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.
Despite soaring infection rates in many parts of the world, authorities in Turkmenistan continue to deny the existence of Coronavirus within the country and have failed to promote preventive measures such as social distancing. At the end of December, the country extended the suspension of international flights, as well as domestic rail and bus services, until at least 31 January 2021. Land borders with Afghanistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan are due to remain closed until further notice. The only persons permitted to enter the country are Turkmen nationals, diplomats, permanent residents, and workers in critical industries and key infrastructure--all of whom are required to quarantine for 14 days in a state-run facility upon entry. Details of this facility, and conditions within it, remain scarce.
Authorities regularly suppress and retaliate against independent media, which makes it difficult to develop a reliable picture of the situation in the country. However, reports from European-based news outlets with sources inside the country have maintained that prisons and schools have witnessed outbreaks, and that hospitals have become increasingly overcrowded with patients suffering “pneumonia-like” symptoms. In October, for example, RFE/RL reported that the DZ-K/8 Women’s Correctional Facility in Dashoguz had witnessed a “big” outbreak, in which at least three inmates had died. Reportedly, authorities established a quarantine block at the centre housing more than 200 inmates--some of whom were “in grave condition.”
Turkmenistan does not experience significant migratory pressure, and it is unclear whether any non-nationals are confined in detention facilities. Although national law provides for granting refugee status and asylum, no-one has been granted refugee status since 2009, when the Turkmen government took over Refugee Status Determination from UNHCR. No new asylum seekers have been registered since 2005.
The government routinely denies freedom of movement to its citizens. According to Turkmen law, people are to be banned from leaving “if their exit contravenes the interests of the national security of Turkmenistan.” Migration officials reportedly stop non-approved travellers at the airport to prevent them from departing. According to the U.S State Department’s 2020 Trafficking in Persons report, these policies make Turkmen nationals who wish to leave the country unofficially vulnerable to traffickers.
B. Trew, “‘Left to Rot’: Inside Libya’s Squalid Detention Centres Where Migrants and Refugees Suffer a ‘Slow Death,’”The Independent, 4 September 2020, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/libya-detention-centres-migrant-refugees-deaths-zintan-tripoli-a9703161.html
Thousands of migrants and refugees continue to be detained in Libya’s network of detention centres, despite rising COVID-19 case numbers. As of 14 January, 107,434 cases and 1,645 deaths had been officially recorded in the country, although real figures are expected to be higher given a lack of testing. According to IOM and UNHCR, as of November 2020, at least 3,200 people were being held in 11 detention centres--although many more were likely also detained in “unofficial” facilities in western Libya.
According to newly released data, in 2020 some 11,891 persons attempting to leave the country were intercepted at sea by the EU-backed Libyan Coastguard--with the majority subsequently placed in already overcrowded detention facilities. (During the first four days of 2021, more than 160 people were returned and detained.) By comparison, 9,225 people were intercepted and returned in 2019.
Detainees in Libya are particularly vulnerable to the spread of disease, due to the fact that detention facilities are dangerously overcrowded and lack even the most basic sanitary facilities. As the Independent revealed in a September 2020 article on the Al Zintan facility, “The refugees sleep in shifts, 25 of them crushed together in a tiny room-turned-prison like knives in a cutlery drawer. There isn’t enough space for everyone to lie down at the same time. They share a single toilet, which is a putrid hole in the ground, and say they have not seen the sun in a year.”
Recognising the acute vulnerability of detainees in Libya during the pandemic, the IOM announced in October that it had provided training--including in infection control, prevention, and management--to 25 health care providers working in detention facilities in Tripoli, Zawiya, Zuwara, and Dhahir Al-Jubail.
M. MacGregor, “Refugee Camp Burns in Bosnia,” InfoMigrants, 23 December 2020, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/29296/refugee-camp-burns-in-bosnia
The controversial Lipa migrant camp was destroyed by a fire in late December, leaving some 1,400 men homeless. The fire was reportedly started by residents of the camp, many of whom had already begun moving out due to the poor living conditions there. IOM’s Chief of Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) told InfoMigrants: “Suddenly our staff noticed that a small group was setting fire to one of the tents and they repeated this action with the other tents and some of the containers were also on fire in the chaos, looting started of some of the items that were still left in the camp.” Other facilities in BiH for single males are overpopulated, including one in Sarajevo which, though it only has a capacity of 2,400, already houses approximately 3,000 people.
There are more than 3,000 refugees and migrants in the earby Bihac area who do not have access to shelter. Local authorities have reportedly refused government orders to reopen a reception centre that was shut down in October 2020. According to the IOM, people were sleeping in abandoned buildings and makeshift camps in the forest and that “IOM had … been providing assistance such as winterized jackets, sleeping bags, food packages and hygiene packages to the 1,500 migrants already sleeping outside.”
According to Al-Jazeera, on 30 December, the relocation of migrants and refugees from the Lipa camp to army barracks in Bradina was cancelled. Migrants and refugees spent around 24 hours in buses prior to being told to disembark and return to the burnt out camp. People were left stranded without access to food, water, or accommodation.
On 8 January 2021, ECRE reported that there were still around 2,500 people sleeping rough in the northwest of BiH, of which several hundreds remained in squalid conditions at the burnt down Lipa camp. According to ECRE, while “housing capacities and sufficient funding exist, political disagreement between local and national authorities perpetuate this humanitarian crisis.” Since 2018, 70,000 people have travelled through BiH, but reaching the EU remains dangerous and people often face pushbacks and violence at the Croatia border (see 2 August and 22 June Croatia updates on this platform).
Said EU foreign affairs commissioner Josep Borrell in early January: “Over the last weeks, we have witnessed a serious humanitarian crisis concerning hundreds of migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina … largely due to the disfunctioning governance in the country” (InfoMigrants 06/01/20201).
Venezuelan Nationals Carrying an Unconscious Woman as They Try to Enter Colombia, (Schneyder Mendoza, AFP, "Alarm at Colombia Plan to Exclude Migrants from Coronavirus Vaccine," The Guardian, 22 December 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/dec/22/colombia-coronavirus-vaccine-migrants-venezuela-ivan-duque)
Colombia is currently under a state of emergency, which has been extended until 28 February 2021. Decree 1550 implementing the state of emergency includes additional restrictions like the closure of land and river borders with Ecuador, Panama, Venezuela, Peru, and Brazil. Colombia’s immigration authority, Migración Colombia, reported in late 2020 that despite the emergency measures there has been an increase in the number of people entering Colombia from Venezuela. According to Migración Colombia’s latest published data, there are approximately 1.7 million Venezuelan citizens in the country.
In late December, President Ivan Duque announced the government’s intention not to vaccinate undocumented non-nationals--including hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan refugees--within the country’s borders. According to Duque’s comments in a local radio interview on 21 December, only Venezuelans who have dual nationality or formal migratory status will have access to the vaccine when it is eventually rolled out. Justifying this decision in terms of prioritising Colombian nationals, Duque stated, “We would have calls to stampede the border as everyone crosses asking for a vaccine.”
Duque’s announcement prompted criticism from humanitarian agencies and rights groups. In a statement condemning the government’s intended policy, Mercy Corps said, “Vaccines will only curb the pandemic if everyone can get them. Leaving Venezuelans out puts them and their Colombian neighbours at risk. Venezuelans, especially those who are undocumented, are among the most vulnerable and hardest hit by the economic effects of the pandemic. Many have lost their only source of income and been forced to live in crowded shelters or on the streets, making them even more susceptible to catching and spreading the virus. People who are most at-risk and vulnerable should be prioritized regardless of nationality or immigration status.”
In the Global Detention Project’s latest report about Colombia, published in December 2020, we detail how Colombia has become an important transit point for migrants and asylum seekers from across the Americas as well as from other parts of the world. For the past several years, it has also been a key destination for Venezuelans fleeing the turmoil in their country. During 2010-2014, a national plan was implemented to “strengthen immigration control in Colombia” and in 2013 the country opened its first temporary immigration holding facilities (“salas transitorias de migración”). During the COVID-19 pandemic, which hit Colombia severely, large numbers of Venezuelans who had lost their jobs became stranded in makeshift camps located in border zones when they sought to return home.
For more information, visit the GDP’s Colombia page at:
Brook House Detention Centre Seen From Outside, (BBC, "Brook House Immigration Detainees 'Held for Years'," 10 March 2017, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-sussex-39221869)
Following the news of a COVID outbreak in Brook House Immigration Removal Centre (see 16 December update on this platform), on 8 January the Home Office announced the centre’s temporary closure (for ten days) due to a number of positive cases amongst staff. A Home Office spokesman confirmed that several detainees had been transferred to an alternative detention centre (Colnbrook, near Heathrow airport)--a move that detainee rights groups immediately condemned. A representative for Bail for Immigration Detention said that “the decision to transfer people to Colnbrook is incredibly dangerous and places the lives of everybody held there in grave danger.”
The facility’s closure comes amidst soaring COVID-19 cases in the UK. As authorities attempt to tackle the new, more transmissible mutation of the virus, a country-wide lockdown is in effect. All persons have been ordered to stay at home and non-essential travel is banned. Despite these measures, however, the Home Office is reported to be continuing to organise deportations. On 6 January, the Independent reported that two deportation flights are due to depart this week: one to Romania on 13 January; and one to Poland on 14 January. When challenged about the safety of these flights, the Home Office said that it would “continue to progress operations with appropriate measures in place.” Lawyers, politicians, rights advocates, and activists have lambasted the decision to continue deportations amidst the new wave of infections. “The Home Office's ramping up of deportation flights during a pandemic is irresponsible & inhumane,” wrote one Labour MP on Twitter. “Rather than putting populism before public health, it should suspend these flights and urgently review its detention & deportation policies.”
Rohingya Refugees Aboard Bound for Bhasan Char in December 2020, (Mohammad Ponir, "Bangladesh Move More Rohingyas To Remote Island Despite Rights Concerns," The Guardian, 28 December 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/dec/28/bangladesh-moves-more-rohingyas-to-remote-island-despite-rights-concerns)
On 5 January, journalist Shiafur Rahman reported the first death at the controversial Rohingya refugee centre on Bangladesh’s Bhasan Char island in the Indian Ocean. Rahman also reported the introduction of new restrictions of movement for those at the centre, which were supposedly introduced after an escape attempt. Refugees reportedly now require permission to go to the market on the island and there appear to be police patrols throughout the night.
In recent weeks, Bangladesh has made several large movements of Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char despite safety and security concerns raised by international human rights monitors (see 7 December Bangladesh update on this platform). Most recently in late December, the government moved a group of 700-1,000 refugees to the island; earlier, during the first week of December, 1,642 refugees were moved to the island.
Bhasan Char, which is hours by boat from the mainland, is prone to severe flooding and cyclones. According to the Diplomat, among the facilities set up on the island to prepare it to receive refugees are 1,400 cluster houses, 120 cyclone shelters, various administrative buildings, schools, two hospitals with 20 beds each, and mosques.
Although Bangladeshi authorities are not hiding the fact that they are transferring refugees to this island, on 28 December they arrested a Rohingya man who was apprehended while photographing buses transferring refugees from Kutupalong Camp. The award-winning photojournalist Abul Kalam, 35, who was detained until 5 January, was charged with assaulting and interfering with public officials and faces three years in jail. “We call on the authorities in Cox’s Bazar to drop these absurd charges,” said a spokesman for Reporters Without Borders (RSF). “His work is of public interest for all of humankind, which needs to know about the fate of the Rohingyas, who are being mistreated again, three years after being subjected to acts of genocide by Myanmar’s military.”
According to Human Rights Watch, there is limited information about the conditions on the island in addition to “allegations that the authorities may have offered misleading information and incentives to move there.” The Bangladeshi government has denied these concerns and said that refugees are relocated voluntarily and that protective measures are being taken to safeguard refugees. The deputy government official in charge of refugees said that a 12km embankment was built to prevent any flooding and that housing had been built for 100,000 people.
The director of the Bhasan Char project told The Daily Star on 5 December 2020: “I firmly believe that when UN, UNHCR, WFP, and IOM will visit here, they will be convinced. We are waiting for them.” This statement was made three days after the UN said they were ready to proceed with the technical and protection assessments, “if permitted by the government.” The UN also said that the assessments would be the first step in determining whether they will be able to engage operationally with the Bhasan Char project and that subsequently, further work would be needed to develop plans and budgets in coordination with the Government and national and international NGO partners.
A Protestor Holding up a Sign During a Protest Against US and Mexican Migration Policies at the San Ysidrio Crossing Port, (AFP, Getty Images, "US Finalizes Rule Allowing Asylum Seekers to be Branded 'Danger' To National Security Amid Pandemic," Forbes, 23 December 2020, https://www.forbes.com/sites/chantaldasilva/2020/12/23/us-finalizes-rule-allowing-asylum-seekers-to-be-branded-danger-to-national-security-amid-pandemic/?sh=3fc9ae4f1bfc)
As of mid-December 2020, more than 7,800 ICE detainees had tested positive for COVID-19 and eight deaths related to the virus recorded. According to the San Antonio Express News, in detention centres under the jurisdiction of the San Antonio field office alone, there have been more than 1,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases.
In a commentary published in December by the American Journal of Public Health, “Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in Immigration Detention Centres Requires the Release of Detainees,” a group of public health experts in the United States argue that “safely releasing detainees from immigration detention centres into their communities is the most effective way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in these settings. Failure to do so will result in infection and death from a novel communicable disease and deepen inequities for a population group that already experiences many structural and systemic threats to health and well-being.”
A separate report published by the advocacy group Detention Watch Network argued that counties with ICE detention centres were more likely to report COVID-19 cases earlier in the pandemic and more likely to have a serious outbreak. The group contends that the US detention system’s ineffective efforts to control the virus helped lead to an additional 245,000 cases across the United States by 1 August 2020. In one case from May 2020, officials in Pearsall said that every local case of COVID-19 could be traced back to ICE’s South Texas processing centre, operated by GEO Group, and that the company had failed to properly keep the community informed of developing cases.
