, Mr. Miller and the president, who also embraced these ideas, were talked down by cabinet secretaries and lawyers who argued that the public health situation at the time did not provide sufficient legal basis for such a proclamation. That changed with the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic.

"Within days of the confirmation of the first case in the United States, the White House shut American land borders to nonessential travel, closing the door to almost all migrants, including children and teenagers who arrived at the border with no parent or other adult guardian. Other international travel restrictions were introduced, as well as a pause on green card processing at American consular offices, which Mr. Miller told conservative allies in a recent private phone call was only the first step in a broader plan to restrict legal immigration. But what has been billed by the White House as an urgent response to the coronavirus pandemic was in large part repurposed from old draft executive orders and policy discussions that have taken place repeatedly since Mr. Trump took office and have now gained new legitimacy, three former officials who were involved in the earlier deliberations said. One official said the ideas about invoking public health and other emergency powers had been on a “wish list” of about 50 ideas to curtail immigration that Mr. Miller crafted within the first six months of the administration."


02 May 2020

El Salvador

Prisoners Handcuffed and Stacked Together as Punishment for Spate of Violence Within Prisons, (Jose Cabezas, Reuters,
Prisoners Handcuffed and Stacked Together as Punishment for Spate of Violence Within Prisons, (Jose Cabezas, Reuters, "Harrowing Photos Show Prisoners Stacked Together as Punishment for a Spate of Violence in El Salvador," Insider, 30 April 2020, https://www.insider.com/harrowing-photos-show-prisoners-stacked-together-in-el-salvador-2020-4)

In early March, El Salvador introduced a strict quarantine lock-down, despite authorities announcing that there were no confirmed cases of Covid-19. The country’s measures—which have included the use of the armed forces and national police to enforce quarantine, and the detention of people in forced confinement for breaching the lock-down—have prompted concerns that President Bukele is utilising the pandemic to consolidate his power. On 30 April, a network of NGOs including Amnesty International published an open letter to the President, expressing concern regarding the government’s actions. “The authorities have detained thousands of people and taken them to holding centres that often lack measures to ensure a minimum level of sanitation and physical separation. With this strategy, the government only increases the risk of contagion instead of protecting people from the virus.”

Particular concerns have arisen regarding conditions in the country’s penitentiary establishments, which are notorious for their degrading and inhumane conditions. Following reports of a spate of homicides across the country on 24 April, authorities initiated collective punishment by locking down prisons. President Bukele tweeted that gang members would be isolated, inmates would be denied all contact with the outside world, and activities would be suspended until further notice. Images shared online depict prisoners stripped and stacked together while the police searched their cells. Only some are seen as wearing facemasks, and no efforts to follow social-distancing measures are in place. Reportedly, the emergency declaration in detention facilities would be extended indefinitely.

Amidst news of Mexico emptying its detention centres and returning detainees to countries of origin, El Salvador’s Ministry of Foreign Relations confirmed that 41 Salvadorian migrants had been returned on 23 April. The capital’s airport reportedly remains open to receive flights with deportees who, upon arrival, are transferred to one of the nine quarantine facilities setup in San Salvador.


01 May 2020

Canada

A corrections staff members walks past one of the shower rooms at the Baffin Correctional Centre in Iqaluit. Sanitation is an ongoing challenge in prisons and during the pandemic, social distancing may create even more difficulties. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson) https://theconversation.com/why-some-canadian-prisoners-should-be-released-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic-133661
A corrections staff members walks past one of the shower rooms at the Baffin Correctional Centre in Iqaluit. Sanitation is an ongoing challenge in prisons and during the pandemic, social distancing may create even more difficulties. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson) https://theconversation.com/why-some-canadian-prisoners-should-be-released-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic-133661

On 23 April, there were 193 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in federal penitentiaries in Canada, according to a report from the Office of the Correctional Investigator. Around 400 detainees were placed in medical isolation. Measures announced by the Correctional Service on 31 March included, among other things, the suspension of all visits and the closing of shared areas such as gyms and libraries. The Office of the Correctional Investigator prohibited the distribution of hand sanitiser, based on its high alcohol content. Restrictions were implemented in 38 non-affected institutions, where the average out-of-cell time ranges from two to four hours a day. In institutions experiencing Covid-19 outbreaks, infected inmates have 20 minutes out of their cells each day, and cannot access the yard. Dr. Ivan Zinger, Correctional Investigator of Canada, said that ‘’these conditions obviously violate universal human rights standards.’’

The report of the Correctional Investigator focuses solely on federal penitentiaries; immigration detainees in Canada are held in provincial prisons, in addition to Immigration Holding Centres. In a note to the Global Detention Project, the Executive Director of the Office of the Correctional Investigator said that to get information about the treatment of immigration detainees in provincial prisons, it is necessary to request the information from “relevant provincial correctional authorities and/or from the provincial ombudsmen.”

An immigration lawyer in Canada told the GDP that “once immigration detainees are transferred to provincial jails, they come under the jurisdiction of the jails and are generally treated like other inmates in those facilities.’’ She said, “There is no publicly available information that would suggest special measures have been instituted for immigration detainees held in provincial jails, and authorities have continued to rely on alternatives to detention to release detainees on a case-by-case basis in individualized detention review hearings.” She added: “Generally, most immigration detainees are held in dedicated Immigration Holding Centres (which resemble medium-security facilities), but now a majority are being held in maximum-security provincial jails. … This is particularly problematic because detainees in jails are subjected to far more stringent restrictions on liberty and now face a heightened risk of infection. Furthermore, the tribunal conducting detention review hearings does not have jurisdiction over site or conditions of detention, so detainees cannot challenge violations of these vital residual liberty rights in their hearings.

While there has been an increase in the number of releases from immigration detention since the beginning of the pandemic, there does not appear to be a general policy regarding these releases, with each case still undergoing the standard individual procedure. One condition that must be met for a person to be released is to have an address. This, in some cases, means that asylum seekers can be kept in detention after their release order until they can prove that they have an address, or access a shelter, which are often full.

Another source in Canada, a refugee social worker, told the GDP that “anecdotal reports from detainees who are held in correctional facilities say that they can't practice appropriate social distancing and are concerned about their safety in detention.” She added that “immigration authorities are working with counsel on finding alternatives to detention but that there are no services being provided to detainees upon release.”

According to a report by Global News (25 April), “The number of immigration detainees held in provincial jails and immigration holding centres across Canada has dropped by more than half since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, according to data provided to the news agency. And recent decisions from the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB), the administrative tribunal that presides over immigration refugee matters, show how fears over Covid-19 are playing a significant role in some rulings to release immigration detainees. On March 17, there were 353 immigration detainees held in provincial jails and immigration holding centres across Canada, according to data from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). By 19 April, that number dropped by more than half to 147 detainees, 117 of whom were being held in provincial jails. The remaining 30 were held in one of Canada’s three immigration holding centres located in Toronto, Laval, Que., and Surrey, B.C.”

The Ligue des Droits et Libertés (LDL) has called for more transparency from the Quebec government regarding the situation in provincial prisons. The LDL says that it has received complaints from detainees who claim that sanitary measures are effectively non-existent. In the Women's Federal Penitentiary in Joliette, 61 percent of the detainees and guards tested positive for Covid-19.

Temporary Resident Visas are not being automatically extended during the Covid-19 crisis, and the renewal of these documents is impossible in many cases. Indeed, at Service Canada offices, biometric collection services have been suspended until further notice. Without this temporary resident status, it is impossible to access social security and medical coverage in Quebec province.

Statistics regarding Covid-19 cases in Canadian prisons can be found here: https://www.csc-scc.gc.ca/001/006/001006-1014-en.shtml


30 April 2020

Sweden

Gävle Detention Centre, (“Migrationsverket anmäler två anställda i Gävle,” SVT, 23 June 2014,  https://www.svt.se/nyheter/lokalt/dalarna/migrationsverket-i-gavle-anmaler-tva-anstallda)
Gävle Detention Centre, (“Migrationsverket anmäler två anställda i Gävle,” SVT, 23 June 2014, https://www.svt.se/nyheter/lokalt/dalarna/migrationsverket-i-gavle-anmaler-tva-anstallda)

Sweden’s response to Covid-19 has been different to the approach taken by many neighbouring European countries. It has not imposed quarantine on its population, but rather called on its citizens to “take responsibility” and follow the recommendations of health authorities. To date, Sweden has recorded more than 21,000 cases of Covid-19 and 2,586 deaths related to the virus.

Sweden places on average some 3,000 people in immigration detention every year in its five dedicated immigration detention centres, which have a total capacity of around 519. This has now been reduced to around 300 to avoid overcrowding and according to the Swedish Network of Refugee Support Groups (FARR), a certain number of detainees have been released as there are no tenable legal grounds to detain them when expulsion is not possible in the near future. Decisions to release are made on individual grounds by both the Migration Agency and the police and released asylum seekers are required to report two to three times a week to the police. However, detainees have been released without any provision of support. They are not provided with housing or a daily allowance and so they are wholly dependent on the generosity of their networks to survive. In addition, they are denied normal access to health care as they have been expelled from the benefits that asylum seekers have. However, in respect of contagious such as Covid-19, asylum seekers will be provided with the necessary care free of charge. For other health conditions, a visit to a doctor can cost up to 1000 SEK (around $US 100) and any medicines prescribed will not be sold at subsidised prices.

FARR has reported that one of the detainees they have contact with has a serious heart condition and despite being in need of a life saving operation and in a poor mental and physical condition, the person is still held in a detention centre. FARR also reported that a few weeks ago, a detainee held in the same centre died. He had been offered the possibility to leave the detention centre, but as he had nowhere to go, he chose to remain in the centre. As his condition deteriorated, he was moved from the detention centre and died while in care.

NGOs in Sweden, including FARR, have called for the release of immigration detainees, but so far there has not been any general measure taken to prevent persons from being placed in detention. The Migration Agency and the Border Police have stated that they are still planning to deport/remove persons from Sweden. However, the Afghan Ministry for Refugees wrote a letter on 18 March 2020 to European countries requesting them to halt all deportations to Afghanistan due to the Covid-19 threat. Swedish authorities have not yet released an official response.

A FARR-associated group that visits detention centres reported that they regularly received alarming reports of the conditions inside the detention centre and the detainees’ fears of contracting the virus. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the Migration Agency has suspended access to detention centres including for NGO visiting groups and alternative solutions are being implemented, such as using video contact with detainees. Normally, the visiting groups will have access to telephone interpreters, however, according to FARR, the Swedish Migration Board will not provide an interpreter for video calls thus making it difficult to communicate with many detainees.

The Migration Agency produced its own guidelines for measures to be taken in view of the pandemic. However, according to reports received by FARR, some of the measures mentioned are not being followed. As a consequence, FARR lodged a formal complaint with the Swedish Parliamentary Ombudsman (JO) suggesting they carry out an inspection. This has however not been possible to arrange due to the pandemic but the JO has already planned to inspect detention centres this year and it is hoped that the inspection will be carried out further along the year. It is important to note that while the JO does not have legal power to make authorities comply with their recommendations, they do have a certain level of influence.

A project has been launched in Uppsala where people can access information on Covid-19 in 15 languages through Whatsapp groups set up by the Cooperative Organisation for Immigrant Unions in Uppsala. The project focuses on newly arrived immigrants as well as those who lack sufficient knowledge in the Swedish language.

The Swedish Refugee Law Centre has also published an online page providing information for undocumented asylum seekers. The online resource covers information regarding access to health care for undocumented people and delaying appointments at the Swedish Migration Agency for those who are ill or have Covid-19 symptoms.

As regards the country’s prisons, on 24 March 2020, visits and day releases were suspended. The Swedish prison authority also advised that they would pay for phone calls to family members of detainees. In addition, no new prisoners will be admitted into the country’s prisons, even if persons have been sentenced to prison terms.


30 April 2020

Netherlands

Asylum Seekers in the Ter Apel Centre, (ANP,
Asylum Seekers in the Ter Apel Centre, (ANP, "Asielzoekers wachten buiten op stoep, aanmeldcentrum dicht vanwege corona," AD, 16 March 2020, https://www.ad.nl/binnenland/asielzoekers-wachten-buiten-op-stoep-aanmeldcentrum-dicht-vanwege-corona~acea4f0d/?referrer=https://www.google.com/)

Global Detention Project Survey completed by Laura Cleton, University of Antwerp

HAS THE NETHERLANDS PLACED A TEMPORARY MORATORIUM ON NEW IMMIGRATION DETENTION ORDERS BECAUSE OF THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC?

NO. Some categories of undocumented migrants, especially those with criminal records, can still be placed in immigration detention if apprehended by the police. The Minister for Migration mentioned explicitly that she does not intend to end detention as a whole. Several members of Parliament asked her about this, following statements from the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Council of Europe. She does mention that there are always individual assessments, and that this has led to a “drop” in the number of detainees: 310 on April 2, whereas 460 on January 31 (Kamerstukken II 2019-2020, 19637 no. 2601).

HAS THE COUNTRY RELEASED PEOPLE FROM IMMIGRATION DETENTION BECAUSE OF THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC?

YES. The government argues that, since there is a “temporary impediment” on expulsion (no flights, mostly), that does not necessarily mean that the chance of removal within a reasonable period of time is not there. Based on an individual assessments, the responsible organizations will decide if continuation of detention is still justified. While doing this, they take into account that most expulsions cannot take place at the moment, but also take into account “societal interests” in continuing detention. So, for detainees with criminal records, those in migrant detention as result of a prison sentence, or those causing “nuisance” (the debate in the Netherlands on “nuisance” has been heavily racialized for rejected-asylum seekers from Northern-African “safe countries”) detention will be prolonged, and new detentions for these categories are also possible. Moreover, detainees who do not yet possess valid travel/ID documentation will face prolongation of their detention in most cases, whereas this is the case to a lesser degree for those with valid travel documents: as actually enforcing return in the former situation is not yet at hand, their prolonged detention is in most cases justified. Also, for the former case, the DT&V can still continue investigations on nationality and identity, and hence is prolonged detention mostly justified (Kamerstukken II 2019-2020, 19637 no. 2601).

Several news outlets in the Netherlands have reported that detainees have been released. On 30 March, NOS mentioned that at least 10 Dublin cases were released, and consequently directed to the temporary emergency shelter in Zoutkamp (see Q6 below for more details).

On 23 April, the Court in The Hague, considering the case of a detainee from Poland, said that there was still a chance of removal within a reasonable period of time, even though there are currently no travel opportunities to Poland. Reasons brought forward were amongst others the “temporary nature” of the impediment for travel (possibilities of travel to Poland again in May), the fact that the detainee has resisted a previous deportation attempt, and his declarations on non-cooperation. In an earlier decision (25 March), where the only fact preventing deportation was the closure of the airspace, The Hague Court decided that detention should be lifted. In this case, the detainee has been in detention for a long time and there was no sight on flight available on the short term.

WHAT MEASURES ARE BEING TAKEN OUTSIDE DETENTION TO HELP PREVENT FORMER DETAINEES FROM BEING INFECTED? ARE “ALTERNATIVES TO DETENTION” EMPLOYED?

In case people are released from detention, there is no automatic right to reception, nor is there in all cases an “alternative to detention” (like a reporting requirement) in place, if regular policy does not allow for this (Kamerstukken II 2019-2020, 19637 no. 2601). The Minister for Migration mentions that alternatives to detention (like reporting requirements) are standard procedure in the Netherlands, as detention is only used if all other possibilities are deemed insufficient (e.g. because of a risk of absconding). The current corona situation does not, according to the Minister for Migration, change that policy principle (Kamerstukken II 2019-2020, 19637 no. 2601).

There is no current strategy for irregular migrants outside reception facilities to prevent themselves from being infected. Migrants in municipal LVV-shelter (pilot project in five large municipalities in the Netherlands, temporary shelter for undocumented migrants) follow guidelines from the national health organization that are in place for the shelter of homeless Dutch citizens. No further additional measures are taken (Kamerstukken II 2019-2020, 19637 no. 2601).

ARE IMMIGRATION DETAINEES BEING TESTED FOR COVID-19?

In regular COA (Council for Reception of Asylum Seekers) reception facilities (for asylum seekers and those whose right to reception was about to terminate at the beginning of the pandemic), there were 5 persons with positive covid-19 test results as of 7 April. If there is any suspicion of an asylum seeker being infected with the virus, they are subject to a protocol that COA has set up together with national and local health services. The person is then quarantined in special places that each COA location has set up, which depend from facility to facility. If necessary, the person will be transferred to the hospital. Asylum seekers are not tested for Covid-19 in general, due to the limited testing capacity in the Netherlands, and “no indications for a heightened risk of infection” (direct quote). There is a medical control by the local health organization in the pre-registration process (see Q6), and if then there is a suspicion of a covid-19 contamination or a positive test, they will be put in quarantine (Kamerstukken II 2019-2020, 19637 no. 2601).

The national health organization (RIVM) has not provided specific guidelines for detention centres, but the detention centres mostly follow guidelines that are in place for regular prisons. Most actions deal with limiting the size of groups that detainees have contact with. They daily program in terms of activities is limited from 07.15 to 16.00. They reside on floors with max. 32 others, although still with 2 persons in one bedroom. There is no possibility for visits (apart from lawyers), but they continue electronically. If it is suspected that a detainee is infected with the virus, they are isolated in another cell and receive medical treatment there. If symptoms worsen, they are transferred to a hospital. As of 7 April, there were no known situations according to the Minister for Migration (Kamerstukken II 2019-2020, 19637 no. 2601), although a national newspaper mentioned that same day that there were two cases reported at the Schiphol Detention Centre. On 25 April, an 8th case was confirmed at the Schiphol Detention Centre, and there have been reports of severe unrest and fear in the centre, as social distancing measures were almost impossible to uphold according to the detainees.

In the Netherlands in general, testing capacity is at the moment mainly reserved for vulnerable persons (elderly, patients at risk) and health staff in hospitals and nursing homes. There is not necessarily increased test capacity for prisons available (and hence, expectedly, also not for detention centres).

HAS THE COUNTRY HALTED DEPORTATIONS/REMOVALS BECAUSE OF THE PANDEMIC?

YES. In principle, the Repatriation and Departure Service (DT&V), the organization responsible for organizing expulsions from the Netherlands, does not engage in any face-to-face contact with migrants. The government argues that, as travel possibilities are severely limited, that the expected results of the return interviews DT&V caseworkers initiate will be limited, and cannot outweigh risk for public health (Kamerstukken II 2019-2020, 35300-VI no. 114).

Dublin transfers to other European member states are no longer possible, but as these migrants can only be held in detention for a limited amount of them, most of them are released from detention (see Q2) (Kamerstukken II 2019-2020, 19637 no. 2592). At the time of the decision to halt Dublin transfers, 70 Dublin cases where in detention. After being released, 50 of them they are directed to COA regular reception facilities, and later 10 to the temporary emergency shelter in Zoutkamp (see Q6). Another 10 do not have any right to reception (no reasons given). There is no current information available on deportations carried out, and the specific countries to which this is still done.

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

YES. As a response to the covid-19 situation, the Dutch government decided that there will be no new applications for asylum possible. They argue that, in light of the contact-intensive nature of asylum application procedures, it is no longer responsible to continue the procedure. Newly arriving asylum seekers will also not be admitted to the regular reception for asylum seekers, managed by COA. Alternatively, they are housed in a temporary emergency shelter, based in an old military base in Zoutkamp, in the North of the Netherlands (Kamerstukken II 2019-2020, 19637 no. 2592). On April 7, approx. 195 asylum seekers (among them 10 minors) resided in this temporary emergency shelter, mainly from Syria and Yemen. There is a maximum capacity for 210 persons, and hence, government is looking for a second location. There are rooms for 6 – 8 people. There is healthcare assistance available, but as of now no schooling for minors yet (Kamerstukken II 2019-2020, 19637 no. 2601).

Newly arriving asylum seekers are not identified and registered as normally would happen, and they are not able to start their application for protection. They are, however, registered in a “light” fashion, a pre-registration. They receive a “foreigner registration number,” their finger prints are taken and run through European databases (Dublin cases), their belongings are searched, they get a short intake and their ID/travel documentation if available are collected. Before the pre-registration takes place, a medical check is conducted, in which the general guidelines from the national health services are taken into account (Kamerstukken II 2019-2020, 35300-VI no. 114).

Asylum seekers who lose their right to residence, as a result of their period for “voluntary departure” ending, continue to have residence in COA locations (Kamerstukken II 2019-2020, 19637 no. 2601).

All other immigration applications are also temporarily suspended (family, work, study, etc.) (Kamerstukken II 2019-2020, 35300-VI no. 114).

