COVID-19 Global Immigration Detention Platform

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

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

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

DATE COUNTRY UPDATE
26 October 2020

Moldova

A Guard Standing in Front of the Chișinău Centre for Eastern Border Migrants, (EU/ENPI,
A Guard Standing in Front of the Chișinău Centre for Eastern Border Migrants, (EU/ENPI, "The Chișinău Centre for Eastern Border Migrants," 27 May 2013, https://www.balcanicaucaso.org/eng/Areas/Moldova/The-Chi-inau-center-for-Eastern-border-migrants-135702)

Early during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Moldovan Parliament declared a 60-day state of emergency (17 March - 15 May 2020) after 29 cases of COVID-19 were registered. While most of the restrictions were gradually dropped, the country nevertheless began to see increases in infections, which began to spike at the end of September 2020. As of 26 October, Moldova had registered 71,503 cases as well as 1,685 COVID-related deaths. In response to the onset of the second wave, President Igor Dodon said that the country would cope without implementing a new set of restrictive measures like closing schools.

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

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

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


24 October 2020

Italy

Members of the Italian Red Cross Gather on Quay as a Quarantine Ship Heads Towards Lampedusa Island, (Alessandro Di Meo, EPA,
Members of the Italian Red Cross Gather on Quay as a Quarantine Ship Heads Towards Lampedusa Island, (Alessandro Di Meo, EPA, "Death of Teenage Boy on Italian 'Quarantine Ship' Being Investigated," The Guardian, 7 October 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/oct/07/death-of-teenage-boy-on-italian-quarantine-ship-being-investigated)

Migrants and asylum seekers who test positive for COVID-19 are routinely being confined in “inadequate conditions” on quarantine ships stationed off the country’s coast. According to ARCI (Associazione Ricreativa Culturale Italiana), five quarantine ships are currently in operation; however, the total number of people quarantined on these vessels has not been released. Following a visit to one quarantine ship on 17 September--the “Rhapsody” ferry, then anchored off Palermo--the Italian national ombudsman reported that 868 persons were in quarantine on the ship that day, as well as an additional 814 who were undergoing compulsory isolation following their arrival in Italy.

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

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

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

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


23 October 2020

United Kingdom

Tug Haven Facility Entrance in Dover, Kent, Where Migrants are Being Processed, (HMIP/PA,
Tug Haven Facility Entrance in Dover, Kent, Where Migrants are Being Processed, (HMIP/PA, "Kent Inspectors Find Wet and Cold Migrants Held in Crampled Containers," The Guardian, 23 October 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/oct/23/kent-inspectors-find-wet-and-cold-migrants-held-in-cramped-containers)

So far this year, more than 7,400 asylum seekers and migrants have arrived in the UK by small boat--nearly four times as many as in 2019. A new report has revealed that new arrivals are processed at a makeshift facility in Tug Haven, where hundreds are “forced to spend hours in cramped containers on a “rubble-strewn building site,” without appropriate provision of dry clothes and other basic supplies. As part of the “processing,” arrivals are screened for urgent medical conditions and symptoms of COVID-19--those who display symptoms are placed in a designated van. Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector for Prisons, said: “While the number of arrivals had been far higher in 2020 than in previous years, the reception arrangements at Tug Haven were not fit for even small numbers.”

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

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

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

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

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


23 October 2020

Greece

Vial Migrant Camp on the Greek Island of Chios, (L. Partsalis, Picture Alliance,
Vial Migrant Camp on the Greek Island of Chios, (L. Partsalis, Picture Alliance, "Chios Camp in Quarantine After at Least 30 Test Positive for COVID-19," Infomigrants, 15 October 2020, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/27938/chios-camp-in-quarantine-after-at-least-30-test-positive-for-covid-19)

Amidst a surge in cases across the country, several migrants and asylum seekers held in Chios’ Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) are reported to have tested positive for COVID-19. (The exact number remains unclear: while Greek media referred to two positive cases confirmed in Chios hospital, InfoMigrants cited reports of “at least 30” confirmed cases.) Access to medical treatment and testing has been described as “inadequate,” due to a lack of funding from the Ministry of Immigration and Asylum.

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

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


21 October 2020

Lesotho

Ethiopian Airlines Plane With Millions of Medical Supplies Donated by Jack Ma Arrives in Lesotho, (Supplied,
Ethiopian Airlines Plane With Millions of Medical Supplies Donated by Jack Ma Arrives in Lesotho, (Supplied, "Lesotho Receives Covid-19 Tests Kits from Billionaire Jack Ma," EW News, 23 March 2020, https://ewn.co.za/2020/03/27/lesotho-receives-covid-19-test-kits-from-billionaire-jack-ma)

In June, a report from the UN Development Program estimated that approximately 93,000 people had returned to Lesotho as a result of COVID-19. The implementation of strict measures in neighbouring South Africa, which impacted the livelihood of migrant workers, helped spur this influx. Since October, migrant workers holding a permit are allowed to travel outside the country, and several restrictions were lifted.

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

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


20 October 2020

Cuba

A Street Vendor Wearing a Mask as a Precaution Against the Spread of Coronavirus, (Associated Press,
A Street Vendor Wearing a Mask as a Precaution Against the Spread of Coronavirus, (Associated Press, "Cuba Closes Off Havana to Stamp Out Spread of Coronavirus," 1 September 2020, https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/cuba-closes-off-havana-stamp-spread-coronavirus-72753238)

The Cuban government responded swiftly to the COVID-19 crisis, implementing several restrictions early on in the pandemic including a ban on tourist arrivals and a lockdown for vulnerable people. By August 2020, however, cases began to increase and by mid-October there were a total of 6,220 cases and 125 deaths related to the virus.

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

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

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

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


19 October 2020

Tanzania

An MSF Health Official Reaches Out to Communities in Nduta Refugee Camp in Tanzania to Help Prevent the Spread of COVID-19, (MSF,
An MSF Health Official Reaches Out to Communities in Nduta Refugee Camp in Tanzania to Help Prevent the Spread of COVID-19, (MSF, "Tanzania: Spread of COVID-19 Could be Devastating to Refugees and Host Communities," 10 April 2020, https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/what-we-do/news-stories/news/tanzania-spread-covid-19-could-be-devastating-refugees-and-host)

There are nearly 300,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Tanzania, 85 percent of whom live in refugee camps. Doctors Without Borders and other actors have warned about the potential spread of COVID-19 through these camps, especially in Nduta, where self-isolation and physical distancing is reportedly impossible.

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

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

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

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


16 October 2020

Tunisia

Migrants Arriving in a Port of Lampedusa, (M. Buccarello, Reuters,
Migrants Arriving in a Port of Lampedusa, (M. Buccarello, Reuters, "Italy-Tunisia Migrant Repatriation Flights to Resume on 10 August," ANSA, 6 August 2020, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/26477/italy-tunisia-migrant-repatriation-flights-to-resume-on-august-10)

Having largely avoided the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tunisia began experiencing a sharp increase in infections starting in August 2020. This coincided with increased maritime arrivals from Tunisia to Italy and renewed efforts by European leaders to partner with Tunisia in externalising migration controls in the Mediterranean and North Africa.

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

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


14 October 2020

Norway

Norwegian Red Cross, “Hver uke besøker frivillige fra Røde Kors insatte på Trandum utlendingsinternat,” 24 March 2017, Youtube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nz3CHow3Pss
Norwegian Red Cross, “Hver uke besøker frivillige fra Røde Kors insatte på Trandum utlendingsinternat,” 24 March 2017, Youtube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nz3CHow3Pss

The Norwegian Red Cross has reported that since March, it has been unable to access Norway’s sole long-term detention facility, the Trandum Detention Centre. Although the organisation has remained in close contact with the facility’s staff during the pandemic, it has been unable to physically enter the facility and its volunteers have only been able to speak with two detainees via video call. The organisation has frequently raised the need for access with the immigration police, but as of 29 September, access continued to be denied. Prior to the pandemic, the Red Cross ran an active volunteer visitor programme in the facility providing support and assistance to detainees.

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

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


13 October 2020

Algeria

Human Rights Watch, “Algeria: Migrants, Asylum Seekers Forced Out,” 9 October 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/10/09/algeria-migrants-asylum-seekers-forced-out
Human Rights Watch, “Algeria: Migrants, Asylum Seekers Forced Out,” 9 October 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/10/09/algeria-migrants-asylum-seekers-forced-out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


12 October 2020

Congo (Democratic Republic)

WPF Staff Member Standing Behind Checkpoint, (Ben Anguandia, WFP,
WPF Staff Member Standing Behind Checkpoint, (Ben Anguandia, WFP, "With Conflict and Covid-19 Deepening Hunger in the Democratic Republic of Congo, More Help is Needed to Save Millions of Lives," 14 August 2020, https://reliefweb.int/report/democratic-republic-congo/conflict-and-covid-19-deepening-hunger-democratic-republic-congo)

As of 12 October 2020, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) had detected 10,851 cases of COVID-19 and recorded 276 deaths due to the disease. In addition to outbreaks of cholera, the Ebola virus, and measles, the country now has to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said that “this latest crisis, whose socio-economic and health consequences will be felt for some time, is overloading systems of health care and essential services that are already struggling, particularly in the east of the country where armed violence and conflict continues to exact a heavy toll on the local population.” The World Food Programme (WFP) estimated that four in ten of DRC’s 100 millions people are food insecure, with 15.6 million suffering “crisis” or “emergency” hunger.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


11 October 2020

Jamaica

Minister Matthew Samuda is Shown the Cafeteria of the New Broughton Sunset Rehabilitation Adult Correctional Centre by Superintendent A., (Ian Allen,
Minister Matthew Samuda is Shown the Cafeteria of the New Broughton Sunset Rehabilitation Adult Correctional Centre by Superintendent A., (Ian Allen, "245 New COVID Cases; Four Inmates Positive, Too - Mask Wearing Not Mandatory for Prisoners," The Gleaner, 31 August 2020, http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/lead-stories/20200831/245-new-covid-cases-four-inmates-positive-too-mask-wearing-not)

Jamaica successfully avoided a large COVID-19 outbreak during the initial months of the pandemic. However, since late August 2020, the numbers of confirmed infections have surged, increasing the total number of cases to nearly 8,000 by October 2020. The government announced emergency measures in September, including curfews and limits to the size of public gatherings.

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

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

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

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


09 October 2020

Vanuatu

Voters Washing Their Hands Before Casting Ballots in a Polling Station on Malekula Island on 19 March 2020, (The MSG Secretariat,
Voters Washing Their Hands Before Casting Ballots in a Polling Station on Malekula Island on 19 March 2020, (The MSG Secretariat, "Supporting Observation of a Covid-19 General Elections in Vanuatu," International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, 2 April 2020, https://www.idea.int/news-media/news/supporting-observation-covid-19-general-elections-vanuatu)

Amidst fears that the country’s healthcare system would be overwhelmed by a Covid-19 outbreak, Vanuatu announced a State of Emergency and closed its borders to all inbound flights and vessels in March. Said one expert, “Their health system is fragile and even a few cases of Covid-19 will overwhelm their health system.” As of early October 2020, the country had not declared any cases of the virus.

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

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

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

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


09 October 2020

Netherlands

Syrian refugee sings while playing Oud at the former prison of De Koepel in Haarlem, Netherlands, on 21 April 2016 (Muhammed Muheisen, AP Photo,
Syrian refugee sings while playing Oud at the former prison of De Koepel in Haarlem, Netherlands, on 21 April 2016 (Muhammed Muheisen, AP Photo, "For asylum seekers, Dutch prisons feel like home," AP Images Blog, 17 May 2016, https://apimagesblog.com/blog/2016/05/17/for-asylum-seekers-dutch-prisons-feel-like-home)

Unlike many of its EU neighbours, the Netherlands largely avoided implementing strict measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus after the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. But in the past month, the country has seen a surge in new cases, leaving the Netherlands with one of the highest infection rates in the world (160 per 100,000 weekly). While this is spurring the adoption of some new safeguards, including urging--but not making mandatory--masks in public facilities, the government recently announced a prohibition on the use of masks by detainees, according to information provided to the Global Detention Project by Meldpunt Vreemdelingendetentie (“Immigration Detention Hotline”). A 6 October press release from the Ministry of Justice and Security states that detainees are not to wear masks “for security reasons.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


08 October 2020

Viet Nam

P. Jha, “Coronavirus Vietnam: The Mysterious Resurgence of Covid-19,” BBC News, 8 August 2020, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-53690711
P. Jha, “Coronavirus Vietnam: The Mysterious Resurgence of Covid-19,” BBC News, 8 August 2020, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-53690711

As of 7 October, Viet Nam had detected 1,099 cases of COVID-19, out of a population of 21.5 million people. Although the country has been lauded for its efforts to contain the virus--including through early border closures and widespread quarantine and testing activities--some observers have questioned the government’s transparency in reporting COVID-19 statistics.

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

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


07 October 2020

Libya

Migrants Sitting in a Room in a Detention Centre in Western Libya, (Al-Jazeera,
Migrants Sitting in a Room in a Detention Centre in Western Libya, (Al-Jazeera, "COVID-19 Lockdown Worsens Migrants' Suffering in Libya," 2 May 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/videos/2020/05/02/covid-19-lockdown-worsens-migrants-suffering-in-libya/

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

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

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

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


06 October 2020

Saudi Arabia

Ethiopian Migrants Expelled by Yemeni Rebels Who Forced Them to the Saudi Arabian Border, (AFP,
Ethiopian Migrants Expelled by Yemeni Rebels Who Forced Them to the Saudi Arabian Border, (AFP, "Deaths at Saudi Arabia Detention Centre for Ethiopians - Amnesty," BBC News, 3 October 2020, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-54385365)

Amnesty International (AI) reported that at least three people died in detention centres housing thousands of Ethiopian migrants in Saudi Arabia (AI 02.10.2020). The rights group said that migrants were facing “unimaginable cruelty,” including being chained together in pairs, and using their cell floors as toilets. AI urged Saudi authorities to improve conditions in the centres. The migrants from Ethiopia and other countries had been working in northern Yemen but were forced out by Houthi rebels. According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), some 2,000 Ethiopians remain stranded on the Yemeni side of the border, without food, water or healthcare.

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

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

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


03 October 2020

Sri Lanka

A Health Worker Taking a Blood Sample to Test for COVID-19 Antibodies in Colombo, (M. Srinivasan,
A Health Worker Taking a Blood Sample to Test for COVID-19 Antibodies in Colombo, (M. Srinivasan, "Coronavirus: Sri Lanka Sees Surge in Infections," The Hindu, 10 July 2020, https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/coronavirus-sri-lanka-sees-surge-in-infections/article32046456.ece)

As of 28 September, Sri Lanka, with a population of 21.5 million, had detected only 3,360 cases of COVID-19. Although the country has been lauded for its containment of the virus, members of Sri Lanka’s Muslim minority have allegedly become stigmatised as carriers of the virus. There is also little information available concerning the impact of the virus on displaced populations, including migrants and refugees.

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

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

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


02 October 2020

North Korea

France24, “North Korea Issues Shoot-To-Kill Orders to Prevent Virus: US,” 11 September 2020, https://www.france24.com/en/20200911-north-korea-issues-shoot-to-kill-orders-to-prevent-virus-us
France24, “North Korea Issues Shoot-To-Kill Orders to Prevent Virus: US,” 11 September 2020, https://www.france24.com/en/20200911-north-korea-issues-shoot-to-kill-orders-to-prevent-virus-us

Having closed its borders in January in an attempt to prevent the spread of the virus into the country from China, North Korea has declared that it has no cases of COVID-19. The country is believed to have established anti-coronavirus rules that involve “indiscriminate shooting” of anyone approaching its borders illegally. On 24 September 2020, the Republic of Korea accused North Korea of fatally shooting a public servant who was likely attempting to defect and was found in North Korean waters.

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

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


01 October 2020

United Kingdom

Border Force Officials Recover Dinghy After Migrants Landed on Deal Beach, (Luke Dray, Getty Images,
Border Force Officials Recover Dinghy After Migrants Landed on Deal Beach, (Luke Dray, Getty Images, "UK Tested Channel 'Blockade' to Deter Migrants, Leak Reveals," The Guardian, 1 October 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/oct/01/uk-tested-channel-blockade-to-deter-migrants-leak-reveals)

The Covid-19 pandemic appears to be fundamentally altering how migrants and asylum seekers arrive in the UK ... and how the UK responds to these arrivals. So far this year, some 7,000 people have arrived irregularly on small boats that have made the perilous crossing of the Channel--more than three times the number during all of 2019--which appears to be driven at least in part by the decreasing volume of lorry traffic in and out of the country (see the 27 August 2020 update). Last month, UK authorities announced plans to repurpose Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre to boost its capacity to accommodate people intercepted while attempting this crossing (see 27 August United Kingdom update on this platform).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


01 October 2020

Tuvalu

C. Farbotko and T. Kitara, “How is Tuvalu Securing Against COVID-19?,” DevPolicyBlog, 6 April 2020, https://devpolicy.org/how-is-tuvalu-securing-against-covid-19-20200406/
C. Farbotko and T. Kitara, “How is Tuvalu Securing Against COVID-19?,” DevPolicyBlog, 6 April 2020, https://devpolicy.org/how-is-tuvalu-securing-against-covid-19-20200406/

Like other Pacific-island nations that this platform has reported on (like Samoa and Tonga), Tuvalu had yet to report any COVID-19 cases as of October 2020. In March, the country instituted a State of Emergency and shut its borders to all inbound flights and vessels. Tuvalu has one hospital for its approximately 11,000-person population, with limited medical personnel and equipment, resulting in fears that a domestic outbreak would overwhelm the health system.