Writing in a December issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, Palacios and Travassos report that infection rates within US immigration detention centres is a direct result of the nonadherence to the guidelines set by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the failure to provide for adequate social distancing in the centres. Yet, rather than allocating vaccines to high-risk groups, federal officials from Operation Warp Speed, a public-private partnership aimed at accelerating the production and distribution of vaccines, have decided to distribute vaccines on the basis of population at the state level. The authors’ review of state plans found that only one state - Louisiana - includes immigration detention centres in its vaccination priority plan and that “at least 14 states lack plans to prioritise any incarcerated populations for SARS-CoV-2 immunisation.”
On 23 December 2020, Forbes reported that the Trump administration finalised a regulation allowing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to block asylum requests on the basis that asylum seekers could constitute a “danger to the security of the United States” if they have passed through a country affected by COVID-19. The regulation, advanced by DHS and the Department of Justice in July 2020, precludes granting asylum to asylum seekers based on “emergency public health concerns generated by a communicable disease.” Forbes reported that the rule gives DHS the ability to exercise “prosecutorial discretion” in cases where asylum seekers are subject to withholding of removal measures, which is aimed at preventing the deportation of vulnerable people to a country where their freedom or their life may be at risk. The rule will enter into force two days after President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on 20 January 2021. Health experts have condemned the measure as “xenophobia masquerading as a public health measure” and said that it would “undermine public health and further endanger people seeking protection.”
Another hidden impact of the U.S. immigration detention policies during the pandemic has been on source countries. As previously reported on this platform (see 20 April Guatemala update; 22 April United States update; and 19 June United States update on this platform), the continuation of deportation flights from the United States during the pandemic has helped spread the virus in countries of origin, particularly across Central America.
A Health Official Spraying a Shop Front in Toamasina in June 2020, (Rijasolo, AFP, "Madagascar Experiments with ‘Miracle Cure’ as Virus Overwhelms Hospitals," The Telegraph, 30 June 2020, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/science-and-disease/madagascar-experiments-miracle-cure-virus-overwhelms-hospitals/)
After its confirmation of the first cases of COVID-19, in March 2020, the government cancelled all international flights and announced a lockdown in the capital, starting on 22 March. Authorities gradually relaxed these measures, allowing schools and stores to reopen and reducing curfews. This was followed by a surge in new COVID-19 cases across the country; authorities subsequently announced a new lockdown in July, including the closure of schools and universities and cancellation of all non-essential travel. As of mid-December 2020, Madagascar had recorded nearly 17,600 COVID-19 cases and 259 deaths.
In April, President Andry Rajoelina launched “Covid-Organics,” a tea based on the plant Artemisia annua containing antimalarial properties. According to the Telegraph, after only having conducted two weeks of trials, the president began promoting it to the Malagasy public.
According to the Malagasy Ministry of Foreign Affairs, some 2,400 nationals were stranded abroad in March 2020 as a consequence of the closure of national borders. On 12 November, the IOM reported that after being stranded for some nine months, 75 Malagasy women returned to the country from Saudi Arabia via a flight chartered by the IOM. In June, IOM supported the return of 177 Malagasy nationals from Kuwait and 54 Malagasy nationals from Lebanon in October.
The GDP has been unable to establish the extent to which detention facilities are used in Madagascar as part of immigration enforcement procedure or to obtain details on COVID-19 related measures taken to safeguard people in immigration custody. However, the use of detention in migration procedures has previously been reported. In its concluding observations in 2018, the Committee on Migrant Workers stated that it was concerned about: “(a) Detention for breach of migration legislation, without recourse to a supporting explanation appropriate to the individual case and based on necessity; (b) The lack of information on alternatives to the detention of migrant workers, including those in an irregular situation, especially for unaccompanied children and families with children; (c) The lack of information and the conditions and maximum period of administrative detention of migrants awaiting expulsion.” The Committee recommended that Madagascar: (a) Ensure that the detention of migrants is an exceptional measure of last resort applied for the shortest possible time … (b) Adopt alternatives to administrative detention for migrant workers and members of their families … (c) Ensure that, in exceptional cases where detention cannot be avoided, migrant workers and members of their families are placed in special facilities, that they are held separately from ordinary prisoners and that conditions of detention comply with the United Nations Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.”
As regards the country’s prison system, on 27 June 2020, the president granted official pardons to all male prisoners over the age of 60, all female prisoners over the age of 55, and prisoners that have already served more than 10 years, including those sentenced to life in prison. In addition, all detainees whose prison sentence is less than three months and all minors having served half of their sentence were also released. In consequence, hundreds of prisoners were released on the same day. However, the measure only concerns sentenced prisoners (representing about 50% of the carceral population) and excludes any prisoners sentenced for corruption, money laundering, embezzlement, murder, damage to natural resources, and repeat offenders.
Migrant Camp in the Orenburg Region in Russia, (Current Time, "448 More Kyrgyz Citizens Return Home from Orenburg Region," Kloop, 22 May 2020, https://kloop.kg/blog/2020/05/22/iz-orenburgskoj-oblasti-na-rodinu-vozvrashhayutsya-eshhe-448-kyrgyzstantsev/)
Kyrgyzstan considers labour migration to be “part of the national development strategy” with remittances accounting for a substantial part of the country’s economy. Large numbers of Kyrgyz nationals work in countries across Asia and Europe, including in particular Russia (which recorded 959,000 border crossings by Kyrgyz nationals in 2019), Kazakhstan, and Turkey. In 2019, 29.2 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) was made up of remittances, which places Kyrgyzstan amongst the top five countries with respect to remittances as a share of GDP.
The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has underscored the economic vulnerability of countries that rely on remittances. As previously reported on this platform (see 19 November Uzbekistan update), labour migrants in Russia were almost twice as likely to lose jobs than Russian nationals. According to the Kyrgyz Embassy in Russia, more than half of all Kyrgyz migrants in the country lost their jobs during the pandemic--a fact that has led to a significant drop in remittances and growing concerns for the Kyrgyz economy.
During the early months of the pandemic, when borders temporarily closed and flights were suspended, many Kygyz migrant workers who sought to return home due to job losses found themselves stranded in Russia. When rumours circulated that the border would open in Orenburg Oblast to enable transit through Kazakhstan, an estimated 600 Kyrgyz migrants arrived in the area, where they were forced to wait for several weeks in overcrowded tent camps until buses arrived. By 22 May, those stranded in the area had been returned to Kyrgyzstan--although upon arrival, many were placed in a newly erected quarantine facility in the Semetey Observation facility (formerly the U.S. Ganci Airbase) in Chui Oblast. On 18 May, a group of detained returnees protested their confinement in the facility--and rumours that they would continue to undergo quarantine restrictions while those testing positive for COVID-19 were being released. According to media reports, several returnees attacked doctors and attempted to overturn an ambulance. Following the riot, most of the returnees were permitted to leave and to complete their quarantine period at home.
By 24 August, some 35,469 Kyrgyz migrants had been returned from Russia via charter flights and bus transfers. Nevertheless, the Kyrgyz government faced criticism for its delays in returning nationals stranded in Russia. Kyrgyz authorities argued that employment opportunities remained more favourable in Russia. The Kyrgyz Ambassador to Russia said, “The Russian economy is stronger and more stable than ours. After quarantine, the economic crisis will continue around the world. I advised our countrymen to wait here and not to go anywhere.”
There have been sporadic reports about the use of immigration detention in Kyrgyzstan. In mid-2020, Human Rights Watch raised concerns regarding the detention of an Uzbek asylum seeker (journalist Bobomurod Abdullaev) in the Kyrgyz State Committee for National Security (GKNB) detention facility. Previously, in 2006, UNHCR raised concerns regarding the detention of four Uzbek refugees (fleeing from the unrest and security crackdown in Uzbekistan’s Andijan region) in Osh Pre-Trial Detention Centre. In 2020, this facility was subject to complaints, including accusations of ill-treatment by detainees. The GDP has been unable to confirm whether the centre continues to confine non-nationals for immigration-related reasons, or what steps--if any--authorities have taken to protect detainees during the pandemic.
Napier Barracks in Folkestone Kent (Dan Kitwood, Getty Images, "Lawyers Denied Access to Asylum Seekers in Kent Barracks," The Guardian, 7 December 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/dec/07/lawyers-denied-access-to-asylum-seekers-in-kent-barracks)
A coronavirus outbreak was confirmed at the UK’s Brook House Immigration Removal Centre (close to Gatwick Airport) in early December. While the Home Office declined to clarify how many positive cases had been recorded or how many people were in isolation at that time, the Guardian reported that at least 17 detainees had tested positive and that three wings of the centre had been locked down as of 10 December. According to the newspaper, Serco--the private security company that took over from G4S in early 2020 in managing the facility--pushed a notice under detainees’ doors on 10 December, confirming the outbreak. Due to the lockdown, the deportation of several asylum seekers who recently arrived in the UK via small boats and who are confined in the facility was postponed.
The outbreak has led to renewed calls for all detainees to be immediately released. “The outbreak of COVID-19 at #BrookHouse detention centre was completely predictable - and utterly preventable. Nobody should be detained for immigration purposes during a global pandemic,” tweeted Freedom From Torture. Celia Clark, the director of Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID), similarly argued: “The government should now recognise that the use of detention and deportation in the current climate helps to spread coronavirus and puts lives at risk.”
Since September, the Home Office has been using two former military barracks (Napier Barracks in Kent, and Penally Barracks in Pembrokeshire) to detain newly arrived asylum seekers. Although it has reported that these facilities are intended for temporary accommodation only--with asylum seekers due to be moved into housing while their applications are assessed--the Guardian reports that many people are instead being transferred directly from these facilities into immigration removal centres, from where they will be deported. Lawyers seeking to assist asylum seekers in the Kent barracks have been denied access. “It’s unusual because even in a detention centre they arrange legal advice, and this is not meant to be a detention centre,” said one solicitor. Some volunteers who have managed to enter the site have accused the Home Office of attempting to cover-up what they call “disturbing” conditions for their entry, including requiring them to sign confidentiality agreements. According to lawyers, up to 15 asylum seekers are forced to share rooms, with sheets hanging between them to create a sense of separation.
The government appears to have stepped up efforts to deport non-nationals--although several successful legal appeals have ensured that some deportation orders were postponed. Particularly controversial was a 2 December deportation flight to Jamaica, which rights advocates claim had close Windrush undertones. In a letter signed by several NGOs, as well as solicitors and barristers (including 11 QCs), the flight was branded as racist, unjust, and unlawful. Nevertheless, the flight went ahead with 13 of the 50 original intended deportees.
On 1 December, changes to the country’s immigration rules came into effect. These include a controversial amendment that allows authorities to deport non-nationals if they are found to be rough-sleeping--even if they have permission to stay, or have lodged an application to stay. (“9.21.1. Permission to stay may be refused where the decision maker is satisfied that a person has been rough sleeping in the UK.”) As migrant rights groups point out, the number of homeless persons has significantly increased during the pandemic, particularly amongst those with NRPF status (No Recourse to Public Funds, a condition that is frequently applied to persons with limited leave to enter or remain and which leaves them unable to obtain various forms of assistance, such as housing support). “It is shockingly cruel and inhumane to threaten someone with deportation simply because they have been driven into rough sleeping,” said Kate Allen, the Director of Amnesty UK. “It is especially appalling that this heartless policy is being introduced during a pandemic when life for those without a proper place to live is already incredibly difficult.”
A Red Cross Volunteer in Bégoua Teaching a Child How To Properly Wash His Hands, (ICRC, "République Centrafricaine: Faire Face à la Covid-19 Dans l'Une des Plus Graves Crises Humanitaires du Monde," 27 July 2020, https://www.icrc.org/fr/document/republique-centrafricaine-faire-face-la-covid-19-dans-le-cadre-dune-des-plus-graves-crises)
On 27 March, roughly a week after the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in the Central African Republic (CAR), authorities temporarily restricted entry for non-nationals and grounded all flights. President Faustin Archange Touadéra announced additional measures, including the closure of schools, bars, and an obligation to inform health authorities of any suspected coronavirus cases. The Bangui airport reopened in July with new security measures, including health check and self-isolation protocols. As of 14 December, CAR had recorded 4,936 COVID-19 cases and 63 deaths.
In May, the UN allocated $12 million USD from its humanitarian fund to support a multisectoral emergency response in the Central African Republic (CAR). The funds are intended to be used to reduce the spread of COVID-19, including enabling partner organisations to implement priority projects in the health and water-hygiene sanitation sectors, manage internally displaced persons camps, as well as provide shelter, food, and essential household items.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported in May that humanitarian aid had been provided to 294,000 people in April to assist access to health, water, and hygienic materials. According to the UN, more than 2.6 million people in the country, approximately half the population, are in need of humanitarian assistance and protection. According to UNHCR, there were 641,292 internally displaced persons as of 31 October 2020. Of these, the UN estimates that more than 467,000 live with host families while the rest live in overcrowded and unsanitary sites.
UNHCR also estimates that as of mid-2020, there were 296,190 refugees from CAR in Cameroon. According to the refugee agency, a voluntary repatriation operation that started in November 2019 was suspended in March 2020 as both countries closed their borders to prevent the spread of the virus. Now that the border closure has been lifted, UNHCR is attempting to facilitate voluntary returns. Improvements of the security situation in Bangui and other regions in CAR have enabled some 15,000 refugees in the North and South Ubangi Provinces to apply for voluntary repatriation. To prevent the spread of COVID-19, health and sanitary measures have been boosted, including the provision of masks, temperature screening, and the installation of hand-washing stations. Also, in order to ensure social distancing, the number of refugees per convoy was reduced to 65 people.