Moreover, all hearings are suspended from 17 March onwards until further notice. This also covers judgements of assistant prosecutors on whether detention with the purpose of expulsion is justified (Kamerstukken II 2019-2020, 35300-VI no. 114). In urgent cases, there might be exceptions for this (without further specifying what such situations might be).


29 April 2020

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bunk Beds in a Large Tent at the Temporary Reception Centre in Lipa, (IOM,
Bunk Beds in a Large Tent at the Temporary Reception Centre in Lipa, (IOM, "Bosnia Shifts Vulnerable Migrants and Refugees to New Temporary Camp," D. Kovacevic, Balkan Insight, 21 April 2020, https://balkaninsight.com/2020/04/21/bosnia-shifts-vulnerable-migrants-and-refugees-to-new-temporary-camp/)

As public attitudes towards migrants and refugees reportedly deteriorate across Bosnia and Herzegovina, the country’s Security Minister suggested on 23 April that non-citizens should be deported from the country. Alleging that they pose too great an economic burden during the pandemic - as well as a security threat - the Minister said that he would submit a proposal to Parliament. "(Migrants) who do not want to show their identity cards will not be allowed any more to use our migrant and refugee camps," he said. "They will go straight to jail. And we will keep them there for one to five years until we can establish their identity. This is our proposal for a new law." Although the Minister did not state a date for when his proposal would be ready for debate, the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs has announced that it has already begun preparing a list of persons to be deported.

In addition to its dedicated immigration detention centre in Sarajevo, Bosnia’s reception centres, many of which are severely overcrowded, are operating as temporary detention sites as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to UNHCR, as of 28 April, “BiH authorities reported 36 new irregular arrivals (for the month) of asylum-seekers and migrants to the country, adding to the total for 2020 at 4,459.” This is a modest decrease compared to the same period in 2019 when, when authorities reported 5,288 arrivals. The agency reported that “The number of asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants accommodated in reception centers and other formal accommodation currently in the country is 6,266, while some 3,000 persons are estimated outside formal accommodation or on route. For the time being, no cases of COVID-19 have been identified affecting asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants.”

In addition to the asylum reception facilities, the country has worked with the IOM to open what it terms a “temporary reception facility” in the town of Lipa, called “Lipa Camp.” According to BalkanInsight (21 April): “Despite opposition from Bosnian Serbs, migrants and refugees who were living rough are being resettled to a temporary reception centre near the village of Lipa in the country’s north-west. The authorities in the Una-Sana Canton, in cooperation with the International Organization for Migration, moved a first group of about 120 migrants and refugees to the new reception centre in Lipa, not far from the town of Bihac, on Tuesday. In total, about 1,000 people who have been living on the streets of Bihac and nearby towns in the recent weeks because there is not enough space at existing reception centres will be relocated to the Lipa camp. In mid-March, the Bosnian authorities imposed restrictions on the movement of migrants and refugees and ordered them into temporary reception centres as a part of measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.”

During a webinar organized by the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights on 23 April, a Senior Regional Protection Officer at UNHCR raised concerns regarding reception sites in Bosnia, more than two-thirds of which are overcrowded. He underscored growing xenophobia in the region, stating that ‘’the number of problems that undocumented migrants and asylum seekers faced historically have increased with the coronavirus crisis.’’ While pointing out the closing of borders and other security-oriented measures, he called for the necessity to keep providing humanitarian assistance to asylum seekers and refugees.

UNHCR also reported in its 28 April update that “COVID-19 related restriction of movement for asylum-seekers and migrants in reception centres continued to be in force. Residents are unable to leave the centres unless exceptionally and with a special permit. Overcrowding in the largest reception centres makes isolation measures incl. physical distancing difficult to implement. Limited freedom of movement freedom creates situations of tension among residents incl. increased risk of gender-based violence.”


29 April 2020

Mexico

On 26 April, Mexico’s Secretaría de Gobernación, through the National Institute of Migration (INM), ordered the immediate release of migrants detained in the country’s immigration detention centres (estaciones/estancias migratorias) to avoid the spread of Covid-19. The announcement came nearly a week after the UN human rights commissioner (OHCHR) urged Mexico to temporarily suspend deportations and to establish mechanisms to protect migrants and ensure they are provided with support. Yet, on 26 April, the INM stated that it had returned 3,653 Central American migrants by land to Guatemala and by air to Honduras and El Salvador.

The INM also announced that during the month of March 2020, there were 3,759 migrants detained in the country’s 65 detention centres and “shelters,” (albergues) which have a total capacity of 8,524 spaces. As of 26 April 2020, 106 migrants were still held in the country’s detention facilities. Amnesty International and the United Nations have expressed their concerns for the lack of sanitary measures in Mexico’s detention centres. The INM has nonetheless informed that no Covid-19 cases had been registered in their facilities and that necessary measures to avoid contagion and to detect possible Covid-19 symptoms were in place.

Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Marcelo Ebrard, stated on 20 March that Mexico would receive migrants returned from the United States. It is estimated that around 1,250 migrants will be returned daily, with the majority being Mexican citizens and around 125 central americans. On 20 April, the state of Tamaulipas reported that a total of 16 migrants deported from the United States had tested positive for Covid-19. The same scenario took place in Guatemala on 19 April when 50 migrants deported from the United States were diagnosed with Covid-19 upon their arrival.


29 April 2020

Ireland

A Resident of the Skellig Star Direct Provision Centre in Cahersiveen Taking a Picture of the Front Window of the Hotel, (Alan Landers,
A Resident of the Skellig Star Direct Provision Centre in Cahersiveen Taking a Picture of the Front Window of the Hotel, (Alan Landers, "Special Report: How Accommodating Asylum Seekers Turned Into a Billion-Euro Industry," Irish Examiner, 27 April 2020, https://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/specialreports/special-report-how-accommodating-asylum-seekers-turned-into-a-billion-euro-industry-996215.html)

The Ombudsman’s Annual Report on Direct Provision asylum centres, published on 23 April, says that the Covid-19 crisis has underscored how “unsuitable and unsustainable” the physical constraints at these centres are, in particular because of the lack of overall space in the facilities and their lack of resources. The standards provide “a minimum space of 4.65m² for each resident per bedroom.” This represents “little more than the floor space taken up by a double bed and it includes any storage units a person might have.’’

On 23 April, the Department of Justice announced that people at these facilities who are suspected of having the virus are to be moved to a dedicated offsite self-isolation facility.

More than 100 asylum seekers were transferred to a new asylum reception site in Cahersiveen in late March. It was placed on lockdown shortly after when several residents tested positive for Covid-19. On 29 April, 21 cases of Covid-19 were reported at this Direct Provision centre, according to an asylum seeker staying there. Around 90 residents remain in the centre and some are sharing rooms as. A protest was organised by the asylum seekers outside the centre.

Local politicians have called on the Department of Justice to shut the centre down. Residents are concerned for their safety. Members of the local community have also called for the closure of the centre. Asylum seekers who test positive to Covid-19 are transferred to a new accommodation in Cork.

As part of the government’s measures to combat the coronavirus outbreak, any information gathered about undocumented migrants during the COVID-19 crisis remains secret. This “firewall” between the Department of Health and the Department of Justice and Equality allows migrants to access medical treatment without risking an enforcement action.

According to Niel Burton of Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, as of late April all residents in Ireland can receive a “Pandemic Payment” designed to support the population. However, he said that while this measure is necessary, it isn’t perfect in its application. Bruton, who spoked on the Webinar organized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on 23 April, stated that ‘’A lot of undocumented migrants are afraid to put down the employer’s details on the application, or do not have a bank account.’’

Interviews and hearings for international protection application have been suspended until further notice. Assisted voluntary returns are not being processed now, and deportation orders have been postponed. This delay concerns all persons subject of deportation, removal or transfer orders that are due for presentation in the coming four to six weeks.


28 April 2020

Morocco

Two Police Officers Riding Bikes in Front of Shut Stores, (J. Morchidi, Getty Images, Dr. M. Masbah, “Can Morocco Effectively Handle the Covid-19 Crisis?” Chatham House, 6 April 2020, https://www.chathamhouse.org/expert/comment/can-morocco-effectively-handle-covid-19-crisis-1#)
Two Police Officers Riding Bikes in Front of Shut Stores, (J. Morchidi, Getty Images, Dr. M. Masbah, “Can Morocco Effectively Handle the Covid-19 Crisis?” Chatham House, 6 April 2020, https://www.chathamhouse.org/expert/comment/can-morocco-effectively-handle-covid-19-crisis-1#)

As of 28 April 2020, Morocco has registered 4,120 Covid-19 cases and 162 deaths related to the disease. The country has adopted several measures to combat the pandemic including compulsory quarantine from 20 March, the grounding of all flights, school and university closures, and reducing public transportation. To address urgent medical needs and to mitigate the economic impact of the crisis, the country is creating an emergency fund, raising 32.7 billion Moroccan Dirhams ($US 3.2 billion).

People working in the informal sector, which includes a substantial population of migrants, have been particularly vulnerable during the crisis. The Ministry of Finance has announced that it will begin to make cash transfers to vulnerable citizens, especially those who have lost their jobs (as of 1 April, more than 700,000 workers have lost their jobs). However, two-thirds of the work-force are not covered by a pension plan, almost half of the working population does not benefit from medical coverage, and there is no social care system for many vulnerable groups, including undocumented laborers and asylum seekers.

A critical country on the western Mediterranean migration route, Morocco has long been the focus of European efforts to halt the movement of migrants and asylum seekers. However, Morocco’s immigration detention system has traditionally been composed of police stations and other informal sites, lacking a dedicated immigration detention estate. Thus, Covid-19 measures implemented in prisons and other criminal justice installations can have an important impact on the safety and health of migrants.

Prisoners in some locales appear to have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. For example, on 23 April 2020, all 309 prisoners at the Ouarzazate prison were tested for infection and 133 tested positive. These prisoners were reportedly isolated and placed in a different sections to others.

Previously, on 5 April 2020, Morocco’s king pardoned 5,654 prisoners and ordered their release in order to avoid the spread of Covid-19 within the country’s prisons. The Justice Ministry stated that detainees who would be freed were to be selected based on their age, health, good conduct, and length of detention.

According to UNHCR, it expects more than 12,000 people to register as asylum seekers in Morocco during 2020. In 2018, there were nearly 8,000 persons of concern in the country. More than 50 percent of refugees in the country are from Syria. While Moroccan law provides for protection and essential services for refugees, UNHCR reports that “gaps in accessing documentation and employment persist, as well as gaps in accessing secondary and tertiary health care, due to refugees’ exclusion from the medical insurance scheme available for impoverished nationals.”


27 April 2020

Bangladesh

A Boat Carrying Suspected Rohingya Refugees Off the Island of Langkawi in Malaysia, (Maritime Enforcement Agency Handout, EPA, R. Ratcliffe, “Bangladesh Urged to Open Ports to Allow Rohingya Refugee Boats,” The Guardian, 27 April 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/27/bangladesh-urged-to-open-ports-to-allow-in-rohingya-refugee-boats)
A Boat Carrying Suspected Rohingya Refugees Off the Island of Langkawi in Malaysia, (Maritime Enforcement Agency Handout, EPA, R. Ratcliffe, “Bangladesh Urged to Open Ports to Allow Rohingya Refugee Boats,” The Guardian, 27 April 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/27/bangladesh-urged-to-open-ports-to-allow-in-rohingya-refugee-boats)

More than 500 people - including children - have been stranded on two fishing trawlers in the Bay of Bengal, after Bangladesh refused to allow the refugees to come ashore. Last week, Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister announced that the boats would not be allowed to dock, adding that in light of the Covid-19 pandemic the country could not take responsibility for any new refugees. Urging Bangladesh to open its ports, the UN Commissioner for Human Rights decried the situation as a “human tragedy of terrible proportions.” Meanwhile, in a statement released on 25 April, Human Rights Watch said that “the pandemic cannot justify a blanket ban such as Bangladesh’s refusal to allow any Rohingya now or in the future to disembark. Forcing them to remain on the boat also risks their right to health.”

On 8 April, Bangladesh announced the lockdown of Cox’s Bazar, the country’s southern district where more than 855,000 Rohingya refugees live in overcrowded refugee camps. (Population density inside the camps is more than 40 times the average density elsewhere in Bangladesh.) The chief of the district’s administration stated that entry and exit from the region would be prohibited, and that stringent legal action would be taken against those violating the order. Police and soldiers reportedly set up roadblocks on main roads within the district, and conduct patrols inside and outside camps. With government bans on mobile phone and internet use in the camps still in place, many refugees continue to lack access to important public health messaging.


26 April 2020

Australia

Refugees Queue for Food in Brisbane, (Hakeem Kakar,
Refugees Queue for Food in Brisbane, (Hakeem Kakar, "This is not Self-Isolation: Manus Island Refugees Call for Release," RNZ, 31 March 2020, https://www.rnz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/412987/this-is-not-self-isolation-manus-island-refugees-call-for-release)

Despite growing calls from a broad range of actors - including civil society, medical professionals, infectious disease experts, Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner, and detainees themselves--the Australian government had still not taken steps to release vulnerable detainees as of late April. The government has acknowledged that those in correctional and detention settings are most at risk. However, immigration detention measures continue to be imposed even as some refugees previously detained on Manus Islands and Nauru are now detained in Australian hotels.

Protests are reportedly taking place almost daily in detention facilities. One Afghan refugee held in a Melbourne hotel was quoted as saying, “We should be free, we should be released in the community for self-isolation. This is not self-isolation. They are closing the clubs, the bars, the pubs, the gyms, everything … but what about here? We are like some kind of animals?”

On 22 April, a chronically ill refugee held in Australian immigration detention launched a case in the high court seeking his release into the community in a bid to protect him from the virus. Represented by lawyers from Australia’s Human Rights Law Centre, the individual is challenging his detention on the grounds that the Australian government is breaching its duty of care by failing to establish conditions that would allow him to comply with public health guidelines on social distancing. Reportedly, this is the first of “many” cases that may be brought forward.


25 April 2020

Norway

Plane Flying Over Trandum Detention Centre in Norway, (Stian Lysberg Solum, NTB Scanpix, “Internerte asylsøkere løslates på grunn av koronaventing,” 24 April 2020, https://www.dagsavisen.no/nyheter/innenriks/internerte-asylsokere-loslates-pa-grunn-av-koronaventing-1.1704826)
Plane Flying Over Trandum Detention Centre in Norway, (Stian Lysberg Solum, NTB Scanpix, “Internerte asylsøkere løslates på grunn av koronaventing,” 24 April 2020, https://www.dagsavisen.no/nyheter/innenriks/internerte-asylsokere-loslates-pa-grunn-av-koronaventing-1.1704826)

The Trandum National Police Immigration Detention Centre, Norway’s only immigration detention facility which has a capacity of 220, had a population of 50 detainees as of 1 April, according to a communication from the Norwegian Red Cross (NRC) to the Global Detention Project (GDP). A series of measures have been implemented to avoid the spread of Covid-19 within the facility:

- Only lawyers are allowed into the facility while visits by Norwegian Red Cross volunteers and individuals have been suspended.
- Staff are investigating enabling videoconferences for detainees with family members, although this has not yet been put in place.
- The frequency of disinfection and cleaning has been increased. The facility is now cleaned several times a day.
- A separate unit has been dedicated to managing suspected or confirmed Covid-19 cases. Infected persons will be placed in this separate unit, isolated from others.

The Norwegian Red Cross reported that some detainees had been released, but it was unclear how many. Those released include people deemed to not be a flight risk as well as people with a permanent and/or official address in Norway (for instance, reception centres for asylum seekers or a family address). On 24 April, two Dublin cases were released due to border closures and as the police cannot detain asylum seekers for more than six weeks after the recipient country accepts responsibility. It was expected that three others would soon be released.

On 16 March, the country released 194 prisoners to avoid the spread of Covid-19 within its prisons. However, on 14 April, four inmates in the Bastøy Prison in Oslo tested positive for the disease. The Norwegian Correctional Service stated that 10 of their employees nationwide have been affected by the virus, but have not specified where in the country the employees work.

As in other Scandinavian countries, the Covid-19 pandemic appears to be taking a disproportionate toll on immigrant groups in Norway. Some 15 percent of residents in Norway were born abroad but 25 percent of those that have tested positive for Covid-19 were foreign-born. Public health officials and researchers have said that immigrant communities tend to work in “high-contract jobs - healthcare workers, drivers and cleaners, for example - with a higher risk of exposure.” Language barriers may also be at play as a lot of information was circulated through national health authorities’ websites that are unfamiliar to many people in immigrant communities.

On 21 April 2020, the National Centre for Multicultural Education (NAFO) published an online resource with information on Covid-19 in several languages, as well as various online resources for minority language learners.


24 April 2020

Zambia

People at the Kasumbalesa Market, Vital for Cross-Border Trade with Congo, (J. Nkomo, Zambia News, 13 April 2020,
People at the Kasumbalesa Market, Vital for Cross-Border Trade with Congo, (J. Nkomo, Zambia News, 13 April 2020, "Covid-19 Update - Kasumbalesa Market Disinfected," https://zambianews365.com/covid-19-update-kasumbalesa-market-disinfected/)

Although the number of confirmed Covid-19 infections in Zambia remains low (76 as of 22 April), the rate of infection continues to rise. A land-locked country, Zambia announced in late March that it would not close its borders because of the economic impact this would have. President Edgar Lungu said on 26 March, “Zambia is landlocked; and that means, with a crisis of this magnitude, we shall find ourselves under forced lockdown if all our neighbors close their borders. This situation would make us economically vulnerable and weaker.”

By mid-April, however, the country started implementing more stringent measures, including in its prisons, which also confine immigration detainees. On 12 April, the authorities announced that they would release all foreign nationals jailed on misdemeanor and immigration charges, and send them back to their countries of origin. The Ministry of Home Affairs said that the move would help reduce overcrowding in detention facilities - where rates of HIV and tuberculosis are known to be high - and protect prisoners who remain. However, because of restrictions on international travel many returns are not possible, so the country says it will regularise the status of migrants. According to the country’s Home Affairs Minister, “For foreign nationals who have exhausted their days and are unable to travel to their countries due to suspension of flights, (they are) to quickly visit the Immigration offices and regularise their stay in Zambia.”

The country also says that it has increased measures in border areas, including introducing tests at border crossings, although its border markets - including the Kasumbalesa Common Market near the border with Congo - are to remain open, and placing people arriving from “high-risk” countries in two-week quarantine. According to one report, the health minister said in late April that those arriving from “a COVID -19 High-risk country will be quarantined at a government designated institution but at their own cost.”

Zambia hosts a substantial refugee population, including nearly 50,000 Congolese. Concerns have been raised regarding safeguarding measures. UNHCR reports that it is organising local radio messaging in all refugee-hosting areas and engaging with personalities such as local musicians to produce Covid-19 prevention radio and social media messages. The agency has also provided the Ministry of Health with Refugee Housing Units to set-up at high-risk points such as borders.


24 April 2020

Denmark

The Covid-19 pandemic has particularly affected refugees and migrants in Denmark - a country that has pursued increasingly restrictive immigration and asylum policies in recent years. Reports indicate that all integration programmes have been put on hold and language schools are closed. (Although the country has now tentatively started to ease its lockdown restrictions, these do not yet appear to have been restarted.)

Increasing the vulnerability of migrants is the fact that to get a permanent residence permit a person has to hold a full-time job for a certain period of time, but the crisis has made this nearly impossible and the government appears unwilling to ease this policy. According to a 6 April update on the European Commission's Web Site on Integration, "One of the requirements to get a permanent residence permit is holding a full-time job for a certain period, including at the time of the decision. A large number of applicants have now lost their jobs due to social distancing measures, but the minister of integration says no special considerations will be taken.”

Despite the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner call for member states to release migrants and asylum seekers in detention due to the crisis, Danish authorities have thus far refused to do so. According to the Minister of Integration, with returns now impossible and high risks of infection in closed facilities, any decision to release detainees would be up to the courts. Even in the midst of the pandemic, meanwhile, the Ministry of Immigration and Integration announced the launch of a new return office - the “Return Travel Agency” - which aims to increase deportations of people who lack valid visas and residency permits. (This announcement, however, is not a response to Covid-19.)

The Danish Refugee Council has set up a new hotline which will answer questions about the coronavirus in 25 languages. This line was set up in response to the need for information for inhabitants who are not fluent in Danish.


24 April 2020

Spain

Spain’s Defensor del Pueblo (Ombudsman) released a statement on 17 April that expressed concern about the overpopulation at detention centres in Ceuta and Melilla (called “Centros de estancia temporal para inmigrantes”). The Ombudsman highlighted the plight of children at these facilities, as reports indicate that a large number of them are held there.

The Ombudsman office also reported that it is monitoring the situation in the country’s prisons to ensure that adequate measures are being implemented to protect the health of prisoners and staff. As of 11 April 2020, 58 prisoners had tested positive for Covid-19. However, prison staff have reported that figures may be much higher given the lack of testing.