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


30 September 2020

Nauru

Aerial View of Nauru, (Getty Images,
Aerial View of Nauru, (Getty Images, "Nauru Refugees: The Island Where Children Have Given Up on Life," BBC News, 1 September 2018, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-45327058)

During a near 20-year period (2001-2019), the tiny island nation of Nauru hosted a controversial offshore processing centre for Australia that confined asylum seeking men, women, and children in order to prevent them from making their journeys to Australia. Since the facility officially closed, refugees and asylum seekers on the island have faced a precarious accommodation situation. This situation has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic as the 210 people still on Nauru, many of whom have had either medical transfers or resettlement requests approved since 2019, have seen their cases stalled--due to delays, government inertia, and COVID-19 travel restrictions--and their services curtailed, including healthcare.

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

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


30 September 2020

Tonga

Students from the Queen Salote School of Nursing Participate in a Repatriation Drill in June 2020, (Government of the Kingdom of Tonga,
Students from the Queen Salote School of Nursing Participate in a Repatriation Drill in June 2020, (Government of the Kingdom of Tonga, "Tonga Practices COVID-19 Repatriations," RNZ, 17 June 2020, https://www.rnz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/419162/tonga-practices-covid-19-repatriations)

In March, Tonga instituted a State of Emergency and shut its borders in order to prevent a domestic outbreak. As with other Pacific-island nations like Palau and Samoa, Tonga remained as of October 2020 one of a small handful of countries that had not reported any COVID-19 cases.

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

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


29 September 2020

Myanmar

Reuters, “Myanmar’s ‘Maximum Containment’ COVID-19 Plan Pushed to Brink as Virus Surges,” Channel News Asia, 24 September 2020, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/covid-19-myanmar-maximum-containment-plan-pushed-brink-13141922
Reuters, “Myanmar’s ‘Maximum Containment’ COVID-19 Plan Pushed to Brink as Virus Surges,” Channel News Asia, 24 September 2020, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/covid-19-myanmar-maximum-containment-plan-pushed-brink-13141922

There have been some 7,500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 147 deaths in Myanmar. After weeks without any local transmissions, Myanmar reported an outbreak in the western Rakhine state in mid-August that has since spread across the country. As of September 21, 45,000 people had been quarantined in the country’s attempts to contain the virus. The country’s weak public health system, however, presents significant challenges: As of early 2020, there were only 330 intensive care beds available for a population of 54 million; in 2018, the WHO estimated that there were 6.7 doctors per 10,000 people in the country.

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

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

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

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


29 September 2020

Palau

Reinalda Ebiklou at the entrance to Belau National Hospital, (Richard Brooks,
Reinalda Ebiklou at the entrance to Belau National Hospital, (Richard Brooks, "Fear Will Always Be There: Covid Free Island Prepares to Bring Home Stranded Citizens," The Guardian, 1 June 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/02/fear-will-always-be-there-covid-free-island-prepares-to-bring-home-stranded-citizens)

Palau, a Pacific archipelago nation made up of more than 300 islands, has not been a significant destination for asylum seekers or refugees. However, its location--shared maritime borders with Indonesia, the Philippines, and Micronesia--is adjacent to important migration routes in Asia. Nevertheless, the country does not have national asylum legislation and the country is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention. In April 2015, UNHCR provided assistance to a small number of refugees (fewer than five) in Palau in finding a durable solution. A very small number of asylum seekers sought international protection in Palau in 2014, however, they departed the country following counselling by UNHCR.

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

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


28 September 2020

Bahrain

Migrant-Rights.org logo, (Migrant-Rights.org, accessed on 28 September 2020, https://www.migrant-rights.org/)
Migrant-Rights.org logo, (Migrant-Rights.org, accessed on 28 September 2020, https://www.migrant-rights.org/)

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

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

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

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


27 September 2020

Mongolia

The Mongolian Military Mans a Checkpoint During a Covid-19 Outbreak Drill, on 7 May 2020, (A. Nyamdavaa,
The Mongolian Military Mans a Checkpoint During a Covid-19 Outbreak Drill, on 7 May 2020, (A. Nyamdavaa, "Practice Makes Perfect? Mongolia's Covid-19 Outbreak Drill," The Diplomat, 9 May 2020, https://thediplomat.com/2020/05/practice-makes-perfect-mongolias-covid-19-outbreak-drill/)

Mongolia has been lauded for its efforts to contain the coronavirus despite having a long, porous border with China. As of 23 September, there had been 313 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and no deaths. However, there appears to be no publicly available information indicating the impact of the virus on migrants or asylum seekers, or whether people in detention or prisons were given additional safeguards to prevent the spread of the disease.

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

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

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


26 September 2020

Samoa

WHO Staff Member Demonstrating Handwashing to Children During the COVID-19 Assessment in Upolu, (WHO,
WHO Staff Member Demonstrating Handwashing to Children During the COVID-19 Assessment in Upolu, (WHO, "COVID-19 Preparedness - Supporting the Vulnerable in Samoa," 23 September 2020, https://www.who.int/westernpacific/about/how-we-work/pacific-support/news/detail/23-09-2020-covid-19-preparedness---supporting-the-vulnerable-in-samoa)

Having closed its borders in March to prevent a domestic outbreak, as of October 2020 Samoa remained one of a small number of countries that had yet to report any Covid-19 cases (along with other Pacific island nations, including Palau [see 29 September update on this platform]). Although the country is a signatory to the Refugee Convention, Samoa has not historically been a destination for asylum seekers or refugees. There is little available information about the treatment of migrants or asylum seekers in immigration enforcement procedures in Samoa.


24 September 2020

Bangladesh

Refugees held on Bhasan Char island protesting to return to Cox’s Bazar during a 3-day “go and see visit” to the island for 40 refugees from the camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, September 5, 2020 (Human Rights Watch, “Bangladesh: Reunify Rohingya Refugee Families,” 15 September 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/09/15/bangladesh-reunify-rohingya-refugee-families)
Refugees held on Bhasan Char island protesting to return to Cox’s Bazar during a 3-day “go and see visit” to the island for 40 refugees from the camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, September 5, 2020 (Human Rights Watch, “Bangladesh: Reunify Rohingya Refugee Families,” 15 September 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/09/15/bangladesh-reunify-rohingya-refugee-families)

A controversial refugee settlement set up by the Bangladesh government on the island of Bhasan Char has been under intense scrutiny since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic because of claims by government officials that refugees confined to the site are being kept there as a Covid-19 quarantine measure. This scrutiny has intensified after women refugees reported experiencing sexual abuse and harassment at the hands of police and military officials. “One or two security personnel were caught by the Rohingya men after they raped a young, unmarried girl,” reported one woman. “The girl cried out badly and alerted the Rohingya men who lived in the same area. But we have no way to know if any police case was registered.” Speaking to The Guardian, several women reported that while female officers provided protection, no female officers were on duty overnight.

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

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

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


23 September 2020

Micronesia

J. Pasley, “Isolation and Closed Borders: Here's How Ten Pacific Island Nations are COVID-19-Free, and the Costs That Come With it,” Business Insider, 22 September 2020, https://www.businessinsider.com/heres-how-10-pacific-island-nations-are-covid-19-free-2020-9?r=US&IR=T
J. Pasley, “Isolation and Closed Borders: Here's How Ten Pacific Island Nations are COVID-19-Free, and the Costs That Come With it,” Business Insider, 22 September 2020, https://www.businessinsider.com/heres-how-10-pacific-island-nations-are-covid-19-free-2020-9?r=US&IR=T

The Federated States of Micronesia, which as of 25 August 2020 had no confirmed cases of COVID-19, does not have national asylum legislation and is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention. According to the 2020 U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report, human traffickers target women from Micronesia for different forms of exploitation. As of 2020, the government “remained without comprehensive standard operating procedures (SOPs) for proactive victim identification and referral to protection services. Law enforcement and judicial understanding of trafficking remained low and overall protection services continued to be insufficient.” There is little available information about the treatment of migrants or asylum seekers in immigration enforcement procedures in Micronesia.

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


22 September 2020

Greece

BBC, “Lesvos: Hundreds Test Positive for Covid-19 After Migrant Camp Fire,” 22 September 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-54239446
BBC, “Lesvos: Hundreds Test Positive for Covid-19 After Migrant Camp Fire,” 22 September 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-54239446

More than 240 refugees and migrants have tested positive for Covid-19 in the newly erected Kara Tepe camp on Lesvos. The new camp, which was constructed after a fire levelled Moria camp, is built on a former military firing range near the main town of Mytilene.

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


21 September 2020

Iraq

InfoMigrants, “First European Voluntary Return Flight to Iraq Since Start of Pandemic,” 4 September 2020, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/27057/first-european-voluntary-return-flight-to-iraq-since-start-of-pandemic
InfoMigrants, “First European Voluntary Return Flight to Iraq Since Start of Pandemic,” 4 September 2020, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/27057/first-european-voluntary-return-flight-to-iraq-since-start-of-pandemic

Since March, Iraq has imposed movement restrictions and closed border points to control the spread of the virus. The border closures have been a major obstacle for refugees and asylum seekers, mainly from Syria. However, UNHCR reports that since July the Peshkhabour Border Crossing Point has been open intermittently—albeit only to accept the readmission of Syrians already registered in the Kurdish Region of Iraq (KR-I). More recently, with cases rising rapidly in the country, the government announced the closure of the border with Iran—believed to be in order to prevent Iranian pilgrims from entering the country to mark Arbaeen in Najaf and Karbala.

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

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

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


18 September 2020

Kiribati

Aerial View of Kiribati (https://www.teriin.org/article/kiribati-land-no-tomorrow)
Aerial View of Kiribati (https://www.teriin.org/article/kiribati-land-no-tomorrow)

Kiribati does not operate any dedicated immigration detention facilities. Instead, foreigners who have committed immigration offences may be detained at a motel, hotel, or guesthouse at the cost of the individual passenger, their agent, or their employer. Those who cannot afford accommodation will be detained in a State Prison Facility. As of September 2020, Kiribati remained one of only a small handful of countries that had yet to report any Covid-19 cases.


18 September 2020

Lao People's Democratic Republic

WHO, “Prime Minister Thanks Partners for Support During First Phase of Lao PDR’s Battle with COVID-19,” 10 June 2020, https://www.who.int/laos/news/detail/10-06-2020-prime-minister-thanks-partners-for-support-during-first-phase-of-lao-pdr-s-battle-with-covid-19
WHO, “Prime Minister Thanks Partners for Support During First Phase of Lao PDR’s Battle with COVID-19,” 10 June 2020, https://www.who.int/laos/news/detail/10-06-2020-prime-minister-thanks-partners-for-support-during-first-phase-of-lao-pdr-s-battle-with-covid-19

Historically, Lao PDR has not been a destination for refugees or asylum seekers. However, the country’s land-locked location and long borders with five other countries has made Lao susceptible to being used as a source, or point of transit, for human traffickers. As the U.S State Department noted in its 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report, “The government continued to struggle to identify Lao and foreign victims of trafficking within Laos, despite acknowledgment by Lao authorities and NGOs of the increased risk of trafficking in specialized economic zones, agricultural plantations, and large-scale infrastructure projects.” Little information is publicly available, though, regarding the treatment of migrants or asylum seekers in immigration enforcement procedures in the country. Since the start of the pandemic, Lao has been lauded for its effective control measures against the virus by the WHO. As of 17 August, there had been 22 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country.


16 September 2020

United States

An aerial view of Irwin County Detention Centre, Georgia (Google Maps)
An aerial view of Irwin County Detention Centre, Georgia (Google Maps)

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

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

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


15 September 2020

Greece

BBC News, “Moria Migrants: Fire Destroys Greek Camp Leaving 13,000 Without Shelter,” 9 September 2020, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-54082201
BBC News, “Moria Migrants: Fire Destroys Greek Camp Leaving 13,000 Without Shelter,” 9 September 2020, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-54082201

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

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

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

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

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

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


14 September 2020

France

Detainees in the Patio of the Vincennes CRA in 2019, (Stéphane de Sakutin,
Detainees in the Patio of the Vincennes CRA in 2019, (Stéphane de Sakutin, "Coronavirus : le Conseil d’Etat refuse la fermeture des centres de rétention," Libération, 27 March 2020, https://www.liberation.fr/france/2020/03/27/coronavirus-le-conseil-d-etat-refuse-la-fermeture-des-centres-de-retention_1783367)

In its response to the GDP’s Covid-19 survey, La Cimade, a French human rights NGO that operates inside many of the country’s immigration detention centres (Centres de Rétention Administrative or CRAs), confirmed previous reports that the country had not implemented a detention moratorium since the onset of the pandemic. The organisation explained, however, that in centres where detainees had tested positive for Covid-19, new detention orders were suspended.

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

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

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

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


11 September 2020

Eritrea

Eritrean Refugee Camp in the Tigray Region near the Eritrean Border, (Tiksa Negeri, Reuters,
Eritrean Refugee Camp in the Tigray Region near the Eritrean Border, (Tiksa Negeri, Reuters, "Ethiopia plans to close Eritrean refugee camp despite concerns," Al Jazeera, 19 April 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/04/ethiopia-plans-close-eritrean-refugee-camp-concerns-200417165129036.html)

Although Eritrea long hosted a small population of Somali refugees (roughly 2,000 as of early 2019), in mid-2019 the government closed its only refugee camp, Umkulu, spurring most of the refugees to flee across the border into neighbouring Ethiopia. By the end of 2019, UNHCR reported that there were only 650 refugees remaining in the country. The move to shut the camp came after many years of growing concerns about the treatment of foreigners in the country, including past concerns about possible clandestine detention of migrants. However, there appears to be no public information available about the current status of refugees and migrants in the country, nor about any efforts to safeguard them during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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

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


11 September 2020

Cameroon

Police Officers Standing in Front of Yaoundé Central Prison, (Africa 24,
Police Officers Standing in Front of Yaoundé Central Prison, (Africa 24, "Cameroon, Prévention du Covid en Milieu Carcéral," Youtube, Africa 24, 20 June 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_jOlWWu97zk&ab_channel=Africa24

A critical humanitarian concern in Cameroon is its growing population of internally displaced people (IDPs), which according to UNHCR has increased substantially in recent months because of violence in northern parts of the country. As of mid-2020 there were nearly one million IDPs in the country, in addition to the more than 400,000 refugees. But there appears to be little updated information about the impact of Covid-19 on these populations. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 17 refugees in Cameroon had tested positive for the disease as of 26 August, the latest 7 cases reported following a voluntary screening campaign “carried out by the regional delegation of public health of the East region from the 10 to 16 August” (OCHA, “Cameroon: Covid-19 Emergency,” Situation Report No. 06).

The pandemic is having an important impact on the movements into and across the country. In late March, for instance, growing fears about the spread of the coronavirus spurred thousands of IDPs located in camps in the west of the country to flee to other areas in the south and the north. In the meantime, the country has been blocking people from entering the country from Chad and the Central African Republic. Preventive measures including hand washing and temperature measurements were also implemented at border crossings, according to UNHCR.

UNHCR reported that the country was setting up 40 Refugee Housing Units to facilitate the provision of isolation and quarantine facilities in the East and Adamawa regions. A 14 day quarantine has been made compulsory for all refugees and migrants coming into the country to refugee camps and systematic controls of all new arrivals are made including temperature checks and medical assessments.

There have also been concerns about the impact of the pandemic in prisons. In March 2020, Human Rights Watch reported that local NGOs have decried overcrowding in the country’s prisons and the lack of sanitary measures and distancing. Two months later, the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners (CL2P) revealed that many prisoners had already tested positive. The NGO warned that due to the lack of testing, this number was expected to rise. The Yaoundé prison, which has a population of more than 5,000 prisoners, has been particularly affected by the pandemic. In mid-April, following the death of several prisoners, a protest erupted at the prison. On 20 June, the Ministry of Justice said that 7,000 prisoners had been released since the start of the pandemic. Some 44 percent of those released tested positive for Covid-19, but it is unclear whether they were quarantined following their release.