People Waiting for a Drinkable Water Delivery in Libreville, Gabon, (France 24, A. Saint-Léger & C. Caracena, "Covid-19: Au Gabon, Le Casse-Tête de l'Accès à l'Eau à Libreville," 30 April 2020, https://www.france24.com/fr/afrique/20200430-covid-19-au-gabon-le-casse-t%C3%AAte-de-l-acc%C3%A8s-%C3%A0-l-eau-%C3%A0-libreville)
Gabon registered its first COVID-19 cases in March and Parliament declared a state of emergency in early April. On 10 April, the government announced that the capital, Libreville, as well as neighbouring municipalities, would impose lockdown measures. On 3 May, UNICEF reported while Libreville remained the main hotspot. As of 14 December, Gabon had recorded 9,330 COVID-19 cases and 63 deaths.
According to UNHCR, as of 30 November 2020, there were 479 refugees and 84 asylum seekers in the country. In addition, UNHCR stated that only three countries in West and Central Africa (Gabon, Nigeria and Niger) suspended access to asylum registration and most states in the region also closed their borders.
During Gabon’s review at the 2017 UN Universal Periodic Review, Congo, Egypt, and Sierra Leone recommended that Gabon “ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.” Burundi recommended that Gabon “make efforts to accelerate the process of ratification of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.”
As regards the country’s prisons, on 10 April, the president granted official pardons to 680 prisoners in order to alleviate overcrowding and reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. The GDP has been unable to establish the extent to which detention facilities are used in Gabon as part of immigration enforcement procedure or to obtain details on COVID-19 related measures taken to safeguard people in immigration custody.
Rotterdam Detention Centre Seen From Outside, (Ziarah Utara, "Detention Centres in The Netherlands," 6 November 2014, https://dispereertniet.wordpress.com/2014/11/06/detention-centers-in-the-netherlands/)
In early December the Court of the Hague annulled the State Secretary for Justice and Security’s April 2020 decision to deport an Iranian national with severe heart problems, on the grounds that the State Secretary had failed to take into account Iran’s COVID-19 situation. In the court’s opinion, the plaintiff could have lacked access to necessary healthcare services in Iran given the pressure that the pandemic has placed on the country’s healthcare infrastructure. The court requested the State Secretary to conduct further research into the individual’s access to necessary medical treatment in Iran, and to make a new decision within ten weeks.
As previously reported on this platform (see 8 October Netherlands update), the Netherlands did not fully suspend deportations and removals during the pandemic. On 30 November, for example, the country deported a Nigerien national using a private chartered aircraft to transfer the individual to Paris, from where he was flown to Niger. According to the Dutch NGO Meldpunt Vreemdelingendetentie, after landing in Niger the individual heard that a Dutch judge had ordered his release from detention: “If he had not been deported, then he would have been free again, in the Netherlands.”
Detention centres in the Netherlands, meanwhile, have again been scrutinised for their use of isolation--both via the use of isolation cells, and collective isolation in ordinary cells. Despite acknowledging the harmful effects of isolation, and pledging to reduce its use in both 2015 and 2019, the rate of isolation has instead increased. According to Amnesty International, a foreign national was placed in isolation 384 times in 2017, compared to 624 times during the first eleven months of 2019. Amnesty pointed, also, to the repeated lock-downs of Rotterdam Detention Centre during the pandemic, which left detainees locked up in their own cells for 23 hours a day, for up to four weeks. Under a proposed new bill--’Amendments to the Return and Immigration Detention Act’--lockdown could become a regular feature in the country’s detention centres.
Non-nationals in the Netherlands, like many other countries, appear to face higher chances of contracting COVID-19 than nationals, as well as higher mortality rates. According to an October OECD report, death statistics in the Netherlands in March and April 2020 reveal that deaths were 47 percent higher than usual for immigrants from lower-income countries and their children, compared to 38 percent higher for those who are native born with Dutch parents. According to the OECD, this discrepancy may be due in part to poverty, poorer quality housing, and an inability to understand national information campaigns. To help address this, volunteer translators in the Netherlands have started providing translations of newscasts from the country’s public broadcaster. One organisation--Pharos, which works to address health inequalities--has started translating government guidelines but using simpler vocabulary accompanied by images. As of today, information is available in Dutch, Arabic, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, English, Farsi, French, Papiamento, Polish, Somali, Spanish, Tigrinya and Turkish.
Migrants Waiting Near Buffer Zone at the Turkey-Greece Border in the Edirne District in February 2020, (AFP, "UN: 13,000 Migrants Gathered Along Turkish-Greek Border," 29 February 2020, https://www.voanews.com/europe/un-13000-migrants-gathered-along-turkish-greek-border)
Responding to the Global Detention Project’s COVID-19 survey, a non-governmental actor in Turkey reported that the country has not delayed or stopped issuing administrative detention orders as a consequence of the global pandemic. The source, who asked to remain anonymous but whose identity was verified by the GDP, said that they had observed detainees confined in overcrowded centres, including the ones in Istanbul, being transferred to other detention centres to improve social distancing.
The source also reported that they were unaware of any immigration detainees being released for COVID-related reasons. They had applied to the court for all their clients in administrative detention to be released on the basis of COVID-19 infection risks. However, not a single person has yet been released for this reason. Moreover, the source stated that apart from the authorities’ attempt to reduce overcrowding by transferring detainees to other detention centres, they had not observed any other measures taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 or to ensure appropriate care of migrants or asylum seekers. People requiring treatment at hospitals were sent back to detention after they recovered. People released from administrative detention for reasons not related to the pandemic were able to immediately return to their own accommodation. There is no obligatory quarantine period upon release, and migrants and asylum seekers are not tested for the virus. Also, the source reported that they had not seen authorities test detainees except those who are evidently ill.
Regarding alternatives to detention, the source said that the most common implementation is to oblige the person to regularly report to the Provincial Directorate of Migration Management or to the satellite cities by providing a signature. The frequency of the reporting duties will vary depending on the case. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, these reporting duties were suspended or postponed so ATDs have not factored into any COVID response.
According to the source, removals were halted between 18 March and 15 June 2020. However, removal decisions continued to be issued during this time. In consequence, if a removal decision was made against a migrant, the migrant in question would either be taken to administrative detention or released after the order was issued. The source stated that they did not have any clients who were removed from the country, but that some returned voluntarily after deportation decisions were made against them.
Turkey did not announce any new immigration or asylum policies in response to the COVID-19 crisis. The source told the GDP that they had been informed that migrants waiting at the Edirne-Greece border, were taken into quarantine as a result of the statement made by president Erdogan at the end of February announcing that Turkey would no longer stop migrants and refugees from reaching Europe (see 6 April Turkey update on this platform).
Following adoption of legislation in April (see 14 April Turkey update on this platform), enabling the release of thousands of prisoners to prevent the spread of the virus in overcrowded prisons, the prison administration reported on 18 June that they had temporarily released 64,661 prisoners from its facilities.
Newly Arrived Refugees from Côte d'Ivoire Await Registration in Behwalay Village in Liberia, (UNHCR, Roland Tuley, "UNCHR Airlifts Emergency Aid for Ivorian Refugees in Liberia," 23 November 2020, https://www.unhcr.org/news/press/2020/11/5fbb9f9f4/unhcr-airlifts-emergency-aid-ivorian-refugees-liberia.html)
After declaring a national emergency in late March 2020, the Liberian government used emergency powers that enable it to require the registration of residents in infected areas, restrict movement within infected areas, and quarantine infected people. The government designated two of the 15 counties in the country as infected and imposed a 21-day lockdown along with the closure of schools, suspension of flights, and limitations to public transport. As of 11 December, Liberia had recorded 1,676 cases of COVID-19 and 83 deaths.
At UNHCR’s Executive Committee held in Geneva in October, Liberia reported that it was hosting 8,235 refugees, the vast majority from Côte d’Ivoire. The government reported collaboration with UNHCR in a Joint Taskforce aimed at raising awareness of COVID-19, distributing preventive materials, and providing food items in the refugee concentrated counties of Montserrado, Nimba, Grand Gadeh and River Gee, and Maryland.
Political tensions in neighbouring Côte d’Ivoire have forced thousands of Ivorian nationals to flee into neighbouring countries (see 4 December Côte d’Ivoire update on this platform), including Liberia. According to UNHCR, by 9 November, more than 7,500 Ivorian nationals had fled to Liberia. More than 60 percent of arrivals are children, some of whom are unaccompanied or have been separated from their parents. UNHCR stated that they were planning to send essential relief items for refugees in Liberia from their stockpiles in Dubai.
On 23 November, UNHCR airlifted 95 tonnes of emergency supplies as nearly 15,000 Ivorians are now in Liberia. A UNHCR-chartered flight landed in Monrovia with blankets, jerry cans, kitchen sets, plastic sheets, and solar lamps for refugees. The UNHCR representative in Liberia said: “Every day this past week, hundreds of Ivorian refugees have continued to cross the border. … Most are children, arriving exhausted and malnourished. The needs are mounting, and we are stepping up to meet them.”
As regards the country’s prisons, since the start of the pandemic, Prison Fellowship Liberia, an organisation that seeks to provide help and support to prisoners in Liberia, has obtained the provisional release of 300 detainees. The prison administration found on 10 June 2020 that there were 2,300 prisoners compared with 2,700 in December 2019.
The GDP has been unable to establish the extent to which detention facilities are used in Liberia as part of immigration enforcement procedures or obtain details on COVID-19 related measures taken to safeguard people in immigration custody.
IOM, “IOM Aids COVID-Impacted Communities on Haiti-Dominican Border and Worldwide,” 10 November 2020, https://reliefweb.int/report/dominican-republic/iom-aids-covid-impacted-communities-haiti-dominican-border-and-worldwide
On 1 March 2020, the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in the Dominican Republic. Between 15 and 19 March, the government adopted a series of emergency measures, including halting flights from Europe, China, South Korea, and Iran; suspending ferry arrivals; and closing border crossings with Haiti. As of December 2020, the country had registered 149,138 COVID-19 cases and 2,346 deaths.
On 10 November, the IOM reported that it was distributing more than 12,000 food kits to migrant and Dominican families affected by the economic consequences of closing the border with Haiti. The closure of four border crossings in particular have had major impacts on local communities and the country as a whole. The Ministry of Economy, Planning, and Development reports that some 90 percent of trade with Haiti flows through those posts, which account for nearly 230,000 entries per year.
The IOM reports that it is working with several civil society organisations in the country to distribute food in border provinces. According to the Casa de Luz Foundation, “people do not have access to food in sufficient quantities, and thanks to the aid that IOM has been providing these days, many people have received food at home. … Many of these families depended on the informal market trade. Now the market activities are almost nil, so many have had to migrate to work for private households in Santo Domingo.”
According to UNHCR, there are 30,333 Venezuelans displaced abroad in the Dominican Republic along with 603 asylum seekers and 162 refugees. According to Response for Venezuelans, its partners assisted 37 Venezuelans with COVID-19, accompanying them to hospitals and purchasing their medicines. Response for Venezuelans also reported that 33 cases of legal assistance for persons who were evicted and lost their jobs without justification were managed remotely by the organisation.
In its concluding observations in 2017, the UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern regarding reports of arbitrary and indefinite detention of asylum seekers and refugees as well as at the lack of procedural safeguards in the country. In addition, the committee observed that a high number of Haitian nationals are deported and that pushbacks at the border are carried out in the absence of procedural safeguards and by inadequately trained immigration and border personnel. The committee recommended that the country take steps to “avoid the arbitrary and indefinite detention of migrants, asylum seekers and refugee claimants, ensure that they have access to a lawyer and information on their rights, including at the border, and provide for alternatives to detention for asylum seekers and refugee claimants, ensuring that detention is used only a last resort.”
The country’s prisons have seen large outbreaks of COVID-19 since April; as of 1 July 2020, there were 917 cases in the country’s prisons, of which 346 were active at that time. During the pandemic, two riots took place, one in April at the Victoria prison in Santo Domingo and another in May at the Romana prison, leaving five prisoners and a police officer injured. Prisoners were requesting COVID-19 testing after other prisoners tested positive at the facilities and after four prisoners died at the Victoria prison. The Victoria prison has 9,000 prisoners for 1,500 places.
The GDP has been unable to obtain details on COVID-19 related measures taken to safeguard people in immigration custody.
K. Ahmed & R. Ahmed, “Bangladesh Begins Moving Rohingya Families to Remote Island,” The Guardian, 4 December 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/dec/03/bangladesh-begins-moving-rohingya-families-to-remote-island
Despite repeated calls from human rights groups for Bangladeshi authorities to remove more than 300 refugees from the island of Bhasan Char (see 10 July Bangladesh update on this platform), The Guardian reports that in early December the country began moving even more Rohingya families from camps near the Myanmar border to the controversial refugee site it constructed on the island. More than 1,600 Rohingya refugees departed the port of Chittagong on Friday 4 December en route to the island, which is located in the Bay of Bengal--joining the 300 Rohingya refugees who have been there since April (see 24 September Bangladesh update on this platform). According to The Guardian, there have been allegations of sexual assaults made against guards and videos have emerged of women screaming to be allowed to return to the mainland.
While refugees are being told that NGOs operating in the mainland camps would also help on Bhasan Char, the UN has not yet agreed to work on the island and on 2 December, UNHCR stated that it had not been involved in the relocations and requested that the Bangladeshi authorities allow an urgent assessment of the island. A refugee camp leader staying in Kutupalong camp said: “We went to the island and I am pretty satisfied with the arrangements there. They have better housing, mosques and madrasas, markets. And the government promised there’ll be no lack of aid and support from the UN and other agencies.” According to Human Rights Watch and Fortify Rights, some refugees have gone into hiding when they discovered that their names were on the lists for relocation.
On 31 July, WHO reported over 3,361 COVID-19 cases in Cox’s Bazar. UNHCR is providing support and distributing sanitary products in camps it manages. The refugee agency reports that it has installed 65,400 hand washing taps, distributed soap to over 80,0000 households, and made over 1.4 million announcements by megaphone, audio/USB sticks, and via mosques. In addition, some 14,250 elderly care kits have been distributed throughout UNHCR managed camps in Bangladesh and refugee community outreach volunteers have conducted 2,805 training sessions for a total of 6,585 refugees.