The Ministry of the Interior released responses to FAQ’s as regards asylum applications. At the moment, it is not possible to apply for asylum given that applications have to be made in person and facilities are currently closed. However, the Ministry has stated that the principle of non-refoulement remains guaranteed protection. In addition, temporary documentation held by asylum seekers, expiring during the state of emergency, is automatically extended until the end of the latter.

Jesuit Refugee Service-Spain (JRS) reported that by the end of March 2020, the country’s CIEs were at 10 percent of their total capacity..On 9 April 2020, only 3 detainees remained at the Algeciras CIE. These detainees were not released due to their criminal records and their detention was extended until mid-May.

JRS also reported that between 15 March - 15 April, 829 people entered Spain irregularly, by land and by sea. 551 arrived at the Canary Islands, 194 to the Peninsula and the Balearic Islands, 83 arrived at Melilla and 1 to Ceuta.


23 April 2020

Serbia

A group of migrants rest at the Serbian village of Kelebia, bordering Hungary (EPA-EFE/Zoltan Balogh Hungary Out/ Balkan Insight - https://balkaninsight.com/2020/04/09/movement-ban-worsens-migrants-plight-in-serbia-bosnia/
A group of migrants rest at the Serbian village of Kelebia, bordering Hungary (EPA-EFE/Zoltan Balogh Hungary Out/ Balkan Insight - https://balkaninsight.com/2020/04/09/movement-ban-worsens-migrants-plight-in-serbia-bosnia/

NGOs report that 6,852 migrants and asylum seekers are currently confined in the country’s 13 closed reception centres. Many had tried to cross into Croatia and Hungary - with some being forcibly pushed back by Hungarian and Croatian border police. In recent months, anti-migrant sentiment has grown in the country: a rally in Belgrade in early March called for the return of all migrants passing through Serbia and warned that participants would set up street patrols to intercept foreigners.

After the eruption of the Covid-19 crisis, Serbian authorities quickly moved to lock-down reception centres, imposing a state of quarantine on 17 March. Article 3, paragraphs 2 and 3 of the Decree on Emergency Measures provides that migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers may be deprived of their liberty on the grounds of preventing “uncontrolled movement” and the potential spread of the virus. With armed soldiers reportedly stationed outside the reception centres, migrants and asylum seekers have not been allowed out of the facilities unless they receive special permission, and rights organisations have been prevented from entering - thus denying detainees psychological, legal, or other forms of assistance.

However, with no confirmed cases amongst the non-citizen population, and with no such restrictions in place for Serbian citizens living in private accommodation, rights observers argue that this amounts to “discrimination on the basis of legal status, origin and place of residence.” The human rights NGO A11 says that the government’s quarantine of reception facilities is additionally problematic given that the collective deprivation of liberty of non-citizens has produced inhuman and degrading conditions in certain facilities due to severe overcrowding - reportedly, capacity at Sombor Transit Centre has reached 450 percent.


23 April 2020

Greece

Refugees Wearing Face Masks as Protection from the Coronavirus gather at the Entrance of the Hotel in Kranidi, (Thanassis Stavrakis, The Associated Press, Al-Jazeera,
Refugees Wearing Face Masks as Protection from the Coronavirus gather at the Entrance of the Hotel in Kranidi, (Thanassis Stavrakis, The Associated Press, Al-Jazeera, "Greece: 148 Refugees Test Positive for Covid-19, all Asymptomatic," https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/04/greece-148-refugees-test-positive-covid-19-asymptomatic-200421134039733.html)

Nearly 42,000 refugees remain in overcrowded detention camps as the Covid-19 pandemic spreads, with refugees lacking access to essential items and services, such as soap and water as well as basic health care. Despite calls from civil society and the European Commission to release detainees into adequate alternatives and after several detainees tested positive, the government instead ordered an immediate lockdown of the camps. Human Rights Watch said that the conditions on the islands make it impossible to adhere to the appropriate public health guidelines designed to curb the outbreak: “Restricting thousands of women, men and children in severely overcrowded camps, where living conditions are unacceptable, makes it impossible to isolate people exposed to Covid-19 or to comply with minimum preventive and protective measures, even hand washing and social-distancing.”

On 21 April 2020, 148 asylum seekers at a hotel managed by the IOM tested positive for Covid-19. The hotel in Kranidi is hosting some 450 asylum seekers and has been quarantined since last week after a staff member tested positive for Covid-19. The Greek Minister for Migration announced on 20 April 2020 that around 1,500 of the most vulnerable people living in the Moria camp would be evacuated on a specially chartered ship to mainland Greece by the end of this week.

On 9 April 2020, a riot broke out in the Eleonas women’s prison due to the death of an inmate. Prisoners are worried that the death was due to Covid-19 and are requesting that immediate measures to prevent the spread of the disease be implemented.


23 April 2020

Thailand

A group of civil society organisations issued an open letter on 15 April to the Department of Corrections urging the release of certain categories of prisoners and immigration detainees to address overcrowding. The letter requests that prisoners over the age of 60; sick prisoners; prisoners awaiting trial; prisoners sentenced to terms of up to two years; prisoners detained for immigration offences and pregnant women be prioritised for release.

The same day that the open letter was issued, the Thai Department of Corrections suspended jail sentences for more than 8,000 inmates nationwide to ease overcrowding in prisons during the Covid-19 crisis. The Director-General of the Department of Corrections said that he has sped up the process of granting suspended sentences or cutting the prison term for qualified inmates, including those facing minor offences and/or exhibiting good behaviour. However, no similar measures were announced as regards immigration detainees.

According to advocates in the country that are members of the International Detention Coalition, immigration detention centres remain crowded and detainees at risk of infection, and that authorities have started shifting detainees to different facilities to assist social distancing. The IOM reports that it has been distributing information, education and communication materials in immigration detention centres to help prevent the spread of Covid-19.

The Border Consortium (TBC) released a statement on 2 April 2020 on the impact of Covid-19 on refugees and conflict-affected communities in the country. TBC stated that the 90,000 refugees from Myanmar in the country have become even more marginalised in camps along the Thailand border and that “restrictions on movement in and out of the camps have eroded refugees’ limited opportunities for informal income, making them solely dependent on humanitarian assistance for their essential needs.” Although no Covid-19 cases have been confirmed in the camps, TBC, the Committee for Coordination of Services to Displaced Persons, and UNHCR are coordinating a Covid-19 outbreak response.

TBC is undertaking a series of measures, including:

- Working with suppliers and vendors to ensure a three-month stockpile of rice, tinned fish, cooking oil and charcoal is available in all camps
- Undertaking public awareness campaigns about washing hands thoroughly, maintaining social distance, and other preventative communications have been disseminated in local languages
- Distributing personal protective equipment including face masks, hand gloves, thermometers and handwashing facilities to community health workers.


22 April 2020

United States

Government Officials Wearing Protective Masks Stand Next to a Plane Carrying Migrants Deported from the US at La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala, (12 March 2020, CNN,
Government Officials Wearing Protective Masks Stand Next to a Plane Carrying Migrants Deported from the US at La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala, (12 March 2020, CNN, "The US Deported Him. Days Later, he was Hospitalised with Coronavirus," https://edition.cnn.com/2020/03/30/americas/immigration-guatemala-deportee-coronavirus/index.html)

ICE reported in mid-March that there were no confirmed cases of Covid-19 in its immigration detention centres. A month later, however, they reported 124 confirmed cases among detainees in 25 facilities, in addition to 30 positive cases among ICE employees.

According to the Centre for Migration Studies (CMS) of New York, these ICE figures may significantly understate the size and scope of the problem. According to CMS, ICE has only tested 300-400 detainees for Covid-19 (a mere 1 percent of those in ICE custody). “Moreover, they do not count former detainees with COVID-19, a significant number of which have been deported. Nor do they count the infected staff of ICE contractors, including staff of the private corporations that own and operate many ICE detention facilities. … ICE recently confirmed that ‘a number of non-ICE employees (contractors) in facilities that hold ICE detainees have contracted COVID-19, and some of them died from COVID-19.’ However, it has been ‘unable to determine how many non-ICE personnel in state and local jails have contracted COVID-19 or died from COVID-19.’”

ICE also reports that there has been a slight drop in detainees held in its custody. As of 21 March, 38,058 migrants were in ICE custody. By 11 April, this number had dropped to 32,309. In addition, two federal courts have ordered the Trump administration to provide updates on detention centre conditions for children and families. According to the Washington Post, the population in ICE’s three family detention centres fell nearly 40 percent by early April, to 826.

The pandemic has also led to delays in the resettlement of immigrant children waiting to be reunited with their parents and family in Washington, California, and New York. At least five of the 3,100 unaccompanied migrant children in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement have tested positive for Covid-19.

Meanwhile, U.S. efforts to continue deporting migrants despite the Covid-19 pandemic may have resulted in spreading the disease to larger, more vulnerable populations. This has been underscored, in particular, by its deportations to Guatemala. On 19 April, Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei stated that a total of 50 migrants deported by the United States to Guatemala tested positive for Covid-19. Human rights advocates had been warning for weeks that deportation flights from the United States, the country with the largest known number of Covid-19 cases, could spread the virus to other nations. Amnesty International’s advocacy director for the Americas stated that the situation was “as predictable as it is horrifying … It was just a matter of time that this would happen.” This situation had already occurred a few weeks before. At the end of March 2020, a Guatemalan man who was deported from the United States tested positive for Covid-19 although he was asymptomatic at the time of deportation.

Describing removal proceedings that have resulted from official orders blocking entry by people from "countries where a communicable disease exists,” CMS reports: "The expulsion process occurs in an average of 96 minutes, without medical examination, except for migrants 'in distress.' Yet many infected persons will not be in distress. Thus, the process will invariably send infected migrants to communities, without any treatment plan or notice of their condition, to health officials abroad or to the shelter providers that will temporarily house them. By way of contrast, removal via 'ICE Air' for 'detainees who are not ‘new apprehensions’ entails medical clearance, not just the visual screening provided to new apprehensions. Persons deported by plane also receive 'temperature screening' at the 'flight line.' Yet, the Guatemalan government has twice suspended US deportation flights due to high rates of infection among US deportees. Thus, either these safeguards do not work or the US government has deliberately opted to deport infected persons."

On 21 April, President Trump tweeted that he would sign an executive order temporarily suspending all immigration into the country. There were no other details on the timing or the scope of the president’s proposed executive order and no official policy statement from the White House. Many officials, however, noted that the administration had already effectively closed down immigration procedures in response to the pandemic. The initial move to ban travel from China has been complemented with a suspension on visa and asylum procedures as well as a halt to border crossing. One U.S. congressional representative tweeted: “Immigration has nearly stopped and the U.S. has far more cases than any other country. This is just xenophobic scapegoating.” Another said: “President Trump now seeks to distract us from his fumbled Covid-19 response by trying to put the blame on immigrants. The truth is many immigrants are on our front lines, protecting us as doctors, nurses, health aids, farmworkers, and restaurant workers.”

Reports indicate that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is making it harder for its employees to take time off during the coronavirus pandemic because of unsubstantiated claims about the border patrol needing support. In a letter to the Department of Homeland Security, the National Treasury Employees Union national president wrote: “CBP began informing CBP Officers along the northern and southern borders that the temporary weather and safety leave schedules established to promote their individual health, and the overall health of the entire CBP Office of Field Operations workforce along the border, were immediately suspended”. Reardon indicated that the Department of Homeland Security had not clearly explained why it wants more CBP workers to come in, but implied it might have to do with migrant crossings.

ICE’s previous track record responding to disease outbreaks has raised concerns about its ability to take adequate measures during the Covid-19 crisis. In 2019, ICE was unable to contain the spread of mumps in its detention centres. From September 2018 to June 2019, there were 297 confirmed cases of mumps in ICE’s 39 detention facilities. In September 2019, the Trump administration cut development aid such as programs to fight gang violence and poverty in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Irwin Redlener, a pediatrician that advised the Department of Homeland Security, stated that “what doctors are seeing is the downstream consequences of terrible policy distorted by partisan politics.”


22 April 2020

Singapore

A Dormitory for Migrant Workers in Singapore in 2015, (Kirsten Han, The Interpreter,
A Dormitory for Migrant Workers in Singapore in 2015, (Kirsten Han, The Interpreter, "Covid forces Singapore to Confront Conditions for its Migrant Workers," https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/covid-forces-singapore-confront-conditions-its-migrant-workers)

As of April 21, there were 9,125 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Singapore. Although Singapore has often been praised for its efforts to contain the virus, the positive effects of such containment have not reached all sectors of society equally. For instance, more than 50 percent of people who had contracted COVID-19 reportedly are work permit holders. The organization Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) has highlighted the disproportionate nature of this statistic, given that work permit holders make up only 1 million out of nearly 6 million people in the country, and usually tend to be younger, healthier, adults.

Jolovan Wham from the NGO Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME) told the Global Detention Project (GDP) that there do not appear to have been changes to immigration detention policy, nor has the government announced any such changes. In Singapore, people liable or subject to removal due to immigration-related offences can be detained in any prison, police station, or immigration depot, or any other place appointed for the purpose by the Controller of Immigration.

There had not been any cases of COVID-19 in prisons as of 10 April 2020. The government has taken measures to prevent the spread of the virus. According to a report by Channel News Asia, all inmates undergo two daily temperature checks, and measures have been put in place to ensure safe distancing. Inmates feeling unwell are given masks and immediately separated and monitored; if they develop symptoms set out by the Ministry of Health's case definition of COVID-19, they will be tested for the virus. All newly admitted inmates are housed separately from the general population and monitored for 14 days.

Singapore has not signed the Refugee Convention and has not passed any domestic legislation for the protection of refugees and asylum seekers. Its economy relies heavily on migrant domestic work and labourers. John Gee from TWC2 told GDP: “Those who are judged to be present illegally will normally be overstayers - people who came on a tourist visa or work permit and remained in Singapore after the visa or work permit expired. They may be imprisoned; male overstayers aged under 50 may be caned, and sent back to their countries of origin. Work permit holders are not eligible for Singapore citizenship, no matter how long they reside in the country, and maximum terms of employment are laid down for them. None of these policies have changed during the COVID-19 outbreak.”

In terms of changes to immigration policy, all travellers entering Singapore (including Singapore citizens, permanent residents, or long-term pass holders) are required to be quarantined in government-designated facilities. The cost for staying in these facilities will be overed by the government, apart from those of people who left Singapore on or after 27 March 2020, on the basis that these travellers disregarded prevailing travel advice not to leave the country.

On deportations, Debbie Fordyce from TWC2 told GDP: "In general, immigration offenders are expected to remain in Singapore (after serving time if the overstay period warrants a prison term) for the duration of the investigation into the hiring or harbouring of an immigration offender. The person would be required to purchase his own ticket home at the conclusion of that investigation. With the suspension of flights, we assume that immigration offenders would remain in Singapore until flights to his country of origin resume.”

There are 43 migrant worker dormitories in Singapore, which house around 280,000 male workers holding a work permit (with no permanent residency). Employer companies, such as construction companies, pay for workers to be lodged and fed in these dormitories, which are operated by private companies. The majority of work permit holders with COVID-19 have contracted the virus in these dormitories, which have long been criticised for substandard, overcrowded, and unsanitary conditions. Indeed, civil society organizations and migrant workers had previously warned that these dormitories presented perfect conditions for widespread transmission of infection. In one recent report by AFP, one migrant worker interviewed said: "One small room with 12 people living together... how can we make social distance?" In a press release on 18 April 2020, the Singaporean Ministry of Health announced that there were 0 imported cases, 22 cases in the community, 27 cases of work permit holders residing outside dormitories, in comparison to 893 cases of work permit holders residing in dormitories.

The Singaporean government has attempted to roll out measures to contain the virus outbreak in dormitories. In a press release on 5 April 2020, the Ministry of Health issued a press release indicating that S11 Dormitory and Westlite Toh Guan dormitory, which together house 19,000 workers, would be gazetted as isolation areas and thereby locked down. It further stated: “Access to recreational facilities will be regulated to reduce the inter-mixing of workers. Movement between blocks is prohibited. Workers have also been advised to cease social interactions with others who do not reside in the same room or floor.” Human rights groups have highlighted that such restrictions may endanger workers who remain uninfected.

On 16 April 2020, the Manpower Minister Josephine Teo announced a three-prong government strategy on Facebook, including locking down all dormitories, separating infected clusters from non-infected clusters and enforcing social distancing within dormitories, and moving out around 7000 workers in essential services who are still required by their employers to work. In terms of concrete measures, the Minister stated that officers of the Singapore Armed Forces, Singapore Police Force and Singapore Ministry of Manpower, comprising FAST teams, would implement safe distancing measures. Additionally, the government will enhance medical support within dormitories, including providing care to people who are unwell and swabbing those who have symptoms. Finally, it said that FAST teams would eventually ensure that workers are able to remit money home. The government has also announced that all workers in dormitories will be tested for COVID-19.

However, civil society organizations argue that the government’s measures are too little, too late, and will ultimately fail to protect migrant workers while simultaneously severely curtailing their rights. Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME) has criticised the government’s virus containment (what it calls “circuit-breaker”) measures for affording leniency to citizens, who are able to leave home for exercise and essential errands, while severely restricting the rights of workers living in dormitories, which will all be locked down regardless if they are a virus cluster. Such workers have already reported deteriorating physical and mental health resulting from prolonged isolation (up to 22 hours a day) in rooms with up to 12 people. It has also criticised the government for only releasing 7000 workers, which comprise less than 1% of the total migrant workforce, out of dormitories or for providing them with separate housing.

HOME has called on the government to reduce the density of dormitories, and to ensure that the maximum capacity of dormitory rooms is reduced from 12 to 4 workers. TWC2 has also called for conditions in migrant worker accomodation to be improved, “not only to prevent the rapid spread of any future infection among the workers, but as a matter of basic respect for their humanity.” It has also called for an end to the transportation of workers to and from workplaces in the backs of trucks, in favour of vans with safety belts; broadened access to care without fear of employer retribution; and salary raises.


22 April 2020

United Kingdom

The UK’s Home Affairs Select Committee has called on the government to investigate concerns that cramped conditions in asylum accommodation are putting people at risk of the virus. In particular, the Committee noted its concerns regarding reports of poor conditions in an asylum centre in West Yorkshire that reportedly breached measures to control the spread of Covid-19. The Committee has also called for information on what steps the Home Office is taking to ensure that private contractors manage accommodation to ensure its safety. On 21 April, the Select Committee heard evidence from refugee NGOs and immigration lawyers as part of its inquiry into Home Office preparedness for the crisis. During the session, the committee sought to learn more about the issues facing migrants and asylum seekers and to assess whether changes are required to the provision of support to those in the asylum system, and to examine the government’s policy relating to immigration detention and the adequacy of protective measures recently implemented in detention centres.


21 April 2020

Hong Kong (China)

Government Quarantine Camp at the Chun Yeung Estate, (K.Y. Cheng, South China Morning Post,
Government Quarantine Camp at the Chun Yeung Estate, (K.Y. Cheng, South China Morning Post, "Isolation, Boredom, and a 151 sq ft Space: the Conditions of Hong Kong's Coronavirus Quarantine Camps," https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/3078278/isolation-boredom-and-151-sq-ft-cell-prison-conditions-hong-kongs)

Hong Kong (officially the Hong Kong Special Adminsitrative Region) began taking measures to contain and combat the COVID-19 pandemic in early February after thousands of medical workers undertook a week-long strike to demand the government close the border with China and provide workers with personal protective equipment, among others measures. From 25 March 2020, the government began to deny entry to all non-Hong Kong residents coming from overseas countries and regions by plane. Any non-Hong Kong residents coming from China, Macao and/or Taiwan (Province of China) also began to be denied entry to Hong Kong if they had been to any overseas countries and regions in the last 14 days. The government began to deny entry to all visitors from Hubei province, and any non-Hong Kong residents who have visited Hubei province in the last 14 days, to Hong Kong, from 27 January 2020 onwards.

There do not appear to have been changes in immigration detention policies in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Adella Namagembe, the chairperson of Refugee Union (the city’s first union run by and for refugees and migrants), told the Global Detention Project (GDP) that asylum seekers continue to be detained in immigration detention centres. Detainees are being tested for COVID-19 and are given surgical masks, hand sanitizer, handwashing soap, and toilet cleaning products.

The Hong Kong government has issued a Red Outbound Travel Alert (OTA) on all overseas countries/territories based on public health considerations in view of the health risks arising from the persistent and rapid increase in the number of COVID-19 cases globally. Namagembe told the GDP that deportations do not appear to be taking place.