10 September 2020

Fiji

L. Rawalai, “Inmates Reconnect with Families Online,” The Fiji Times, 17 July 2020, https://www.fijitimes.com/inmates-reconnect-with-families-online/
L. Rawalai, “Inmates Reconnect with Families Online,” The Fiji Times, 17 July 2020, https://www.fijitimes.com/inmates-reconnect-with-families-online/

There is little available information about the treatment of migrants or asylum seekers in immigration enforcement procedures in Fiji. Throughout the pandemic, hundreds of people have been arrested and charged for breaching laws and regulations on self-isolation, quarantine, or movement restrictions. Prisons have continued to operate throughout the pandemic, and the Red Cross has assisted the Fiji Corrections Service (FCS) with donations of hygiene products (body and laundry soap), disinfection material (hand sanitiser, chlorine, and bleach), and PPE (disposable aprons) for use by detainees and prison staff. The UN Development Program has also supported the FCS by providing laptops and data packages so that the service can set up remote conferencing facilities for use by inmates. The small handful of Covid-19 cases that have been detected in the country (32 in total as of 9 September) have largely been amongst arriving passengers. Most recently, several Fijian nationals on a repatriation flight from India tested posted. To date, Fiji has maintained strict travel restrictions for foreigners, and the nationwide curfew imposed in March remains in place.


09 September 2020

Ghana

A. Abu-bashal, “Ghana pardons 794 prisoners to curb spread of COVID-19,” Anadolu Agency, 3 July 2020, https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/ghana-pardons-794-prisoners-to-curb-spread-of-covid-19/1898022
A. Abu-bashal, “Ghana pardons 794 prisoners to curb spread of COVID-19,” Anadolu Agency, 3 July 2020, https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/ghana-pardons-794-prisoners-to-curb-spread-of-covid-19/1898022

As of mid-2020, Ghana was hosting more than 12,000 registered refugees and some 400,000 migrants. The online African peace research platform Kujenga Amani reported that Ghana was “slow to recognise the scale of risks posed by restrictive measures such as a partial lockdown, stay at home and border closure, to vulnerable groups in society.” As a result, Ghana’s migrant and refugee communities, already adversely affected by socio-economic exclusion, have faced even harsher challenges during the Covid-19 crisis.

Although the Global Detention Project has not identified dedicated immigration detention sites in the country, Ghana has emphasised immigration control measures in its policy statements. After the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the government threatened to deport non-nationals who test positive for the disease. However, as of writing, the government does not appear to have followed through on these threats. According to media reports, for Guinean and Burkina Faso nationals, repatriation was halted due to the lack of cooperation from their respective governments. Nevertheless, the threats of deportation have caused panic among refugees and migrants, some of whom have reportedly fled isolation centres or refused offers for medical treatment.

On 17 March, prison visits were limited to one per prisoner, once per week, and two-week isolation was implemented for every new prisoner. In 2019, the country’s 44 prisons had on average a 155 percent occupancy rate. This overcrowding was denounced on 26 June by the POS foundation, which urged the government to release prisoners who had committed minor non-violent offences. The President of Ghana had pardoned 1,602 prisoners by 2 July, as a measure to reduce the overcrowding in prisons. However, several prisoners have reportedly tested positive to Covid-19 in Accra, Tamale, and Kumasi prisons. In Tamale prison, prisoners and prison staff were being randomly tested back in May, but there does not seem to be any national plan to implement sanitary measures in prisons.


08 September 2020

Malta

Mission Lifeline Boat Rescuing Refugees and Docking Into Maltese Port, (DW,
Mission Lifeline Boat Rescuing Refugees and Docking Into Maltese Port, (DW, "Amnesty Slams Malta over Illegal Refugee Tactics," 8 September 2020, https://www.dw.com/en/amnesty-slams-malta-over-illegal-refugee-tactics/a-54848334

Having closed its ports to migrants in April, purportedly as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic (see 13 April update on this platform), Malta has continued to refuse permission for migrants rescued in the Mediterranean to disembark in the country. Since 5 August, 27 migrants rescued in the Maltese search-and-rescue area have been stranded on the Danish ship, Maersk Etienne, with Maltese authorities refusing to allow the group to disembark. Amongst the group are one child and one pregnant woman. Despite rapidly deteriorating conditions on-board the commercial shipping vessel, and reports that passengers have jumped overboard in attempts to escape, the Maltese government has denied any responsibility for those on-board the vessel. “While I understand the humanitarian access of migration, I have to understand the interests of the Maltese,” stated PM Robert Abela.

UNHCR, IOM, and ICS (the International Chamber of Shipping) have called for the migrants’ immediate disembarkation. The Secretary-General of ICS stated, “The shipping industry takes its legal and humanitarian obligations to assist people in distress at sea extremely seriously, and has worked hard to ensure that ships are as prepared as they can be when presented with the prospect of large-scale rescues at sea. However, merchant vessels are not designed or equipped for this purpose, and States need to play their part.”

Hours after UNHCR, IOM, and ICS called on Malta and the EU to end the stand-off, Amnesty International published a report decrying Malta’s treatment of migrants and asylum seekers. According to the rights group, ”Malta’s unlawful practices are the by-product of the European Union (EU)’s migration policies which have prioritized reducing arrivals at all costs, and of the EU member states’ continuing failure to agree on a fair system to share responsibilities for arrivals.”

Separately, the Maltese government appears to be moving forward with plans to establish a shipping vessel that will be used to detain migrants and asylum seekers. According to Maltese media outlet “The Shift,” the country’s government has agreed to hire a Cypriot flagged passenger vessel (the MV Galaxy) to use as an offshore detention facility. Reportedly, authorities pushed claims that irregular migrants are bringing Covid-19 to the island nation, presumably to direct attention away from the government’s mishandling of the pandemic. The press outlet reports that “the government tried to shift the blame of the mishandling of the situation on irregular migrants reaching Maltese shores, yet the figures show that the majority of cases started spreading as a result of the lax attitude adopted by the government when opening the airport and supporting massive events to attract tourists even when other countries had exercised caution.”


08 September 2020

Burundi

A Voter Holding Her ID with her Mouth While Washing Her Hands Before Voting in the Presidential Election in Giheta, (Berthier Mugiraneza, AP Photo,
A Voter Holding Her ID with her Mouth While Washing Her Hands Before Voting in the Presidential Election in Giheta, (Berthier Mugiraneza, AP Photo, "Burundi : Peur et répression dans la réponse au Covid-19," Human Rights Watch, 24 June 2020, https://www.hrw.org/fr/news/2020/06/24/burundi-peur-et-repression-dans-la-reponse-au-covid-19)

The humanitarian challenges facing Burundi as it struggles to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic stem from the large number of nationals who fled the country seeking refuge in nearby countries and are now returning. According to UNHCR, as of June 2020, there were 334,000 Burundian refugees worldwide, including some 165,000 in Tanzania, 72,000 in Rwanda, 104,000 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and 50,000 in Uganda. Between February and June 2020, 8,728 Burundians were “voluntarily” returned to the country despite the fact that repatriations were suspended during May-June because of elections in the country.

Efforts to investigate the impact that Covid-19 may be having on returnees is severely hampered by the fact that the government of Burundi has not provided much public information about the pandemic. Additionally, according to Human Rights Watch, the government has prevented doctors and nurses from responding adequately to the crisis. Since 31 March, a total of 400 Covid-19 cases, including one death, have been confirmed, according to data from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Compounding health concerns, as of June there were reportedly 857 measle cases in one province (Bujumbura Mairie), including at the Cishmere transit centre and two refugee camps in Ruyigi and Cankuzo provinces.

While prison visits have been suspended since 1 April, several cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in Mpimba, Rumonge, and Ngozi prisons. Deaths of inmates have been reported in June. Human Rights Watch contacted an inmate from Ngozi prison, who confirmed that despite Covid-19 related deaths in the prison, sanitary measures were still not applied. The overcrowding prevents social distancing, and while some are purportedly in quarantine, they continue to use shared spaces. On 16 April, during the presentation of the National Commission for Human Rights’ 2020 report, the president of the commission revealed that the country’s prison capacity is 4,194 but that the prison occupation rate was at 273.3 percent on 27 December 2019. Of the 11,464 prisoners, 5,224 were in preventive detention, nearly 50 percent of the entire prison population. The country’s prisons do not have solitary confinement cells and often prisoners must sleep in dormitories holding more than 50 people.

In a report from 31 May, L’Association des Chrétiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture au Burundi (ACAT) said that there has been a mass incarceration of political opponents since the beginning of the election campaign in April, exasperating the already severe overcrowding problem in Rumonge Prison and Muramvya Prison. ACAT described prison conditions as inhumane and degrading. Multiple reports of physical abuse and lack of access to medical care have been documented by the organization.


07 September 2020

Djibouti

Info Migrants, “Djibouti a expulsé plus de 2 000 migrants éthiopiens en avril,” 27 April 2020, https://www.infomigrants.net/fr/post/24369/djibouti-a-expulse-plus-de-2-000-migrants-ethiopiens-en-avril
Info Migrants, “Djibouti a expulsé plus de 2 000 migrants éthiopiens en avril,” 27 April 2020, https://www.infomigrants.net/fr/post/24369/djibouti-a-expulse-plus-de-2-000-migrants-ethiopiens-en-avril

Djibouti is a source and transit country for migration, to and from the Arabian Peninsula. The GDP has reported in the past that authorities regularly rounded up and arrested undocumented migrants, who were then detained in poor conditions. In the context of the pandemic, the closure of the Ethiopian border caused the blockage of migrants, who became stranded along the borders with Ethiopia and Yemen. As of 27 August, IOM reported that 870 were currently living in “spontaneous sites located along the migration corridor.”

Djibouti’s borders reopened on 16 July, which caused a surge of movement into the country, according to IOM. Nowever, there appears to be no publicly available information about whether Covid-related sanitary measures have been taken in facilities that are used to detain migrants and refugees. On the other hand, Djibouti did take some steps in its prisons to limit the spread of infections. On 23 March, the government announced that it would reduce the sentences of convicted prisoners by six-months. In April, Info Migrants reported that the country deported more than 2,000 migrants to Ethiopia, despite surging infections.


06 September 2020

Chad

B. Baloch, “Clashes in Sudan’s West Darfur force 2,500 to seek safety in Chad,” UNHCR,  11 August 2020, https://www.unhcr.org/news/briefing/2020/8/5f3248204/clashes-sudans-west-darfur-force-2500-seek-safety-chad.html
B. Baloch, “Clashes in Sudan’s West Darfur force 2,500 to seek safety in Chad,” UNHCR, 11 August 2020, https://www.unhcr.org/news/briefing/2020/8/5f3248204/clashes-sudans-west-darfur-force-2500-seek-safety-chad.html

Chad’s geographic location--as Libya’s southern neighbour and located at a crossroads between east and west Africa--has resulted in a “a complex humanitarian crisis,” according to IOM, and one which is further impacted by the country’s severe economic problems. As of mid-2020, there were an estimated 133,000 internally displaced persons and 475,000 refugees and asylum seekers. Compounding pressures on the country, according to UNHCR, as of July 2020, 108,809 Chadiens had been returned to the country. Despite these challenges, Chad has had a reputation as traditionally having “a positive and welcoming attitude towards refugees.” It has also been a supporter of the Global Compact for Migration.

To date, the GDP has been unable to establish the extent to which detention measures are used in Chad as part of immigration enforcement policies. Likewise, the GDP has found no details about whether any Covid-19-related measures have been taken in the country to safeguard people who are in custody for immigraiton reasons, including as part of deportation proceedings. UNHCR reported in July 2020 that no one of concern to their mandate, including refugees and returned Chadiens, had reported an infection. However, 47 persons of concerns had been placed in quarantine.

On 24 March, visits to prisons were suspended and all public hearings of courts of justice were postponed. Between March and April, three collective escapes took place at the prisons of Amsinéné and Bongor following the suspension of visits. The Ministry of Justice announced on 9 April the release of more than 3,200 prisoners, as an “exceptional measure taken to respect the preventive measures instituted by the highest authorities of the country against the coronavirus pandemic.” This measure concerned vulnerable prisoners such as the elderly, minors, sick individuals, and pregnant women.


05 September 2020

Grenada

An Aerial View of St. Georges, the Capital of Grenada, (Britannica,
An Aerial View of St. Georges, the Capital of Grenada, (Britannica, "No New COVID-19 Cases as Grenada Eases Curfew Measures," Carribean Business Report, 20 April 2020, https://caribbeanbusinessreport.com/news/no-new-covid-19-cases-as-grenada-eases-curfew-measures/)

With 24 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in total since the beginning of the pandemic, Grenada was on full lock-down for a week in April. The country now allows entry on the island from other low-risk and medium-risk countries. Travelers coming from these countries are required to present a certified copy of a negative COVID-19 test. Grenada is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, and has no formal policy regarding refugees. The GDP was unable to confirm if any measures had been taken for asylum-seekers during the pandemic.


04 September 2020

Ethiopia

Z. Zelalem and W. Brown, “International Condemnation Rains Down on Saudi Arabia After Telegraph Investigation Into Hellish Detention Centres,” The Telegraph, 1 September 2020, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/climate-and-people/international-condemnation-rains-saudi-arabia-telegraph-investigation/
Z. Zelalem and W. Brown, “International Condemnation Rains Down on Saudi Arabia After Telegraph Investigation Into Hellish Detention Centres,” The Telegraph, 1 September 2020, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/climate-and-people/international-condemnation-rains-saudi-arabia-telegraph-investigation/

Following Human Rights Watch’s report highlighting the dire conditions that Ethiopian migrants have been held in in Saudi Arabia during the pandemic (see our 21 August update on Saudi Arabia on this platform), the Telegraph has revealed that the Ethiopian government has attempted to silence those stuck inside Saudi detention facilities. A leaked document submitted to the newspaper--which bears the stamp of the Ethiopian consulate in Jeddah, and which is dated 24 June 2020--warned detained Ethiopians of “legal repercussions” if they continue to upload images and videos from detention. According to the document, footage and images were causing “distress for families and the greater Ethiopian community.” The Telegraph claims that the Ethiopian government has sought to avoid excessive focus on Saudi Arabia’s detention of its nationals to avoid a diplomatic fall-out with the country, which is an important source of foreign exchange for Ethiopia. The Telegraph also revealed additional details about the inhuman conditions in these facilities (30 August 2020), reporting similar scenes to those unearthed by Human Rights Watch as well as that fact that several detainees had committee suicide. The multiple reports about Saudia Arabia’s treatment of detainees have prompted condemnation from a host of governments. The British government stated that it was “very concerned” by the reports; a spokesman for UN Secretary General, António Guterres, said that the UN was also investigating; and the IOM warned that the unhealthy, overcrowded facilities could become “breeding grounds” for fatal diseases. In response, Saudi authorities reportedly told the Telegraph that the government is “looking into the state of all official government facilities in light of the allegations.”


04 September 2020

Spain

Solidary Wheels, “Melilla - Without Health Guarantees and With Protests,” 26 August 2020, https://en.solidarywheels.org/post/melilla-without-health-guarantees-and-with-protests
Solidary Wheels, “Melilla - Without Health Guarantees and With Protests,” 26 August 2020, https://en.solidarywheels.org/post/melilla-without-health-guarantees-and-with-protests

In Melilla, more than 1,400 refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants--including 150 women and 143 children--have again been confined in the enclave’s overcrowded CETI (Center for Temporary Stay of Immigrants) following a Covid-19 diagnosis. On 21 August, the facility was closed with no-one permitted to enter or exit--despite a judge’s decision on 24 August to overturn the government’s closure of this nominally open facility.

As observers have highlighted since the start of the pandemic, conditions inside the centre are extremely unhealthy, with detainees unable to practice social distancing or implement recommended sanitation measures (for more on conditions in CETIs, see our 15 May update). This, combined with the news that a detainee had tested positive for the virus, prompted rising fears amongst the centre’s confined population, and on 25 August some of the centre’s detainees orchestrated peaceful protests in which they requested transfers to the mainland. In response however, riot police fired rubber bullets and tear gas on the protestors. According to Solidary Wheels, an independent group present in Melilla, several protestors were injured,and 33 were arrested and had their phones confiscated. The government’s spokesman also announced that as punishment, those arrested would not be transferred to the mainland.

With the CETI operating beyond its capacity, hundreds of non-nationals in Melilla have been placed in improvised spaces such as the city’s bullring, which were also closed on 21 August. However, according to Amnesty International the conditions in the bullring are even worse than in the CETI, with more than 500 confined in a “deplorable” environment. The Council of Europe’s (CoE) Commissioner for Human Rights has also raised concerns regarding living conditions in the facility, and urged authorities to find alternative forms of accommodation for those held inside. According to Solidary Wheels, when new arrivals were placed in the ad-hoc facility on 20 August, an area of the facility was forced to quarantine due to the lack of space for new arrivals to isolate from others. The CoE’s Commissioner for Human Rights further noted that, “The situation of the persons placed in quarantine appears to be even more precarious, notably as regards access to toilets and showers, natural light and sufficient water and food, as well as access to asylum proceedings.”