Asylum Seekers Fleeing Electoral Tensions in Côte d'Ivoire Wait at the Buuto Border Post in Liberia, (UNHCR, "Le HCR Intensifie l'Aide Humanitaire; Le Nombre des Réfugiés Ivoiriens Dépasse les 8000," 10 November 2020, https://www.unhcr.org/fr/news/briefing/2020/11/5faa6581a/hcr-intensifie-laide-humanitaire-nombre-refugies-ivoiriens-depasse-8000.html)
The first case of COVID-19 in Côte d’Ivoire was confirmed on 11 March after an Ivorian national returned from Italy. On 23 March 2020, the Government declared a state of emergency via Decree n°2020-351, put in place a curfew from 9PM to 5AM, and closed all restaurants, bars, and nightclubs and imposed further restrictive measures. These measures were progressively relaxed from May onwards, with the possibility of re-establishing them in areas where positive COVID-19 cases are identified.
UNHCR reported that more than 8,000 Ivorian nationals have fled to neighbouring countries amid political tensions in the country. More than 60 percent of arrivals are children, some of whom are unaccompanied or have been separated from their parents. Most of those that have fled have told UNHCR that they hope to stay close to the border in order to be able to return once the situation is stabilised. UNHCR stated they are planning to send essential relief items for up to 10,000 refugees in Liberia from their stockpiles in Dubai. At the same time, more than 500 Ivorians also arrived in Ghana, Guinea, and Togo where they are receiving assistance. By 23 November 2020, a total of 16,266 Ivorians had fled Côte d’Ivoire. According to UNHCR, fear of violence is the main driver of displacement, “and many arrivals are reporting being afraid of an imminent outbreak of violence due to the ongoing political tensions and the trauma of the 2011 post electoral conflict.”
In its submission to the 3rd cycle of the Universal Periodic Review in 2018, UNHCR stated that although Côte d’Ivoire is a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, the country’s asylum system only provides minimum standards for the treatment of asylum seekers. It recommended adopting “an asylum law that establishes concrete admissibility criteria for asylum applications, ensures rapid and impartial consideration of asylum claims, and provides effective procedural safeguards for asylum applicants in compliance with the provisions of the 1951 Convention.” In addition, while Côte d’Ivoire had recently acceded to the Statelessness Conventions, UNHCR recommended that the Government consider ratifying key human rights treaties, including the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.
To date, the GDP has been unable to establish the extent to which detention facilities are used in Côte d’Ivoire as part of immigration enforcement procedures or obtain details on COVID-19 related measures taken to safeguard people in immigration custody.
M. Agius, “Court Condemns Arbitrary Detention of Asylum Seekers as ‘Abusive and Farcical,’” Newsbook, 28 November 2020, https://newsbook.com.mt/en/court-condemns-arbitrary-detention-of-asylum-seekers-as-abusive-and-farcical/
In a habeas corpus case, a Maltese court ordered the release of detained asylum seekers, describing their treatment as “abusive and farcical.” The four men, who arrived in Malta on 7 June 2020, had been detained in Safi Barracks and Lyster Barracks for 166 days and alleged that they had not been informed of any reasons or legal justification for their continued detention. Following their release, the asylum seekers were offered temporary accommodation by Maltese NGO, the Aditus Foundation. This decision came just one month after a similar case concerning the arbitrary detention of an asylum seeker for 144 days.
Until 2015, Malta automatically detained all individuals who entered the country irregularly. Despite amending its legal and policy framework--adopting its “Strategy for the Reception of Asylum Seekers and Irregular Migrants,” which provides that arrivals are to be placed in an “initial reception centre”--NGOs including Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) and Aditus have argued that in practice, those arriving irregularly are often placed directly into detention. Since 2018, authorities are reported to have repeatedly detained asylum seekers on public health grounds, citing suspicions that irregular arrivals will spread contagious diseases, despite all asylum applicants undergoing medical screening upon arrival. Others have been detained due to a lack of space in open facilities. In an op-ed for ECRE, the Director of the Maltese NGO Aditus Foundation noted that “hundreds of asylum-seekers are currently illegally detained in Malta’s squalid detention centres.”
Frontline EU countries like Malta--including Italy, Greece, and Spain--often bear a disproportionate burden in terms of registration and reception of asylum seekers. In a draft resolution adopted on 1 December with 45 votes to ten (and 13 abstentions) the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee noted that the Dublin III Regulation imposes this disproportionate burden, and called for the establishment of a solidarity-based mechanism “to ensure the fundamental right of asylum in the EU and responsibility sharing among member states.” In the absence of reform, the committee argued that more resources should be sent to front-line countries.
Several groups of migrants and asylum seekers have been relocated from the country in recent months, amidst Malta’s calls for greater responsibility sharing across the EU. On 25 November, a group was transferred to Germany--reportedly the fifth relocation since September. In September, reports also emerged detailing government plans to charter a ferry to detain non-nationals offshore. Observers accused officials of devising the plan in an attempt to placate growing public frustration regarding the government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis.
A Kit Used to Check for Antibodies in People with COVID-19, in Uruguay, 50,000 kits Were Developed, (Imago Images, Agencia EFE, "Uruguay Wages Successful Fight Against COVID-19," DW, 22 August 2020, https://www.dw.com/en/uruguay-wages-successful-fight-against-covid-19/a-54659839)
In March, Uruguay President Luis Lacalle Pou moved to impose a series of COVID-related restrictions, including closing non-essential shops and closing its border with Brazil. The moves--which notably did not include lock-down--came after the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in Montevideo on 13 March 2020. As of 30 November 2020, Uruguay had reported less than 6,000 COVID cases and 76 deaths related to the disease. Neighbouring Argentina also reacted swiftly but with stricter compulsory lockdown measures (see 3 April Argentina update on this platform); nevertheless, it has experienced dramatically more cases (approximately 1.4 million as of this writing).
In June, Uruguayan authorities expressed concern over the arrival of a large number of Cubans, some of whom sought to enter the country as refugees. According to Diario de Cuba, the Cuban nationals arrived in Uruguay through the Rivera department on the border with Brazil, where they expressed their intention to apply for asylum.
As of June 2020, Uruguay hosted 13,742 asylum seekers and 498 refugees under UNHCR’s mandate as well as 14,236 Venezuelans “displaced abroad.” According to the UNHCR, it employs the phrase Venezuelans “displaced abroad” to refer to people of Venezuelan origin who are likely to be in need of international protection under the criteria contained in the Cartagena Declaration, but who have not applied for asylum in the country in which they are present. As part of its COVID-19 response, UNHCR reports that it has provided humanitarian assistance to refugees and migrants suffering from the socioeconomic effects of the pandemic. UNHCR has provided accommodation, food, clothing, and cash assistance in major urban centres and border areas.
Uruguayan legislation does not provide for the detention of people in an irregular migratory situation. Like Argentina’s immigration legislation, Article 1 of Uruguay’s Migration Act, No. 18250 (Ley de Migraciones, N°18250), along with its Regulatory Decree n°394/009 of 2009, recognise the inalienable right of migrants and their relatives to migrate irrespective of their migration status. Furthermore, Article 9 provides that an irregular immigration status does not preclude a person from having access to justice and health care and that authorities must provide information on regularisation avenues. The legislation (Article 51) also provides for expulsion proceedings in certain situations. As per Article 52, where a person has entered irregularly or stayed in the country following the expiration of their permit, the Uruguayan immigration authority (Dirección Nacional de Migración), taking into account the specific circumstances of the case, is to advise the person that they must regularise their immigration status within a certain period of time in order to avoid expulsion. In its concluding observations in 2014, the Committee on Migrant Workers noted “with particular interest that the Act recognises: … (c) That no case involving a migrant in an irregular situation for administrative reasons warrants detention.”
In the country’s prisons, a sanitary protocol was put in place on 16 March whereby detainees presenting any symptoms are placed in quarantine. Hygienic products and sodium hypochlorite were distributed to the prisoners and the protocol envisages the fumigation of communal spaces and vehicles used for the transfer of detainees. On 13 April, 13 prisoners suffering from COVID-19 symptoms were tested. 8 tested negative and the rest were placed in isolation awaiting results.
24 Heures, “Asile: Pas de Détention si le Renvoi est Empêché par le Coronavirus,” 8 October 2020, https://www.24heures.ch/asile-pas-de-detention-si-le-renvoi-est-empeche-par-le-coronavirus-783597632491
In a recent finding, the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) concluded that Switzerland violated provisions in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child when it failed to show due diligence in assessing a child’s best interests and did not take the child’s views into account in a case involving a removal procedure for a family from Azerbaijan. The ruling comes as Swiss authorities are facing increasing legal challenges regarding its detention decisions stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. It also comes just a year and a half after Switzerland introduced a controversial new asylum system enabling the country to rapidly process applications.
The CRC case concerned a family of four that had made its way to Switzerland after fleeing their home in Azerbaijan. After a seven-month wait for an asylum hearing in Switzerland, the family reluctantly agreed to withdraw its asylum claim and be voluntarily repatriated. The complainant’s husband was told by his father that it was safe for him to return to Azerbaijan and that he no longer risked incarceration. Upon their return to Azerbaijan, the husband was arrested and the mother arranged to flee to Switzerland again. In May 2018, the mother and her two children, E.A. and U.A., arrived in Ticino and filed a new asylum application. As a result of the persecution and trauma she suffered, the mother’s mental health had worsened. In a report drafted by a psychologist from the Baobab centre, which provided support to the family, it was noted that the mother had developed symptoms of anxiety and depression, insomnia and somatic reactions and that the social network established by the mother and her children during their first stay in Ticino “allowed them to maintain a minimum level of mental and physical well-being.”
However, the asylum request was unsuccessful and Swiss authorities submitted a request to Italy to take charge of the mother and her children, as they had entered the European Union through Italy on an Italian visa. Italian authorities agreed to take charge of the family and so Swiss authorities ordered the removal of the mother with her children. The mother filed an appeal against this decision in July 2018, but the Swiss Federal Administrative Court rejected her appeal. The court ruled that there were no concrete and substantiated indications that the persons concerned would be unable to travel or that the alleged health problems were so serious that the family’s transfer to Italy would be contrary to the requirements of the European Court of Human Rights.
Despite being aware that the children had contracted chickenpox and the risk of contagion had been reported by a doctor, on 12 September 2018, the police picked up the mother and her children from their hotel to carry out their removal from Zurich airport. Officers showed the children an image of forced removal (people being restrained), telling them that if their mother did not cooperate, they would remove them in the same way. The mother suffered panic and anxiety attacks during the removal, which reportedly prompted the police to leave the family at Zurich airport without any money and instruct them to make their own way back to their accommodation in Ticino. The mother thus complained that the Swiss authorities violated their obligation to respect the rights set out under Articles 3 (due diligence in assessing the children’s best interests) and 12 (right of the child to be heard in any judicial or administrative proceedings affecting the child) CRC.
The CRC pointed out that Article 12 does not impose an age limit on the right of the child to express his/her views. In absence of a direct hearing for the children, the situation amounted to a violation of Article 12. Also, the committee credited the argument that Swiss authorities did not take into account the trauma experienced by the children and in consequence, it considered that the national authorities failed to hear E.A. and U.A. and did not show due diligence in assessing the children’s best interests, constituting a violation of Article 3.
The CRC finding is the latest in a string of recent legal challenges involving detention and removal proceedings that have confronted Swiss authorities, mainly stemming from the impact of COVID-19. The group Asylex, which campaigns for the rights of people in administrative detention in Switzerland, has helped spearhead these challenges. As previously reported (see 27 June Switzerland update on this platform), on 9 June, the Swiss Supreme Court handed down a judgment in a case brought by Asylex, stating that due to limitations on the ability to deport people, brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, “detention pending removal” was unlawful during this period. According to Asylex, it has pursued similar argumentation in more than 40 cases between March-June and as of 11 June, more than 30 people had been released. After two successful challenges against the Zurich Migration Office at the Federal Supreme Court in June, Asylex president, Lea Hungerbühler said: “The fact that the Federal Supreme Court has now ruled this way in the two precedent cases is a strong indication that the Zurich Migration Office must change its practice.”
Following the establishment of Switzerland’s new asylum system in March 2019, the Coalition of Independent Asylum Lawyers (Coalition des juristes indépendant-e-s pour le droit d’asile) released a critical assessment of the first year of operation of the new accelerated procedure. As part of the coalition, Asylex argued that the procedure is too quick and superficial, and that there have been numerous problems associated with quality of translations during asylum hearings, complaints of racism, and the placement of asylum seekers in isolation in federal asylum centres.
Anafé Logo, (Anafe.org, Travail personnel, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://bit.ly/2JuBEij)
In November, several organisations that are part of the Association Nationale d’Assistance aux Frontières pour les Étrangers (Anafé) petitioned the administrative courts of Nice and Marseille to rule on the right of access of associations to places of deprivation of liberty of the border police (‘Police Aux Frontières’ or ‘PAF’) at Menton pont Saint-Louis and of Montgenèvre. As of this writing, the cases were still pending but it is expected that the Nice administrative tribunal will pronounce itself first. The petition was filed after the groups were repeatedly denied access to these facilities.
Anafé has for many years denounced France's practice of detaining people at the Franco-Italian border. According to the group, dozens of people are locked in modular buildings adjacent to the PAF posts in Menton and Montgenèvre for several hours and sometimes, for the whole night, in poor material conditions. No blankets are provided to detainees; there is no possibility to lie down; there is little or no food or water; and the conditions are reportedly unhygienic and overcrowded.