Refugees, who are officially referred to as “non-refoulement claimants” due to the lack of a refugee policy, are given food vouchers worth HKD40 (approximately 5.15USD) and a housing allowance of HK1500 (approximately 190USD)––levels of assistance which have not been adjusted with inflation since 2014. On 26 February 2020, the Refugee Union issued a letter to the Social Welfare Department, requesting increases in housing, utilities, transport allowance, allowances and providing a clothing allowance. It also asked for the allocation of a food allowance in cash rather than through vouchers (which are only valid for one chain of supermarket in Hong Kong and which are often disregarded by supermarket staff) and for the government to lift its restrictions on what items can be purchased. Namagembe said: “Generally, we need more financial support due to the fact that we are not allowed to work, everything currently is expensive due to the COVID-19 breakout. The consumption is high because kids are at home all the time. Even adults needs to maintain their health by having a balanced diet.”

On 19 March, the Social Welfare Department replied that it had shared notices and guidelines about the health advice and preventive measures of COVID-19 issued by the Centre for Health Protection to ISS-HK, including some that had been translated into ethnic minority languages. It stated: “Upon receipt of donation of face masks and sanitising items from individuals or private organizations, if any, SWD/ISS-HK will assist to distribute these items to the needy bodies including NRCs according to the wishes of donors.” It also stated: “the Government has to emphasize that the provision of humanitarian assistance aims to ensure that claimants will not become destitute during their presence in Hong Kong, and thus the level of assistance is to meet their basic needs so as to avoid any magnet effect which may have serious implications on the long-term sustainability of such assistance and the immigration of Hong Kong.” Refugees have continued to lodge personal complaint letters, indicating the urgent need for government support to meet their basic needs, but to date have not received positive responses.

Asylum seekers are asked to report to the Immigration Department regularly. Namagembe said that the Immigration Department had lengthened the period between reporting obligations as a result of the outbreak: “Currently, all of them [asylum seekers] report to immigration on the same date every 6 weeks.” She said that the Immigration Department is checking the temperature of asylum seekers when they report.

Migrant domestic workers have been excluded from many of the government’s virus containment policies. In Hong Kong, there is a mandatory live-in requirement for migrant domestic workers. In January, the Labour Department (LD) came under fire after it issued a public notice encouraging domestic workers “to stay home on their rest day in order to safeguard their personal health and to reduce the risk of the spread of the novel coronavirus in the community.” The organization Mission for Migrant Workers (MFMW) stated that workers had subsequently been forced to stay at home on their rest days by their employers, and even asked to resign if they did not do so.

According to a recent study by MFMW and Asian Migrants Coordinating Body, 40 percent of 1,127 migrant domestic workers surveyed in March 2020 said that their labour rights had been curtailed during the outbreak. This included not being given masks or sanitizer or being forced to work excessive hours. Some workers have noted that, as a result of the government’s quarantine policies, they are also being deprived of the ability to take their annual leave (7 to 14 days), given that the compulsory quarantine period imposed by the government is 14 days. In addition, migrant workers have raised concerned about employers who return home from overseas who are subsequently required to undergo a 14-day quarantine period. The Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions has criticised the government for its lack of clear quarantine guidelines for workers and employers, including its lack of guidance on what to do if workers encounter inadequate accommodation or unlawful dismissal in relation to quarantine policies.

The Immigration Department has announced a “flexibility arrangement” for migrant domestic workers. The Commissioner for Labour has given in-principle consent for all migrant domestic worker contracts that will expire on or before 31 March 2020, to be extended up till 31 May 2020, provided that such variation is mutually agreed by both the employer and the worker and approved by the Director of Immigration. They have also given further in-principle consent for all migrant domestic worker contracts that will expire on or before 30 June 2020, to extend the period of employment up to July 31, 2020, on the same terms.


21 April 2020

Canada

While Canada took measures early on to shrink populations in its dedicated immigration detention centres, people still remain in detention and there are questions about the extent to which immigration detainees confined in prisons have been provided additional safeguards.

According to Solidarity Across Borders, as of 16 April the Laval Immigration Detention Center continued to hold 10 men and two women.

Other migrant detainees are reportedly still being held at Rivière-des-Prairies prison in Montreal.

A hunger strike at Laval ended on 31 March after eight days, following the release of two strikers, leaving some 20 detainees at the centre at that time. Reports indicated that although some guards wore masks, they continue to approach detainees without respecting the two-meter safety distance. On 7 April, the private security company Garda World confirmed that one of its security guards at Laval tested positive for COVID. Following this statement, the CBSA announced that there was "no risk to operations, as the individual had no contact with other employees during the time he was contagious."

A hunger striker who had been released at the beginning of April spoke to the Quebec newspaper La Presse, saying that "even if measures were gradually added, for example by leaving unoccupied beds, the social distance of two meters is impossible to respect at all times. The detainees have felt fear and disappointment since the start of the crisis.”

COVID-19 outbreaks have been confirmed in several Canadian prisons, including the Joliette and Grand Valley women’s institution, the Port-Cartier institution, the Toronto South Detention Centre and the Beaver Creek Institution. This prompted Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, on 7 April, to ask the Parole Board of Canada and Correctional Service Canada to consider releasing non-violent prisoners.


21 April 2020

Malawi

Victor Mhango from the Centre for Human Rights Advice Assistance and Education addressing Prisoners at Chichiri Prison, (Nyasa Times, “CSOs Call for Decongestion in Malawi Prisons as Response to Covid-19,” 18 March 2020, https://www.nyasatimes.com/csos-call-for-decongestion-in-malawi-prisons-as-response-to-covid-19/)
Victor Mhango from the Centre for Human Rights Advice Assistance and Education addressing Prisoners at Chichiri Prison, (Nyasa Times, “CSOs Call for Decongestion in Malawi Prisons as Response to Covid-19,” 18 March 2020, https://www.nyasatimes.com/csos-call-for-decongestion-in-malawi-prisons-as-response-to-covid-19/)

As of 19 April Malawi did not have any reported cases of Covid-19. The country has also not taken any measures to lockdown businesses as the country’s High Court blocked such measures in a ruling on 19 April. However, there are growing concerns among civil society organisations about the impact the virus could have in the country’s overcrowded prisons, which also house immigration detainees. Malawi’s prisons reportedly confine more than 14,000 prisoners despite having a capacity of only 5,000.

A joint statement issued by the Centre for Human Rights Advice Assistance and Education, Youth Watch Society, Paralegal Resource Centre, Southern Africa Litigation Centre and Child Rights Advocacy and Paralegal Aid Centre called on the country’s president to “release all prisoners who are serving time for minor offences including contempt of court, being idle and disorderly, being a rogue and vagabond, common nuisance and breach of the peace.” The statement also urges that priority be given “to those that are terminally ill, older persons, persons with TB and others chronic illnesses and those who have served a substantial part of their sentences” and urges “ the President to prevent the detention in prison of all migrants who are detained on immigration-related charges.”

According to the International Detention Coalition (IDC), its local members in Malawi have raised concerns about migrants being “swept up” in four detention centres that were reportedly opened for quarantine purposes. After 14 days, migrants are to be transferred to immigration detention centres and prisons. IDC members have mentioned that conditions in Malawi’s detention centres are inhumane and inadequate as there is a lack of access to water or soap in the cells where migrants are being forced to stay.

On 9 April 2020, a visit to Zomba Central Prison revealed that the facility has six buckets used by thousands of prisoners who wash their hands without soap. It is reported that new inmates are only being screened for HIV and TB but not Covid-19, which increases the risk of spread of Covid-19. One of the inmates expressed concern about the situation: “We were warned about coronavirus by the prison authorities. They advised us that we must wash hands regularly. My duty is to see that new detainees wash their hands before being admitted to the facility. There are no coronavirus testing kits at the clinic. After they are tested for TB and HIV, the new inmates are admitted and sent to the various blocks.” Malawi’s president also announced that his administration is to decongest the prisons by releasing prisoners and juveniles who committed petty offences and those having served a significant portion of their sentences for moderate crimes.


20 April 2020

Guatemala

Health Workers Bringing in Supplies Deliveries by Family Members to a Temporary Shelter for Guatemalan Citizens Deported from the United States, (17 April 2020, CNN,
Health Workers Bringing in Supplies Deliveries by Family Members to a Temporary Shelter for Guatemalan Citizens Deported from the United States, (17 April 2020, CNN, "44 Migrants on One US Deportation Flight Tested Positive for Coronavirus", https://edition.cnn.com/2020/04/17/americas/us-migrants-guatemala-coronavirus/index.html)

On 19 April 2020, Guatemalan President, Alejandro Giammattei, stated that a total of 50 migrants deported by the United States to Guatemala have tested positive for Covid-19. Human Rights advocates had been warning for weeks that deportation flights from the United States, the country with the largest known number of Covid-19 cases, could spread the virus to other nations. Amnesty International’s advocacy director for the Americas stated that the situation was “as predictable as it is horrifying … It was just a matter of time that this would happen.” This situation had already occurred a few weeks before. At the end of March 2020, a Guatemalan man who was deported from the United States tested positive for Covid-19 although he was asymptomatic at the time of deportation.


20 April 2020

Ireland

A hotel that was converted to a “direct provision” asylum reception site in the town of Cahersiveen has been placed under lockdown after several residents tested positive for Covid-19. More than one hundred asylum seekers were transferred four weeks ago to the hotel to await the outcomes of their asylum procedures. All the residents have been confined to the hotel since 19 April. An asylum-seeker at the Cahersiveen Direct Provision center spoke to RTÉ Ireland, claiming that he was concerned about his safety. He mentioned that ‘’Residents are being asked to wear a mask when they leave their rooms, but they are being given just one mask each day and must reuse it every time they leave their room.’’ The residents share many areas such as the lifts, dining room and stairs and while they are allowed to eat in their bedroom, they must collect their meals themselves at the dining room.

The facility has sparked public opposition driven in part by concern that the government may have placed people in the facility who were previously exposed to the vires. The Department of Justice responded saying that they had implemented a range of measures in all direct provision centres to address cases of Covid-19, including the provision of self-isolation facilities and offsite isolation centres."If the concerns locally are that the people may have recently arrived from a region affected by Covid-19, I can confirm that no one in the group of 105 has been in this country for less than two months and all have been health screened by the HSE-led medical team at our reception centre in Baleseskin, North Dublin on their arrival," a spokesperson for the Department said.


19 April 2020

Bahrain

Jau Central Prison in Bahrain, (https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/middle-east/bahrain/detention-centres/1889/jau-prison-jaw-prison,-central-prison)
Jau Central Prison in Bahrain, (https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/middle-east/bahrain/detention-centres/1889/jau-prison-jaw-prison,-central-prison)

Although little information regarding the country’s immigration detention system is available, data collected by the GDP over the past years shows that the country has used at least five facilities to hold immigration detainees, including prisons and detention centres (see the GDP’s Bahrain immigration detention profile). In 2017, the country had around 820,000 international migrants, around 54.86 percent of the country’s population. It is estimated that 60,000 undocumented migrants were present in the country in 2018.

According to GDP partner Migrant-Rights.org, which has posted a dedicated page updating responses by all GCC countries to Covid-19 and its impact on migrant workers in the gulf, the government of Bahrain has taken a series of measures that affect migrant workers in the country, including with respect to detention. In particular, according to Migrant-Rights.org:

- Bahraini MP Masoumeh Abdel-Rahim put forward a proposal to restrict hourly domestic work, adding that every such worker must have a medical examination certificate confirming they do not have the virus.
- Bahrain is considering a proposal to impose a curfew from 6PM to 5AM to ensure people remain at home outside of usual work hours. It is unclear how the many migrants who work outside of those hours will be affected.
- Bahrain has released 300 Bangladeshi migrant workers from prison.

Negative attitudes towards migrant workers have now risen in the country. Locals have protested through social media posts and videos against migrants being treated in government quarantine facilities in Sitra. Yet, almost half of all nurses in Bahrain’s public healthcare sector are migrants and the proportion is even larger in the private sector. An ICU nurse volunteering to work with Bahrain’s Covid-19 campaign told Migrant-Rights.org that unlike Bahraini health care workers, migrant nurses do not receive any hazard pay or compensation.


18 April 2020

Tunisia

As of 17 April 2020, there were 780 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 35 deaths related to the virus in Tunisia. No cases had yet been recorded among the prison population. While the President released 1,420 prisoners at the end of March, the GDP has been unable to find reports indicating that any measures to protect detainees in immigration detention centres from Covid-19 have been taken. On 6 April 2020, detainees at the el-Ouardia Reception and Orientation Centre began a hunger strike to protest their continuing detention and mistreatment as well as the absence of coronavirus infection prevention measures. Rejabu Kilamuna, a human rights activist and founder of Migrants Sans Frontières, was detained from 14 February 2020 at el-Ouarida. He said that “there are only two bathrooms between some 60+ detainees, several toilets do not work and [detainees] only get one piece of soap issued once a fortnight between three to four people.” Also, he explained that detainees are afraid of the virus spreading and that authorities have not established a protection plan from Covid-19.


18 April 2020

Rwanda

A police officer stands at the deserted crossing point between Rwanda and the DRC amid concerns about the spread of Covid-19 (Reuters, https://www.voanews.com/covid-19-pandemic/refugees-protest-under-coronavirus-lockdown-rwanda)
A police officer stands at the deserted crossing point between Rwanda and the DRC amid concerns about the spread of Covid-19 (Reuters, https://www.voanews.com/covid-19-pandemic/refugees-protest-under-coronavirus-lockdown-rwanda)

Refugees and migrants, relocated to Rwanda from Libya and subsequently held in Gashora Emergency Transit Centre outside Kigali, have protested against their lockdown. Rwanda has accepted several hundred persons, evacuated from Libya’s notorious detention facilities. Some have been screened and approved for relocation to countries including Canada and Norway, but the lockdown has suspended their onward travel, leaving them stuck in the transit centre indefinitely. UNHCR reportedly issued a statement urging calm and emphasised that Rwandan laws have ordered the various restrictions in place.


18 April 2020

Russian Federation

On 18 April, President Putin signed a decree “On Temporary Measures to Resolve the Legal Situation of Foreign Citizens and Stateless Persons in the Russian Federation in Connection with the Threat of Further Spread of the new Coronavirus Infection Covid-19.” This new decree provides that the period from 15 March until 15 June 2020 will not be included in the period of temporary stay or temporary residence in Russia for foreign nationals and stateless persons, or in their registration period if it expires. This also applies to the time limit set for foreign nationals and stateless persons to leave Russia voluntarily if they are subject to administrative expulsion, deportation, or extradition. Further, no decisions will be made during this window regarding the undesirability of foreign citizens’ and stateless persons’ stay (residence), administrative expulsion, deportation or extradition to a foreign state in accordance with international readmission agreements, deprivation of refugee status, temporary asylum, work permits, and temporary residence permits. The decree also provides that during this time period, employers may hire foreign citizens and stateless persons who do not have permission to work in the country.

While authorities have ceased the detention of foreigners and stateless persons, many immigration detention facilities remain overcrowded. With no flights and no expulsions, detainees are forced to remain confined in facilities that lack appropriate health care provision and poor sanitation. As Human Rights Watch noted in a statement issued on 16 April, an estimated 8,000 people - including families with children - are effectively being held in indefinite detention. “Russian authorities should provide safe and dignified alternatives to migration detention for people facing deportation or court-mandated expulsion. They should also improve access to healthcare and ensure social distancing and other measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in Russia’s migration detention centers.”


17 April 2020

Lithuania

Two Detainees Seen Through Barbed Wire at Pabrade Detention Centre, (GB Times Lithuania,
Two Detainees Seen Through Barbed Wire at Pabrade Detention Centre, (GB Times Lithuania, "Lithuanian immigrant detention center to offer vegetarian food", 17 January 2014, https://gbtimes.com/lithuanian-immigrant-detention-center-offer-vegetarian-food)

Lithuania’s migration situation has been shaped by steep population decline since it joined the EU (dropping by some 15 percent since 2004), shrinking migrant population, and relatively minor asylum pressures (with roughly 400 asylum applicants a year). And yet, the country remains among the worst performers with respect to its integration policies, according to the Migrant Integration Policy Index, which may be an important indicator for how it responds to migrants and refugees during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The country has one dedicated immigraiton detention centre, the Pabrade Detention Centre (also known as the Foreigners Registration Centre), which is located north-east of Vilnius. The facility has attracted widespread criticism because of its poor conditions, repeated allegations of disproportionate use of force, and overcrowding.

On 16 March 2020, the Lithuanian government announced a nationwide quarantine and measures including closing borders, education institutions, bars, restaurants and shops. The country has suspended deportations. The Migration Department has informed that non-citizens whose period of legal residence expired during the declared quarantine and who were unable to depart from Lithuania in due time through no fault of their own, will not be subject to return decisions or administrative liability for illegal stay. The Department added that these individuals “as well as those with respect to whom the decision regarding the return has been adopted, but the period for the voluntary departure expired during the quarantine, may stay in Lithuania during the quarantine. However, they will be required to depart after the end of the quarantine within the established period of toleration.”

There are several non-governmental initiatives that have been launched to support migrants during the outbreak. An online Lithuanian doctor volunteer network MEDo provides health-related consultations in English, Swedish and Norwegian. Also, Human Aid has launched Stream, a mutual assistance and online volunteering platform for refugees and asylum seekers living in Lithuania. The initiative organises online seminars, workshops, training and counselling on a wide range of topics and in several different languages.

On 19 March 2020, the Ministry of Justice announced a series of measures for the country’s prisons including regular cleaning and disinfection, placing prisoners who test positive for Covid-19 and those who have had contact with these in isolation and providing prison staff with disinfectant gel and masks. On the same day, visits by family members were suspended. Women’s prisons have begun producing masks.

The GDP has been unable to find any reports indicating whether measures have been taken to safeguard migrants and asylum seekers in detention in Lithuania.


17 April 2020

Taiwan, Province of China

First Page of Taiwanese National Immigration Agency Response to Global Detention Project and Amnesty International Covid-19 Survey, (16 April 2020, https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/P.1-of-Taiwan-FOI-response.png)
First Page of Taiwanese National Immigration Agency Response to Global Detention Project and Amnesty International Covid-19 Survey, (16 April 2020, https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/P.1-of-Taiwan-FOI-response.png)

In response to an information request jointly submitted by the Global Detention Project and Amnesty International Taiwan, the Ministry of the Interior reported that to date they have not begun systematically testing new immigration detainees for Covid-19. However, the agency also reported, “Before people are detained, they must be asked about their health condition, undergo a temperature check, and document their medical history. After they enter the detention centre, they are regularly given surgical masks. They are also requiring detention centre staff and cleaning staff to wear masks, increase hygiene awareness, undertake disinfection efforts, and introduce regular temperature checks. New detainees are put in quarantine for 17 days in an observation and quarantine area within the detention centre, after which if they have no symptoms, they are asked to return to the regular detention centre areas. Those who show symptoms are immediately given medical attention by detention centre staff.”

Asked whether they have halted deportation or removal flights, the National Immigration Agency said: “Various countries have introduced restrictions on entry. As such, there are people who are not yet able to be deported. The government is actively coordinating between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the relevant consular authorities to arrange for charter flights to deport people.”


16 April 2020

Ireland

The Irish Department of Justice and Equality announced that all immigration permits due to expire between 20.03.2020 and 20.05.2020 are to be automatically renewed for a period of two months. In addition, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection introduced a Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment, accessible to all workers irrespective of legal status. The Department also confirmed that “there are no plans in place to share any data [received] as part of an immigrant’s application for a Covid-19 Unemployment Payment with the National Immigration Bureau (GNID) or the Department of Justice and Equality.


16 April 2020

Malaysia

A child is tested for COVID-19 at a temporary testing facility set up by the Malaysian Ministry of Health in a community centre on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Al Jazeera (https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/04/fear-refugees-malaysia-home-coronavirus-lockdown-200406014514452.html)
A child is tested for COVID-19 at a temporary testing facility set up by the Malaysian Ministry of Health in a community centre on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Al Jazeera (https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/04/fear-refugees-malaysia-home-coronavirus-lockdown-200406014514452.html)

In late February, some 16,000 people attended a religious gathering at a mosque on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. Among the attendees were large numbers of undocumented Rohingya refugees. This gathering proved to be a “hotspot” for Covid-19, with significant numbers of those in attendance developing symptoms. Seeking to stem the spread of the virus, the Malaysian government, together with UNHCR, sought to trace the refugees in attendance and ensure they were tested, and authorities such as the police commissioner in Sabah - a state which is home to large numbers of migrants, refugees, and stateless persons - encouraged undocumented persons who attended the event to come forward to be tested. Although the country’s Circular 10/2001 requires health care providers to report undocumented persons to the police, the country’s Defence Minister vowed that the government would not arrest anyone based on their immigration status who sought medical services in relation to Covid-19, and the Ministry of Health confirmed that Covid-19 treatment would be free for any foreigner displaying symptoms. Despite these assurances, some organisations such as MSF have noted that the country’s past heavy-handed treatment of migrants and refugees may leave many hesitant to seek assistance.