On 28 August, a second judge from a higher instance court declared the closure of both the CETI and the bullring as disproportionate given the low number of confirmed cases, and ordered the centres to be re-opened. However, according to Solidary Wheels, many non-nationals remain fearful that as cases continue to rise in Spain, a second lock-down will once again force people to be locked inside the CETI and other accommodation centres. (During Spain’s first wave, facilities in Melilla remained locked down for an additional month after measures were eased for Spanish residents.)

Moreover, despite the re-opening of the facilities, non-nationals continue to be essentially confined to the 12sq km enclave--despite the Supreme Court previously declaring that they should be transferred to mainland Spain with their asylum seeker “red card.” Although 80 persons are scheduled to be transferred to the mainland in coming days, no transfers have been conducted since 28 May. As Amnesty International, which has made repeated calls for non-nationals to be transferred to the mainland, stated, “[We find] this position absolutely insufficient for resolving the overcrowding in the CETI and the bullring. It is extremely urgent that the interior ministry speed up transfers.”

The IOM and UNHCR have also noted their concerns regarding the situation in the enclave, and on 29 August the two organisations urged relevant authorities “to take concrete and coordinated action to improve reception conditions in Melilla, in order to guarantee a reception in accordance with the relevant and specific legal instruments.”


03 September 2020

Argentina

ICN Diario, “Por la Pandemia Más de 2.200 Presos Salieron de las Cárceles Federales de Argentina,” 31 July 2020, https://www.icndiario.com/2020/07/pandemia-mas-de-2-200-presos-salieron-de-las-carceles-federales-de-argentina/
ICN Diario, “Por la Pandemia Más de 2.200 Presos Salieron de las Cárceles Federales de Argentina,” 31 July 2020, https://www.icndiario.com/2020/07/pandemia-mas-de-2-200-presos-salieron-de-las-carceles-federales-de-argentina/

On 31 August 2020, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child praised Argentina’s decision to not deport a Peruvian mother after she completed her sentence for drug trafficking, taking into account the best interests of her three children, marking a new precedent in the country. In 2000, she was sentenced to imprisonment and was to be deported following her release and prohibited from re-entering the country. Three years later, she was released and Argentina’s immigration authority (Dirección Nacional de Migraciones or DNM) requested her deportation. Her case reached the Supreme Court in 2019, during which the Court approached the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, who warned the country’s immigration authority of the irreparable damage that separation would entail for her three children. The DNM subsequently decided to suspend the deportation order against the mother and provide her with a permanent residency permit in July 2020. The president of the Working Group on Individual Communications, Ann Skelton, member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, said that if the mother “had been deported, her children would have been separated from their mother or obligated to leave Argentina, the only country they know.”

On 31 July, Iberoamérica Central de Noticias (ICN) reported that from the start of the pandemic, more than 2,200 prisoners had been released from Argentina’s prisons, representing a reduction of 16 percent of the prison population. In addition, to avoid overcrowding, the government began on 7 August construction works in three prisons of the Province of Buenos Aires with the objective of building 1,350 new spaces until the end of the year. The plan comes after calls from part of prisoners and organisations to reduce overcrowding as well as after riots took place in certain prisons around the country during the Covid-19 crisis.


03 September 2020

Greece

Sanitary Facilities at the Moria Camp, (T. Georgiopoulou, “Concern After First Covid Case at Moria Migrant Camp,” Ekathimerini, 3 September 2020, https://www.ekathimerini.com/256512/article/ekathimerini/news/concern-after-first-covid-case-at-moriamigrant-camp)
Sanitary Facilities at the Moria Camp, (T. Georgiopoulou, “Concern After First Covid Case at Moria Migrant Camp,” Ekathimerini, 3 September 2020, https://www.ekathimerini.com/256512/article/ekathimerini/news/concern-after-first-covid-case-at-moriamigrant-camp)

Greek authorities reported the first confirmed Covid-19 case in Lesvos’ overcrowded Moria Camp. In response, the country’s ministries for asylum, health, and civil protection announced in a joint statement that the camp would be closed for 14 days, and that authorities were actively tracing and testing all persons who had come into contact with the individual. Until 15 September, only security personnel would be permitted to enter the camp, and the police presence surrounding the facility would be stepped up to ensure that lockdown is not breached. Although the camp has capacity for less than 3,000 persons, it currently accommodates some 13,000 migrants and asylum seekers.

According to the Migration Ministry, the individual--a 40-year-old refugee from Somalia--had left the camp on 17 July 2020 after his application for asylum was approved. However, he had reportedly returned at the end of August having failed to settle in Athens and had been living in a tent outside the facility. This, the migration authority stressed, underscored the need for authorities to move forward with proposed plans to enforce stricter controls on the camp.

Although the camp has been placed under quarantine for two weeks, residents in the camp have essentially been in lockdown since the start of the pandemic (see 4 July and 18 June updates on this platform). Residents have only been permitted to leave at certain times of day to see a doctor or to buy food, and only 150 persons have been permitted to exit the camp per hour.


02 September 2020

Brunei Darussalam

There is little available information about the treatment of migrants or asylum seekers in Brunei. The government reports that the country has no asylum seekers or refugees, although in the past the country has reported that it has more than 20,000 stateless residents. On 17 March, the Health Ministry stated that “any individual arriving in Brunei” would face a penalty of “imprisonment up to a period of 6 months, or a fine up to $10,000, or both” if they did not comply with the mandatory quarantine. As of 2 September 2020, there had been 144 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country.


02 September 2020

Botswana

Gerald Estates Centre for Illegal Immigrants, Google Maps, accessed on 2 September 2020, http://tiny.cc/tz7rsz
Gerald Estates Centre for Illegal Immigrants, Google Maps, accessed on 2 September 2020, http://tiny.cc/tz7rsz

Botswana, which has long operated a “Centre for Illegal Migrants” at Francistown near the border with Zimbabwe and a refugee camp in Dukwi, has struggled in its response to the Covid-19 pandemic, repeatedly shutting down various regions of the country as cases have spread. While there appears to be little public information about whether measures were implemented at the Centre for Illegal Migrants to prevent the spread of the infection, UNHCR has provided some details about the situation at the Dukwi camp. The UN refugee agency reports that since 1 April, more than 1,000 of refugees living in the camp have “benefited from risk communication and upgraded health and sanitation systems, in line with the international guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.” There has also been some information about Covid-19 response in prisons. Prison visits were suspended on 24 March and resumed on 1 June. According to one press account, when she announced the resumption of some services at prisons, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Defence, Justice, and Security Matshidiso Bokole said that although “prison visits would commence” they would be “restricted to one visitor per prisoner per day for remands and illegal immigrants, while convicts would be allowed one visitor per month” (Botswana Daily News, 1 June 2020). The government announced the release of more than a hundred prisoners in mid April. A month later, 15 Zimbabwean prisoners were released and deported to Zimbabwe. During a 24 July 2020 press conference, the prison commission said that currently there were “3,729 inmates and two kids, against the prisons’ holding capacity of 4,337 and this gave an under crowding status of 14 per cent, which enabled them to observe the Covid-19 safety regulations” (Botswana Daily News, 26 July 2020).


01 September 2020

Bhutan

As of 2019, Bhutan reportedly had no immigration detention centres and few cases of people being placed in detention for immigration-related reasons. On 23 March, it was made mandatory for all persons travelling into Bhutan to undergo a period of quarantine to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. There have been reports of people being sent to prison for “clandestine entry and false declaration of travel history” in order to evade mandatory quarantine. As of 1 September 2020, there had been 225 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country.


01 September 2020

Paraguay

"Infante Rivarola: Bolivia does not carry out sanitary control at the border, but Paraguay does," RCC, https://rcc.com.py/chaco/infante-rivarola-bolivia-no-realiza-control-sanitario-en-frontera-paraguay-si/

In its official response to the GDP’s Covid-19 survey, Paraguay’s Immigration Service (Dirección General de Migraciones, DGM) reported that the country had not implemented a detention moratorium since the onset of the pandemic. The DGM explained that it is not authorised to order immigration-related detention, that that requires judicial intervention, as per Ley 978/96 de Migraciones. Responding to the question about whether any immigration detainees had been released in response to the pandemic, the DGM reported that permits of foreigners had been temporarily extended and thus no new migration detention orders had been made, confirming earlier reports about Paraguay posted on this platform (see Paraguay, 10 July 2020).

Since the pandemic began Paraguay has received only five asylum requests, according to the DGM, all of which have been made at the border control station Infante Rivarola, on the border with Bolivia. Asylum seekers must comply with all sanitary norms and undergo obligatory quarantine at a designated reception centre/shelter (“albergue”). The DGM added that all people who enter the country from another country must undergo Covid-19 tests and go into isolation for 14 days.

With respect to deportations, the DGM reported that these had continued during the crisis, though not to places where border closures prevented returns. The DGM highlighted cases of Brazilians who had been deported for unspecified reasons as well as people living in border towns like Ciudad del Este who have been ordered to leave the country for breaking quarantine rules.

In the previous updates on this platform (Venezuela 12 August 2020), we reported that according to UNHCR, there were some 3,588 displaced Venezuelans living in the country as of July (see also 10 July Paraguay update on this platform). The DGM did not provide information indicating to what extent these people face restrictions or other pressures as a result of their status or because of the Covid-19 crisis. However, in late June, the newspaper La Nacion reported that immigration officials had intercepted 45 Paraguayan and Brazilian nationals who were trying to cross the border. In response, the immigration authority requested greater police presence at certain entry points. There are currently two official border crossings in the Canindeyu department.


01 September 2020

Marshall Islands

United States Department of State, “2016 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Marshall Islands”, Refworld, 3 March 2017, https://www.refworld.org/docid/58ec8a0013.html
United States Department of State, “2016 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Marshall Islands”, Refworld, 3 March 2017, https://www.refworld.org/docid/58ec8a0013.html

The Marshall Islands are not signatory to the Refugee Convention, there is no system in place for providing protection to refugees, and there is little information available regarding the country’s treatment of migrants and asylum seekers in immigration enforcement procedures. As of early September 2020, there were no confirmed cases of Covid-19.


28 August 2020

Bosnia and Herzegovina

D. Kovacevic, “Migrants ‘Stranded in Limbo’ at Bosnian Checkpoints,” Balkan Insight, 25 August 2020, https://balkaninsight.com/2020/08/25/migrants-stranded-in-limbo-at-bosnian-checkpoints/
D. Kovacevic, “Migrants ‘Stranded in Limbo’ at Bosnian Checkpoints,” Balkan Insight, 25 August 2020, https://balkaninsight.com/2020/08/25/migrants-stranded-in-limbo-at-bosnian-checkpoints/

Amidst rising xenophobic sentiment in the country (see 29 April update on this platform), in mid-August residents of Velika Kladusa (in the Krajina region, on the Bosnian-Croatian border) staged a protest to denounce purported assaults by foreigners on local civilians. The protestors reportedly blocked a road leading to an asylum seeker reception centre. During the week of 24 August, the first confirmed Covid-19 cases were detected in IOM-operated migrant facilities. In two centres near Bihac, several people suffering mild cases were transferred to the local hospital--prompting anger from local residents.

Tensions have been rising within the wider Krajina region, which has essentially become a bottleneck on the route taken by migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers attempting to enter the EU via Croatia. On 26 August, Bosnian special forces were dispatched to the newly-created Lipa camp (near Bihac) to calm a protest following an alleged police beating of a homeless migrant. Media outlets report that IOM staff withdrew from the camp before the special forces arrived.

Authorities in the region, frustrated that other parts of the country are not sharing the migrant “burden,” have reportedly begun to prevent all new migrant arrivals by blocking the main highway into the region and turning away all non-nationals. On 19 August, the Coordination Committee on Migration in the Una-Sana Canton (within the Krajina region) adopted measures to restrict the freedom of movement of migrants not accommodated in official reception centres. As part of these measures, authorities banned: the transport of migrants and asylum seekers by public transport and taxis; the gathering of migrants and asylum seekers in public places; and the provision of private accommodation to them. Roadblocks have been set up, and police have also carried out raids on informal settlements and private accommodation, forcibly removing those apprehended while failing to provide them with alternative accommodation.

The canton’s health minister justified the measures, claiming that the number of migrants with coronavirus was rising by the day. “We can’t control them because they move in groups of 100. They don’t follow any rules or norms and we have to think about protecting citizens.”

According to the Red Cross, growing numbers have found themselves stuck between the canton and neighbouring Republika Srpska--denied entry to Una-Sana and prevented from returning to the Serb Republic. Some of those stranded are living in a hut built by the Red Cross, however others are having to camp outside and no toilet or washing facilities are available.

Commenting on the recent restrictions, Amnesty International stated, “These restrictive measures that target an entire group are disproportionate and discriminatory and should be immediately reversed.”


27 August 2020

United Kingdom

A Group of Migrants Are Escorted by Border Force Officers Following a Number of Small Boat Incidents in the Channel, Dover, 13 August 2020, (Steve Parsons,
A Group of Migrants Are Escorted by Border Force Officers Following a Number of Small Boat Incidents in the Channel, Dover, 13 August 2020, (Steve Parsons, "Migrants Cross English Channel to UK for 10th Day in a Row," SC Now, 13 August 2020, https://scnow.com/news/world/migrants-cross-english-channel-to-uk-for-10th-day-in-a-row/article_b1fdf98d-0ace-573d-bfa2-c4625bc3e6ee.html)

During the first two weeks of August, more than 650 migrants and asylum seekers crossed the Channel from France. With fewer lorries able to cross during the pandemic, migrants and asylum seekers have increasingly sought to attempt the journey in dinghies, often with the aid of smugglers. The country’s Home Office has been advancing alarmist narratives surrounding the arrivals—even after the drowning of a Sudanese refugee during an attempt to cross the waterway—presenting it as a “crisis” which will only be solved by the UK’s exit from the EU. As well as tasking the Royal Air Force to patrol the route using a surveillance plane in order to “make the crossing unviable for small boats” (AP 13 August), authorities have also announced plans to repurpose Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre (formely restricted to detaining women) to hold people interdicted while attempting to cross. Some observers, however, have argued that the government’s recent focus on migration is an attempt to divert attention away from its handling of the pandemic.

On 29 July, the Home Office announced that individuals whose departure orders were set to expire before 31 August would be allowed to temporarily remain, work, and study in the country. However, as of this update, it was unclear what would happen once the new deadline passed. The Home Office indicated that “exceptional indemnity” would apply to individuals who could not leave the country in time but intended to do so.

On 7 July 2020, the Home Office released the second version of the “Guidance for Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs), Residential Short-Term Holding Facilities (RSTHFs) and escorts during the Covid-19 pandemic.” The guidance is intended to inform Home Office staff operating in IRCs and RSTHFs about Covid-19 measures in places of detention and covers the strategy for shielding those particularly vulnerable to the virus. Among the measures: detainees, staff, and visitors should frequently wash their hands using soap for at least 20 seconds; IRC suppliers should produce specific guidance for individuals to explain how to reduce the risks of a Covid-19 outbreak; detainees should be provided on request with appropriate disinfectant cleaning materials to clean their bedrooms; and detainees should be accommodated in single occupancy rooms with en-suite toilets.

According to a blog post by Gherson, a UK-based law firm specialising in immigration law, reported that ongoing pleas to the Home Office to release all immigration detainees have been unsuccessful. A legal challenge by Detention Action, which aimed to force the Home Office to do that, was rejected by the High Court in late March (see 11 May United Kingdom update on this platform). Nevertheless, the number of people detained for immigration-related reasons more than halved between January and April, from over 1,500 to around 700 (see 5 April United Kingdom update on this platform). Gherson indicated that the most common reason behind the reduction in the number of people in immigration detention appears to be the significant increase in grants of immigration bail applications since lockdown. The legal charity, Bail for Immigration Detainees, reported a 95 percent success rate in their applications for bail since 23 March.

Gherson adds that the arguments made by the Home Office to justify detention are less applicable in the wake of Covid-19 as long-term detention is severely restricted where there is no realistic prospect of removal. Unlike other European countries, the UK has not suspended removals in response to the pandemic and Home Office has even utilised indirect flights to countries of origin in an attempt to continue removals. Also, arguing that an individual is unlikely to comply with immigration bail conditions has also become more difficult to justify, according to Gherson.

In related developments, prison restrictions in place in the UK since March have allowed youth detention facilities to keep children in their cells for up to 22 hours a day (see 15 July United Kingdom update on this platform). On 21 July, the Ministry of Justice announced that this measure could remain in place for two years. The Howard League for Penal Reform, a UK based charity, has been receiving reports from children in prisons about the severe impact of solitary confinement on their mental health.