In 2017, however, the Conseil d’Etat, which had been pressured to prohibit this practice, said that these detentions could be justified as long as the duration of deprivation of liberty did not exceed a so-called “reasonable” duration of less than four hours. Yet, Anafé has observed detention measures lasting more than four hours and in poor conditions. In addition, Anafé argues that given that this type of deprivation of liberty falls outside any legal framework, it escapes judicial control. Since the end of 2019, several elected officials have been refused access to these premises on the grounds that the premises are not actually for the deprivation of liberty but rather to shelter exiled people. In September and October 2020, representatives from Anafé and Doctors of the World traveled to the PAF premises in Menton and Montgenèvre in order to provide legal and medical assistance to people being “sheltered” there. However, access was denied by the administration. In consequence, legal actions have been presented requesting the courts to sanction these practices aimed at preventing organisations protecting the rights and health of exiled persons from providing them assistance during their detention at the PAF premises.
On 8 October 2020, an Ivorian national, said she had been deprived of liberty for more than 14 hours with her two children aged 3 and 5 at the PAF facility in Menton. She added that she had been held with 17 other people in a small space, without any respect of sanitary protection protocols, without receiving any food and that the condition of the centre’s sanitary facilities were deplorable.
In 2019, a Nigerian national of 17 years old, told Anafé that he had been held more than 10 hours, from 27 to 28 May 2019, at the PAF facilities in Menton. 10 adults were being held at the same time as him, in appalling conditions with unusable toilets. According to him, he stated that he was a minor and that he wanted to seek asylum in France, but the authorities did not take this into account.
Magen David Adom Medical Workers at a Drive-Through Testing Site at the Entrance of an East Jerusalem neighbourhood on 2 April 2020, (Yonatan Sindel, Flash 90, "East Jerusalem Scrambles to Prevent COVID-19 Outbreak Before Ramadan," +972 Magazine, 22 April 2020, https://www.972mag.com/east-jerusalem-coronavirus-ramadan/)
The first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) in early March 2020, after the discovery of seven cases in Bethlehem linked to a tourist group from Greece. In response, the Palestinian Authority declared a state of emergency, imposed a citywide lockdown, and enforced a curfew. Between March and June, there were only 665 registered cases of COVID-19 in the West Bank and Gaza, 180 cases among Palestinians in Jerusalem, and limited cases among Palestinians in Israel. However, the onset of a second wave from July resulted in rapid growth of the number of cases. By the end of November 2020, the territories, including east Jerusalem, had reported nearly 85,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 714 deaths.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has put in measures to slow the spread of the virus, including giving medical consultations by phone, delivering humanitarian assistance to avoid overcrowding at distribution centres, and blending school with remote learning. However, these measures have been criticised for being insufficient to prevent the spread. On 10 November 2020, the spokesperson for UNRWA reported that the agency had run out of cash on hand to keep vital services going amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Numerous concerns, meanwhile, have been raised regarding healthcare provision in the OPT, particularly in Gaza, where medical infrastructure is chronically under-resourced and has, in the past, faced militarised attacks--as well as the effects of years of suffocating blockades. In April, it was reported that between the three hospitals located in East Jerusalem, there are only 22 ventilators and 62 beds prepared for coronavirus patients. Moreover, attempts by Palestinians to mobilise community health initiatives have been met with crackdowns on the part of the Israeli police.
At the end of August 2020, 355 Palestinians--including two minors--continued to be held in administrative detention in Israel Prison Service (IPS) facilities, according to B’Tselem. Administrative detention is permitted under Article 285 of Military Order 1651, which is part of the military legislation applying in the West Bank; the Internment of Unlawful Combatants Law (Unlawful Combatants Law), which has been used against residents of the Gaza Strip since 2005; and the Emergency Powers (Detentions) Law, which applies to Israeli citizens. According to the Palestinian NGO Addameer, administrative detention is used almost exclusively to detain Palestinians from the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT), although Israeli citizens and foreign nationals can also be held as administrative detainees by Israel.
In November, the Palestinian Detainees Committee reported that the Israeli Prison Authority (IPA) had sealed all sections in Gilboa’ prison in central Israel and cancelled all visits from detainees’ families, after more than 80 detainees in the prison tested positive for coronavirus. Conditions within the prison have previously been criticised for being overcrowded and dirty. In March, the Israeli government released approximately 400 offenders from prisons throughout Israel for a 30-day house arrest, after which they were officially released from prison.
Migrants at the Bosnian-Croatian Border in December 2019, (Manu Brabo, AP, "Reports of Illegal Pushbacks by Migrants on the Austrian Border," Die Standard, 16 November 2020, https://www.derstandard.at/story/2000121752241/berichte-ueber-illegale-pushbacks-von-migranten-an-oesterreichischer-grenze)
Der Standard reported that Austrian police were involved in several cases of pushbacks to Slovenia followed by chain pushbacks to Bosnia in September. According to freelance journalist Christof Mackinger, the Austrian authorities are said to have been involved in two instances of illegal pushbacks.
The first incident took place on 5 September and was documented by the NGO “No Name Kitchen.” Five people from Syria, Liberia, and Morocco were picked up by the police near the town of Laafeld, close to the Austrian-Slovenian border, taken to a police station, registered and then handed over to Slovenian officials, despite having stated that they wished to apply for asylum. They are said to have been deported from Slovenia via Croatia to Bosnia.
The second incident took place on 28 September, when seven Moroccan nationals were picked up by the Styrian police near the village of Halbenrain. They were registered and then also handed over to Slovenian officials. One of the migrants' lawyers filed a complaint against the police at the Styrian Regional Administrative Court as according to him, the migrant is said to have uttered the word “asylum” several times in English and in French. The migrant is now in Bosnia-Herzegovina after Slovenian police handed him over to the Croatian police, who, along with other migrants, dropped him off near the Bosnian border. They were then reportedly driven across the border by masked men. The Interior Ministry spokesperson denied the accusations.
Dublin Live, “Coronavirus Ireland: Covid-19 Outbreak Fear at Dublin Prison as New Prisoner Struck with Virus,” 12 September 2020, https://www.dublinlive.ie/news/dublin-news/coronavirus-ireland-dublin-prison-case-18924231
In late November, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture released a report about its monitoring visit to Ireland in 2019. In the report, the committee reiterates its long-standing calls for Irish authorities to cease the use of prisons for immigration detention, noting that “a prison is by definition not a suitable place in which to detain someone who is neither suspected nor convicted of a criminal offence.” The committee reports that it met with several immigration detainees who had experienced bullying and abuse from other prisoners. It pointed, for example, to the case of a “middle-aged diminutive foreign national was placed in a cell with two young remand prisoners who allegedly attempted to rape him as well as physically aggressed and verbally intimidated him.”
In the GDP’s most recent country profile on Ireland, published in August 2019, we reported that a dedicated detention facility was slated to open at Dublin Airport in late 2019. The profile noted concerns that such a facility could lead to more detention in the country. Media reports indicate that as of August 2020, this facility had yet to open. The CPT, however, reports that by the time of its visit to Ireland in September-October 2019, a new Garda (Police) Station had opened at the airport (with four cells and two holding rooms), which could detain non-citizens for a maximum of 24 hours. Prisons, however, continue to detain immigration detainees for longer periods. As a result, the CPT reiterated its call, which it has been repeating since at least 2006, for authorities to establish a dedicated immigration detention facility. The CPT suggested the use of a disused unit at Cloverhill Prison (F Block) where detainees could be offered a more open regime, and greater access to the telephone and unscreened visits.
The latest CPT report on Ireland arrived at a time of increased concern about the spread of COVID-19 in prisons that are used to hold immigraiotn detainees. In Cloverhill Prison, three inmates are known to have contracted the virus, while five prisoners in Midlands Prison were reported to have tested positive as of 30 October. Both the Cloverhill and Midlands prisons are used to confine migrants and asylum seekers.
During the pandemic, the country’s Refugee Protection Programme--a scheme designed to relocate up to 2,900 refugees to the country via resettlement and community sponsorship between 2020 and 2023--was temporarily suspended due to travel restrictions. However, the suspension in Ireland appears to have been lifted, with several groups of refugees reported to have been flown to the country since the summer. Most recently on 19 November, 160 Syrians (including 90 children) were transported to Ireland on an IOM chartered flight.
(Ireland has not been alone in the suspension of its resettlement scheme: on 19 November, UNHCR warned that 2020 will be a record low for resettlement. According to the agency’s data, 15,425 persons were resettled worldwide between January and the end of October, compared to 50,086 during the same period in 2019.)
R. Latiff, “In Malaysia’s Sabah, Pandemic Rages as Migrants Flee Testing,” Reuters, 23 November 2020, https://uk.reuters.com/article/health-coronavirus-malaysia-sabah/in-malaysias-sabah-pandemic-rages-as-migrants-flee-testing-idUSL4N2HY17A
In stark contrast to the increasing efforts by many countries around the world to decrease or end child immigration detention, Malaysia continues to detain large numbers of children, despite the dangers presented by the spread of COVID-19. While UNICEF has called on governments to immediately release children to protect them during the pandemic, Malaysia reported in October that it was holding hundreds of children in migration-related detention. According to information provided by the country’s Home Minister in response to questions from Parliament, 756 children were being held in migration detention as of 26 October 2020. Of these, 405 were unaccompanied--326 of whom were unaccompanied child refugees from Myanmar.
UNHCR, however, has been denied access to immigration detention centres since August 2019, and thus cannot clarify the refugee status of these children, or the procedures they have been granted access to. “Immigration authorities should stop playing games with people’s lives and immediately release all detained children and grant the UN refugee agency access to all detained refugees and asylum seekers,” said Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director, in a statement on 20 November.
Malaysian authorities have conducted numerous raids and immigration arrests since May 2020, placing all apprehended persons in already overcrowded detention facilities (for more on these raids, see our 3 May Malaysia update on this platform). During the summer, several detention facilities witnessed COVID-19 outbreaks, prompting the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants to warn that raids and arrests of migrants were “undermining the effort to fight the pandemic in the country.” In particular, he noted that fear of arrest and detention may mean that “migrants might not come forward anymore for testing or access health services even when showing symptoms of the coronavirus.” Indeed, recent reports have highlighted that undocumented migrants, refugees, and stateless persons in Sabah Province have been evading Ministry of Health COVID-19 screening campaigns, out of fear that they will be detained and deported. Doctors in the state, which accounts for nearly half of all cases in the country, have also reported that non-nationals have delayed seeking treatment when they contract the virus, likely contributing to higher levels of infection--as well as higher death rates.
C. Putz, “Zero to 15: Tajikistan Finally Confirms First Cases of COVID-19,” The Diplomat, 30 April 2020, https://thediplomat.com/2020/04/zero-to-15-tajikistan-finally-confirms-first-cases-of-covid-19/
Although Tajik authorities closed the country’s borders to travellers from more than 30 countries in early March, the government initially denied the existence of the virus--even allowing mass public events to be held. In April however, following the announcement that the WHO would send a team to investigate the country’s virus-free status, authorities confirmed the detection of 15 cases in the country. As of 24 November 2020, 11,932 confirmed cases and 86 deaths have been reported.
Like its Central Asian neighbours, Tajikistan has long witnessed significant flows of external labour migration, especially to Russia. (In August, undocumented Tajik migrants in Moscow were targeted in raids--see 19 November Russia Federation update on this platform.) Border closures and flight cancellations, however, have left thousands of Tajik migrant workers stranded outside of the country waiting for charter flights to repatriate them. Between April and October, Tajik officials report having returned 70,000 citizens via charter flights.
In 2020, Tajikistan established a new law allowing foreign nationals and stateless people irregularly residing in the country to regularise their stay by obtaining residence permits, as well as enabling them to apply for Tajik citizenship after three years. State authorities estimate the new law will benefit some 20,000 people, mostly former citizens of the Soviet Union, who came to Tajikistan before the end of 2016.
A signatory of the Refugee Convention, the country has adopted domestic legislation for the purposes of refugee protection under the 1994 Law on Refugees (which was revised in 2002 and 2014). As of August 2019, there were a total of 11,299 persons of concern in Tajikistan according to UNHCR, including 2,287 refugees (the vast majority of whom are from Afghanistan), 2,170 asylum seekers, and 6,842 stateless persons. Research conducted by UNHCR PDES has previously highlighted the severe restrictions imposed on refugees’ and asylum seekers’ freedom of movement, including laws preventing them from taking up residence in large urban areas as well as in border areas and imposing heavy criminal penalties for breaches of movement restrictions (including arrest, detention, fines, the withdrawal of refugee status, and deportation). It has also raised concern regarding provisions in national law that do not conform to the Refugee Convention, such as Resolution 323, which provides that a person who has transited through certain countries (e.g. Afghanistan, Uzbekistan) is considered as having found protection in those countries, which can subsequently constitute a basis for refusal of registration of applications for granting asylum.
Law No.590 under Article 5 of the revised 1994 Law on Refugees provides that the national security body of the Republic of Tajikistan shall detain asylum-seekers crossing the border into Tajikistan who do not have a permit to enter, but who have claimed asylum. In such cases, it must communicate information about this detention to the relevant internal affairs departments within 72 hours, while observing the principle of non-refoulement. Under Law No.919, a person who is forced to illegally cross the state border of the Republic of Tajikistan (e.g. as a result of being trafficked) and who claims asylum, shall be detained by units of border troops of the national security body but shall not be subject to sanctions for illegal entry or stay.
Little information appears to be available concerning the treatment of migrants or asylum seekers in immigration enforcement and detention procedures in Tajikistan--including during the pandemic. In its third periodic report on Tajikistan in June 2018, the UN Committee on Torture expressed concern regarding reports of torture in prisons and pre-trial detention, including deaths in custody, particularly of political dissidents. Having banned prison visits to inmates during the pandemic, on 16 November it was reported that families would be able to visit their detained relatives again.
A Dinghy Carrying Refugees from Gambia and the Republic of the Congo Approaches Lesbos, Greece, February 2020, (Aris Messinis, AFP, "Greece Has a Deadly New Migration Policy - and All of Europe is to Blame," The Guardian, 27 August 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/aug/27/greece-migration-europe-athens-refugees#img-1)
On 19 November 2020, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) published a report on its visit to Greece on 13-17 March 2020. The delegation visited several police and border guard establishments in the Evros and Samos regions as well as three immigration detention facilities: Filakio Reception and Identification Centre, Filakio Pre-removal centre in the Evros region, and Malakasa detention camp in Attica.