Aside from these steps, the Malaysian government appears to have adopted few measures to protect migrants and asylum seekers, such as those behind bars. The country’s immigration detention facilities are particularly notorious for their cramped, unsanitary conditions, but to date, no detainees have been released. Instead, it appears that authorities may be continuing to place people in detention. On 5 April, the country’s Maritime Enforcement Agency intercepted a boat carrying 200 Rohingya refugees. According to Amnesty International Malaysia, this group were placed in 14-day quarantine, and are expected to soon be moved into already over-crowded immigration detention facilities. Amnesty thus called on authorities to urgently provide alternative measures to detention - particularly for elderly detainees and those with underlying health issues - to take steps to prevent overcrowding, and to ensure the right to adequate health care.


16 April 2020

Slovakia

Medved'ov Detention Centre Building, (David Ištok, Aktuality.sk, https://www.aktuality.sk/fotogaleria/278734/utekali-tisice-kilometrov-skoncili-u-nas-doprajeme-im-1000-tv-kanalov-aj-posilnovnu/4/)
Medved'ov Detention Centre Building, (David Ištok, Aktuality.sk, https://www.aktuality.sk/fotogaleria/278734/utekali-tisice-kilometrov-skoncili-u-nas-doprajeme-im-1000-tv-kanalov-aj-posilnovnu/4/)

Immigration detention in Slovakia has become an increasingly punitive measure, especially since the refugee crisis of 2015. Detention centres resemble prisons, with barred windows and uniformed policemen carrying truncheons. In cases of age disputes, unaccompanied children are considered adults during the assessment and are at risk of being detained alongside adults until bone tests prove otherwise. Families with children are frequently detained, sometimes for several months. Detainees must cover the costs of their detention, including food and transport. And non-custodial “alternatives” to detention may only be granted if the individual has accommodation and sufficient financial measures, which results in alternatives rarely being afforded.

The Covid-19 pandemic has thus appeared to have had little impact on these measures, even as the country has started recording Covid-19 cases in prisons. The first case was confirmed on 23 March 2020 in Bratislava, when an inmate was taken to the prison hospital in Trencin. Doctors subsequently requested that measures be taken immediately to avoid the spread of the virus in detention centres.

The Slovak Government declared a state of emergency on 12 March and imposed a nationwide quarantine from 16 March. The government also implemented measures covering non-citizens and migrant communities including the adoption of an amendment to the Act on Residence of Aliens on 7 April 2020, which extends residence permits for two months after the revocation of the emergency situation. Those without granted residence are also now entitled to remain in Slovakia until one month after the revocation of the emergency situation. NGOs and international organisations have been providing information to migrants and refugees about the pandemic and about the new social distancing and quarantine rules. IOM in Slovakia has prepared information related to Covid-19 for migrants in English and Russian and NGOs such as Mareena and the Human Rights League are providing information and resources through their websites and social media pages.


16 April 2020

Greece

Relocated Unaccompanied Minors in Luxembourg Airport Holding IOM Bags, (Getty Images, BBC News,
Relocated Unaccompanied Minors in Luxembourg Airport Holding IOM Bags, (Getty Images, BBC News, "Greece Relocates Unaccompanied Migrant Children to Luxembourg",15 April 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-52303623)

On 15 April Greece began relocating to Luxembourg unaccompanied children from camps on the islands of Lesbos, Samos, and Chios, which are severely overcrowded. There are reportedly some 5,000 unaccompanied children in Greek camps, and the country has plans “to relocate about 1,600 vulnerable children to other European countries that volunteer to host them, amid the coronavirus outbreak,” according to the BBC. The move comes after severe criticism from human rights groups calling for the immediate release of children from police cells and detention centres. “Keeping children locked up in filthy police cells was always wrong, but now it also exposes them to the risk of Covid-19 infection,” said Human Rights Watch.

Previously, the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs reported in early April that 1,000 refugees and migrants deemed vulnerable to the virus had been moved from Greek islands to hotels. In addition, although asylum services were temporarily suspended from 13 March 2020, including registration of asylum requests, asylum interviews and appeals in asylum cases, the asylum service stated that applicants’ cards and residence permits due to expire during the suspension would remain valid.

Meanwhile, according to reports in the Greek press, Turkey has allegedly been pushing Covid-infected migrants across the border into Greece. According to Ekathimerini.com (11 April), “Sources that cannot be named but are considered reliable believe that Turkey has a plan to push migrants infected with the coronavirus to cross into Greece and other parts of Europe in the midst of the virus pandemic. According to the sources, these migrants, many of whom were also at the Pazarkule, or Kastanies, border crossing, have been transported from migrant camps in the hinterland.”


15 April 2020

Niger

Migrants receive assistance in Madama, a military outpost close to the border between Niger and Libya [Courtesy: IOM Niger]
Migrants receive assistance in Madama, a military outpost close to the border between Niger and Libya [Courtesy: IOM Niger]

Niger’s Covid-19 situation has been directly impacted by measures taken in neighbouring countries, including in particular Libya, whose push backs of migrants into Niger has forced the country to set up quarantines.

As of 31 March, 34 people had tested positive for Covid-19 in Niger. The government has taken certain measures to avoid the spread of the virus, including border closures, curfews, travel bans within the country, and a mandatory two-week quarantine for people arriving in the country.
However, this situation has led to hundreds of women, men and children being stuck in Niger. In particular, people returned from Algeria to Niger are now forced to quarantine in tent facilities set up in the border post of Assamaka or in the city of Arlit. The mayor of Arlit stated that “despite the border closure, we see that movements are continuing: People travel through minor routes to avoid border controls and reach Arlit without going through the quarantine.”

Also, in March, a convoy of pick-up cars carrying 256 people was pushed-back into Niger by Libyan armed forces, leaving migrants in the heat of the desert for days before receiving humanitarian assistance by the IOM and Niger’s Civil Protection Department. A transfer to Agadez was organised and people were placed in a quarantine centre in the town set up by the IOM. Subsequently, on 4 and 5 April, 44 people were found at Assamaka and brought to the IOM quarantine site. Organisations such as Doctors Without Borders and the International Federation of the Red Cross have been providing medical and psychological assistance within the centre. In all six IOM operated transit centres in Niger, hand-washing stations have been installed and regular checks for Covid-19 symptoms are undertaken. However, as the centres are operating at their full capacity, the IOM is concerned about a possible outbreak of the virus.

On 27 March 2020, President Mahamadou Issoufou announced that 1,540 prisoners would be released due to the Covid-19 crisis and the risk of contagion within prisons. Priority would be given to older prisoners, prisoners with chronic diseases and all of those sentenced to less than 9 months in prison.


15 April 2020

Cyprus

Video still from Pounara Camp, Cyprus (Courtesy KISA, 11 April 2020)
Video still from Pounara Camp, Cyprus (Courtesy KISA, 11 April 2020)

The Ministry of the Interior issued a statement in early April responding to NGO criticism of the living conditions in two reception centres where asylum seekers and refugees were moved to: Pournara and Kofinou. The statement by the Ministry mentions that they are “doing everything humanly possible to provide housing, food and medical care to all these people”, even for “illegal refugees”.

KISA, Movement for Equality, Support, Anti-Racism issued a response to the Ministry’s statement arguing that the Ministry of the Interior has failed to respond to the accusations of violations of Refugee law and European legislation and has also ignored calls from the Council of Europe to release migrants and asylum seekers in detention centres to the “maximum extent possible”. KISA also mentioned that asylum seekers are detained in a tent or similar rough structures and that as regards healthcare, they are limited to general hospitals in the area as they are unable to register with a personal doctor.

KISA also reiterated their position that the policies and actions of the Minister of the Interior and the government, “both in terms of mass detention and arbitrary suspension of the asylum procedures during the pandemic as well as in relation to the unequal access to the right to healthcare, constitute blatant violations of the Refugee law, European legislation and international human rights law but they are also extremely dangerous for the health of asylum seekers and public health in general”. The organisation stated that it has brought legal proceedings before the ECtHR as well as a report against the Ministry’s measures and calls on other civil society organisations and other relevant authorities to intervene to ensure the government’s compliance with legality and the rule of law.

A video reportedly filmed by an asylum seeker in the Pournara camp and published on 11 April by KISA appears to show the squalid living conditions in the camp. According to the video, 27 asylum seekers were brought to the camp and as of 11 April 2020, there were 23 remaining. Only one sink in the bathroom has running water, the showers do not work and residents have therefore been unable to shower since their arrival at the camp 10 days earlier. Many tents have been flooded and floors are muddy. As a consequence, people in the camp are sharing tents with beds very close together. The camp is surrounded with fencing and barbed wire has been placed behind the fence to prevent anyone from leaving. The video does not appear to show any specific measures that may have been taken to alleviate the risk of contagion of Covid-19.


15 April 2020

Poland

On 1 April 2020, the Polish Government decided to extend visas for all non-citizens who hold work permits, national visas, or a temporary residence permit, for 30 days after the end of the emergency state. The Office for Foreigners stated that “based on this extended stay, a foreigner will not be able to travel on the territory of the other member states of the Schengen area. But, the alien will be able to further realise the purpose of their stay in Poland, for example, the execution of the work.”


15 April 2020

Luxembourg

Findel Detention Centre (Yabiladi,
Findel Detention Centre (Yabiladi, "Insolite: Un Marocain Expulsé du Luxembourg en Jet Privé", 7 May 2013, https://www.yabiladi.com/articles/details/17168/insolite-marocain-expulse-luxembourg-prive.htm)

As of 15 April 2020, Luxembourg had 3,373 confirmed cases of Covid-19 along with 69 deaths. On the same day, the Prime Minister announced that from 20 April 2020, confinement measures would be de-escalated, with construction works restarting and DIY stores opening.

Luxembourg has also begun to receive unaccompanied children, relocated from camps on the greek islands of Lesbos, Samos and Chios. 12 children, aged between 11 and 15, were flown to the country on 15 April 2020. The Greek deputy migration minister, Giorgos Koumoustakos, said that although the number of children relocated was small, the measure sent a message to other countries to follow Luxembourg’s example. He also confirmed that a second group of 50 children would fly to Germany on Saturday 18 April 2020 and 20 more would fly to Switzerland.

In March, the government and civil society reached out to migrants and visitors regarding Covid-19. ASTI (Association de Soutien Aux Travailleurs Immigrés) provides multilingual information on temporary measures related to visas and permits for third-country nationals, available in 12 languages. The government also distributed a multilingual flyer to all households about social distancing in English, Portuguese, French, German and Luxembourgish.

On 26 March 2020, a riot involving 25 prisoners broke out in the Schrassig prison due to a lack of masks and disinfectant gel. Those involved in the riot were placed in isolation for a month. Following the riots, thirty inmates embarked on a hunger strike protesting against the conditions of their detention.

The GDP has been unable to find any reports indicating whether measures have been taken to safeguard migrants and asylum seekers, including those in detention.


14 April 2020

Germany

BAMF Office entrance in Halberstadt - https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/15271/saudi-women-refugees-in-germany-still-living-in-fear
BAMF Office entrance in Halberstadt - https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/15271/saudi-women-refugees-in-germany-still-living-in-fear

Protests were reported in the Halberstadt reception centre, where more than 800 people have been under lockdown since 27 March 2020 due to positive Covid-19 tests in the facility. The lack of sanitary products and effective hygiene measures highly increases the risk of infection. Reports indicate that up to 50 people share a single toilet and that due to overcrowding, physical distancing is impossible to implement. On 4 April 2020, residents started protesting against these conditions. 100 people began a hunger strike while others clashed with security guards. Residents of the reception centre issued a letter to the public requesting food, hygiene products including disposable gloves, relocation for the elderly, pregnant women and people with illnesses. In the evening of 4 April 2020, a meeting took place between residents and camp management and an improvement of the situation was promised.

Meanwhile, as increasing numbers of doctors and medical personnel in Germany contract Covid-19, “Germany’s health authorities are appealing to medically qualified migrants to help them tackle the coronavirus.” According to The Guardian (14 April), “The eastern state of Saxony is at the forefront of a campaign calling on foreign doctors, including the thousands of refugees who arrived in 2015, to help. According to the Facebook group Syrian Doctors in Germany there are 14,000 Syrian doctors waiting for their qualifications to be approved. … What makes Saxony’s plea salient is that it is the home of Pegida, the anti-Islam protest movement, and the heartland of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland party. The AfD rose to prominence – becoming the largest opposition in parliament in 2017 – on the back of voter anger over Angela Merkel’s decision to allow almost 1 million refugees into the country in 2015.”


14 April 2020

Saudi Arabia

Thousands of Ethiopian workers - including large numbers of domestic workers - were deported from Saudi Arabia (as well as the UAE) over the weekend (10-12 April). Deported on cargo planes, some were reported to be displaying symptoms of Covid-19, although none had been tested for the virus. According to the UAE government, they were vulnerable to spreading the disease and thus needed to be removed from the country. Ethiopia’s Health Minister confirmed that thousands had been deported from both UAE and Saudi Arabia, and that the country expected thousands more to be returned in the next 15 days. As the UN Humanitarian co-ordinator for Ethiopia has said, "This is simply not the moment for mass deportations from a public health perspective. … These mass deportations, without any pre-departure medical screening are likely to exacerbate the spread of Covid-19 to the region and beyond."


14 April 2020

United Arab Emirates

Thousands of Ethiopian workers - including large numbers of domestic workers - were deported from the UAE (as well as Saudi Arabia) over the weekend (10-12 April). Deported on cargo planes, some were reported to be displaying symptoms of Covid-19, although none had been tested for the virus. According to the UAE government, they were vulnerable to spreading the disease and thus needed to be removed from the country. Ethiopia’s Health Minister confirmed that thousands had been deported from both UAE and Saudi Arabia, and that the country expected thousands more to be returned in the next 15 days. As the UN Humanitarian co-ordinator for Ethiopia has said, "This is simply not the moment for mass deportations from a public health perspective. … These mass deportations, without any pre-departure medical screening are likely to exacerbate the spread of Covid-19 to the region and beyond."


14 April 2020

Turkey

The Turkish Parliament passed a law to allow tens of thousands of prisoners to be released to prevent the spread in overcrowded prisons. Those jailed on “terrorism” charges following the 2016 coup attempt will not be released, however. According to the law, persons can be temporarily released under judicial control until the end of May, and the Justice Ministry will be able to extend this twice, by a maximum of two months each time. Some would also be released permanently. (According to the CoE, Turkey has the second-largest prison population in Europe and the continent’s most over-crowded prison population as of January 2019.)

According to reports in the Greek press, Turkey has allegedly been pushing Covid-infected migrants across the border into Greece. According to Ekathimerini.com (11 April), “Sources that cannot be named but are considered reliable believe that Turkey has a plan to push migrants infected with the coronavirus to cross into Greece and other parts of Europe in the midst of the virus pandemic. According to the sources, these migrants, many of whom were also at the Pazarkule, or Kastanies, border crossing, have been transported from migrant camps in the hinterland.”


13 April 2020

Malta

As the country ramped up its response to the coronavirus pandemic in mid-March, the country's Economy Minister announced that all foreign workers laid off during the pandemic would have to be deported from the country. Although he later apologised for the comments, explaining that “choice of words was unfortunate,” he has continued to face significant criticism.

On 19 March, Aditus issued a statement urging authorities to extend the residence permits of all foreigners, irrespective of their employment status; seek measures to provide housing to those made homeless; refrain from imposing entry bans on migrants made redundant during the pandemic; and to reconsider the use of detention. “Any public health measure must consider all community members,” the group stated, “including migrants and other persons who are vulnerable or marginalised.”

Malta has long been at the centre of a divisive debate in Europe regarding search and rescue operations in the Mediterannean and has repeatedly refused to permit rescue boats to dock and disembark in the country’s ports. On 9 April, authorities took further action when they announced that the country would not accept any future disembarkations from rescue boats. According to the government, this step was necessary in light of anti-epidemic measures stretching the country’s resources and the risk that refugees and migrants may bring the virus with them. In a statement to the European Commission explaining their action, authorities wrote, “Malta is not in a position to offer a safe place for these immigrants, especially at a time of great challenges in the health sector, and law enforcement. The situation today calls for all local resources, including the Armed Forces, to be focused on the fight against the spread of the coronavirus.”

Critics argue, however, that Maltese authorities are using the crisis to further shelve their obligations to protect those in need. As a group of 16 NGOs stated, “We fear that Malta is exploiting the public health emergency to deprive migrants of their human dignity, adopting measures veiled as public health protection but having the effect of sacrificing migrants for Malta’s safety.” Over 300 academics also slammed the government’s decision in a joint statement in which they called on EU member states to rescue migrants and assume joint responsibility for them, "The decision to close ports is unlawful. The absence of solidarity between the Member States in meeting their collective moral and legal obligations is reprehensible."The NGO AlarmPhone, meanwhile, has reported that Maltese military personnel attacked migrants at sea on 9 April and purposefully sabotaged the boat - which to-date, the Prime Minister’s office has failed to deny.


13 April 2020

France

Detainees inside the Mesnil-Amelot Detention Centre, (Christophe Archambault, AFP, May 2019, Libération,
Detainees inside the Mesnil-Amelot Detention Centre, (Christophe Archambault, AFP, May 2019, Libération, "Au Centre de Rétention du Mesnil-Amelot, de l'angoisse à la révolte", https://www.liberation.fr/france/2020/04/13/au-centre-de-retention-du-mesnil-amelot-de-l-angoisse-a-la-revolte_1785019)

Almost 50 detainees at Mesnil-Amelot took over a courtyard at the facility to protest poor sanitary conditions and to demand their release. On 12 April, police intervened to end their protest. According to detainees, violence and tear gas were used to disperse them - but the police deny this. The facility is the largest immigration detention (or CRA) in France, and observers have repeatedly denounced conditions inside. Approximately 30 detainees had previously gone on hunger strike to demand their release.

The French government has extended all residence permits by three months, which is intended to ensure that people have access to health care and other forms of social security .


12 April 2020

Israel

Volunteers with the African Refugee Development Center prepare to deliver food packages to African asylum seekers in south Tel Aviv, April 3, 2020. (ARDC / Times of Israel https://www.timesofisrael.com/for-african-migrants-in-israel-covid-19-means-health-jobs-homes-all-at-risk/)
Volunteers with the African Refugee Development Center prepare to deliver food packages to African asylum seekers in south Tel Aviv, April 3, 2020. (ARDC / Times of Israel https://www.timesofisrael.com/for-african-migrants-in-israel-covid-19-means-health-jobs-homes-all-at-risk/)

Israel has implemented several measures impacting migrants and asylum seekers as well as prisoners. While one NGO, Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, has reported that they were been able to get some people released from immigration detention since the crisis began, the GDP has found no additional reports detailing what, if any, measures are being taken by authorities in administrative immigration detention centres. There have also been increasing calls by rights actors demanding that Israel release Palestinian children held in Israeli jails, in particular as prisoners’ exposure to the coronavirus has increassed.

In a 11 April interview with the Times of Israel, an advocate from the group Hotline explained that since the crisis began they have been emphasizing in their work getting asylum seekers released from detention: “Someone can be in jail for six months for a very light felony, and then they are suddenly transferred to administrative detention. All it takes is a decision by an official from the Population and Immigration Authority, who deems them a danger to society. … At that point, they can be held for a year or even two. So we try to get them released and give them legal representation. It’s become more urgent now, because there is a risk of mass contagion in prisons. In recent weeks we have been able to release seven people, and we are currently representing 10 more in an attempt to set them free.”

Israel closed its borders in mid-March, barring all non-citizens from entering the country to curb the spread of Covid-19. The Population and Immigration Authority said that an exception would be made for non-nationals whose “centre of life is in Israel.” The Ministry of the Interior then extended all visas for non-citizens that are currently in Israel until 30 June 2020.

Also in early March, authorities suspended all family visits to the country’s prisons as well as lawyers’ visits. These and other measures provoked widespread protests in prisons, in particular after reports that prisoners had been exposed to security personnel who had tested positive for Covid-19. According to Haaretz (23 March), “Palestinian prisoners serving sentences in Israeli jails for security-related offenses are threatening to go on a hunger strike to protest measures enforced by the Israel Prison Service, seeking to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The prisoners object to searches conducted in their cells by prison guards without any protective gloves or face masks, as well as a ban on leaving cells and meeting their attorneys and family members, who the prison service fears might infect prisoners or guards with the virus if allowed into prisons.”

On 1 April 2020, a Palestinian prisoner released from Ofer prison who had spent 12 days detained alongside 36 people, tested positive for Covid-19. However, even after being notified of this, the Israeli prison administration announced no plans to release or even test the prisoners held there.