In mid-June, UK’s Labour MP released data showing that amongst the prisoners released since the beginning of the pandemic, approximately a 1,000 were homeless or without housing. After a drop of 5.4 percent in the prisoner population between March and June, numbers started rising again following the reopening of courts. On 31 July, Prison Insider reported that UK’s authorities were working on a plan to implement telemedicine in all the country’s prison system. This would allow prisoners to use a 4G tablet for medical consultations.


26 August 2020

Bulgaria

Busmantsi Detention Centre in Sofia, (Bordermonitoring Bulgaria,
Busmantsi Detention Centre in Sofia, (Bordermonitoring Bulgaria, "The Black Hole of EU-Asylum," 18 November 2017, https://bulgaria.bordermonitoring.eu/2017/11/18/european-commission-bulgarian-state-agency-for-refugees-and-ministry-of-interior-keep-silent-regarding-leaked-document/)

In a follow-up response to its 5 June GDP Covid-19 survey, the Interior Ministry provided additional information regarding removal procedures during the Covid-19 crisis. According to the ministry, removals were halted as there were practical difficulties in carrying out returns due to measures to protect the health of migrants and escort staff, as well as challenges stemming from flight delays and entry restrictions. The ministry stated that no return procedures were executed from April to June 2020. In July, some airlines resumed flights to and from Sofia, but as of late August there were still no transit flights to many key non-EU countries. Several countries of origin--including Afghanistan, Algeria, and Nigeria--are currently not accepting their citizens. However, the Bulgarian Border Police have continued to carry out returns to neighbouring countries, including Turkey, Serbia, the Republic of Northern Macedonia, Moldova, Kosovo, and Albania. In its previous survey response (see 5 June update on this platform), the Interior Ministry reported that the country had not established a moratorium on new immigration detention orders and that no immigration detainees had been released from the special homes for temporary accommodation of foreigners (SHTAFs) due to the Covid-19 crisis. The ministry also said that there had not been any cases of Covid-19 amongst the immigration detainee population. It is unclear if any new measures have been adopted since then to assist migrants or asylum seekers, including those in detention. As regards the country’s prisons, on 6 April, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee and the Bulgarian Lawyers for Human Rights urged the country’s national assembly to temporarily release prisoners at risk. On 6 July, two staff members of the Plovdiv prison tested positive for Covid-19.


25 August 2020

Iceland

Online Page of the Icelandic Parliamentary Ombudsman, (Parliamentary Ombudsman, Website of the Ombudsman, accessed on 24 August 2020, https://www.umbodsmadur.is/)
Online Page of the Icelandic Parliamentary Ombudsman, (Parliamentary Ombudsman, Website of the Ombudsman, accessed on 24 August 2020, https://www.umbodsmadur.is/)

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, the Icelandic Parliamentary Ombudsman (Althingi Ombudsman) reported there are no dedicated immigration detention centres in the country (previously, reports from the Council of Europe going back as far as 1998 have indicated that prisons or police stations are used for this purpose). Thus, the Ombudsman did not provide answers to questions relating to the release of immigration detainees and “alternatives to detention” programmes in place in the country.

There are currently four reception centres in Iceland. Responding to questions about previous reports from the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture about plans for building new dedicated reception facilities, the Ombudsman said that to their knowledge, the facility proposed in 2012 CPT correspondence had not been built. The source said that at one reception centre, there is a “closed” hallway where residents in the hallway may go out as they please, but not everyone can go in. The reception centres are “open” in the sense that no-one is forced to stay there. During the day, people can enter and exit the centres, but they are closed during the night. Applicants for international protection stay in a reception centre when they first arrive in Iceland. According to the source, “single applicants are then often provided with a room in one of the centres with access to kitchen and bathroom facilities” whereas “families can be provided with an apartment to stay in.”

According to the Parliamentary Ombudsman, arriving asylum seekers may be tested for Covid-19 in accordance with the procedure applicable at any given time. The procedures vary depending on the evolution of the spread of Covid-19. The Ombudsman said that if an applicant for international protection is unable to finance their stay while the application is being processed, services and assistance are provided by the Directorate of Immigration, Social Services of Reykjavik or the municipalities of Reykjanesbaer and Hafnarfjarðarbær. The services granted are based on service agreements between the municipalities and the Directorate of Immigration. According to the agreements, the applicant is guaranteed housing, meals, and other basic services such as medical service, schooling, kindergarten, leisure activities, and travel within the municipality. The Directorate of Immigration decides which municipality will provide services to the applicant, taking into account their needs and the capability of the municipality to provide the service.

As of 19 August 2020, all arriving people have the option of a 14-day quarantine or a double testing procedure along with a quarantine for 5-6 days. The double border-screening procedure requires all passengers arriving in Iceland to undergo two tests: one upon arrival and another 5-6 days later to minimise the risks of spreading the virus. Those who test negative in the second test are no longer required to take special precautions. However, those who test positive must self-isolate. Alternatively, arriving passengers can choose to stay in a 14-day quarantine without undergoing any tests. Children born in 2005 and later are exempt from the double border-screening procedure.

Asylum seekers are tested for free at the start of their stay in Iceland in a special quarantine house operated by the government. They stay there while the tests are being carried out and until it is confirmed that they are not infected. They are then placed in other housing units by the Directorate of Immigration.

As regards removals, the Ombudsman stated that no specific decision had been taken by the government. However, due to the Covid-19 crisis and the closing of airports and borders, removals could not take place as normal. Most removals in Iceland are based on the Dublin Regulation or are cases concerning persons that have already received international protection in other countries. So, when possible, applicants have been removed to countries that had their borders open: mostly Nordic countries and a few other countries.

The Ombudsman also reported that Iceland had implemented travel restrictions imposed for the Schengen Area and the European Union. As of 20 March 2020, foreign nationals, except EU/EEA, EFTA or UK nationals were not allowed to enter Iceland unless they could demonstrate that their travel was essential. The travel restrictions did not apply to essential travel, including, inter alia, health and care workers on professional travel, transportation crews (airlines and freighters), individuals requiring international protection, individuals traveling because of acute family incidents, diplomats, international organisation staff, members of armed forces, and individuals requiring international protection.

Furthermore, the Regulation on Foreigners was amended and a temporary provision was inserted. The provision stipulates that foreign nationals in Iceland who are unable to return to their home countries due to travel restrictions, quarantine, or isolation are allowed to stay in Iceland without a residence permit or visa. This has been amended and currently applies until 10 September 2020. The provision does not apply to non-citizens who were staying irregularly in the country before 20 March 2020 and does not prevent removal on that or other basis in accordance with the provisions of the Foreign Nationals Act. The Ombudsman said that the fact there are no direct flights to an applicants’ home country, high travel costs or other inconveniences of travelling now are not grounds for being allowed to stay in Iceland without a residence permit or visa.

Moreover, the Directorate of Immigration informed the Ministry of Justice in March that it would reconsider whether to process asylum cases of people in Dublin procedures or who have been granted protection in another country if it is impossible to remove people and time limits are pressing. The assessment is to be based on whether, on the one hand, the case procedure is expected to exceed those time limits due to travel restrictions and, on the other hand, whether the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the infrastructure of the receiving state is such that the individual assessment of the conditions in the state would have to be revised once travel restrictions are lifted.


25 August 2020

Denmark

Department of Prisons and Probations - Corrections, (Kriminalforsorgen, Department of Prisons and Probation, accessed on 25 August 2020, https://www.europris.org/agency/department-of-prisons-and-probation-dk__trashed/)
Department of Prisons and Probations - Corrections, (Kriminalforsorgen, Department of Prisons and Probation, accessed on 25 August 2020, https://www.europris.org/agency/department-of-prisons-and-probation-dk__trashed/)

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s (GDP) Covid-19 survey, the Danish Department of Prisons and Probations said that there is one main special detention centre for immigration detainees, which it administers (according to GDP data, while Denmark has one long-standing dedicated facility, the Ellebaek Detention Centre, it has recently used other facilities for detaining migrants and/or asylum seekers, including Aabenraa Prison and Nykøbing Falster Arrest). The department said that because the police and the courts decide whether a non-citizen should be detained, it was unable to respond to most of the questions on the GDP survey. The department added that new immigration and asylum policies are the responsibility of the Ministry of Immigration. The department also reported that the testing of detainees in the special detention centre is supposed to be carried out on the initiative of medical staff. After the onset of the pandemic, all visits that were not considered absolutely necessary were suspended and internal measures were taken, including such as that detainees could only socialise with others from their own wing.


25 August 2020

Hong Kong (China)

Protesters Protesting On the Conditions of Detention and Indefinite Detention at CIC, (Grassmediaaction,
Protesters Protesting On the Conditions of Detention and Indefinite Detention at CIC, (Grassmediaaction, "Almost 3 Weeks on Hunger Strike: The Castle Peak Black Prison Keeps Disregarding Human Lives, While Supporters are Breaking the Boundaries of Sex and Ethnicity," 18 July 2020, https://grassmediaction.wordpress.com/2020/07/18/almost-3-weeks-on-hunger-strike-the-castle-peak-black-prison-keeps-disregarding-human-lives-while-supporters-are-breaking-the-boundaries-of-sex-and-ethnicity/)

Amid a resurgence in the number of Covid-19 cases in Hong Kong, on 19 August a 37-year old Thai man detained at Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre (CIC) was reported to have tested positive for Covid-19. The Centre for Health Protection subsequently announced that it would test approximately 200 Immigration Department staff and 400 detainees.

On 20 June, more than 20 detainees from India, Pakistan, and various African countries launched a hunger strike in protest over their indefinite detention at the facility. As of 25 August, some detainees remained on strike, after 58 days. At its peak, there were 28 participants in the hunger strike: four detainees have been released and two hospitalised. Upon release from hospital, one person reported being physically abused by detention centre staff. Of those participating in the action, some had been detained for nearly two years, and six had been detained for more than one year. The Immigration Department claimed that the hunger strikers were consuming other food despite their refusal to collect meals from the facility, and that it had been providing counselling for the detainees to discuss their situation. It also said that most of the hunger strikers had criminal records involving serious or violent crimes and were awaiting deportation. The Castle Peak Bay “Concern Group” reported that the hunger strikers had been placed in separate rooms for observation, but that they had not been provided with any medical assistance—in spite of some detainees’ pre-existing conditions. For example, one striker who has a tumor in his left arm has not been given access to the necessary drugs to improve his condition. More than 2,000 people have signed a petition organised by the CIC Concern Group to support the strikers’ action.

In addition to the indefinite detention detainees face at the Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre, concerns have been raised regarding the deleterious hygiene and medical conditions in the facility. First raised by lawmakers and activists in May (see 12 May update on this platform), the inadequate conditions were again flagged in mid-August when the findings from a survey of 100 detainees, former detainees, and family members were published by the Concern Group. The survey found that 48.72 percent of interviewees thought that they did not have enough access to medical assistance, while 46.15 percent thought that CIC’s facilities were inadequate. Many raised issues such as insufficient dental hygiene products including toothpaste, a lack of hot water in the winter, and a lack of space to hang their laundry.

Responding to concerns regarding detention conditions during the pandemic, the government has detailed the measures that it has taken to prevent and control the virus inside the facility: “All detainees on admission to CIC are required to undergo a medical examination conducted by a duty medical officer to ensure that their health condition is normal and to prevent the transmission of infectious diseases to other detainees. For detainees arriving in Hong Kong from the Mainland or overseas countries within 14 days before admission to CIC, they will be subject to a 14-day quarantine and medical surveillance at a designated area of CIC, during which they will not have any contact with other detainees. In addition, all detainees newly admitted to CIC are required to undergo the COVID-19 viral test. Each detainee will be provided with a surgical mask and have body temperature taken every day.”


23 August 2020

Bahamas

Islanders Staged a Protest at the Office of the Prime Minister in Nassau, Confirming their Outrage with the Decision to Detain Intercepted Haitian Migrants at the Royal Bahamas Defence Force Base on the Island, (D. S. Hamilton,
Islanders Staged a Protest at the Office of the Prime Minister in Nassau, Confirming their Outrage with the Decision to Detain Intercepted Haitian Migrants at the Royal Bahamas Defence Force Base on the Island, (D. S. Hamilton, "Protest at Office of Bahamas PM; Rejecting Plan to Detain Illegal Haitians on Ragged Island," Magnetic Media, 24 July 2020, https://magneticmediatv.com/2020/07/protest-at-office-of-bahams-pm-rejecting-plan-to-detain-illegal-haitians-on-ragged-island/)

The Bahamas operates one dedicated immigration detention centre, the Carmichael Road Detention Centre, which has been repeatedly criticised for having appalling conditions. In early June, a protest broke out in the centre following a hunger strike, with some detainees attempting to escape. Tensions at the facility have reportedly been increasing as Covid-19 slowed deportation and repatriation procedures. From 4 to 19 August, the country was in total lockdown due to a surge in Covid-19 cases following the reopening of borders. The organisation RIGHTS Bahamas called for a better treatment of the migrants at the centre. In late July, there were reports that a military base on Ragged Island was being used to detain Haitians migrants intercepted at sea, leading to protests among detainees.


21 August 2020

Saudi Arabia

Human Rights Watch, “Ethiopians Detained in Saudi Arabia After Being Expelled by Houthis in Yemen,” Youtube, 13 August 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=8tO1R-hHCCc&app=desktop
Human Rights Watch, “Ethiopians Detained in Saudi Arabia After Being Expelled by Houthis in Yemen,” Youtube, 13 August 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=8tO1R-hHCCc&app=desktop

Poor conditions of immigration detention in Saudi-Arabia have been called out several times by Human Rights Watch (HRW). Reports of migrant trafficking and overcrowding in the country’s facilities are numerous.

In April, thousands of Ethiopians were expelled from Yemen as Houthi forces declared them “coronavirus carriers” (see our 4 August Yemen update). They were forced to the Saudi border where they waited for days without food or water, until Saudi Arabia allowed hundreds of them into the country. Immediately placed in detention, families were separated as the groups were divided between men and women.

HRW reports that two facilities, in al-Dayer and Jizan, are likely to be holding the Ethiopian migrants. After conducting several interviews with migrants in these centres, HRW describes the detention as “arbitrary and abusive.” The reports uniformly describe the “overcrowding, blocked and overflowing toilets, lack of beds and blankets, lack of medical care including prenatal care for those who were pregnant, inadequate food and water, and poor toilet facilities. They described serious skin problems they said were caused by the unhygienic conditions.” In a video published by HRW, the floor in al-Dayer detention centre is flooded due to the poor quality of the roof. Women are seen walking and sitting in the water as one of them mentions “there are people’s faeces everywhere.”

On 21 June, while confirming that there were no Covid-19 cases among prisoners, the Saudi Ministry of Interior announced that the government was working on establishing virtual communication channels between inmates and their families.


20 August 2020

Togo

Protective Equipment Including Masks, Disinfectant Gel, Soap, and Food Given to UNHCR to Distribute, (UNHCR,
Protective Equipment Including Masks, Disinfectant Gel, Soap, and Food Given to UNHCR to Distribute, (UNHCR, "Assistance Aux Réfugiés," République Togolaise, 25 June 2020, https://www.republicoftogo.com//Toutes-les-rubriques/Cooperation/Assistance-aux-refugies)

According to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of Togo, there are no dedicated immigration detention centres in the country, and thus it did not answer questions on the GDP Covid-19 survey concerning measures taken to safeguard immigration detainees. However, the commission appeared to indicate that due to border closures, non-citizens stranded in Togo whose visas have expired during the pandemic did not face any administrative measures or sanctions (“ne sont pas inquiétés”).

The first case of Covid-19 in Togo was identified as being a Togolese national who returned to the country on 6 March from Europe via Benin. By 31 July, there had been 908 reported cases in the country and 18 related deaths. According to the Togolese government, 11,968 refugees are currently living in the country; UNHCR and partner agencies have since the start of the pandemic reportedly provided various forms of assistance, including donations of food, water, masks, disinfectant gel, and cleaning materials.

In its response to the GDP survey, the National Human Rights Commission said that “illegal migrants” are required to seek to regularise their situation in order to undertake “legal activities.” Those who fail to regularise are told to leave the country within a “reasonable delay” rather than face “imprisonment.” However, the commission did not indicate what remedies are pursued in cases where people refuse or are unable to leave the country after being ordered to do so.

Many of these details were previously reported by the Togolese Ministry of Public Service, Labour, Administrative Reform and Social Protection, in March 2019, as part of its submission to the UN Committee on Migrant Workers’ questionnaire concerning “General Comment No. 5 on Migrants’ Rights to Liberty and Freedom from Arbitrary Detention Questionnaire.” The ministry said that immigration detention in Togo did not exist, saying that the country instead favours the regularisation of undocumented migrants. It also said that there were no immigration detention centres in the country as well as no criminal sanctions for irregular entry or stay in Togo “for refugees or asylum seekers, arriving directly from a country where their life or freedom was threatened,” in accordance with Article 21 Law N° 2016 - 021 of 24 August 2016. However, similar to the National Human Rights Commission’s response to the GDP Covid-19 survey, the ministry failed to provide any information about measures taken in cases where people refuse or are unable to leave the country after being ordered to do so.