In its report, the CPT stated that while it acknowledges the difficult context and significant on-going challenges faced by Greek authorities in dealing with the high number of non-citizens arriving in the country, “systematic detention cannot be the immediate response to this challenge.” The CPT said that the influx of migrants is not new and yet each time numbers surge, improvised places are used to detain them. In consequence, the CPT said, “the time is ripe for Greece to reconsider the approach taken towards the detention of migrants and it would appreciate receiving the comments of the Greek Government on this matter.”
Moreover, the CPT found that detention conditions for migrants in the Evros region and on the island of Samos could amount to inhuman and degrading treatment. For instance, a visit of two cells at the Port of Samos revealed that 93 migrants (58 men, 15 women - three of whom were pregnant - and 20 children, 10 of whom were under five year old) were crammed into the two cells. One of the cells measured 42 square metres and held 43 people (affording each one less than 1 square meter of living space per person). In addition, there was no artificial lighting, no heating, no beds, and no mattresses. The migrants met by the delegation had not had access to a shower for more than two weeks and no soap was given to them to wash their hands.
The CPT also found that appropriate health care—essential during the pandemic—is not available in all facilities in which migrants are detained. Further, the committee noted that families with children and unaccompanied or separated children were being held in inappropriate conditions and reiterated its recommendation that the “Greek authorities fundamentally revise their policy regarding the detention of unaccompanied children both for reception and identification purposes and under ‘protective custody’ in places of deprivation of liberty. … Instead, they should be transferred without delay to a (semi-) open establishment specialised for juveniles”.
In its concluding remarks, the CPT observed other deficiencies in most places of detention such as a general “lack of maintenance of the building (especially the sanitary facilities), poor lighting and ventilation, insufficient personal hygiene products and cleaning materials, inability to obtain a change of clothes, lack of information provided to detained persons, no access to daily outdoor exercise, inadequate food.”
Children Walking in a line at a Tent Encampment in Tornillo, Texas, on 19 June 2018, (Mike Blake, Reuters, "Judge Orders Trump Administration to Stop Expelling Children who Cross Border Alone," NBC News, 18 November 2020, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/judge-orders-trump-admin-stop-expelling-children-who-cross-border-n1248146)
On 18 November 2020, a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to cease the expulsion of unaccompanied migrant children during the pandemic, halting a policy that has resulted in thousands of rapid deportations of minors. The government has expelled at least 8,800 unaccompanied children seeking protection since March on the basis of a health order issued by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), despite citing the coronavirus as grounds for refusing entry to the United States. The District Judge issued a preliminary injunction barring the government from expelling unaccompanied minors and it is not yet known whether the Justice Department would appeal the decision. It has nonetheless appealed another federal judge’s order barring the use of hotels to detain children (for more on the hotels, see 17 August United States update on this platform).
The deportation policy has been justified on the basis of a rarely used public health law dating back to 1944 (for more information, see 10 November United States update on this platform). The judge held that the legislation enables the government to prohibit the entrance of non-citizens carrying diseases, but on the other hand, it does not allow expulsions: “Expelling persons, as a matter of ordinary language, is entirely different from interrupting, intercepting or halting the process of introduction,” the judge wrote.
In September, a U.S. magistrate judge stated that the government had misinterpreted the legislation and assumed broad powers. Border patrol agents have reportedly used the CDC order to send back more than 200,000 people crossing the northern and southern borders since the start of the pandemic. On 3 October, Associated Press reported that Vice President Pence, pressured the CDC to employ emergency powers to shut the border in March.
UNHCR, “Aid Urgently Needed for Ethiopians Streaming Into Sudan,” 17 November 2020, https://www.unhcr.org/uk/news/latest/2020/11/5fb3cb3e4/aid-urgently-needed-ethiopians-streaming-sudan.html
Since early November, more than 27,000 Ethiopian refugees have fled the Tigray region and crossed into Sudan. According to UNHCR, on just one day--15 November--some 5,000 refugees arrived in Sudan’s border provinces of Kassala and al-Qadarif. Information campaigns are reported to have been initiated to ensure that refugees crossing into Sudan understand how to avoid the spread of COVID-19, and hand soap and 50,000 face masks have been sent to the border areas from Khartoum.
With growing numbers of arrivals--and predictions by international observers that thousands more refugees will seek refuge in Sudan--available shelter is under increasing pressure, and authorities face a rush to identify and provide more sites. A transit centre in Hamdayet, which has capacity for 300 people, is reported to be hosting 12,000. Several thousand have been placed in the Um Rakouba (or Um Raquba) refugee camp, but authorities are struggling to provide sufficient services, including food distribution.
As of the end of 2019, Sudan was reported to be hosting 1,055,489 refugees--the majority of whom are from South Sudan. The government has maintained a reservation on Article 26 of the UN Refugee Convention (Article 26 provides for refugees’ freedom of movement and the ability to choose place of residence) and requires refugees to stay in designated camps. However, more than 75 percent of South Sudanese refugees are believed to be living within the host community. Persons found exiting camps are subject to fines and return to the camp, while those apprehended in urban areas face arrest and detention if they lack valid identification cards. According to the U.S. State Department, on average between 150 and 200 refugees and asylum seekers are detained in Khartoum each month.
Reports in the past have indicated that the country uses prisons for the detention of non-nationals for migration-related reasons, as well as ad hoc immigration detention facilities. The U.S. State Department, UNHCR, and media outlets have also referred to various immigration detention facilities, including an “Aliens Detention Centre” in Khartoum, although the GDP has not identified their exact locations or been able to verify if any remain in use. Prison conditions, meanwhile, remain deeply concerning. The U.S. State Department describes them as “harsh and life threatening, overcrowding was a major problem.” The UN has reportedly provided some supplies to several prisons during the pandemic, as well as awareness campaigns on preventive measures.
Since the launch of the Khartoum Process in late 2014, the EU has focused on curbing northward migration from Sudan--via both migration control efforts, and schemes to “address the root causes of displacement.” Through the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, the country--which until 2019 was under the leadership of a President facing an International Criminal Court warrant for crimes against humanity, genocide, and war crimes--has received hundreds of thousands to achieve these goals. In 2016, German media obtained documents that showed that EU efforts to curb migration focussed on border protection, and that plans were in place to establish two camps with detention rooms. Although the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development reported that these plans were binding, the SOAS Centre for Human Rights Law later reported that the plans had been dropped.
Concerns that EU funds were being channeled into a country with little respect for human rights have grown since the launch of the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa. In 2016, these concerns became acute in the wake of reports that the RSF (Rapid Support Force, formerly the notorious Janjaweed), which had been hired to curb migration using EU funds, had been involved in the arrest and deportation of hundreds of Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers. Later, in March 2019, funding for the EU’s “Better Migration Management” project in Sudan--which supported the training of border control forces and policies--was suspended amid fears that the funds were being used to strengthen security forces (including the RSF) responsible for violently suppressing peaceful protests. As of July 2020 however, the programme appeared to have resumed.
The Camp Installed in Barranco Seco, in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Where Part of the Migrants from the Arguineguin Port Are Expected, (Angel Medina, EFE, "El Gobierno Trasladara Esta Tarde a 200 Migrantes desde Arguineguin a las Nuevas Instalaciones Cedidas por Defensa," El Pais, 18 November 2020, https://elpais.com/espana/2020-11-18/el-gobierno-comienza-los-traslados-de-migrantes-desde-arguineguin-a-las-nuevas-instalaciones-en-barranco-seco.html)
There have been a number of judicial decisions in Spain in recent weeks that could have crucial impacts on how migrants and asylum seekers are treated, in particular with respect to Covid-related border controls. In one case from November, Spain’s Constitutional Court found that a provision in the country’s controversial Citizen Security Law allowing push backs of migrants who try to climb fences into the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla is constitutional. There remain exceptions to these push backs: cases involving minors and other vulnerable groups such as the elderly or pregnant women. According to El País, the finding will not result in changes to legislation, but it clarifies that the government can carry out these procedures, which have long been condemned by observers as violating fundamental rights. In Spain, the Citizen Security Law has been referred to as the “gag law” (“Ley mordaza”) due to its effect on the right to protest. The statute has long been contested and has gone through several modifications, a constitutional challenge regarding certain provisions, and political opposition members have vowed to repeal the legislation if the parliamentary majority changes after the next general election.
Also in November, the Spanish Supreme Court (Tribunal Supremo) recognised the right of asylum seekers to request their transfer to Spain through Spanish embassies, in order to formalise a request for international protection. Although this right was already included in the 2009 Asylum Law, access to the asylum procedure has until now been largely blocked through this channel. The provision in the Asylum Law, Article 38, enables ambassadors to “promote the transfer” of asylum seekers to Spain in order for them to formalise their asylum application. (El Diario, On 18 November 2020)
The Supreme Court ruling involves the case of a Kurdish-Iraqi family that arrived in Greece in 2016, fleeing conflict and war, where they applied for asylum and received no response. A year later, they requested a transfer to Spain in the context of the European relocation program, but only the mother’s and daughter's requests were accepted. The father had to remain in Greece and subsequently applied for asylum, through the Spanish embassy in Greece, but did not receive a response. The group Stop Mare Nostrum filed a petition before the National Court, which then ruled in favour of the family in March 2019. Yet, the state appealed to the Spanish Supreme Court in order to preclude the father from being transferred to Spain, alleging the impossibility of applying certain provisions from the Asylum Law as these did not have a regulatory framework. The Supreme Court held that the lack of a regulation did not prevent the application of the content of the provision to international protection applications.
According to Stop Mare Nostrum, of their 38 registered transfer petitions in the Spanish consulates in Athens and Tanger, Spanish authorities have “failed to respond to all.” The group argues that the government’s refusal to allow for the possibility of these types of asylum requests stands in direct contradiction to the government’s arguments for allowing forced push backs from Ceuta and Melilla (in the separate case cited above). In that push backs case, Spain pointed to the existing legal avenues to enter its territory and mentioned Article 38 of the Asylum Law, the same provision they sought to block for the Kurdish-Iraqi family in Greece as well as others.
In October, the court in the Castilla-La Mancha region asked the CJEU whether authorities could rely on provisions in the EU Return Directive to effect a removal in lieu of the more stringent requirements provided in Spanish law, which requires the existence of aggravating circumstances, in addition to irregular status, to justify the procedure (see 16 November Spain update on this platform). The Court held that the national authority could not rely on a “deportation order” to expel a migrant in an irregular situation if national law imposes a fine or only provides for return when there are serious violations. In effect, the ruling means that Spain must apply its national immigration law, imposing a fine in cases of irregular stay and only contemplating the expulsion of non-citizens in an irregular situation when there are aggravating circumstances.
Separately, in late November, as the numbers of migrants and asylum seekers arriving on the Canary Islands has been growing, police improperly evicted hundreds of migrants from the port of Arguineguin (Gran Canaria) even though they had not yet been provided with reception places elsewhere. The Interior Ministry opened an investigation to determine how this happened and accelerated the opening of the Temporary Centre for Foreigners in the military installations of Barranco Seco, and relocated two hundred migrants there. The Defense Ministry has provided materials to house another 200 people. According to police authorities, the decision to evict the migrants came after having unsuccessfully tried to contact the Spanish immigration authority (Secretaria de Estado de Migraciones). As the police received no response, they moved forward with their operation. However, sources from the Spanish immigration authority told El País that they had not received a call and that if they had, the usual protocol would have been followed.
According to data from the Interior Ministry, the Canary Islands has become, in 2020, the main entry point for irregular migration in Spain. The number of people who have arrived by sea throughout the country has risen to 32,427 people, 45.5 percent more compared to the same period in 2019. Of this figure, 51.7 percent, or 16,760 migrants, entered Spain through the Canary Islands.
Tass News, “Рынок "Теплый стан" закрыт в Москве из-за спецоперации по борьбе с нелегальными мигрантами,” 11 August 2020, https://tass.ru/proisshestviya/9172709
Foreign migrant workers have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic in Russia, with large numbers losing employment amidst the economic downturn. In a survey conducted by the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration in April-May 2020, 75 percent of surveyed migrants reported having lost their jobs or being forced into unpaid leave, while 50 percent reported that they had lost all sources of income.
Citing these statistics at a meeting in August, the Deputy Head of the Security Council Dmitry Medvedev stated that high unemployment rates amongst migrant workers “creates a very fertile environment for the growth of crime potentially in this area.” Medvedev suggested that Russia implement changes to its immigration system that would make it harder for migrants to gain work permits. In particular, he proposed imitating the Kafala system (a visa-sponsorship system), which is widely used across the Gulf. “In the Arab world, there are appropriate solutions where the employer is fully responsible for the actions of a foreign citizen whom he hired to work,” he said. “This is a tough measure, but nevertheless it should probably be discussed.” Many UN experts and independent observers, however, have heavily criticized the Kafala system for leading to widespread rights abuses because it leaves migrant workers vulnerable to abuse by employers as well as to arrest, detention, and deportation.
For some Russian officials, however, Covid-related declines in the number of migrant workers (due in part to people returning to their home countries) are creating growing concerns about labour shortages. Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, for example, has warned that the city’s labour market would inevitably be affected. Noting that as of October 2020 the number of foreign migrants in the city had dropped by 40 percent this year, he said, “This affects the labor market, especially those positions that are temporarily occupied, such as snow removal. This is manual labor: shovel, broom, scrap. Not all Muscovites are ready to work in such jobs.” According to Sobyanin, these jobs will be filled by residents of other Russian regions.