Defense for Children International Palestine (DCIP) reported on 19 March: “Four Palestinian prisoners detained at Israel’s Megiddo prison, located inside Israel northwest of the occupied West Bank city of Jenin, were placed in isolation after they were in contact with a COVID-19 positive Israeli officer. … Megiddo prison is one of several detention facilities located inside Israel where Palestinian child ‘security prisoners’ are held. ‘We know the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is for people to avoid being in close proximity to each other, said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, Accountability Program director at DCIP. ‘There is no way Israeli prison authorities can ensure the health and well-being of Palestinian child detainees as long as they continue to be in a custodial detention setting.’ An investigation by DCIP previously found Palestinian child prisoners detained in Israel’s Damon prison were held in poor conditions, including small rooms without access to clean and private bathroom facilities. Conditions such as these increase risks and exposure to unsanitary conditions where the COVID-19 virus thrives.”


12 April 2020

United Kingdom

As news emerged of a second confirmed case of Covid-19 within a UK Removal Centre, Alison Thewliss - chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Immigration Detention - urged the UK government to release immigration detainees. In a letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel, Thewliss wrote, “The confirmation of a new coronavirus case at Brook House demonstrates the danger detainees are continuing to be put in. Now more than ever, protection must be prioritised over immigration targets. IRCs are high risk for clusters of Covid-19 with staff providing a conduit for infection to and from the community. The continued spread of the virus clearly highlights the very real risk of uncontrolled outbreaks at IRCs.”


11 April 2020

Portugal

Several dozen civil society organisations as well as more than 100 individuals have issued an open letter calling for the immediate release of all immigration detainees. The letter, issued on 9 April, highlighted the risk of contamination of Covid-19 in immigration detention centres due to poor health care provision; hygiene conditions and overcrowding. Reports also indicate that the majority of centres do not have private rooms but rather dormitories, thus increasing the risk of contagion.

The letter also mentioned the legal issues that arise from the situation especially as the justification of detaining people in view of deportation is no longer tenable since most flights have been suspended.

The letter calls on the Portuguese government to, inter alia, release all persons detained in immigration detention centres and reassess the need for these centres.


11 April 2020

Belgium

Migrants Left Homeless Sitting on a Bench in a Park in Brussels, (Olivier Polet, 20 March 2020, Le Soir,
Migrants Left Homeless Sitting on a Bench in a Park in Brussels, (Olivier Polet, 20 March 2020, Le Soir, "Coronavirus: Un Hôtel Bruxellois Pour Confiner les Migrants à la Rue," https://www.lesoir.be/288901/article/2020-03-20/coronavirus-un-hotel-bruxellois-pour-confiner-les-migrants-la-rue)

Authorities announced that they had expanded access to the labour market for asylum applicants (if they have already submitted their application). Authorities hope that they can help make up for the lack of workforce - particularly seasonal workers - in the country.

From 20 March 2020, the Brussels local government will be hosting 100 homeless people, including migrants, in a hotel in Brussels. Médecins Sans Frontières will provide medical care for those accommodated in the hotel.


10 April 2020

India

Goalpara Detention Centre is one of Assam's six detention centres, and currently confines nearly 370 people declared as
Goalpara Detention Centre is one of Assam's six detention centres, and currently confines nearly 370 people declared as "illegal immigrants," Al Jazeera (https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/04/india-fears-coronavirus-outbreak-assam-detention-centres-200408075603980.html)

In the Indian state of Assam, more than 800 persons are being held indefinitely in six detention centres within prisons. Defined by Indian authorities as “foreigners,” these detainees - many of whom are Indian citizens who have been declared “illegal immigrants” by the Foreigners Tribunal on account of poor documentation or poor legal assistance and lack of resources - are forced to live in overcrowded facilities that lack appropriate medical and sanitary facilities. Since 2016, 29 detainees have died due to various ailments - ten of them between 1 March 2019 and 20 February 2020.

On 23 March, India’s Supreme Court ordered all states to release “convicts and undertrials [remand prisoners] awaiting trial for offences entailing a maximum sentence of seven years.” While Assam state took steps to release over 700 prisoners, no such steps seem to have been taken to release or protect detained “declared foreigners”. Speaking to Al Jazeera, the deputy commissioner of Assam’s Sonitpur district stated, “We have stopped taking in new inmates. Everyone is being screened by the doctors on a regular basis and there does not seem to be any such possibility of a virus outbreak.” However, reports from detainees’ families suggest otherwise: according to the daughter of one detainee, at least 50 people are kept in one room.

Some families have sought to secure bail for detainees, but with courts suspending operations in March, there is uncertainty regarding options. On 7 April, the country’s Supreme Court heard a petition filed by a detainee in Assam, which sought the release of people who have spent more than two years in detention. The court also heard pleas by the Justice and Liberty Initiative (JLI), which urged authorities to extend the prisoner release to declared foreigners. Further hearings are scheduled for 13 April. “As human beings, they also have at least basic human rights to live and not to die of COVID-19 in the precincts of a prison, which has despicable living conditions,” said a JLI advocate.

Concerns have also been raised concerning persons confined in India’s network of prisons, where measures such as the cancellation of visits prompted some prisoners to riot. Although some have been released since the Supreme Court’s order on 23 March, others remain in facilities renowned for their poor living conditions. Foreigners are amongst those detained inside Indian prisons, however the GDP has not been able to determine whether they were amongst those released. Arundhati Roy, Professor Gilbert Achcar, and other leading intellectual figures signed an appeal urging for authorities to release political prisoners, who were not included in the 23 March order. They note that many persons who have been arbitrarily detained have been in prison for years awaiting trial and, as a result of prolonged confinement, suffer from a wide array of health conditions which leave them particularly vulnerable to the virus. Similar concerns could be expressed for immigration detainees, many of whom have been subjected to lengthy detention.


10 April 2020

Taiwan, Province of China

Annabelle Timsit,
Annabelle Timsit, "The China-Taiwan conflict is disrupting the WHO’s fight against Covid-19," Quartz, 9 April 2020, https://qz.com/1831093/taiwan-china-conflict-is-disrupting-whos-fight-against-covid-19/

The government has taken extraordinary measures to contain and combat the COVID-19 pandemic, having started testing people for the virus in January when the first case was reported. As of 7 April, there were 376 cases and five deaths (as the UN does not recognize it as a sovereign state, the WHO does not publish specific data on it).

However, these measures do not seem to have been extended to immigration detention. According to New Bloom journalist Brian Hioe, “special measures taken to safeguard the health of immigration detainees or other detainees in response to the COVID-19 crisis seem to be lacking.” Since the number of cases in Taiwan remains limited, the government has not undertaken mass testing; accordingly, there appears to be no systematic testing in immigration detention centres.

According to official statistics, there are an estimated 50,000 undocumented migrant workers, of whom approximately 290 are in immigration detention. On 27 February, it was reported that the 32nd person to contract the virus was an undocumented migrant care worker from Indonesia. Subsequently, the deputy director-general of the Ministry of Labour's Workforce Development Agency said that the government would begin checking the employment or residency status of migrant workers who accompany their employers to seek care at hospitals, including whether workers had overstayed their visas or held invalid residency permits. The Ministry of Labour also issued a press release stating that it would work with the National Policy Agency, the Military Police Command, the Coast Guard and similar institutions to increase the government’s capacity to investigate and conduct arrests of undocumented migrant workers. It added that it would continue to offer a reward to members of the public who report on suspected violations of the Employment Service Act by undocumented migrant workers. The government’s stated objective in issuing this press release was to close the “loophole” of virus prevention posed by the situation of undocumented workers. Civil society groups quickly moved to criticise the government’s policies for deterring undocumented migrant workers from seeking medical attention and pushing an already-marginalized group further into the shadows during a global health crisis.

On 1 March, in response to public backlash, the Ministry of Labour indicated that it would not investigate the immigration status of migrant workers seeking medical care. The Minister of Health and Welfare and head of the Central Epidemic Command Centre Chen Shih-chung and Minister Without Portfolio Lin Wan-i reiterated this policy on 2 March. According to a report by Taipei Times, Chen said: “I disagree with the need to strengthen reporting of undocumented workers at present. For hospitals, it does not matter if one is a documented or undocumented migrant worker or a family member of a patient. What matters to us is whether they have any questionable travel history, or illnesses, and if they know how to look after the patient.” Chen also highlighted that any crackdown on undocumented migrant care workers may create an “acute shortage” of care workers available to look after patients. Nonetheless, according to CNA English News, “if a member of the general public makes a report on an undocumented migrant worker, the MOL will still dispatch the local government to investigate, although deportation will be up to the NIA.”

On the topic of wider protections for migrant workers, the deputy director of the Ministry of Labour Cross-Border Workforce Management Division, said: “[T]he abolition of fines, re-entry bans and restoration of documented status needs revision of the current laws, which require consensus in society.” A dozen civil society groups have initiated a petition to call on the government to institute an amnesty on deportations for undocumented workers in order to ensure effective access to healthcare for all, and to stop the spread of the virus.

On 21 March, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a press release stating that there will be an automatic 30-day visa extension for non-citizens who arrived on or before March 21 with a visa waiver, visitor visa, or landing visa. This policy specifically excludes foreign nationals who have overstayed their visas. On 20 March, the National Immigration Agency announced the expansion of an existing voluntary departure scheme for undocumented migrants: “To overstayers who turn themselves in during the designated period of this program [1 April to 30 June], penalty relieves including no detention, no entry ban and a minimum fine of NTD 2,000 (USD66.52).” The Director of the NIA said: “The purpose of this program is to encourage overstayers to turn themselves in so the Agency can help them return home safely.” The NIA also said: “[O]nce the pandemic of COVID-19 eases, the Agency will strengthen enforcement and launch nation-wide sweeps against overstaying population.”

Officials implemented a ban on entry by foreign nationals on March 19. Exempted categories include those holding alien resident certificates; diplomatic identification cards; special business permits; or other special permits.


09 April 2020

Kuwait

Despite the closure of Kuwait's international airport, authorities have sought to continue deportation flights throughout the crisis, The Points Guy (https://thepointsguy.co.uk/news/kwi-closes-coronavirus/)
Despite the closure of Kuwait's international airport, authorities have sought to continue deportation flights throughout the crisis, The Points Guy (https://thepointsguy.co.uk/news/kwi-closes-coronavirus/)

According to GDP partner Migrant-Rights.org, which has posted a dedicated page updating responses by all GCC countries to Covid-19 and its impact on migrant workers in the Gulf (see link below), the government of Kuwait has taken a series of measures that affect migrant workers in the country, including with respect to detention and deportation. In particular, according to Migrant-Rights.org:

- The Interior Ministry has asked that all businesses stop employing “live-out” workers and has detained several such workers for medical examinations.
- Since Kuwait shut down its airport, the recruitment of “live-in” domestic workers remains at a standstill.
- The Interior Ministry has also announced that expats who do not comply with measures to contain COVID-19 could be deported and several have been arrested so far.
- Officials have set up temporary accommodation for approximately 25,000 migrant workers who work for companies contracted with the Ministry of Health to ensure they do not interact with others.

The country has reportedly sought to continue deportation flights despite the crisis, though several home countries initially refused to accept their nationals without medical tests. On 23 March, the Arab Times reported that both India and the Philippines have refused to accept deportees without a medical certificate: “Security sources revealed that the (Kuwaiti) Ministry of the Interior stopped completing the procedures for deporting 340 Filipino and Indian nationalities from the deportation prison after both the countries refused to receive the deportees. Both countries require a health certificate for every deportee that they are free from coronavirus which stopped the procedures after legal matters were completed. The sources stated that 3 flights were supposed to be carried out, 2 of them to India and the third one to the Philippine capital Manila, but all trips were canceled due to the request of the authorities of both countries for a health certificate stating the safety of everyone who is deported from diseases.”

Kuwait is one of several Gulf countries to have asked Bangladesh to accept the return of its undocumented workers, who number in the tens of thousands. The Daily Star reported on 9 April: “According to an expatriates' welfare ministry official, Kuwait asked several countries, including the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Egypt and Bangladesh, to take back the undocumented migrant workers. ‘The Philippines already started repatriation of its undocumented nationals in Kuwait. Egypt agreed to do so. India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh had observed that it would be better if the repatriation was done after the coronavirus pandemic was over,’ he said. Kuwait, however, warned that the countries that don't take back their undocumented workers now, might not get priority when Kuwait starts fresh recruitment later, the official said preferring anonymity. Later, it was finalised, by Kuwait and Bangladesh, that 125 Bangladeshis, in deportation centres and waiting to return, and 190 others in prison for committing various crimes, would be deported between April 16 and 20, the official said.”


09 April 2020

United States

Freedom for Immigrants, Interactive Map - U.S. Immigration Detention, https://www.freedomforimmigrants.org/map
Freedom for Immigrants, Interactive Map - U.S. Immigration Detention, https://www.freedomforimmigrants.org/map

The detention visitation group Freedom for Immigrants has updated its map of U.S. detention centres with a "Covid-19 Reporting" filter that provides updated information about infections in detention centres as well as other impacts related to the pandemic.

The Center for Migration Studies has launched a dedicated Covid-19 policy developments page, which focuses mainly though not exclusively on U.S. developments.

The Detention Watch Network has launched a Covid-19 action page, complete with toolkits and information resources. According to the page, "The threat of a coronavirus outbreak at immigration detention facilities is imminent. People locked up in immigration detention are extremely vulnerable to the spread of infectious disease due to their deprivation of liberty, deteriorating health while in detention, and the track record of fatally flawed medical care in Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) custody."


09 April 2020

Japan

Immigration Review Task Force, Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/nyukanmondaichousakai/
Immigration Review Task Force, Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/nyukanmondaichousakai/

According to a lawyer who represents immigration detainees in Japan, to date the Immigration Services Agency has taken no action to safeguard or release detainees. This has prompted NGOs and advocates in the country to issue an appeal on the Immigration Review Task Force Facebook page demanding urgent action by the government.


08 April 2020

United States

Protestors in Philadelphia call for officials to release people from prisons and immigration detention centres, Voice of America, 30 March 2020 (https://www.voanews.com/science-health/coronavirus-outbreak/now-us-judge-wont-release-immigrants-high-virus-risks)
Protestors in Philadelphia call for officials to release people from prisons and immigration detention centres, Voice of America, 30 March 2020 (https://www.voanews.com/science-health/coronavirus-outbreak/now-us-judge-wont-release-immigrants-high-virus-risks)

Facing pressure from rights groups and civil society, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has released a small number of immigration detainees. However, as the United States has the largest Immigration detention system in the world, which can reach some 40,000 detainees on any given day, the challenges the country confronts are enormous. Those released to date--less than 200 detainees--represent a fraction of the country’s total detainee population.

Many organisations have focused on promoting ATDs as a way to respond to the Covid-19 crisis. The Centre for Migration Studies, for example, urged the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to "immediately embark on an aggressive program of supervised release and alternative-to-detention (ATD) programs for those in its custody. Immigrant detention serves two main purposes, to ensure that non-citizens appear for their removal proceedings and, in rare cases, to protect the public. Yet in the current circumstances, it endangers detainees, detention staff, court officials, health care providers, and the public. ... The administration should recognize the scale of this emergency and act now."

On 7 April, Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that it was considering releasing more detainees, focusing narrowly on "vulnerable" detainees. According to Reuters (8 April 2020), “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said that it had instructed its offices around the country to consider the release of detainees with an increased risk of contracting the deadly respiratory disease. Among those whose cases are being reviewed are pregnant women and detainees ages 60 and older, according to the agency. ICE said that it already had identified 600 detainees it considered vulnerable and released 160 people from custody. Those released will be required to wear ankle bracelets or be subject to other forms of monitoring. The decision comes after ICE announced last month that it would delay arresting some people suspected of violating immigration laws until after the coronavirus crisis, one of several emergency moves that could hamper President Donald Trump’s aggressive immigration crackdown. ICE has recorded 19 cases of detainees infected with COVID-19 and 71 cases of agency employees with the disease, including 11 who work in detention centers, according to figures posted on its website.”

The ICE announcement comes as pressure from independent experts and rights groups grows. On 17 March, several organisations (including Physicians for Human Rights, Amnesty USA, and Human Rights First) issued letters urging the federal government to release immigration detainees held in their states, citing concerns that detention facilities will become “incubators” for the virus. Simultaneously, other organisations including ACLU mounted legal challenges to release vulnerable detainees. On 18 March, after facing criticisms for its continued enforcement actions, ICE announced that it would temporarily postpone most arrests, except persons who pose public safety risks and individuals subject to mandatory detention on criminal grounds, and would “utilize alternatives to detention where appropriate.” The agency also stated that it would not make arrests near health care centres, so as not to discourage persons from seeking medical assistance.

Several judges have ordered the release of certain immigration detainees - including judges in New York, California, and Pennsylvania. For example, on 31 March, a federal judge in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, ordered the immediate release of 10 immigration detainees - all with underlying health problems - from several county jails with ICE contracts. The judge cited authorities’ failure to take appropriate measures to protect the individuals from the virus as reason for their release. Other judges, however, have turned down requests to release detainees, instead ordering authorities to ensure compliance with federal guidelines.

On 28 March, a federal judge in LA gave the Trump administration until 6 April to explain why it cannot release the approximately 7,000 immigrant children in shelters and detention facilities across the country, and unite them with waiting sponsors. This was later expanded by a federal judge in Washington to include their parents. On 4 April 2020, it was reported that at least five migrants held in two ICE detention centres in Pennsylvania had tested positive for Covid-19 and were placed in isolation.

Detainees confined at Winn Correctional Center (Louisiana) reported that ICE have failed to supply masks, hand sanitiser, gloves, and cleaning supplies to a group of 44 detainees isolated together (having possibly been exposed to the virus). Reportedly, seven detainees were deported to Columbia, four days into a 14-day quarantine period - violating basic Covid-19 containment standards.


08 April 2020

Pakistan

A Volunteer Checks the Temperature of Passengers Arriving at a Railway Station in Peshawar, AP Photo, 17 March 2020, (https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/03/19/pakistan-prisoners-risk-covid-19)
A Volunteer Checks the Temperature of Passengers Arriving at a Railway Station in Peshawar, AP Photo, 17 March 2020, (https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/03/19/pakistan-prisoners-risk-covid-19)

There are reports indicating that Pakistani authorities have taken some steps to mitigate the impact of the virus on the country’s prison population, which includes non-citizen detainees imprisoned under the 1946 Foreigners Act. The government has suspended visits to penitentiaries and court hearings. On 16 March, the Sindh provincial government began screening inmates and prison staff for Covid-19, while the Punjab government announced that it was creating isolation centres for prisoners.

However, critical concerns remain and there is increasing pressure to implement additional measures as the crisis becomes more acute. On 19 March, Human Rights Watch amplified calls to protect prisoners, urging the country’s authorities to take urgent steps to ensure that prisoners and detainees have access to adequate medical care and protective measures against Covid-19. Amnesty International and Justice Project Pakistan also urged authorities to take measures to protect prisoners. The Justice Project Pakistan urged the government to “devise a coherent approach to protecting its prison population, currently at over 77,000 individuals. Should the government fail to act now, Pakistani prisons and detention centres will become epicentres for the transmission of Covid-19.”

On 24 March 2020, the first case of Covid-19 within a prison was confirmed. On the same day, the Islamabad High Court ordered the release of hundreds of prisoners involved in petty crimes on bail, in a bid to reduce the hazards of the Covid-19 outbreak in jails. Since then, several provincial governments have ordered the release of prisoners: on 28 March, the Punjab government’s Home Department announced that it would be releasing 20,000 prisoners out of 46,000 from the 41 jails across the province (and bail applications have been made for prisoners who committed petty crimes and for those over the age of 60); and on 30 March, the Sindh government approved the temporary release for three months of around 4,000 prisoners. (Government officials hinted that drug smugglers and those convicted of terrorism may not be released. Prisoners convicted of “minor” crimes would be eligible for temporary release. It was reported that there were around 16,024 prisoners for 13,538 places in all prisons across the Sindh). The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa also announced that they would release prisoners 60 days early.


08 April 2020

Italy

The Guardian,
The Guardian, "Italy declares own ports 'unsafe' to stop migrants arriving," 8 April 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/08/italy-declares-own-ports-unsafe-to-stop-migrants-disembarking

The Italian government declared its ports “unsafe” due to coronavirus, and will not authorise the landing of migrant rescue boats until after the end of the emergency.