20 August 2020

Bolivia

United Nations, “Los Migrantes Tienen Derecho a Regresar a su País Durante la Pandemia del Coronavirus,” 15 April 2020, https://news.un.org/es/story/2020/04/1472872
United Nations, “Los Migrantes Tienen Derecho a Regresar a su País Durante la Pandemia del Coronavirus,” 15 April 2020, https://news.un.org/es/story/2020/04/1472872

Bolivia has been strongly affected by the Covid-19 crisis. By 31 July, Bolivia had more than 75,000 cases of Covid-19 and 2,894 deaths related to the disease. Faced with the pandemic, the government took several measures including declaring a state of emergency, closing borders, imposing fines and detaining people who do not respect quarantine or confinement measures. Bolivia has also imposed restrictions on citizens wishing to return from abroad. Bolivians in Chile, for instance, must spend 14 days in quarantine prior to returning. Some 1,300 Bolivian nationals--including pregnant women, elderly persons, and children--have been stranded in Chile and hundreds of them have been forced to sleep in freezing conditions with little food and water. For its part, by April the Chilean government had transported approximately 1,000 Bolivian nationals to Colchane, a town near the border, where they were accommodated in schools, with sanitary and basic services.


20 August 2020

Ethiopia

J. Ashly, “Eritrean Refugees in Ethiopia Resist Camp Closure amid COVID-19 Fears,” The New Humanitarian, 17 August 2020, https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/news-feature/2020/08/17/Ethiopia-Eritrea-refugee-camps-coronavirus
J. Ashly, “Eritrean Refugees in Ethiopia Resist Camp Closure amid COVID-19 Fears,” The New Humanitarian, 17 August 2020, https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/news-feature/2020/08/17/Ethiopia-Eritrea-refugee-camps-coronavirus

Ethiopia has a history of sheltering refugees and has long maintained an open-door asylum policy. The country hosts an estimated 769,000 refugees and other “people of concern.” Unlike in many other countries in the region, refugees have the right to access health care services in Ethiopia. However, after the onset of the Covid crisis, there have been reports of surging xenophobic sentiment as foreigners have been blamed for spreading the virus.

Refugees in Ethiopia were long forced to remain in designated camps. However, in early 2019, the government adopted a law giving refugees the right to live, work, and access other services outside the camps. Nevertheless, many people continue to reside within camps. In April, the government announced its intention to close Hitsats refugee camp and relocate all 27,000 inhabitants to Adi Harush and Mai Aini refugee camps, a move that UNHCR quickly criticised. Highlighting the need to avoid situations of overcrowding during the pandemic, the refugee agency warned that such a plan would risk exposing thousands to dangerous Covid outbreaks. (The number of cases in the country is already one of the highest in the continent: as of 19 August, it had recorded 32,722 cases and more than 570 deaths. On 9 June, the first case was confirmed within the refugee population.)

Previously, on 8 August, UNHCR reported that it had set up isolation units in all refugee camps to temporarily quarantine any suspected cases. The agency also said that it established 37,000 handwashing stations, trained more than 2,150 health and community outreach workers, and distributed 140,000 face masks.

The Global Detention Project has been unable to confirm many concrete details about Ethiopia’s immigration detention practices. However, there have been occasional reports of authorities arresting and deporting migrants as they pass through the country. These reports indicate that foreigners are detained in the country’s prisons prior to deportation. On 6 May, the Federal Commissioner for Prisons reported that 40,000 prisoners had been released since March (out of a total prison population of 110,000)--although no information is available confirming whether non-nationals in deportation procedures were amongst those released.


19 August 2020

Slovakia

Sečovce Immigration Detention Centre, (Korzár Dolný Zemplín, 10 November 2015, https://dolnyzemplin.korzar.sme.sk/c/8066295/v-zariadeni-pre-utecencov-v-secovciach-je-situacia-pokojna.html)
Sečovce Immigration Detention Centre, (Korzár Dolný Zemplín, 10 November 2015, https://dolnyzemplin.korzar.sme.sk/c/8066295/v-zariadeni-pre-utecencov-v-secovciach-je-situacia-pokojna.html)

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, the Slovakian Border and Aliens Police Office of the Presidium of the Police Force reported that the Slovak Republic had not established a moratorium on new immigration detention orders and that it was not considering such a measure. In addition, no immigration detainees were released due to the Covid-19 crisis.

According to the Slovakian Border and Aliens Police Office, measures to prevent the spread of the virus have been taken by the Public Health Office of the Slovak Republic, including the use of protective equipment such as drapes, gloves, goggles, and the implementation of social distancing, frequent hand washing, use of disinfectant and the limitation of personal contacts. Migrants released from detention are obliged to comply with these measures in the same way as all residents in the Slovak Republic.

While no detainees were released as a result of the pandemic, the Border and Aliens Police said that “alternatives to detention”--such as the deposit of a financial guarantee or accommodation in a designated non-secure housing unit--are measures provided in law, as per Act No. 404/2011 on the Residence of Foreigners and Amendment and Supplementation of Certain Acts. These measures may only be applied if non-citizens provide an address where they will be accommodated and demonstrate that they have sufficient financial resources.

Immigration detainees in Slovakia are reportedly tested for Covid-19. Detained non-citizens that have contracted the virus are placed in isolation. In addition, detained non-citizens are provided with information on hygiene and basic rules in English. Also, several measures have been adopted to reduce the risk of Covid-19 spreading:

- Use of protective equipment when placed in detention (veil, gloves, goggles, protective coat for personnel, protective veil, and gloves for non-citizens);
- Isolation from other detained persons in the restricted area;
- Covid-19 testing;
- Quarantine for detainees that test positive for the virus;
- Increased hygiene (frequent washing of hands with soap and disinfectant);
- Limiting visits and personal contact;
- Increased disinfection during room cleaning (use of high-performance alcohol-based disinfectants); and
- Observance of personal distance of approximately 2 meters.

Moreover, the Slovakian border police indicated that due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Slovak Republic suspended expulsions of non-citizens. However, they argued that the postponement of expulsion decisions is not a reason for releasing people from detention.


18 August 2020

Mauritius

Union Workers Bring Provisions to the 44 Unpaid and Covid-19-vulnerable Indian Migrant Workers Employed by an Indian Construction Company in Mauritius, (Building and Wood Workers' International,
Union Workers Bring Provisions to the 44 Unpaid and Covid-19-vulnerable Indian Migrant Workers Employed by an Indian Construction Company in Mauritius, (Building and Wood Workers' International, "Mauritius: CMWEU Aids Unpaid and Covid-19-Vulnerable Workers," 30 April 2020, https://www.bwint.org/cms/mauritius-cmweu-aids-unpaid-and-covid-19-vulnerable-workers-1807)

By the end of July, Mauritius had recorded nearly 350 cases of Covid-19 as well as 10 related deaths. Mauritius began taking precautionary measures early. On 22 January, the government began screening people upon arrival at the airport and from 28 February, despite there being no confirmed cases in the country, authorities began quarantining visitors from countries with a large number of cases. In mid-March, only essential services were allowed to remain open. The situation was then relaxed from April onwards, albeit with strict controls.

On 30 April, the Construction Workers’ Union of Mauritius (CMWEU) reportedly assisted 44 unpaid and Covid-19 vulnerable Indian migrant workers employed by an Indian construction company. The workers had not received their wages for the month of March despite a government commitment to shoulder half of the workers’ salaries to ensure income security. The Indian workers said that they had not been provided with any personal protective equipment (PPE) and that they lacked money to buy toiletries, such as soap and toothpaste, for their personal hygiene.

There does not appear to be a dedicated immigration detention system in the country, nor specific legislation relating to immigration detention. However, criminal sanctions (fines and prison terms) for offences such as irregular entry or making false or misleading statements in connection with entry or exit from Mauritian territory, may be imposed. Also, according to Mauritius' response (dated 29 March 2019) to the UN Committee on Migrant Worker’s Draft General Comment No. 5 on Migrants’ Rights to Liberty and Freedom from Arbitrary Detention Questionnaire, there is no law or policy on the granting of refugee status or political asylum in Mauritius and attempts to treat applications for refugee status or political asylum on a case-by-case basis by facilitating their settlement in a country willing to receive them.

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


17 August 2020

Canada

A Prison Guard Keeps Watch as Medical Workers Walk at a Secure Mobile Medical Unit Set-up at the Abbotsford Regional Hospital to Treat Prisoners with Covid-19, (Jesse Winter, Reuters,
A Prison Guard Keeps Watch as Medical Workers Walk at a Secure Mobile Medical Unit Set-up at the Abbotsford Regional Hospital to Treat Prisoners with Covid-19, (Jesse Winter, Reuters, "Prisoners Should Consider Safe Release as a Pandemic Health Measure: Advocate," 21 July 2020, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/safe-release-covid-19-1.5656861)

There have been growing tensions between the United States and Canada over Canada’s continuing closure of its border to non-essential US travellers, which has been in effect since 21 March and is slated to remain in effect until September. Penalties for unlawfully crossing into Canada can be expensive, and can also involve detention and incarceration. “Anyone caught breaking the border restrictions can be fined up to C$750,000 ($566,000; £434,000) and be sentenced to six months in jail, or C$1m and three years if their actions ‘cause risk of imminent death or serious bodily harm’” (BBC 13 August).

Asylum seekers entering Canada from the United States have also faced severe restrictions throughout the pandemic. In a 15 June update on this platform the GDP reported information provided by UNHCR Canada, which said that the border closure was having an important impact on the number of asylum seekers entering the country: while there were 63,830 asylum applications in 2019, there were 12,380 between January and March 2020. The trend continued in the following months as from April to the end of June 2020, there were 4,470 asylum applications compared to 13,825 in the same period in 2019.

An important mechanism for returning asylum seekers to the US has been a Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) between the two countries, which allows Canada to send asylum seekers back to the US who entered from that country. However, a Federal Court in Canada ruled on 22 July that the agreement was unconstitutional because, according to Justice Ann McDonald, the US can no longer be considered a safe country to send refugees to. “I have concluded that the actions of Canadian authorities in enforcing the STCA result in ineligible (refugee) claimants being imprisoned by US authorities,” McDonald wrote. “I have concluded that imprisonment and the attendant consequences are inconsistent with the spirit and objective of the STCA and are a violation of the rights guaranteed by section 7 of the (Charter of Rights and Freedoms).” The STCA will, however, remain in effect for six months, as the Federal Court suspended its declaration of invalidity to allow the Parliament to respond.

As of 12 August, 1,522 inmates had been tested in Canada’s federal prisons.On 16 July, Canada’s government announced that prisoners in federal institutions would be allowed visitors, after a four-month suspension of visits. A CBC investigation showed that inmates are more at risk of contracting COVID-19 than the rest of the population, with infection rates five times higher in provincial jails, and nine times higher in federal facilities.

The Office of the Correctional Investigator (OCI) published a report on 19 June assessing the government’s response to COVID-19 in federal correctional facilities. The OCI pointed out that restrictions (such as indefinite lockdown, cellular isolation for extended periods of time) remained in place in many facilities where there had been no outbreak of COVID-19. They recommended lifting these restrictions where it is safe to do so, highlighting that “public health emergencies must be managed within a legal framework, and rights need to be respected and restored.”

Regarding the decrease in total federal inmate population, the report points out that only 5 percent of inmates were released. The decline in numbers is “mostly attributable to the fact that the courts have not been functioning or sending individuals to federal custody in usual numbers.” The OCI also denounced the lack of a plan to further decrease inmate populations to slow the COVID-19 transmission. In Alberta, on 17 July, a group of lawyers called out the provincial government, saying that “ongoing violations of measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at Alberta jails is putting inmates and staff at high risk”. Inmates have reported a lack of access to masks and cleaning supplies, while respecting social distancing is impossible in reality. The Quebec government was also called out by an organization, Anti-Carceral Group, for its response to the pandemic.


17 August 2020

United States

A Person Waves to Protesters Demonstrating Against the Practice of Detaining Migrants in Hotels at a Hampton Inn in McAllen in July, (Joel Martinez, The Monitor,
A Person Waves to Protesters Demonstrating Against the Practice of Detaining Migrants in Hotels at a Hampton Inn in McAllen in July, (Joel Martinez, The Monitor, "A Private Security Company is Detaining Migrant Children at Hotels," The New York Times, 16 August 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/16/us/migrant-children-hotels-coronavirus.html)

A damning new report in the New York Times (16 August) reveals the extensive use of hotels and untrained private contractors to detain unaccompanied children and families as part of speedy removal proceedings. The practice, part of the Trump administration’s pandemic-related immigration and border measures, aims to quickly “expel” migrants from the country rather than putting through formal deportation proceedings. Data obtained by the Times indicates that ICE has, over the last several months, detained at least 860 migrants at several hotels, including: Quality Suites in San Diego; Hampton Inns in Phoenix and McAllen and El Paso, Texas; a Comfort Suites Hotel in Miami; a Best Warren in Los Angeles; and an Econo Lodge in Seattle. Although the data does not specify ages of the detainees, the official who provided it said it was likely that most or all were either children traveling alone or with their parents.

Critically, because the hotels exist outside the formal detention system, they are reportedly not subject to policies designed to prevent abuse in federal custody or those ensuring that detainees are provided with access to phones, healthy food, medical and mental health care. Compounding matters, ICE is using employees from a private transportation company to operate this shadow detention system. Although the expulsions are meant to take place quickly after a migrant is apprehended, delays in securing flights prompted ICE to turn to MVM Inc., a private company known mostly as a transportation and security company, to manage the migrant children and families. MVM does not have much experience detaining migrant children and in a previous foray in 2018, the company was criticised for detaining children overnight in a vacant office park in Phoenix.

Andrew Lorenzen-Strait, a former deputy assistant director for custody management at ICE, who worked with MVM during his time at the agency, said: “A transportation vendor should not be in charge of changing the diaper of a 1-year old, giving bottles to babies or dealing with the traumatic effects they might be dealing with.” ICE officials nonetheless stated that MVM workers are trained and instructed “extensively” on how to handle situations where detained migrants would be left particularly vulnerable in their presence, such as when the migrants are bathing or breastfeeding. An ICE spokesman said that no more than two children could be in a hotel room at any given time, but at least one migrant teenager stated he had been detained overnight in a hotel room in Miami with two other young migrants and three guards.

Relatedly, in late March, a federal district judge, Judge Dolly Gee, issued a temporary restraining order requiring ICE and HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to “make and record continuous efforts” to release the more than 5,000 minors held in ICE family residential shelters. On 26 June, the Judge Gee ordered the release of children held for more than 20 days at three family detention centres due to a recent spread of Covid-19 in those facilities (see 28 June United States update on this platform). As of 11 May, there were 1,500 unaccompanied children in the 195 shelter-like facilities and by 8 June, there were 1,077 children in ORR care and 124 in ICE custody.

The Times report is just the latest revealing critical problems in the US immigration detention system since the onset of the Covid-19 crisis. In a recent study, the Center for Migration Studies reports that between 21 March and 25 July, the number of detainees in ICE facilities diminished significantly, from 38,058 to 21,884. However, compared to other countries, including Canada which released about half of its immigration detainees in a single month, this decline appears slow and limited. The CMS report points to inconsistencies between ICE and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. Social distancing was not feasible in any detention facility, even those which are at a third of capacity. CMS concludes that “in the current circumstances, detention imperils detainees, detention staff, contractors, court officials, health care providers, and the members of communities near facilities to which detainees ultimately return. ICE has adopted - abetted by CDC - unenforceable policies and practices that fail to reflect the severity of the crisis. It cannot safeguard those in its custody and should move with greater dispatch to release far more detainees.” The Centre for Migration Studies also recommends a shift from detention to “alternatives to detention” (ATD) programmes.


15 August 2020

Guyana

IOM Workers Providing Essential Non-Food Items to Venezuelan Migrants and Refugees in Guyana, (IOM,
IOM Workers Providing Essential Non-Food Items to Venezuelan Migrants and Refugees in Guyana, (IOM, "IOM Provides Humanitarian Relief to Venezuelans in Guyana," 10 December 2018, https://rosanjose.iom.int/site/en/news/iom-provides-humanitarian-relief-venezuelans-guyana)

As of 12 August 2020, Guyana had registered 602 cases of Covid-19 and 22 deaths related to the disease. Guyana has been an important destination for Venezuelans leaving their country. In 2019, the International Crisis Group reported that there were more than 36,000 Venezuelans in Guyana. According to the aid group Response for Venezuelans (R4V), the Government of Guyana maintained a commendable open door policy to Venezuelans and introduced a digitalised system for biometric registration and documentation of new arrivals. As of May 2020, the government had conducted the registration of 2,090 refugees and migrants from Venezuela.