Despite issuing a moratorium on new detention orders in April (see 18 April update on this platform), media reports indicate that authorities have continued to raid areas where migrant workers are known to congregate. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), in the first two weeks of August authorities initiated a series of raids, round-ups, and detentions of migrant workers near the Tyoply Stan market in Moscow. Reportedly, the raids largely targeted Tajik migrant workers, in retaliation for a 1 August incident in which Tajik workers dragged a Tajik migrant from a police car following his arrest. According to HRW’s sources, “hundreds” were detained during these raids. Raids were also conducted in Saint Petersburg in October, with officers conducting house searches in districts including Kirovsky and Krasnogvardeisky.
B. Pannier, “Uzbekistan’s Coronavirus ‘Success Story’ Rapidly Falls Apart,” RFERL, 30 July 2020, https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-s-coronavirus-success-story-rapidly-falls-apart/30756514.html
Prior to the pandemic, between two and three million Uzbek nationals worked overseas--primarily in Russia, as well as in countries such as Kazakhstan, Turkey, South Korea, and the United Arab Emirates. Hard-hit by the repercussions of the pandemic and with many losing their sources of employment, significant numbers of Uzbek migrant workers have sought to return home.
While former Uzbek president Karimov was notoriously disdainful towards Uzbek labour migrants--“Those people who go to Moscow to clean the streets are just lazybones” he stated in June 2013--current president Mirziyoyev has adopted a more favourable stance, appreciating labor migrants’ importance to the Uzbek economy. His government won praise from some for its work assisting stranded migrants to return home during the pandemic (arranging several repatriation flights, trains, and buses). According to Uzbekistan’s Deputy Labour Minister, at least 500,000 had returned as of 29 May, with more returning since. On 21 September, the country’s Ministry of Transport reported that it had arranged for a further 1,800 migrant workers to be returned by train from Samara and Novosibirsk.
On the other hand, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said that the government’s efforts to repatriate migrant workers have been, at best, erratic, with many thousands remaining trapped outside the country’s borders. Many have been forced to camp out at airports in Russia (see our 24 July Russia update on this platform). Others have attempted to return by bus or car through Russia, often having to spend time in makeshift camps at the Russia-Kazakhstan border as they await transport and permission to cross.
One such camp, near the Kinel train station in Samara Oblast, is designed for 900 people. However, according to HRW, in September some 4,000 migrants, including at least 43 children, were stuck there. No medical care is reported to be available in the camp, and persons are not tested for COVID-19. Journalists from Novaya Gazeta, who visited the camp in September, allege that the camp management has sought to prevent camp residents from speaking to the media about the conditions they face. An additional camp has also been established in Kamensk-Shakhtinsky (Rostov Oblast), from where occasional trains leave for Uzbekistan.
With Covid infection rates significantly higher in labour migration destinations such as Russia than in Uzbekistan, persons who have managed to return have faced quarantine in hastily-erected state run facilities--some of which are no more than cargo containers placed together in rows. In the largest reported site--the “Urtasary” facility in the Tashkent region--3,467 containers were placed together, each containing four beds. In July, the facility was the site of protests, as returnees demanded their release from the carceral-style facility. According to the Uzbek Forum for Human Rights, some had been held for more than 30 days without any explanation, far exceeding the recommended 14-day quarantine period. In a video shared by Ozodlik (RFE/RL’s Uzbek service), detainees penned into the camp by iron fencing can be seen calling for their release. Allegations of police brutality also surfaced, and one returnee is reported to have committed suicide following his placement in the facility. The Uzbek Forum for Human Rights has confirmed to the GDP, however, that the Urtasary facility is now closed. Returning migrants are instead instructed to quarantine in their own homes.
A Migrant Standing Outside the Aluche CIE, (Claudio Alvarez, "Una Sentencia Europea Impide a Espana Expulsar Inmigrantes Solo por Estar en Situacion Irregular," El Pais, 12 November 2020, https://elpais.com/espana/2020-11-12/una-sentencia-europea-impide-a-espana-expulsar-inmigrantes-solo-por-estar-en-situacion-irregular.html)
In October, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) issued a ruling on a deportation case in Spain that would limit the country’s ability to enforce removal decisions in certain cases based on provisions of the EU Return Directive. The court in Spain’s Castilla-La Mancha region had asked the CJEU whether authorities could rely on provisions in the Directive to effect a removal in lieu of the more stringent requirements provided in Spanish law, which requires the existence of aggravating circumstances--in addition to irregular status-- to justify the procedure. The CJEU found that the court had to rely on the provisions of the national law in the particular case and not the Directive.
According to the CJEU, the national authority cannot rely on a “deportation order” to expel a migrant in an irregular situation if national law imposes a fine or only provides for return when there are serious violations. In consequence, the ruling obliges the government to apply the Spanish Immigration Law, which imposes a fine in cases of irregular stay and only contemplates the expulsion of foreigners in an irregular situation when there are aggravating circumstances.
In 2019, the Spanish Ministry of the Interior expelled 4,677 people from the country and returned a further 6,476 to their countries of origin. According to Eurostat, those figures correspond to around 30% of the 37,890 orders that were issued against non-citizens to leave the Spanish territory. Despite the fact that the percentage of expulsions and returns in 2019 is below the European average (36%), it nonetheless represents an increase compared to 2018.
On 23 September, the National Police (Policia Nacional) ordered the re-opening of immigration detention centres (Centros de Internamiento de Extranjeros or CIEs) closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic (see 2 July, 26 May and 15 May Spain updates on this platform). The Police also ordered that the Central Repatriation Unit carry out “appropriate steps with the consulates of the countries of origin, to be able to effectuate the expulsions”.
Kathimerini Cyprus, “Boat Carrying Refugees Pushed Back by Cyprus, Ends Up In UN Area,” 1 September 2020, https://knews.kathimerini.com.cy/en/news/boat-carrying-refugees-pushed-back-by-cyprus-ends-up-in-un-area
Since the onset of the pandemic, Cyprus has engaged in multiple offshore pushbacks, preventing boats carrying hundreds of refugees from disembarking on the island. These incidents appear to have increased in frequency since August, as growing numbers of boats have attempted the journey from Lebanon. Although it is not known how many boats have departed Lebanon, the UN reports that it tracked 30 between July and October (in 2019, the total number for the year was 17). While Syrians account for a large number of those attempting the crossing, there are increasing numbers of Lebanese.
According to Cypriot authorities, between 6-8 September some 230 people were returned to Lebanon. In several cases, the government has appeared to invoke the pandemic to justify its actions. On 7 September, Cypriot news outlet Alpha quoted Interior Minister Nicos Nouris as saying: “Unfortunately, due to the very large number of economic migrants which has flooded the Republic, we cannot and we don’t have any room, especially at a time like this with problems caused by the pandemic.” According to UNHCR, which has received “credible reports” of these pushbacks, “Boats have either been forced to return to the high seas or have been left at sea for a long time.” Witnesses and victims have also alleged that police have beat persons resisting return.
In a late August incident, Cypriot ships pushed back a boat from Lebanon carrying 21 refugees (including five minors) from Lebanon and Syria, before it disembarked in a nearby UN-controlled area of the coast (within the UN-controlled buffer zone, north of Paralimni). According to the news outlet Kathimerini Cyprus, the UN subsequently transferred the refugees to the Cypriot Republic’s asylum service, who placed the individuals in Pournara Emergency Reception Centre (which as of 28 September remained a closed facility). Several days later, another boat carrying 51 persons ran aground on rocks in the same area. According to one of the passengers, police steered their ship in circles to create waves that would swamp or capsize the boat, which ultimately caused the crash. (Similar manoeuvres are reported to have been used by Greek and Turkish boats in the Aegean, as recently documented by Bellingcat.)
The pushback of boats carrying migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers--seemingly without providing passengers the opportunity to apply for asylum--has been widely criticised. Bill Frelick, refugee and migrant rights director at Human Rights Watch, said: “Cyprus should consider their claims for protection fully and fairly and treat them safely and with dignity instead of disregarding the obligations to rescue boats in distress and not to engage in collective expulsions.” On 9 September, the European Court of Human Rights submitted questions to Cyprus regarding the pushback reports, seeking further information such as whether vessels had requested entry to ports, and whether they were offered alternative means of applying for asylum.
In October, ministers from Cyprus and Lebanon reaffirmed a deal to intercept vessels attempting to reach Cyprus. “We are sending out a clear message that we won’t tolerate anyone engaging in the trafficking of human beings and that we’re defending the interests of our two states,” said Nicos Nouris on 6 October.
J. Abbott, “US Accused of Using Covid as Excuse to Deny Children Right to Asylum,” The Guardian, 10 November 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/nov/10/us-child-deportations-guatemala-pandemic
The Guatemalan Migration Institute reports that more than 1,400 unaccompanied minors have been expelled by U.S. authorities to Guatemala since March. The deportations have often taken place before the children are given the opportunity to apply for asylum. In October alone, some 407 children were expelled. (By contrast, 385 unaccompanied children were deported to Guatemala in 2019.) This increase is due to new U.S. migration controls, announced in March in response to the pandemic. Citing the coronavirus, U.S. authorities have invoked laws that allow them to summarily deport people apprehended while trying to cross the border irregularly, without initiating deportation proceedings if there is a health risk (see the United States 10 November update on this platform.) On arrival in Guatemala, child deportees are reported to be placed under the care of the presidency’s social wellbeing secretariat and housed in a shelter in Guatemala city, before being reunited with family members.
Despite the dangers that deportations pose during the pandemic, thousands of Guatemalan nationals have been deported to the country from the United States, even though Guatemalan authorities have raised concerns about the arrival of infected deportees. (On one occasion in April, 70 of 76 deportees from Texas tested positive upon arrival in Guatemala City.) On 4 May, the Guatemalan Foreign Ministry reported that deportees accounted for more than 15 percent of all COVID-19 infections in the country (for more, see 10 June Guatemala update on this platform). As of 12 November, Guatemala had registered more than 113,000 COVID-19 cases, and 3,845 deaths.
UNHCR, “Access to Asylum Further at Stake in Hungary,” 29 June 2020, https://www.unhcr.org/news/press/2020/6/5efa0f914/access-asylum-further-stake-hungary-unhcr.html
In October, the European Commission opened asylum-related infringement procedures against Hungary. According to ECRE, this is the fifth time such a procedure has been opened against the country since 2015. In a letter of formal notice, the commission says that new asylum procedures that were introduced in response to the coronavirus pandemic are in breach of EU law, in particular the Asylum Procedures Directive.
Following a Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruling in May 2020 that led to the closing of Hungary’s controversial transit zone detention sites, Hungary introduced a new asylum system employing emergency powers that were granted because of the pandemic. Under the new system, people wishing to seek asylum in Hungary must submit a “statement of intent” at the Hungarian embassy in Belgrade or Kyiv. Hungarian asylum authorities then have 60 days to assess the application, after which successful applicants are automatically detained in Hungary for one month.
According to a press release, “The Commission considers that this rule is an unlawful restriction to access to the asylum procedure that is contrary to the Asylum Procedures Directive, read in light of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, as it precludes persons who are on Hungary's territory, including at the border, from applying for international protection there. Hungary has 2 months to reply to the arguments raised by the Commission. Otherwise, the Commission may decide to send a reasoned opinion.”
In June, UNHCR stated that the new system would expose asylum-seekers to the risk of refoulement, which would amount to a violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention and other related instruments. UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection urged the “Government of Hungary to initiate the withdrawal of the act and to review its asylum system to bring it into conformity with international refugee and human rights law as well as EU law.”
The Words 'Help We Matter 2' Are Seen on a Window at the Cook County Department of Corrections in April 2020, (K. Krzaczynski, Getty Images, "Why Isn't Routine COVID-19 Testing Happening in Prisons and Immigrant Detention Centres?" Stat News, 27 October 2020, https://www.statnews.com/2020/10/27/covid-19-testing-congregate-housing-settings-wide-disparities/)
There is a growing body of evidence revealing how the Trump administration, acting through the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement and the Customs and Border Protection agencies, has exploited the COVID-19 pandemic to prevent access to asylum procedures, ramp up summary deportations of children and other vulnerable individuals, and decrease transparency with respect to measures in detention centres to protect detainees. As a result, say observers, there is the likelihood that children have been deported in violation of laws and international agreements into harmful situations, there is an alarming up-tic of infections in detention centres, and the situations in countries of origin are growing increasingly dire.
Throughout the pandemic, the Trump administration has continued issuing deportation orders despite the risk of spreading COVID-19, with an important targeted demographic being children. Internal emails allegedly written by U.S. border control officials, which were obtained by the New York Times, report that as many as 200 unaccompanied children from countries like Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador were summarily deported to Mexico in violation of both U.S. laws and international agreements. In particular, the expulsions appear to violate a diplomatic agreement between the U.S. and Mexico, which provides that only Mexican children and others who have adult supervision can be returned to Mexico after attempting to cross the border (see also the 2 November Mexico update on this platform).
On 30 October, The Hill reported that “Apart from violating policy and an international agreement, summary expulsions of unaccompanied minors would imply that U.S. authorities have sent children alone into Mexico's border cities, where kidnapping and human trafficking are major criminal concerns. The reported expulsions of unaccompanied minors come as the Trump administration has tweaked U.S. border policy to quickly expel migrants caught at the border.”
Deportations from the U.S. have continued in part on the basis of Title 42 Section 265 of the U.S. Federal Code, a provision that enables the executive to prohibit the entrance of people and/or goods based on a determination that this would represent a “serious danger of the introduction” of a disease. The Trump administration has used this provision to adopt a policy that for reasons of public health, undocumented persons that cross the U.S. border may be deported from the country without the need to initiate deportation proceedings, as provided by U.S. immigration law (see 2 November Mexico update on this platform). Also, in June 2019, the United States and Mexico signed an agreement to collaborate on efforts to control the movements of asylum seekers and other migrants to the U.S. border, expanding the implementation of the “Quédate en México” programme (officially known as Migrant Protection Protocols). Between June 2019 and August 2020, nearly 66,000 people were returned to Mexico as part of this agreement.