07 April 2020

Iran

"Tabriz Prison Riot, Smoke Coming Out from the Facility," 26 March 2020, https://iran-hrm.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Tabriz-Prison-Guards-Clamp-Down-on-Prisoners-Fearing-Coronavirus-Infection-690x375.jpg

According to UNHCR, “There are close to one million refugees in Iran, mostly from Afghanistan and also Iraq. From the onset of the pandemic, the Government of Iran has made every effort to ensure that all refugees have access to the same health services as Iranians, so that they are fully included in the national COVID-19 response.” However, as of this update, the Global Detention Project has found no reports indicating that the government is taking specific measures to assist people who may be in prisons or detention centres for immigration or asylum-related reasons.

In mid-March, the government ordered the release of 85,000 prisoners detained in criminal prisons in efforts to combat the spread of Coronavirus. On 20 March, prisoners attempted to escape the Parsilon Prison of Khorramabad in western Iran in a coordinated plan with people involved inside and outside the facility. Reports indicate that individuals attacked the prison from the outside and killed two or three prison guards. Guards and security forces subsequently opened fire on about 250 fleeing prisoners, which left many of them dead. Following the riot, martial law was declared in Khorramabad and raids are being conducted to apprehend the fleeing prisoners.


07 April 2020

Lebanon

Ramzi Haidar, Prisoners During Recreation at Roumieh Prison, AFP Photo, (https://aawsat.com/english/home/article/2183171/lebanon%E2%80%99s-prisoners-call-general-amnesty-prevent-catastrophe)
Ramzi Haidar, Prisoners During Recreation at Roumieh Prison, AFP Photo, (https://aawsat.com/english/home/article/2183171/lebanon%E2%80%99s-prisoners-call-general-amnesty-prevent-catastrophe)

The GDP has been unable to find any reports indicating whether measures have been taken to safeguard migrants and asylum seekers in detention in Lebanon, in particular at the country’s main immigration detention centre in Beirut. Many migrants and refugees can also end up in prisons for extended periods of time. But there are growing concerns about the impact of the Coronavirus on the country’s large refugee population.

Human Rights Watch has reported that 21 municipalities in Lebanon have introduced discriminatory restrictions on Syrian refugees that do not apply to Lebanese residents, as part of their efforts to combat Covid-19. For instance, at least eight municipalities have implemented curfews that restrict the movement of Syrian refugees to certain times. The Brital municipality in Baalbek announced that Syrians are only allowed to move around the municipality between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. and then only to perform necessary tasks. Authorities said that Syrians caught violating the measures could face legal measures and that their identity documentation could be confiscated.

Riots have erupted in at least two prisons in Lebanon as prisoners demanded to be released over fears the country’s coronavirus outbreak will spread rapidly among prisons. 25 prisoners sentenced for minor crimes were freed from one of the country’s prisons and the head of the Bar Association in the north said that this could lead to the release of about 200 detainees from Tripoli Prison, meaning 15-20% of its prisoners. Prisoners in several penal institutions throughout the country have begun hunger-strikes requesting the government to release them. On 31 March 2020, Lebanese authorities indicated that there were no cases of Covid-19 within the prison of Roumieh.


07 April 2020

Mexico

Migrants Wait in Front of the Chiapas Immigration Detention Centre March 2020
Migrants Wait in Front of the Chiapas Immigration Detention Centre March 2020

With one of the largest immigration detention systems in the world, Mexico faces an enormous task in trying to protect the tens of thousands of people locked up in its “estaciones migratorias” from contracting Covid-19. Even as the country’s leadership downplayed the risks of the pandemic, some key actors in the country began expressing alarm early on about the risks to immigration detainees. By early April the calls for urgent action began growing louder as violence spread in detention centres across the country.

On 17 March 2020, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission issued a press release requesting that urgent actions be taken to avoid overcrowding and the spread of Covid-19 within the detained migrant population. The Commission urged the federal government to provide information to detainees on preventive measures against Covid-19; provide the necessary health products and supplies and carry out permanent monitoring and supervision of detainees, in particular those most vulnerable to suffer from the disease. The country’s immigration authority, the Instituto Nacional de Migración (INM), reportedly applied some measures to avoid contamination such as the provision of hygiene supplies and installation of special filters.

On 25 March, a detention monitoring coalition consisting of several NGOs issued a press release denouncing alleged violence used by the National Guard to suppress a demonstration by detainees at the country’s massive Siglo XXi detention centre in Chiapas, near the Guatemalan border.

On 1 April 2020, a detainee died and 14 were hospitalised during a protest at the Tenosique immigration detention centre. The detainees were requesting their return to their countries of origin for fear of contracting Covid-19 while in detention.

On 2 April 2020, a large group of concerned individuals, NGOs, and academics issued an open letter demanding the urgent release of all immigration detainees in the country, citing the threat of Covid-19, deaths in detention centres, and the “negligent” behaviour of the INM and security forces.

Amnesty International also urged Mexican authorities on 2 April to release immigration detainees, but warned that given the fact that migrants and refugees are prime targets for exploitation and violence in Mexico, authorities must ensure that those released have access to key services, as well as care and safety.

The Fray Matias Human Rights Centre, which is based near the border with Guatemala, said in an interview with El Pais, that one critical concern is that advocates assisting migrants are unable to keep up with their efforts because of the impact of the virus, leaving them at greater risk of violence and exploitation. A Fray Matias advisor said that migrants and refugees who are crossing the border seem less concerned with the virus than with the other dangers to their safety that they are fleeing from in their home countries as well as confronting during their migration journeys.


06 April 2020

France

Rennes-Saint Jacques-de-la-Lande Centre de Rétention Administrative (CRA), which has been gradually emptied since the start of the crisis (https://www.ouest-france.fr/sante/virus/coronavirus/coronavirus-le-centre-de-retention-administrative-de-rennes-est-ferme-6795399)
Rennes-Saint Jacques-de-la-Lande Centre de Rétention Administrative (CRA), which has been gradually emptied since the start of the crisis (https://www.ouest-france.fr/sante/virus/coronavirus/coronavirus-le-centre-de-retention-administrative-de-rennes-est-ferme-6795399)

In mid-March the “Observatoire de l’enfermement des étrangers” (OEE) issued a statement calling for the immediate release of immigration detainees as legally, the state can only hold them for the time necessary to effectuate their deportation. The observatory argued that this was now impossible due to flights being grounded and would run contrary to the recommendations of the WHO aiming to limit exporting or importing Covid-19. The government had stated that “all appropriate measures have been taken to meet the health requirements to limit the spread of the virus” and therefore there is “no health reason justifying such a release.” The OEE countered that “no satisfactory measure seems to have been put in place to protect detainees or staff against the risks of contamination.”

By the end of March, certain detainees had been released, but rather than seeing a national-level response, it seems that these decisions were being taken at a local level. Following judicial actions from lawyers and bar associations, 12 detainees were released from Plaisir CRA and 90 from Lyon CRA. According to the President of the Lyon Bar Association, maintaining people in detention would be against the law as deportation is currently impossible. Also, 55 detainees remained in Vincennes CRA and 25 remain in Meslin-Amelot CRA following the release of certain detainees, prompted by judicial actions from lawyers.

On 27 March 2020 however, the Conseil d’Etat rejected a request to close CRA’s stating that “while the 26 CRA’s have a capacity of 1800 spaces, only 350 people were detained by 20 March 2020 and 152 on 27 March 2020.”

On 30 March 2020, it was reported that the Rennes Saint-Jacques CRA was emptied and temporarily shut. All detainees were released or transferred by the “juge des libertés et de la détention” and the prefecture. By the end of the week of 23 March 2020, there were six detainees left, of which, five were released during the weekend and the last detainee transferred on 30 March 2020 to the CRA d’Oissel in Rouen.

On 1 April 2020, the "Contrôleure Général des Lieux de Privation de Liberté", Adeline Chazan, stated that the measures taken by the government to avoid a spread of Covid-19 in prisons were insufficient. She claims that the number of people detained should not exceed the number of places. There are currently 71'000 prisoners for 60'000 spaces and the government has only released 4900 prisoners for now.

Meanwhile, in France's overseas territories, including Mayotte and Guyana, there have been growing pressures to address the situation of migrants and asylum seekers.

In Mayotte, which is notorious for detaining thousands of children each year, officials cut off transport connections with nearby Comoros, the source of many irregular residents and workers, in mid-March. One Mayotte official explained the move, saying that since the European Union was cutting all connections to non-EU places, they would no longer be able to detain irregular migrants for removal purposes, so it was important to prevent new arrivals from coming. Also, as the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases began rising by the end of March, Mayotte implemented a series of emergency measures, which included ordering early release for some prisoners.

In Guyana, the NGO La Cimade, which has a presence inside many French immigration detention centres, issued a press release on 27 March that called on authorities to release all immigration detainees from the centre de retention because of the impossibility of carrying out removals.


06 April 2020

Jordan

UNHCR Jordan, Zaatari Camp Empty as Residents Have Been Instructed to Stay Inside, 31 March 2020, (http://jordantimes.com/news/local/zaatari-camp-quiets-under-curfew-refugees-staff-brace-%E2%80%98real-threat%E2%80%99-covid-19-outbreak)
UNHCR Jordan, Zaatari Camp Empty as Residents Have Been Instructed to Stay Inside, 31 March 2020, (http://jordantimes.com/news/local/zaatari-camp-quiets-under-curfew-refugees-staff-brace-%E2%80%98real-threat%E2%80%99-covid-19-outbreak)

Although the GDP has not been able to find reports of authorities taking steps to protect persons in immigration detention, various reports have highlighted that in Zaatari and Azraq refugee camps - which some observers have likened to immigration detention facilities (although the GDP does not classify them as such) - temperature screening has been introduced at camp entrances. Supermarkets within the camps are also open for longer hours, to help facilitate social distancing, and quarantine and self-isolation shelters have been constructed. All lock-down measures applied to Jordan also apply to the camps.

The State Security Court has, meanwhile, released some 1,500 persons from prisons, who were awaiting trial for national security offences, in order to mitigate health risks. Previously, on 14 March 2020, all visits to prisoners were suspended until further notice. On 16 March, it was reported that two prisoners had died following riots in Irbid prison (in response to the suspension of visits).


06 April 2020

Uganda

Health workers screen arrivals for Covid-19 (https://www.afro.who.int/news/uganda-uses-recent-outbreak-experience-prepare-coronavirus)
Health workers screen arrivals for Covid-19 (https://www.afro.who.int/news/uganda-uses-recent-outbreak-experience-prepare-coronavirus)

Despite the country’s open-door policy towards refugees and asylum seekers, on 25 March authorities announced measures to suspend the reception of new refugees and asylum seekers for thirty days. Transit and reception centres were ordered to close immediately, while flights in and out of the country have been suspended and borders sealed. Refugees who are already in the country will continue to receive support.

Handwashing and temperature screening facilities have been put in place at points of entry as well as transit centres and reception centres.


06 April 2020

Ukraine

Prisoners in Ukraine are fearful that insufficient precautionary measures will result in their exposure to the virus, Kharkhiv Human Rights Protection Group (http://khpg.org/en/index.php?id=1585917571)
Prisoners in Ukraine are fearful that insufficient precautionary measures will result in their exposure to the virus, Kharkhiv Human Rights Protection Group (http://khpg.org/en/index.php?id=1585917571)

While calls have been circulated urging authorities to take precautionary steps to protect prisoners, the GDP is not aware of such calls being made with regards to immigration detainees.

On 24 March, 100 Ukrainian and European NGOs issued a statement urging Russian authorities to take necessary steps to protect prisoners confined in the Donbas and Crimea (as well as in Russia). According to the statement, inadequate measures have been adopted to protect prisoners - health services are “faulty,” prison authorities cannot guarantee adequate sanitation and hygiene conditions, no masks are available for prisoners displaying symptoms, and facilities are overcrowded. The statement, however, did not address persons detained due to their migration status. In Ukrainian-controlled prisons, prisoners speaking to the Kharkhiv Human Rights Protection Group have reported a lack of precautionary measures (including disinfection, temperature screening on arrival, and protective clothing for staff) despite the introduction of governmental decrees requiring penitentiary institutions to initiate anti-epidemic measures.

On 23 March, the Justice Ministry Elena Vysotskaya, Deputy Minister of the Justice Ministry, stated that although there were no plans to release prisoners, authorities are observing practices of other countries and are not ruling out the option of releasing inmates. No mention of immigration detainees, however, was made.


06 April 2020

Morocco

Visitors Wait Outside the Oukacha Prison in Casablanca, lesiteinfo.com, (https://www.moroccoworldnews.com/2020/03/296631/covid-19-new-preventive-measures-for-moroccan-prisons/)
Visitors Wait Outside the Oukacha Prison in Casablanca, lesiteinfo.com, (https://www.moroccoworldnews.com/2020/03/296631/covid-19-new-preventive-measures-for-moroccan-prisons/)

Rights groups have expressed concern regarding migrants and refugees in the country, urging the government to take steps to protect vulnerable sections of society. An important transit country for sub-Saharan migrants seeking passage to Europe, large numbers of migrants - particularly those who are undocumented - lack any form of assistance or support. In a statement, six human rights bodies urged the country’s authorities to issue travel authorisations to all persons, regardless of their administrative status; to allow the automatic extension of residency permits until the end of the ‘confinement period’; and to ensure that all official information is translated into English and French so that all persons can access and understand the self-protection measures. (Specific regarding those in detention, however, were not mentioned.)

The General Delegation for Prison Administration and Reintegration (DGAPR) announced new measures on 18 March, aimed at preventing the spread of Covid-19. The number of visitors has been restricted to one person per detainee, once a month. The DGAPR has stated that no Covid-19 infections have been recorded among detainees or employees of prisons throughout the country. On 21 March 2020, the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports decided to send 251 children back home to their families.


06 April 2020

Turkey

A worker in protective clothing disinfects the Fatih Mosque in Istanbul, 14 March 2020 (https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/03/turkey-coronavirus-spread-case-triple.html)
A worker in protective clothing disinfects the Fatih Mosque in Istanbul, 14 March 2020 (https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/03/turkey-coronavirus-spread-case-triple.html)

To-date, the GDP has been unable to find any reports indicating that authorities have taken measures within removal centres. Instead, domestic attention has been focused on the country’s prisons. On 17 March, nine human rights organisations and trade unions called on the state and prison authorities to take various steps to ensure the safety of inmates. The government is also reportedly working on a bill that aims to release 100,000 prisoners due to Covid-19. Sources indicate that repeat offenders, or those that have committed terrorist, drug, or sexual abuse crimes will not be released. On 16 March 2020, Turkish tribunals announced that hearings are postponed until further notice due to the spread of Covid-19. Also, visits to the country’s prison population have been suspended.

Despite Turkey’s announcement in February that it would no longer stop migrants and refugees from reaching Europe, the government altered its approach in response to the virus, announcing that by 27 March 2020, refugees on the Turkey-Greece border would be temporarily settled in nine cities as a precaution against further spread of Covid-19.


06 April 2020

Tunisia

Tunisia's Minister of Justice visits Manouba women's prison to ensure that preventive measures are being put in place, Kapitalis, 12 March 2020 (http://kapitalis.com/tunisie/2020/03/13/coronavirus-sterilisation-et-autres-mesures-preventives-dans-les-prisons-tunisiennes/)
Tunisia's Minister of Justice visits Manouba women's prison to ensure that preventive measures are being put in place, Kapitalis, 12 March 2020 (http://kapitalis.com/tunisie/2020/03/13/coronavirus-sterilisation-et-autres-mesures-preventives-dans-les-prisons-tunisiennes/)

While the Tunisian government has taken several steps to protect prison populations, the GDP has been unable to find any reports indicating that authorities have adopted measures to assist migrants and asylum seekers, including those in detention. Instead, on 24 March it was reported that migrants continued to be placed in Ben Guerdane and Al Wardia detention facilities, where already poor sanitary facilities are now facing even greater strains. Migrants and asylum seekers also report a lack of prevention advice in languages they can understand.

Several steps have been taken concerning prisons. On 12 March 2020, the “Direction Générale des prisons et de la rééducation” (DGPR) announced several preventive measures to mitigate the risk of a Covid-19 outbreak within Tunisian criminal prisons, including sterilisation operations, the acquisition of thermal cameras, and the creation of isolation cells. Newly arrived detainees now undergo a full medical examination before being placed in their cell. In addition, visits have been suspended and the sending of food baskets prepared by families is now restricted. The Minister of Justice, Thouraya Jeribi, visited a women’s prison on 19 March 2020 to ensure that all measures were being followed.

On 19 March 2020, the Tunisian president, Kais Saied, called on the Special Pardon Committee to study the possibility of releasing certain detainees in order to “ease the pressure on prisons.” Similarly, on 20 March 2020 the President announced the granting of special pardons to coincide with the 64th anniversary of the country’s independence: 670 prisoners would be released, while others would benefit from reduced sentences.

Civil society organisations have also called for the government to reduce the prison population in order to avoid any risk of contamination of prisoners. A letter signed by 15 Tunisian human rights organisations on 19 March 2020 requests a “drastic reduction in the number of people detained” so as to control the spread of Covid-19. The letter suggests the multiplication of parole and the maintenance of links between detainees and their families while respecting health protection measures.


06 April 2020

Thailand

Fears of the uncontrolled spread of Covid-19 in Buriam Prison led to protests within the facility, 29 March 2020 (https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/03/coronavirus-rumour-sparks-prison-riot-thailand-buriram-200329111845599.html)
Fears of the uncontrolled spread of Covid-19 in Buriam Prison led to protests within the facility, 29 March 2020 (https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/03/coronavirus-rumour-sparks-prison-riot-thailand-buriram-200329111845599.html)

Despite severe overcrowding characterising Thailand’s immigration detention facilities, the GDP has been unable to find any reports indicating that authorities have taken steps to protect, or release, immigration detainees.

While the country has drafted measures which remove the need for foreign tourists, stuck in the country due to airline cancellations, to apply for visa extensions, migrant workers in the country must continue to regularly report to immigration authorities. New legislation, meanwhile, requires foreigners entering the country to show medical certificates stating that they have tested negative for Covid-19, as well as evidence of health insurance coverage. Those arriving without such paperwork risk detention and deportation.

All visits to prisons have been suspended from 18 to 31 March 2020. Families can bring money and food to prisoners but may not enter the premises. On 29 March 2020, fears of the virus’s uncontrolled spread within prisons prompted inmates held in Buriram Prison to protest their confinement. During the ensuing violence, several persons escaped.


06 April 2020

Norway

Arrival Centre in Råde in Norway, (https://www.moss-avis.no/ankomstsenter-%C3%B8stfold)
Arrival Centre in Råde in Norway, (https://www.moss-avis.no/ankomstsenter-%C3%B8stfold)

A number of individuals have been released from immigration detention as a result of measures implemented in response to the pandemic. As of early April, the Police Immigration Department had released 10 individuals as deportations became impossible to undertake. Those released are required to remain in a stated location, either a private address or asylum reception centre.

Arriving asylum seekers are to be quarantined for 14 days at the Rade arrival centre before they can be transferred to other reception centres.

The Norwegian Correctional Service had released by early April nearly 200 prisoners in order to reduce prison populations. As of 7 April 2020, seven members of staff of the correctional service and two prisoners serving sentences in the community had tested positive for Covid-19.


06 April 2020

Spain

The Centro de Internamiento de Extranjeros (CIE) de Aluche in Madrid has been temporarily closed during the pandemic, Europa Press (https://tinyurl.com/sx3qeov)
The Centro de Internamiento de Extranjeros (CIE) de Aluche in Madrid has been temporarily closed during the pandemic, Europa Press (https://tinyurl.com/sx3qeov)

Spain was one of the first countries in Europe to release immigration detainees amidst the Covid-19 crisis, to date. However the GDP has found little information detailing the situation that released detainees now face, or the level of support that they are receiving.

As flights were grounded and movement halted, it was quickly apparent that expulsion would no longer be possible, prompting Francisco Fernández Marugán, the Spanish Ombudsman, to comment on 19 March that in these circumstances, “[immigration detainees] must be released.” The “Campana Estatal por el Cierre de los CIEs,” similarly urged the Spanish government to close immigration detention centres given that returns could not longer be undertaken; and the Interior Ministry advised that detainees who cannot be deported or who have been detained for longer than the maximum period (60 days) should be released.

Eight detainees were released from Valencia CIE on 16 March, while the Barcelona CIE was temporarily shut and all detainees released. Detainees were also released from Aluche, Tarife, and Madrid CIEs - but reports indicate that many detainees remain in the Madrid facility.

On 20 March 2020, the Spanish government adopted measures that guarantee that migrants and refugees in the country may benefit from the country’s protection system. The Secretary of State for Migration has temporarily suspended the requirement to have a valid residence permit in order to receive aid from the state, where renewing the permit is impossible.

On 30 March, riots broke out in several prisons in Valencia, including Villena, Fontcalent and Picassent prisons. Prisoners were protesting against the suspension of visits. The Picassent prison houses 2,000 prisoners, many of whom reportedly suffer from chronic health conditions or are immunodeficient.