The government of Guyana adopted several measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19. On 18 March, the Director of the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority announced that airports in the country would be partially shut down for at least 14 days. A curfew was also imposed from 6PM to 6AM and domestic travel by land, sea or air, was strictly limited to travel for governmental purposes and travel to obtain or provide essential goods and services. Some measures were lifted from 3 July onwards but international travel restrictions are still in place.

Before border closures brought on by Covid-19, Immigration Officers issued a “household registration certificate” to Venezuelans upon entry to the country, which includes a provision against forced return and a renewable three-month stay permit. The pandemic has nonetheless increased the vulnerability of Venezuelan nationals. They face a lack of access to formal employment and livelihood opportunities as well as language barriers (English is the official language of Guyana), thus hindering their access to basic services such as health care and education.

R4V reported that, in coordination with a local partner, they had provided temporary accommodation and emergency shelter to 34 highly vulnerable persons (including 32 Venezuelan refugees and migrants). Education services were provided to 186 Venezuelan nationals

As regards the country’s penitentiaries, on 7 April, the Guyana Prison Service began releasing certain prisoners in order to reduce the risk of Covid-19 entering the overcrowded prisons across the country. Prisoners considered for release were those who suffer from chronic illnesses and those who had served the majority of their sentences and would be out within the next three to four weeks. The Guyana Human Rights Association had been calling for measures to be taken to reduce overcrowding in prisons due to the potential risks presented to prison staff and inmates by the virus. In addition, other measures including regular cleaning and sanitation; the installation of sinks for hand washing purposes: the monitoring of the movement of prison staff in and out of the facilities; and the provision of products and hand sanitisers have been implemented in the country’s prisons.


15 August 2020

Belize

A Sign at the Belize Central Prison Reminding Inmates of Covid-19 Prevention Measures, (Belize Central Prison, W. Pitts,
A Sign at the Belize Central Prison Reminding Inmates of Covid-19 Prevention Measures, (Belize Central Prison, W. Pitts, "Mitigating the Impacts of Covid-19 in Secure Settings: Lessons from the Belize Central Prison," RTI International, 23 July 2020, https://www.rti.org/insights/covid-19-management-in-prisons)

Belize does not appear to have a dedicated immigration detention facility though it detains migrants in administrative procedures in Belize Central Prison. On 13 August, visits to the prison were suspended indefinitely due to the rise in Covid-19 cases in the country. There had been no confirmed cases in Belize Central Prison as of mid-August. Safeguarding measures at the prison were reportedly implemented early on in the pandemic, including having staff members wear masks. New inmates were being quarantined for 15 days (21 days for foreign detainees).


14 August 2020

Angola

A Dormitory inside the Trinta Detention Centre for Foreigners, east of Luanda, (France 24,
A Dormitory inside the Trinta Detention Centre for Foreigners, east of Luanda, (France 24, "C'est une Prison: Le Cri d'Alarme d'un Rwandais dans un Centre pour Etrangers en Angola," 8 May 2019, https://observers.france24.com/fr/20190508-angola-prison-centre-detention-etrangers-rwandais)

According to UNHCR, as of mid-2020 there were 80,698 refugees and asylum seekers in the country. Angola had 1,762 cases of COVID-19 as of 13 August, however there is little information about whether infections have been detected among the country’s refugee population. In late May, after a 60-day state of emergency, the government began loosening some public restrictions as part of a “State of Calamity” declaration. The country has subsequently experienced a sharp rise in cases, going from less than 100 cases in May to nearly 2,000 by August.

There appears to have been no public announcement about specific measures to protect asylum seekers and migrants, including those in detention centres. In the past, the GDP has identified various facilities that appear to be used largely for detaining migrants, asylum seekers, or other foreigners as part of immigration enforcement measures. However, the most recent reports about these centres date back several years. In 2017, the UNHCR reported that it was blocked from visiting detention centres. That same year, the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants released a report denouncing the conditions and length of detention in the facilities.

The country has announced measures taken in prisons. As part of the state of emergency put in place in late March, the country temporarily suspended prison visits. On 5 May, after Angola had released some 1,900 people from pre-trial detention, Human Rights Watch denounced what it regarded as insufficient measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in prisons. While on the one hand, measures were taken to reduce the overcrowding in penitentiary facilities, on the other, individuals were arrested and detained (around 300 people as of 1 May) for violating state of emergency rules. HRW called out the government for continuing to detain “hundreds of people in custody for low-level crimes, leading to a daily influx of new detainees. If not appropriately quarantined and monitored for Covid-19, these new arrivals could contribute to an outbreak in the prison system that prison authorities are ill-equipped to treat.” In a 11 August monthly report, the police said that more than 4,100 people had been detained in the past month.


13 August 2020

Finland

Metsälä Detention Centre, Helsinki, Finland, (Otto Karvonen,
Metsälä Detention Centre, Helsinki, Finland, (Otto Karvonen, "Alien Palace Birdhouse Collection," accessed on 13 August 2020, https://ottokarvonen.com/2018/04/16/alien-palace-birdhouse-collection/)

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, the deputy director of the Joutseno Reception Centre reported that no moratorium on new immigration detention orders had been established in the country. The administration said that new detention orders have been issued during the Covid-19 crisis period but that the number of detainees has been lower than usual as the police and border guard have considered it unfeasible to detain individuals whose deportations is hindered due to the lack of flight connections.

According to the deputy director, no detainees have been released solely due to the pandemic, but several detainees have been released from detention as their deportations have become temporarily impossible due to unavailable flights connections to countries of origin. Released detainees have been encouraged to follow the national guidelines regarding anti-pandemic measures. The deputy director indicated that “alternatives to detention” (ATD) measures are used alongside detention in normal circumstances and that this had been the case during the Covid-19 crisis as well, but that no specific ATD program to release detainees has been put in place during this period.

Police and the border guard service have been cautious in transferring individuals showing any symptoms of respiratory illness or fever into detention units. So far, neither of the detention units in Finland (Joutseno and Metsälä) have had any Covid-19 cases. Detainees showing the slightest signs of symptoms connected to Covid-19 are tested for the virus. However, mass testing has not been necessary.


13 August 2020

Trinidad and Tobago

Migrants and Asylum Seekers Waiting to be Registered During the Two Week Registration Period in T&T in 2019, (Looptt,
Migrants and Asylum Seekers Waiting to be Registered During the Two Week Registration Period in T&T in 2019, (Looptt, "8 Things To Know About the Venezuelan Migrant Registration Process," 26 May 2019, https://www.looptt.com/content/8-things-know-about-venezuelan-migrant-registration-process)

Trinidad and Tobago adopted a series of measures in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, including health-related measures, employment benefits, food handouts, and temporary extension of residence permits and certificates. However, most asylum seekers and irregular migrants, mainly from Venezuela, did not benefit from these measures, aside from receiving primary health care (see 9 May Trinidad and Tobago update on this platform). Instead, officials in the country have used the pandemic to spread fear about the dangers of migrants, particularly those from Venezuela. While it is estimated that 40,000 Venezuelans were residing in Trinidad and Tobago in 2019, the country has not instituted an official asylum policy and no legislation protecting migrants and asylum seekers is in place.

In May 2019, the government embarked on a nationwide exercise to register all Venezuelan nationals who are in the country, regardless of their immigration status. The registration process began on 31 May and ended on 14 June 2019. Venezuelans with valid work permits and those in the process of obtaining legal immigration status did not have to undergo the registration process. Following the two-week procedure, only 16,500 Venezuelans were registered, a fraction of the total population. Those registered can remain in the country temporarily and work legally for one year. Venezuelan migrant children remain still barred from going to school. In response, some Trinidadians have set up support groups.

In July 2019, shortly after the registration procedure ended, the country’s national security minister called for ramped up deportations of undocumented people “in the same manner as the United States.” In a press conference on 25 July 2020, the minister claimed that “illegal immigrants,” “boat people,” and those that “trafficked them” present health risks and issued a hotline number for people to make reports. On 27 July, the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service circulated fliers on Facebook stating that “illegal immigration” could cause a “new wave of Covid-19” and called people to report “suspicious activity.” The following day, 167 Venezuelan nationals were deported from Trinidad and Tobago after having completed a compulsory quarantine period, as requested by the Venezuelan government.

Louise Tillotson, a Carribean researcher at Amnesty International said: “It’s no secret that Trinidad and Tobago’s authorities criminalise irregular entry, contrary to international human rights standards. But to deport Venezuelan refugees back to the human rights and humanitarian emergency that they were fleeing, in the middle of the pandemic, is an outrageous violation of the obligations that Trinidad and Tobago has committed to under international law. No one should be forced back to a place where they are at risk of serious human rights violations.” The local NGO, Carribean Centre for Human Rights, has called on the government to help Venezuelan women and children who may have been trafficked to the country by giving them access to fair and efficient asylum procedures rather than sending them back automatically.

While it is unclear if any specific measures have been taken in the country to protect immigration detainees, some measures have been implemented in prisons. On 3 April, the attorney general announced the release of 388 prisoners of the 3,959 total population. Only those incarcerated for minor infractions are eligible for release and they have to go through a medical test before being released.


12 August 2020

Venezuela

Venezuelan Migrants Stuck at the Colombian Border, (Stefano Pozzebon,
Venezuelan Migrants Stuck at the Colombian Border, (Stefano Pozzebon, "Venezuelan Migrants Fleeing Covid-19 Get Stuck at Border," CNN, accessed on 10 August 2020, https://edition.cnn.com/videos/world/2020/07/13/venezuela-migrants-covid19-stuck-border-colombia-pozzebon-pkg-vpx.cnn)

During the four-year period 2016-2019, more than 4.6 million men, women, and children fled or otherwise departed Venezuela because of burgeoning political and economic crises. According to the UNHCR, some 4,000 and 5,000 Venezuelan nationals were leaving the country every day, mainly travelling on foot to neighbouring countries like Colombia, Peru, or Ecuador; thousands of others have made their way to the United States or Europe.

The Covid-19 pandemic, however, has spurred new migration trends as thousands of Venezuelans have sought to return home as economic opportunities in their host countries have dried up. This has led to new human rights challenges across much of the region and overseas--including increasing vulnerability to detention and other enforcement actions--which have been severely complicated by Covid-19 border closures and travel restrictions, as well as growing regional political tensions.

A report from the Center for Migration Studies (CMS), titled "The Struggles of Stranded, Returning and Newly Departing Venezuelans During the Global Pandemic," underscores the international scope of the struggles Venezuelans now face. According to this report, written by the Venezuelan journalist Silvina Acosta, while Venezuela has enabled foreign governments to arrange repatriation flights of their citizens out of Venezuela, the Maduro government has stymied the return of its own citizens, leaving "thousands of Venezuelan migrants and tourists stranded in other countries and subject to COVID-19 quarantines."

In this special Covid-19 update, the GDP summarizes key developments in various neighboring Latin American countries:

TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO. As part of their response to Covid-19, the government of Trinidad and Tobago implemented a series of confinement measures as well as financial and economic measures. However, most Venezuelan migrants and refugees in the country--who numbered approximately 40,000 by 2018--do not benefit from these measures and are only entitled to primary health care (see 9 May Trinidad and Tobago update on this platform). Instead, officials in the country, which began a concerted crackdown on Venezuelas long before the Covid crisis began, have used the crisis to increase pressure on these people. Citing the restrictive policies pushed by U.S. President Donald Trump, the country’s national security minister said in July that Trinidad and Tobago needs to ramp up deportations and to “operate in the same manner as the United States.” In a press conference on 25 July, the minister claimed that “illegal immigrants,” “boat people,” and those that “trafficked them” present health risks and issued a hotline number for people to make reports. On 27 July, the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service circulated fliers on Facebook stating that “illegal immigration” could cause a “new wave of Covid-19” and called people to report “suspicious activity.” On 28 July, 167 Venezuelan nationals were deported from Trinidad and Tobago after having completed a compulsory quarantine period, as requested by the Venezuelan government.

COLOMBIA. According to the August CMS story cited above, "The number of returning Venezuelan migrants has now reached 80,000 people, including 45,900 migrants between April and May, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Colombia Migration reports that 'more than 90,000 Venezuelan migrants in Colombia have returned voluntarily to Venezuela since the beginning of the quarantine declared in Colombia in March.' Around 76 percent of the 90,000 returnees crossed the border through the main border cross point (the Simón Bolívar International Bridge), in the department of Norte de Santander (northeast). The majority of the 1,200 buses with Venezuelan returnees arrived at the Norte of Santander. Others went to the checkpoints in Arauca (east) and La Guajira (northeast)."

In June, Al Jazeera reported that some 500 Venezuelan migrants in Colombia, who had been left jobless and homeless during the pandemic, had built a makeshift camp in the outskirts of Bogota. Most were trying to return home, but the Venezuelan government had limited the number of returnees, causing bottlenecks along the route. The camp had no running water or electricity and people were surviving on the charity handouts (see 13 July Colombia update on this platform). Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro wildly called these Venezuelan citizens “biological weapons” and accused Colombia and other governments of infecting them with Covid-19 to spread the pandemic across Venezuela. Colombia strongly rejected these accusations, calling them deplorable. UNHCR reported that Venezuela had limited the entry of its own nationals through the Colombian border to 100 people per return day via the Arauca border crossing and 300 per return day in Cucuta. At the time, the humanitarian corridor to Venezuela was open three days a week.

PERU. Approximately 830,000 Venezuelans are currently residing in Peru and are particularly at risk from Covid-19 due to several factors, including inadequate access to health and social services as well as loss of employment (see 26 June Peru update on this platform). The World Bank reported, prior to the onset of the pandemic, that “negative attitudes toward the Venezuelan population are more prevalent in Peru than in other recipient countries, and they are likely to increase.”

ECUADOR. Anti-Venezuelan sentiment has also been growing in Ecuador, where at least 330,000 Venezuelans were residing at the end of 2016. As a result of the pandemic, many Venezuelan migrants have lost their employment and have attempted to return home. Despite the closed border, according to the Ecuadorian Red Cross, up to 700 are departing every day. According to the Health Ministry, as of 20 April, 22 Venezuelans in Ecuador had tested positive for the virus, but most believe this to be an under-estimate (see 20 May Ecuador update on this platform).

CHILE. In Chile, which hosts the third largest population of Venezuelans (roughly 450,000), some 4,000 Venezuelans have sought to return to their country. Many have been accommodated by the Chilean government in temporary hostels after weeks of waiting at the door of their embassy. A Venezuelan national died on 2 June while waiting for his test results (see 28 July Chile update on this platform).

PANAMA. According to Response for Venezuelans (R4V), as of February 2020, there were 94,600 Venezuelan migrants in Panama. Wendy Mow of HIAS (Hebrew and Immigrant Aid Society) said that it is likely that the number of Venezuelans in Panama is much higher: 150,000, owing to the large number who enter the country without documentation. R4V estimates that only about 75,000 Venezuelans in Panama have legal residency status. In June, Voice of America reported that at least 387 are requesting a repatriation flight to Venezuela. On 9 June, Reuters reported that Panama had confined some 200 migrants in a camp in the jungle in the Darién region to contain a new Covid-19 outbreak. As previously reported (see 9 June Panama update on this platform), many migrants have been left stranded in Panama at the borders with Colombia and Costa Rica, and while the GDP has been unable to confirm whether any Venezuelan nationals are among those stranded, it is likely that many are.

GUAYANA. Located immediately to the east of Venezuela, with which it shares a lengthy border, Guyana has been an important destination for people fleeing the country. In 2019, the International Crisis Group reported that there were more than 36,000 Venezuelan nationals in Guyana. The aid group Response for Venezuelans (R4V) reports that the Government of Guyana maintained a commendable open door policy to Venezuelans, and introduced a digitalised system for biometric registration and documentation of new arrivals. According to a May 2020 report by R4V, by the end of March, the Government of Guyana had conducted biometric registration and documentation for 2,090 refugees and migrants from Venezuela. Temporary accommodation and emergency shelter were also provided to 34 highly vulnerable people, including 32 Venezuelan migrants.

Prior to border closures brought on by Covid-19, Immigration Officers issued a “Household Registration Certificate” to Venezuelan nationals upon entry to the country, which includes a provision against forced return and a renewable three-month stay permit. Nevertheless, the pandemic has increased the vulnerability of Venezuelans in the country, especially with respect to health and economic opportunities. They face a lack of access to formal employment and livelihood opportunities as well as language barriers (English is the official language of Guyana), hindering their access to basic services such as health care and education. Many Venezuelans have reportedly begun seeking to return to their country as the crisis continues.

PARAGUAY. According to UNHCR, there are some 3,588 displaced Venezuelans currently living in the country (see 10 July Paraguay update on this platform). It is unclear to what extent these people face restrictions or other pressures as a result of their status or because of the Covid-19 crisis. However, UNHCR reports that it has continued to provide basic services to this population.


12 August 2020

Andorra

The tiny country of Andorra, located in the Pyrenees between France and Spain, has one of the highest percentages of international migrants in the world, which as of 2017 accounted for more than 50 percent of the country’s population of some 80,000. To date, the GDP has not identified any dedicated immigration removal facilities, and there appears to be little publicly available information about Andorra's Covid-19-related measures with respect to immigration detention. On 26 March 2020, the government announced temporary measures to extend visas for temporary workers who could not return to their country of origin due to border closures. Residence permits and healthcare benefits were also extended. As of mid-August 2020, the country had recorded nearly 1,000 cases of Covid-19.


11 August 2020

Belgium

Migrants Left Homeless at the Maximilien Parc in Brussels, (Plateforme Citoyenne de Soutien aux Réfugiés, L. Carretero,
Migrants Left Homeless at the Maximilien Parc in Brussels, (Plateforme Citoyenne de Soutien aux Réfugiés, L. Carretero, "Coronavirus: en Belgique, l'Etat Ne Fait Rien Pour Protéger les Migrants," InfoMigrants, 31 March 2020, https://www.infomigrants.net/fr/post/23785/coronavirus-en-belgique-l-etat-ne-fait-rien-pour-proteger-les-migrants)

According to an international organisation official who asked to remain anonymous, but whose identity was verified by the GDP, while no moratorium on new immigration detention orders was established, fewer detention orders have been issued since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Director-General of the Immigration Office (IO) and the Minister for Asylum and Migration both reported in June that they expect the number of persons in detention to rise again, depending upon the evolution of the pandemic and the capacity in the centres (see the 27 March Belgium update on this platform).

As previously reported on this platform (see 6 May Belgium update), some immigration detainees have been released from detention. On 9 June, it was reported in the Parliament’s Commission for Home Affairs (and Migration) that about half of the people in detention had been released since the beginning of the health crisis. In mid-March, some 300 persons out of the 630 persons who were in detention were released so as to make space in the detention centres and be able to better implement social distancing. On 17 June, 202 people remained in immigration detention in Belgium. Persons to be released are evaluated on a case-by-case basis and are released when there is no legal basis to keep them in detention. In Belgium, detention is only possible for a limited period of time and under the condition that the Immigration Office is able to remove them, an outcome hampered by border closures and limited air traffic.

According to the source, no specific measures have been implemented by authorities for people released from detention. Thus, those released may reside with family or acquaintances or, in some cases, be left homeless. People released from detention and who are still entitled to shelter/reception facilities, can present themselves at the information desk of the Immigration Office to be reintegrated into the reception network.

The source also reported that immigration detainees were being tested for Covid-19. As reported on 9 June by the Director General of the IO and confirmed on 17 June by the Minister for Asylum and Migration, no detainees had tested positive for Covid-19, but 3-4 staff members tested positive. However, detainees already present in detention centres at the start of the health crisis were not systematically tested. In cases of suspected infection, detainees are placed in medical isolation as a precautionary measure. All new arrivals at a detention centre are tested upon arrival, in line with the guidelines set by the Risk Management Group regarding testing protocols for people residing in collective residence. Despite the police requesting systematic Covid-19 testing of detainees for fear of infection, persons who are released from detention and about to be removed are not tested.

According to the source, removals have not been suspended during the Covid-19 crisis (see the 6 May Belgium update on this platform for related information). The Director General of the IO nonetheless reported that “removal capacity” has been limited because of the health crisis. According to statistics released by the IO, fewer persons were forcibly removed from the country during the crisis: 239 in March; 22 in April; 28 in May; and 72 in June. Most of the returns were to countries of origin and others took place in application of the Dublin Regulation, which resumed on 22 June. Removals took place to Brazil; Rwanda; Ukraine; Bulgaria; Romania; the UK; the Netherlands; France; Ireland; and Italy.

Also, the number of refusals of entry at the Belgian border have decreased compared to the months before the crisis. In January 214 people were refused entry into Belgium; 190 were refused in February; and 111 in March. However, in April, only 5 people were refused entry; 1 in May and 6 in June.

Between 18 March and 31 May, 5,421 orders to leave the territory were issued. Yet, where leaving the country is impossible due to the pandemic, there is a possibility to request an extension of the order.

Furthermore, the source reported that applicants for international protection must now be done online, by filling out an online form and uploading copies of documents. Following this, an invitation for a first interview will be sent to the person. In order to avoid having too many people at the same time for these interviews, there is a waiting list. Applicants for international protection have to wait for the first interview before receiving accommodation.

As regards Belgium’s borders, non-essential travels to Belgium from EU countries were not allowed until 15 June. Non-essential travel to Belgium from countries outside the EU are not permitted until 31 August as provided by the Ministerial Decree of 30 June. In addition, people in need of international protection or travelling for humanitarian reasons are considered as having an ‘essential need’ and are, in theory, allowed to travel to Belgium. Belgian authorities continue to carry out active checks and several border crossings remain closed.


10 August 2020

Croatia

Ježevo Immigration Detention Centre centar za strance (RTL,
Ježevo Immigration Detention Centre centar za strance (RTL, "RTL-ova ekipa obišla prihvatni centar Ježevo: pogledajte gdje će biti smještene izbjeglice", Vjesti.hr, https://bit.ly/2CeTJKU)

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, the Croatian Interior Ministry provided detailed information about measures that have been adopted in reception centres hosting asylum seekers. They also provided some limited information about Covid-19 procedures adopted for cases involving police interaction with “illegal migrants and aliens.” However, the ministry gave no specific information concerning measures taken in the country's detention centres or its transit holding facilities in Zagreb and Dubrovnik airports. We reproduce the letter in its entirety below (a link to the PDF version of the letter is provided in the sources at the end of this update).

Worth noting, although the GDP has sent Covid-19 survey requests to relevant government bodies in all 28 European Union member states, only 11 countries have sent responses, and of those only 9--including Croatia--have provided substantive responses. (Germany’s Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, for instance, responded to our survey merely to inform us that our enquiries must be directed to the individual federal states, which “are responsible for the management of detention facilities in Germany.” See the 20 May Germany update on this platform.)

Among the key points made in the letter, which was signed by State Secretary Terezija Gras, was confirmation that no moratorium on new immigration detention orders had been ordered due to the pandemic and no immigration detainees had been released from detention as a result of Covid-19 measures. The ministry also reported that on 13 March all transfers under the Dublin Regulation were temporarily suspended, which was to remain in effect until August 2020. Other removals and deportations procedures had been reduced, but not completely suspended.

On the other hand, in contrast to some other EU member states, which have locked down reception centres and de facto deprived asylum seekers of liberty as a purported Covid-19 safety measure (see, for instance, updates on Cyprus on this platform), Croatia reports that it has not locked asylum seekers inside its reception centres. Instead, according to the Interior Ministry, “Aliens accommodated in reception centres are advised to remain inside, and measures of protection are taken inside the facilities (e.g. floor marking for social distancing, toiletries, medical staff, temperature measuring at the entrance to the restaurant…).”

In our previous update on Croatia (4 August), we recounted reports that Croatian police have engaged in violent border pushbacks of migrants and asylum seekers throughout the Covid-19 crisis, which have been condemned by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants and the Special Rapporteur on Torture (see the 2 August Croatia update for more details). The Interior Ministry did not address these reports in its letter to the GDP.

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Zagreb, 7 August 2020

Mr Michael Flynn
Global Detention Project
Geneva, Switzerland

Dear Mr Flynn,

Following your request for information on migration-related detention and COVID-19, we hereby inform you as follows:

There is no moratorium on new immigration detention orders because of the COVID-19 pandemic and no such measure is under consideration. Likewise, no people have been released from immigration detention because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As regards measures that are being taken to prevent spreading of the infection and to ensure appropriate care, please note that the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Croatia has restricted access to reception centres in Zagreb and Kutina, allowing access only to those persons who are necessary for their normal functioning. International protection applicants who are accommodated in Zagreb and Kutina are under constant medical surveillance. Moreover, applicants accommodated in reception centres, including those who have been released from detention or those under alternative measures of detention, are constantly warned about the outbreak of the disease and the measures that need to be taken in order to prevent its further spread. A physician is available in reception centres on a daily basis, and the medical staff constantly supervise all international protection applicants. According to the recommendations issued by the Croatian Institute of Public Health, parts of the reception centre are set up to be used for 14-day quarantine for new applicants who arrive from countries with an increased number of COVID-19 cases. They are supervised by medical staff on a daily basis. In case of any suspicion of COVID-19, they are tested as soon as possible. So far, we have not recorded a single case of COVID-19 among international protection applicants. Aliens accommodated in reception centres are advised to remain inside, and measures of protection are taken inside the facilities (e.g. floor marking for social distancing, toiletries, medical staff, temperature measuring at the entrance to the restaurant…). Face masks are regularly distributed to persons accommodated in reception centres. Likewise, hand disinfectant dispensers have been placed in noticeable and easily accessible locations in both centres. Moreover, increased efforts have been invested in maintaining high hygienic standards aimed at preserving the health of applicants, but also of the staff working in both centres. This was the only way in which he spread of the disease could be prevented.

As regards measures that are being taken to test and protect detainees during the COVID-19 epidemic, the Ministry of the Interior follows the instructions issued by he Croatian Institute of Public Health in relation to COVID-19. When the police interact with illegal migrants and aliens who make an application for international protection, the aliens are checked for COVID-19 symptoms. If the aliens show COVID-19 symptoms, this is reported to the epidemiologist in charge who takes over the case.

If aliens show no symptoms, the police continue to take action, that is, they make decisions regarding return pursuant to the Aliens Act (Official Gazette No I 30111, 74/13, 69/17, 46/18 and 53/20) or they take note of the international protection applications made by the aliens.

If a return decision is issued, a deadline for voluntary return is determined by taking into consideration all the relevant circumstances of the case. In general, the deadline should not be shorter than 7 or longer than 30 days.

If aliens are transported in police vehicles, the vehicles are regularly disinfected and police officers wear appropriate protective equipment. Aliens in the procedure of forcible removal may be accommodated in reception centres for aliens, and international protection applicants are accommodated in reception centres for international protection applicants. The Ministry does not provide nor is obligated to provide accommodation for aliens in he procedure of voluntary return.

Information flyers on conscientious and responsible behaviour during the COVID-19 pandemic are available in reception centres for aliens and reception centres for international protection applicants. They were designed by IOM and translated into 26 languages (Amhaic, Arabic, Bambara, Bengali, Chinese, Edo, English, Esan-Ishan, French, Fula, Hausa, Igbo, Italian, Kurdish Sorani, Mandinka, Pashto, pidgin English, Romanian, Russian, Soli, Soninke, Spanish, Tigrinya, Urdu, Wolof, and Yoruba). Also available are flyers with the instructions issued by the Croatian Institute of Public Health, which have been translated into the languages used by aliens. Likewise, disinfectant dispensers have been placed in the centres.

A medical examination is performed when aliens are accommodated in the reception centre for aliens. If it is established that the alien shows COVID-19 symptoms, he/she is released from the centre and the epidemiologist in charge takes over the case.

As regards unaccompanied minors, the Ministry for Demography, Family, Youth and Social Policy has adopted guidelines on procedures to be followed for the protection of unaccompanied minors in situations when they are threatened or there is risk of the epidemic.

All employees of the Ministry of the Interior who work with illegal migrants, international protection applicants and persons who have been granted international protection continuously follow the instructions and recommendations of the Croatian Institute of Public Health and the Civil Protection Headquarters, and they adjust their activities in real time depending on the current situation.

The Ministry has provided protective equipment and disinfectants for all employees. Other activities are also being taken in order to ensure the highest possible level of hygiene and health working conditions.

When it comes to deportation/removals, returns are carried out in very difficult circumstances and have been significantly reduced due to the epidemiological situation. Cooperation with distant third countries was difficult even prior to COVID-19 (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Bangladesh etc.). Cooperation with the neighbouring countries is generally good when it comes to the return of illegal migrants.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, communication with third non-neighbouring countries in the area of return has been suspended. Due to the epidemiological situation, the number of returns is limited, flights to numerous third countries have been suspended, and certain third countries have also introduced restrictive measures (bans, quarantine, and similar).

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the neighbouring countries with which the Republic of Croatia has been implementing bilateral agreements closed their borders and for a short period were not admitting even their own nationals. In April 2020, the situation improved, and now the neighbouring countries admit their own nationals (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro), pursuant to bilateral readmission agreements.

With regard to new immigration and/or asylum policies that the Republic of Croatia has adopted, please note that the Decision on the temporary ban on crossing the state border of the Republic of Croatia was adopted on 19 March 2020. According to this Decision, nationals of EU and Schengen Member States and Schengen Associated States and their family members were allowed return to their home countries, as were third-country nationals with long-term residence and persons entitled to residence under other EU directives or national law or those with long-term national visas.

Furthermore, crossing of the border of the Republic of Croatia was temporarily prohibited, that is, restricted by the Decision on the temporary ban on crossing the state borer of the Republic of Croatia of 30 June 2020 in order to protect the population of the Republic of Croatia from COVID-19. The ban does not refer to nationals of the European Union, Schengen Member States and Schengen Associated States and their family members, as well as third-country nationals with long-term residence pursuant to Council Directive 2003/109/EC of 25 November 2003 concerning the status of third-country nationals who are long-term residents, and persons who are entitled to residence under other EU directives or national aw or who are holders of national long-term visas.

The following categories of third-country nationals are exempt from this Decision: -- Healthcare workers, healthcare researchers and associates, elderly care experts and persons in need of emergency medical treatment; -- Frontier workers; -- Hauliers and other transport staff, in the scope necessary; -- Diplomats, police officers when performing their tasks, civil protection services a d teams, international organisations' staff, and international military staff, when performing their functions; -- Transit passengers; -- Persons travelling for tourist or other business reasons or those with other economic interest; and -- Persons travelling for education or other pressing personal reasons.

Reception centres remained open during the COVID-19 pandemic. Efforts have been intensified to provide appropriate care to aliens accommodated at the reception centres in Zagreb and Kutina. On 13 March 2020, all transfers under the Dublin Regulation were temporarily suspended due to COVID-19. This suspension is still in force.

I hope that the information provided above will help your work on the initiative to track official responses to COVID-19 with respect to immigration detention and removal policies with the aim of better understanding the vulnerabilities detainees face during the pandemic and identifying best practices.

Yours sincerely,
State Secretary Terezija Gras

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07 August 2020

Poland

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

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

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

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


06 August 2020

Switzerland

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

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

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

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

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


05 August 2020

Saudi Arabia

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

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

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

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


04 August 2020

Yemen

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

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

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

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


03 August 2020

Senegal

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

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

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


02 August 2020

Croatia

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

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

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


31 July 2020

Ireland

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

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

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

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

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


30 July 2020

Bahrain

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

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

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

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

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

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


30 July 2020

Libya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


29 July 2020

Germany

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

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

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

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

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


28 July 2020

Sierra Leone

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

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

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

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


28 July 2020

Chile

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

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

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

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

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

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


27 July 2020

Costa Rica

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

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

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

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

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


27 July 2020

Montenegro

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

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

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

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


24 July 2020

Norway

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

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

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

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

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

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


24 July 2020

Russian Federation

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

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

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

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


23 July 2020

Greece

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


23 July 2020

Georgia

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

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

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

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

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


23 July 2020

Mauritania

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

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

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

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

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

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


22 July 2020

Peru

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


22 July 2020

Bosnia and Herzegovina

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

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

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

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

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

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


21 July 2020

Czech Republic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


21 July 2020

Latvia

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

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

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

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


20 July 2020

Romania

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

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

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

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

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


20 July 2020

Luxembourg

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

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

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

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

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


19 July 2020

France

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

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

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


17 July 2020

Sweden

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

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

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

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


17 July 2020

Spain

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

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

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


17 July 2020

Germany

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

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

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

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


16 July 2020

France

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


16 July 2020

Israel

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

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

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

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

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


16 July 2020

Libya

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

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

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

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


16 July 2020

Romania

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


16 July 2020

Tunisia

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

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

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

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

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

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


15 July 2020

United Kingdom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


15 July 2020

Armenia

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

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

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

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

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

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


13 July 2020

Colombia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


10 July 2020

Bangladesh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


10 July 2020

Paraguay

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

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

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

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

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


09 July 2020

Slovenia

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

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

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

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

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


08 July 2020

Poland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


07 July 2020

Uganda

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

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

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

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


06 July 2020

Sweden

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

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

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

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


05 July 2020

Estonia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


04 July 2020

Greece

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

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

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


03 July 2020

Austria

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

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

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


02 July 2020

Spain

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

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

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

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


01 July 2020

Australia

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

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

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

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

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

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


30 June 2020

Azerbaijan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


28 June 2020

United States

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

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

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

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

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

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


27 June 2020

Switzerland

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

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

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

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

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

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


26 June 2020

Peru

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


25 June 2020

Indonesia

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

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

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

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


24 June 2020

Tunisia

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

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

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

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

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