On 1 April 2020, a Judge ordered the release of all detainees in the Las Palmas CIE after several detainees contracting Covid-19. This measure was adopted due to the conditions of overcrowding and the impossibility of maintaining distance between detainees in the centre. Reports indicate that there remain approximately 100 persons in CIE’s throughout Spain for a total of 866 spaces, with most detainees being held in the Canary Islands.

On 6 April 2020, two immigration centres in the Canary Islands were closed and no detainees remain. There are still 22 persons in the Murcia CIE; 10 in Valencia CIE and 2 in Algeciras. By 5 April 2020, there were only 34 persons detained throughout Spain’s CIE’s. Currently, the Barcelona; Tenerife; Hoya Fria, Aluche and Barranco Seco CIE’s are temporarily closed.

Pueblos Unidos has created an online resource with information and publications concerning access to services during the state of emergency. The page also provides links to documents published by other organisations.


06 April 2020

Malta

The Hal Far Open Migrant Centre was placed under quarantine on 5 April, after eight migrants contracted the virus. The facility currently houses approximately 1,000 persons in over-crowded conditions. According to media reports, those who tested positive were isolated and vulnerable persons will be transferred out of the centre to be cared for “in a more controlled environment.” With assistance from the Red Cross, the number of medical personnel at the facility will also be increased. The country’s Nationalist Party criticised the government for acting too slowly, “The nationalist party warned about the danger of the virus spreading at the open centre and in prison days ago. The government hoped for the best but failed to prepare for the worst, and now the worst is happening.”


05 April 2020

Greece

Migrants and asylum seekers, arriving from Lesvos, are examined by medical personnel on 15 March 2020 (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/24/eu-urged-to-evacuate-asylum-seekers-from-cramped-greek-island-camps-coronavirus)
Migrants and asylum seekers, arriving from Lesvos, are examined by medical personnel on 15 March 2020 (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/24/eu-urged-to-evacuate-asylum-seekers-from-cramped-greek-island-camps-coronavirus)

In mid-March, Greece announced that its plans to transform the hotspots on Leros and Kos into closed reception centres would be accelerated and that all visits to hotspots would be suspended in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, national and international organisations subsequently issued urgent calls to reduce overcrowding in hotspots, including Médecins Sans Frontières and the European Parliament, which called for the evacuation of all the migrant camps on the islands.

By the end of March, the government began transferring thousands of new arrivals, including children and people with disabilities, to detention centres on the Greek mainland. Human Rights Watch denounced the move: “If the government is serious about preventing COVID-19 transmission and illness among migrants and asylum seekers, it needs to scale up testing, provide more tents, and give people enough toilets, water, and soap, and put in place prevention interventions. … Forcing people, some of whom are at high risk of severe disease or death, to live in dirty and unsanitary conditions, cramped together in close quarters, is a recipe for spreading the virus, not to mention is degrading and inhumane.”

On 25 March ECRE published an open letter, signed by 121 organisations, requesting that “alternatives to detention” for all administrative detainees throughout Greece be implemented; measures to protect public health are taken to protect those residing in camps, camp employees, and society at large; and measures are taken to ensure that people are still able to apply for asylum before the Greek Asylum Service.

By early April, various migrant sites were being placed under quarantine as a result of outbreaks, including the Malakasa and Ritsona facilities. In Malakasa, a 53 year old man tested positive on 5 April 2020 and was transferred to hospital in Athens. In the Ritsona camp, 20 people tested positive for Covid-19 during the week of 30 March 2020.

Within penal institutions, the government announced plans to release up to 1,500 inmates to lessen the chances of transmission of the coronavirus. Prisoners sentenced for minor offences who have up to a year of their terms left would be released.


05 April 2020

United Kingdom

Despite a confirmed case of Covid-19 within the facility, women continue to be placed in Yarl's Wood Removal Centre (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/coronavirus-yarls-wood-immigration-detention-removal-centre-home-office-a9417056.html)
Despite a confirmed case of Covid-19 within the facility, women continue to be placed in Yarl's Wood Removal Centre (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/coronavirus-yarls-wood-immigration-detention-removal-centre-home-office-a9417056.html)

Human rights organisations and legal bodies have repeatedly called on the UK Home office to release immigration detainees. While some 300 individuals were released from removal centres by the end of March, a legal filing seeking the release of all immigration detainees was blocked by the High Court.

When the crisis first began to escalate in the UK, ten human rights and legal organisations wrote a letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel demanding the release of all people from immigration detention, stating that “there is a very real risk of an uncontrolled outbreak of Covid-19 in immigration detention.” The Shadow Immigration Minister, Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP, stated that she “fully supports calls from migration campaigners and lawyers to release immigration detainees on public health grounds amid the Coronavirus outbreak.” On 19 March, Detention Action issued a legal challenge, which sought to ensure that the government reviewed and released persons held under immigration powers, and to immediately halt all future deportations.

On 21 March, some 300 detainees were released from several immigration detention centres, raising hopes that more of the detainee population would soon be freed. These hopes, however, were quickly dashed when Detention Action’s legal challenge was rejected by the High Court. During the case, the Home Office highlighted that numbers in immigration detention had fallen substantially from 1,200 in January to 736 in March. At the same time, the BBC reported that women continued to be placed in detention at Yarl’s Wood, despite one confirmed case of Covid-19 in the facility, and in a leaked letter from G4S, plans to isolate individual vulnerable detainees for up to three months were revealed.

Thus, on 27 March, the call to release detainees was again repeated in an open-letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson. More than 100 charities, grassroots organisations, academics, and legal professionals called on the government to reduce the number of persons in prisons, young offender institutions, secure training centres, and immigration detention facilities.

The Ministry of Justice announced on 4 April 2020 that low-risk prisoners who are within two months of their release date are to be temporarily permitted to leave on licence. This announcement coincided with news that 88 prisoners and 15 staff had tested positive (2 staff died at Pentonville Prison). No mention of immigration detainees, however, was made - prompting rights groups to once again urge the government to release immigration detainees. As Medical Justice UK stated, “Now release immigration detainees. None are serving a criminal sentence and few can be deported during the global lockdown, making their indefinite detention in such harmful conditions incomprehensible, indefensible and just plain cruel.”


04 April 2020

Indonesia

Refugee Women Making Masks for Vulnerable Indonesians, 4 April 2020, (https://www.unhcr.org/id/en/12397-alongside-the-government-of-indonesia-partner-organizations-and-sister-un-agencies-unhcr-ensures-that-refugees-are-not-left-behind-in-covid-19-response.html)
Refugee Women Making Masks for Vulnerable Indonesians, 4 April 2020, (https://www.unhcr.org/id/en/12397-alongside-the-government-of-indonesia-partner-organizations-and-sister-un-agencies-unhcr-ensures-that-refugees-are-not-left-behind-in-covid-19-response.html)

Although immigration detention is no longer emphasized in Indonesia, reports suggest that refugees and asylum seekers in the country face a dire situation as it is impossible to keep any social distance as many share rooms in cramped apartments and those accommodated in IOM-operated sites live in severely overcrowded conditions. In addition, with no “rights to work, travel and use public health services, refugees and asylum seekers are further marginalised and the most vulnerable to the spread of coronavirus.”

On 31 March, according to the Jakarta Post, officials announced that they would begin barring “foreign nationals from transiting through or entering the country … as the government steps up efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the country without heeding growing calls for a complete lockdown to contain the pandemic.”

The GDP has been unable to find any reports indicating whether measures have taken to assist migrants and asylum seekers held in prisons or detention centres. However, the government has begun staking steps in prisons as well as detention centres for minors, including restricting access and visits. On 31 March 2020, the government announced that it would release around 30,000 of its 270,386 prisoners to avoid a possible surge in infections in its overcrowded prisons.

According to a UNHCR-Jakarta 4 April press release, “As per the Government of Indonesia’s protocol, refugees have access to COVID-19 related services, including testing and treatment, provided by the Ministry of Health. Refugee communities throughout the country have been informed of the protocol through various communication channels and actors.” It added: “As a matter of prevention, UNHCR Indonesia is also working closely with partners and the local government to distribute sanitation kits including masks and disinfectants to refugee communities. UNHCR Indonesia provides cash assistance to those most vulnerable and at risk in this current situation to promote improved health and sanitation. With additional funding, UNHCR aims to also expand this cash assistance to more refugee families. Many refugees in Indonesia have skills and resources that can also be part of the solution. Some of the refugee women in Medan, supported by partner Mapanbumi, are producing washable face masks that will be distributed to vulnerable Indonesians and those who continue to work outside their homes in order to support themselves and their families. The refugee women aim to produce 1,000 masks for these groups of people such as becak drivers, street cleaners and the elderly in 18 sub-districts.”


04 April 2020

Switzerland

Detainees Playing Football During Recreation in the Frambois Detention Centre in Geneva, (https://www.letemps.ch/suisse/un-licenciement-injuste-coute-tres-cher-letat-geneve)
Detainees Playing Football During Recreation in the Frambois Detention Centre in Geneva, (https://www.letemps.ch/suisse/un-licenciement-injuste-coute-tres-cher-letat-geneve)

Swiss authorities have temporarily closed some immigration detention facilities, and detainees who have contracted the virus have been placed in isolation in prisons.

In the early stages of the virus’ spread within the country, three Covid-19 cases were detected within federal asylum centres (Chevrilles, Basel, and Bern). Transfers between such facilities were subsequently reduced, but the State Secretariat for Migration (‘SEM’) decided against introducing systematic testing for Covid-19.

As cases continued to rise within the country, various NGOs and official bodies urged the adoption of additional measures to protect vulnerable persons. On 18 March, Solidarité Sans Frontières’ called for several measures, including: access to health for asylum seekers; the release of immigration detainees; and the suspension of deportations. On 20 March, staff working at the Basel federal asylum centre criticised the lack of protective measures within the facility. The employees stated that approximately 200 refugees lived in the centre, most of them sleeping in 12 person rooms, and they were practically “shoulder to shoulder when serving food.” The SEM denied these allegations and said that it was following the Federal Office of Health’s recommendations in asylum centres.

On 23 March 2020, a detainee at the Frambois immigration detention centre tested positive and was thus placed in isolation at the Champ-Dollon prison in Geneva. A staff member also contracted the virus, and three other detainees were placed in isolation at the Geneva prison. The Frambois and Favra detention centres in Geneva were temporarily closed and detainees released.

During a protest in early April at the Champ-Dollon prison in Geneva, some 40 prisoners refused to return to their cells in the afternoon protesting against the conditions of their detention due to the measures taken to avoid the spread of Covid-19. The prisoners later complied with orders and returned to their cells.


03 April 2020

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Ivan Romano,
Ivan Romano, "Afghan Migrants Cook Inside an Abandoned Industrial Plant in Bhiac, Bosnia-Herzegovina," Getty Images, 10 January 2020, (https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/mar/27/bosnia-crams-thousands-of-migrants-into-tent-camp-to-halt-covid-19-spread)

According to the UN, although the number of COVID-19 cases in Bosnia and Herzegovina is still considered manageable (under 500 as of 1 April) "the infection rate is rising fast and is expected to peak in the coming weeks. The authorities have taken measures to prevent the spread of the disease nationwide, such as curfews and school closures, as well as restrictions on movement in and out of the reception centres."

Bosnia and Herzegovina operates one dedicated immigration detention centre, near Sarajevo, which has been criticized for having inadequate conditions, including use of solitary confinement, lack of access to recreation, no provision of legal aide, and failure to undertake age assessments. The country is also notorious for the terrible conditions at its reception centres, which the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants called “inhuman” after his visit to the country in October 2019

In Bosnia, authorities ordered the transfer of thousands of migrants to a remote camp in Lipa due to the coronavirus outbreak in the country. A new camp was constructed a few days later, but there is concern over access to water, heat and electricity. Authorities have imposed a complete restriction on the movement of migrants beyond temporary reception facilities. The camp is expected to host at least 2,000 people for the time being, and 50 tents are already being set up. According to some sources, migrants will not be able to leave the camp which will be under surveillance by Bosnian police forces. An estimated 3000 migrants are currently living in cramped conditions in abandoned buildings or disused train stations.


03 April 2020

Canada

Graham Hughes,
Graham Hughes, "Two Guards Standing Outside the Gates of the Laval Immigration Detention Centre in Quebec, Canada," (https://www.vice.com/en_ca/article/939v7v/laval-quebec-immigration-detainees-are-on-a-hunger-strike-over-coronavirus-fears)

By the end of March, the overall detainee population in Canada’s three dedicated immigration detention centres had declined significantly. However, like the United States, Canada also makes extensive use of its prison system to hold immigraiton detainees. The situation of those detainees was not clear as of this update. Globalnews.ca reported on 3 April that So far, no detainees are confirmed to have contracted COVID-19.”

In mid-March, immigration detainees at the Laval detention centre (near Montreal) launched a hunger strike to highlight their fears that conditions in the facility may lead to a “coronavirus disaster.” The hunger strike followed the signing of an open letter from detainees to the Public Safety Minister on 19 March demanding their release. They pointed to close quarters in which they are held, new detainees arriving without any medical checks, and frequent comings and goings of guards.

According to one report, “an employee at the Toronto centre tested positive for COVID-19 and has been in isolation since March 18.”

Human rights organisations also called on Canadian authorities to improve measures to protect ommigration detainees, many of whom are detained in the prison system. Amnesty International recommended scaling back to the absolute minimum necessary the numbers of people in immigration detention.

In Ontario, visits were suspended until further notice from 18 March 2020.

According to data obtained that Globalnews.ca received from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), “the total number of immigration detainees held in all three of Canada’s immigration holding centres dropped to 64 as of April 1 from 98 on March 25. … The Toronto immigration holding centre, which has 198 beds, had the biggest drop in detainees, dropping to 21 detainees on April 1 from 41 on March 25. The Laval centre, which has 109 beds, went from 48 detainees to 35. And the Surrey centre went from having nine to eight in that timespan. CBSA said that no minors were in the facilities on those dates.”

Concering these releases, an advocate from Action Refugies said, “Releases are picking up. And we were so relieved that after asking for a few weeks, finally some of the [detained] fathers who were separated from their families were released this week on an expedited basis,” Jeanes said in a phone interview. ... If people are released, it’s either because whatever issues there were that were leading them to be detained are resolved. So that’s been the case for some people. Some people were released in the past days because their identity was confirmed, (and) they were able to get the information that the CBSA needed to confirm their identity.”

Some measures were implemented in prisons, though it is unclear to what extent they impacted immigration detainees.


03 April 2020

Libya

Unverified image of facilities being cleaned at the Al Nasr Detention Centre in Zawiya, with assistance from the IOM, Twitter, 28 March 2020 (https://twitter.com/rgowans/status/1244309963666870272)
Unverified image of facilities being cleaned at the Al Nasr Detention Centre in Zawiya, with assistance from the IOM, Twitter, 28 March 2020 (https://twitter.com/rgowans/status/1244309963666870272)

On 21 March 2020, the Rights Group for Migration (RGM) issued a statement calling on authorities to protect migrants and asylum seekers in detention from the risk of infection. They called, among other measures, for the provision of sterilization and hygiene materials to detention centres as well as isolation rooms; the elimination of overcrowding; and the release of children, women, and those with special needs (given that they “pose no threat to public security”).

The UNHCR also called on Libyan authorities to ensure the access and inclusion of all population groups in Libya to health surveillance, preparedness, response plans and activities. The agency called for the orderly release of those held in detention into the community and repeated that detained asylum seekers and refugees are particularly vulnerable and exposed, given poor sanitation facilities, limited health services and overcrowded conditions.

In an email to the Global Detention Project on 3 April, the Rights Group for Migration (RGM) reported that some detention centres had released detainees, but not specifically as a response to Covid-19. The Alsabba (Al Sabaa) detention center in Tripoli released all its detainees, however, according to the Rights Group for Migration “they were released due to the armed clashes near the detention center, more than 300 rockets fell near the Alsabba DC for two consecutive days, and we believe that the responsible authorities want to convert the center to a military barracks.” Also the Abo Saleem (Abu Salim) DC in Tripoli released the Migrants, but this was due to lack of food.

The main issue which facing all migrants in the detention centers, according to the Rights Group for Migration, is “the lack of the basic food, people are dying because of lack of food.” The RGM reports that this is a long-standing issue that pre-dates Covid-19. “The last 3 months DC’s authorities couldn’t supply the food to the detained migrants, this include the detained children and the pregnant women.” More than 120 Migrants in Suqu ElKhamees DC (Al Khoms City), are suffering from lack of food ,and the authorities refuse to release them until now. Not only this, the new arrested migrants are detained with the old immigrants without making any medical tests for them or distributing protection tools for them or to the others.”

According to unverified information on Twitter, between 26 and 29 March, facilities at the Al-Nasr Detention Centre in Al-Zawiya, Zlitan Detention Centre, Dahr al Jabal Detention Centre, and Sabha Detention Centre, were cleaned and disinfected, and some detainees received new mattresses, blankets, and cleaning products. This was reportedly conducted with assistance from the IOM.

On 28 March 2020, the government released 466 prisoners from the country’s penitentiaries. The prisoners released included pretrial detainees pending investigation and those who meet the rules for conditional release. The Ministry of Justice also stated that it planned to release more prisoners in the future, including those who have served more than half of their sentences, the elderly and those with special health considerations.


03 April 2020

Republic of Korea (South Korea)

Hwasung Detention Center (https://www.koreaexpose.com/child-migrant-inmates-south-korea-immigration-jail-hwaseong/)
Hwasung Detention Center (https://www.koreaexpose.com/child-migrant-inmates-south-korea-immigration-jail-hwaseong/)

The Republic of Korea took aggressive action early on in the Covid-19 outbreak to limit the progress of the coronavirus, including adopting strict border control and immigration detention measures.

On 1 April, the government adopted a rule that requires all overseas arrivals—including South Koreans—to quarantine at home or at government-designated facilities for two weeks. Reports indicate that the rule may not have been communicated properly to all incoming passengers, resulting in some foreign nationals being unexpectedly quarantined in government facilities upon arrival. Those refusing to enter the government quarantine are being summarily deported, when possible.

According to the lawyers groups Advocates for Public Interest Law (APIL), one of the measures taken by immigration authorities is to accelerate the deportation process for detainees. In reality, however, it has been difficult to carry out this measure, because of the lack of carriers, which fly from Korea to countries of origin.

In an email to the Global Detention Project, APIL reported that on 26 February, two days after the alert level regarding Covid-19 raised from precaution to severe, which is the highest level, Hwasung Detention Center, the largest immigration detention facility in the country, detailed a plan to address to the crisis, which is expected to be followed in other detention centres as well. This plan includes:
• halting all detention visitation
• increasing sanitization of the facility.
• minimizing mobility of detainees, e.g., appearing to the court room for hearing.
• prompt deportation of the uninfected detainees, in particular, prolonged detained, i.e., migrants detained for two months or more.
• securing more medical supplies.
• separating new arrivals from existing detainees.
• putting into quarantine detainees for at least 14 days who have Covid 19 related symptoms including people in close proximity/ contact with the detainees.
• locking down cella detaining person people who are confirmed case of Covid 19
• being lenient in granting temporary release of detainees
• minimizing crack down on undocumented migrants

Immigration authorities reportedly only test detainees who have Covid 19 related symptoms.

According to APIL), “It is safe to say that South Korea has not adopted new immigration and/or asylum policies in response to the Covid-19 crisis. Surprisingly the immigration authorities seem to believe that immigration detention facilities are safer places than outside. Even though they planned to be lenient to grant temporary release to detainees, the number of detainees who have been permitted temporary release since the plan was set is very small, i.e., two or three under the same conditions as before like requesting bail and guarantor.”


03 April 2020

Cyprus

Refugees are held in Kokkinotrimithia Camp - a registration reception centre which has been turned into a de facto detention centre (https://knews.kathimerini.com.cy/en/news/ngos-raise-alarm-over-inhumane-conditions-at-overcrowded-migrant-detention-camp)
Refugees are held in Kokkinotrimithia Camp - a registration reception centre which has been turned into a de facto detention centre (https://knews.kathimerini.com.cy/en/news/ngos-raise-alarm-over-inhumane-conditions-at-overcrowded-migrant-detention-camp)

The President of the Republic of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, announced on 23 March 2020 a series of emergency measures, including a “ban on unnecessary movement.” However no specific measures were announced at that time concerning the situation of migrants and asylum seekers, who make up an increasingly large proportion of the island nation’s population (with a small population of less than a million inhabitants, the country had as of 2019 the highest number of asylum applications per capita in the region).

The Emergency Reception Centre in Kokkinotrimithia has been converted into a First Registration Centre with an increased capacity, which is now operating as a de facto detention cen