Importantly, the Title 42 provision can be used to prevent people who arrive at the border from applying for asylum. An expert from the American Immigration Council told the Guardian (10 November 2020), “Under the Title 42 expulsion process the government has argued that public health laws override all normal immigration laws, and allows them to deport children without ever giving them their right to seek protection,” he said. “The Trump administration has taken what are generalized quarantine powers and interpreted into the powers the authority to expel people and override normal immigration law, which is why we say this is an unlawful policy.”
This has allowed the U.S. to rapidly deport people to numerous other countries, in addition to Mexico, including “a sharp rise in the deportations of Cameroonian and other African asylum seekers, many of whom are alleged to have forced to sign or fingerprint their deportation orders.” But unaccompanied minors have been a key target, and not only for removal to Mexico. Experts in Guatemala told the Guardian that since new U.S. migration controls were announced in March, the country has deported more than 1,400 unaccompanied minors to the country, with 407 children expelled in October. “In comparison, in the whole of 2019, the U.S. deported 385 unaccompanied minors to Guatemala.”
On 4 May, the Guatemalan Foreign Ministry reported that deportees from the United States accounted for more than 15 percent of all COVID-19 infections in the country (see 9 June United States and 10 June Guatemala updates on this platform).
In June, Human Rights Watch reported that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) carried out 232 deportation flights to Latin America and Carribean countries between 3 February and 24 April 2020 (see 9 June United States and 10 June Guatemala updates on this platform). According to a report published by a group of NGOs, from March to the end of July 2020, more than 105,000 people were expelled from the United States. In addition, the report found that since the start of the pandemic, only 59 people had been referred to asylum officials to assess non-refoulement claims out of 40,000 expulsions. Of the 59, only two were subsequently allowed to apply for asylum in the U.S. (see 2 November Mexico update on this platform).
The situation in U.S. detention centres has also grown increasingly dire. A research note published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported on findings made by researchers based on data from 92 detention centres in the United States. It found that the rate of infection was many times higher than that of the U.S. population as a whole during the period April-August 2020. Infection rates also far outpaced those of U.S. federal and state prisons. The authors argue that because of lack of transparency by ICE, the numbers of infections may be much higher in detention centres. “We have an incomplete picture of what’s happening with testing,” said study author and Harvard Medical School student Dr. Parsa Erfani in an interview with USA Today. “(But) it’s hard to stand by and just look the other way.”
According to the JAMA paper, "By August 2020, ICE’s mean daily detained population decreased 45% to 21 591 from the prepandemic February population of 39 319. On August 31, ICE reported 5379 cumulative COVID-19 cases and 6 related deaths among its detainees. Cases were reported in 92 of 135 facilities, with 20 facilities accounting for 71% of cases.
"The monthly case rate per 100 000 detainees increased from 1527 in April to 6683 in August (Figure). The monthly test rate per 100 000 detainees increased from 3224 in April to 46 874 in July, but decreased to 36 140 in August (Table). The test positivity rate among detainees decreased from 47% in April to 11% in July but increased to 18% in August. Detainee testing rates in July increased 1354% from April, while case rates increased 247%. In August, the testing rate decreased 23% from July, while the case rate and test positivity rate increased by 26% and 64%, respectively.
"From April to August 2020, the mean monthly case rate ratio for detainees, compared with the US population, was 13.4 (95% CI, 8.0-18.9), ranging from 5.7 to 21.8 per month. The mean monthly test rate ratio for detainees, compared with the US population, was 4.6 (95% CI, 2.5-6.7), ranging from 2.0 to 6.9 per month."
The Outside of the Vincennes CRA in 2019, (Infomigrants, "En Région Parisienne, un Centre de Rétention Transformé en CRA COVID," 23 September 2020, https://www.infomigrants.net/fr/post/27477/en-region-parisienne-un-centre-de-retention-transforme-en-cra-covid)
Shortly after the onset of the pandemic, France temporarily closed several immigration detention centres (centres de rétention administrative or CRA) (see 16 July and 12 May France updates on this platform). However, the Conseil d’Etat rejected a request to completely shutter CRA’s on 27 March 2020 (see 6 April France update on this platform). Some of these facilities have been repurposed to hold only detainees who have tested positive for COVID-19. Since mid-July, one of the buildings at the Vincennes CRA has been used in this manner, accommodating 17 COVID-postive detainees. More recently, officials announced that the Plaisir CRA would also be repurposed to only hold migrants awaiting expulsion who have tested positive for COVID-19. Some 10 places will be available and each detainee will have their own cell.
According to the Association de Service Social Familial Migrants (ASSFAM), the government’s choice to transform the Plaisir CRA, the smallest CRA in the Paris region, to supplant the Vincennes CRA, is a calculated measure to “free up space to be able to keep more people in detention.” According to a report by La Cimade, 4,575 people were detained in the Vincennes CRA in 2019, making it the largest detention centre in France. In 2019, 53,273 people were detained in France's CRA’s, an increase of 23 percent compared to 2018.
On 14 September, Libération reported that detainees are given the option whether to be tested for COVID-19. If they test positive, they are placed in isolation; if negative, they potentially face rapid deportation, within the 72 hour timeframe requested by airlines. La Cimade reported that due to this, “detainees continue to refuse COVID-19 testing, as they have become aware that a negative test result could lead to their deportation.” La Cimade also reported that at the Mesnil-Amelot CRA, more than a quarter of the 60 detainees refused to be tested for the virus on 31 August 2020. While the Mesnil-Amelot CRA has resumed its activities, its capacity remains reduced by half, according to the national health protocol. According to La Cimade, those who refuse a COVID-19 test are being threatened with prosecution for obstructing justice. In early September, a Tunisian national detained at the Rennes CRA was sentenced to prison for two months after refusing to take a COVID-19 test.
Due to a recent surge in COVID-19 cases, the government announced a second national lockdown on 30 October 2020. On 6 November, La Cimade reported that the authorities had been increasing the number of people detained in CRA’s. The occupancy rate in CRA’s went from 50 percent early in the epidemic to 90 percent in the Bordeaux CRA on the first weekend of the second national lockdown. Prior to the second national lockdown, on 10 July, and following the dismantling of the migrant camps in Calais, 20 people were detained at the Coquelles CRA. Nonetheless, their detention at the Coquelles CRA meant that the occupancy rate went up to 62 percent. This is above the maximum 50 percent occupancy rate for CRA’s, according to guidance established by authorities in response to the pandemic. France’s National Sanitary Protocol says that CRA’s should remain under 50 percent capacity to avoid the spread of the virus.
Mr. Joao Carlos Soares, General Director for Environment, Secretary of State for Environment, at a Handwashing Station in Dili, (European Commission, "Timor Leste: Strengthening the COVID-19 Response and Promoting Plastic Recycling," 21 August 2020, https://ec.europa.eu/international-partnerships/stories/timor-leste-strengthening-covid-19-response-and-promoting-plastic-recycling_en)
As of 9 November 2020, there had been only 30 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Timor-Leste. The government has received praise for its effective containment of COVID-19, in the context of a health system that government officials were concerned would not be able to cope with a public health emergency due to its fledgling nature. A state of emergency was initially declared on 28 March. Timorese returning from overseas were subject to mandatory quarantine and quarantine isolation centres were established with the assistance of WHO. IOM also worked with the Ministry of Health to improve quarantine centre standards through the provision of necessary equipment and hygiene supplies.
During the week of 14 September 2020, IOM facilitated the return of 11 Vietnamese migrants from Timor-Leste. 8 men and 3 women were rescued by authorities after drifting at sea for days and landing at Jaco Island on 10 June. The migrants were placed into the mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arrival in Vietnam, following which, they were assisted by IOM to return to their respective homes. Their return was organised through the Voluntary Returns Support and Reintegration Assistance for Bali Process Member States programme. According to IOM, since the start of the pandemic, 60 people have been assisted in 20 countries with assisted voluntary return through this programme.
Article 72 of Timor-Leste’s 2003 Immigration and Asylum Act provides that foreigners who enter or remain illegally in the national territory can be detained by any police officer for questioning. They must be taken before a competent Court within 48 hours of being detained. To date, the GDP has been unable to establish the extent to which detention facilities are used in Timor-Leste as part of immigration enforcement procedures or obtain details on COVID-19 related measures taken to safeguard people in immigration custody.
Timor-Leste is a signatory of the Refugee Convention and as of December 2015, the country hosted five asylum seekers and refugees. UNHCR has previously criticized Article 92 of the Immigration and Asylum Act, which requires that asylum seekers lodge their application within 72 hours of their arrival in Timor-Leste, for creating hardships and impediments to seeking asylum. In addition, the Committee on Migrant Workers (CMW), in its concluding observations in 2015, expressed concern at the lack of information regarding detention and expulsion measures against migrant workers and members of their families, particularly those in an irregular situation. The committee also expressed concern that “the existing detention facilities do not have adequate basic services, including food, health care and hygienic conditions, and that migrant workers detained for violations of immigration law are not held separately from prisoners.”
A Detainee Waiting Inside a Tokyo Detention Centre Run by the Regional Immigration Bureau, (Reuters, "Hunger Strikes Spread in Japan's Migrant Detention Centres," Nikkei Asia, 13 January 2020, https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Japan-immigration/Hunger-strikes-spread-in-Japan-s-migrant-detention-centers)
According to NGO sources, there has been a decrease in arrests and detention orders in Japan during the pandemic. According to the Forum for Refugees Japan (FRJ), the number of detainees had decreased to around 520 by July, compared to 1,054 in April 2020. Additionally, the International Detention Coalition (IDC) reported that 563 asylum seekers were granted provisional release by April 2020. While some sources have noted that these releases may be a “promising” COVID-related response, the FRJ told the GDP that these releases--which FRJ said included both asylum seekers and irregular migrants--amounted to little more than releasing people into the community while providing no right to work, no access to national health insurance, and no support mechanisms.
Based on an MoU between Japan’s Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Japan’s Federal Bar Association, and FRJ, FRJ provides shelter and support for asylum seekers detained at airports. Nonetheless, the MoJ deems the collaboration with FRJ not to amount to an “alternative to detention,” but rather a “housing provision program.” Once a person is granted “Landing Permission for Temporary Refuge”, or “Permission for Provisional Release,” or “Permission for Provisional Stay,” FRJ takes responsibility for providing assistance to them. However, according to FRJ, they only receive between 1-5 cases per year. The conditions for those referred to the programme under “Permission for Provisional Release” are the same as other types of releases, but FRJ can secure emergency shelter and arrange casework for the person including counselling and legal advice sessions.
Earlier this year, Japan’s Expert Committee on Detention and Deportation released a set of recommendations regarding the long-term detention of undocumented non-citizens. However, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations argued that several recommendations suffered “unignorable problems that could potentially be in breach of the rights recognised by the Constitution of Japan and international human rights covenants.” The bar association emphasized that in 2018 Japan granted just 0.5 percent of applications for refugee status or complementary protection; by comparison, that same year numerous other countries--including Germany, France, Italy, and Canada--granted more than 30 percent. The bar association also noted that from 2010 to 2018, 20 percent of those granted refugee status in Japan and 40 percent of those given special residency for humanitarian reasons had previously been given written deportation orders.
On 24 September, the Japan Times reported that according to immigration officials, the country was finalising new supervisory measures that will enable the release of non-citizens applying for refugee status but who face more than six months in detention. The measure comes following criticism of Japan’s long-term detention of non-citizens who refuse to accept deportation. The new measures also include the provision of financial support for released detainees to help them cover basic living costs, given that they are prohibited from seeking employment. The immigration authority is also reportedly planning to establish a new status for non-citizens whose refugee application is rejected but who are undeportable.
Voice of America, "Mozambican Miners Return to South Africa as COVID-19 Blockade Lifts," 19 July 2020, https://www.voanews.com/africa/mozambican-miners-return-south-africa-covid-19-blockade-lifts
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been widespread concerns about the spread of infection in prisons and amongst vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers (see the 30 March update). An article published in the International Journal for Equity in Health highlights how the restrictive measures implemented by the South African government early on in the pandemic failed to take into account the “economic and health impact of the pandemic on asylum-seekers, refugees, and undocumented migrants.” The article, titled “Unspoken inequality: how COVID-19 has exacerbated existing vulnerabilities of asylum-seekers, refugees, and undocumented migrants in South Africa,” was authored by several South Africa health experts, including from the South African Medical Research Council. It concludes that the COVID-19 “containment measures adopted by the SA government through the lockdown of the nation have tremendously deepened the unequal treatment of asylum-seekers and refugees in SA. This can be seen through the South African government’s lack of consideration of this marginalized population in economic, poverty, and hunger alleviation schemes.”
According to the authors: “Organizations working with foreign-born migrants during the COVID-19 pandemic containment measures have raised concerns regarding the arrest and detention of foreign-born migrants, their placement in, and subsequent repatriation from camps and shelters. There are also reports that foreign-born migrants are more likely to be arrested for minor offenses during the lockdown period and less likely to be released on bail because of expired documentation. The closure of the Department of Home Affairs, which is responsible for renewing and issuing refugee permits, asylum permits, and residence permits, has made many foreign-born migrants vulnerable to harassment and extortion by law enforcement agents who are likely to ignore the moratorium on arrests of all those whose permits expired during the lockdown. Migrants are consequently less willing to seek testing or care for COVID-19 symptoms as they are afraid of being detained or deported. These repatriation centers and prison stations are also prone to overcrowding, making it challenging to practice social distancing and recommended hygiene measures. Under such conditions, these foreign-born migrants are at heightened risks of contracting COVID-19 but tend not to seek care when they notice the signs and symptoms of COVID-19, which makes them more likely to spread or die from the disease.”
Among the key issues highlighted by NGOs has been the ongoing closure of the country’s Refugee Reception Offices (RRO’s), responsible for migrant permit renewals as well as birth registrations, which have been closed since March. One impact of this closure has been that access to places of detention by lawyers has become more limited, according to experts from Lawyers for Human Rights. The group points to severe overcrowding in prisons and detention facilities, which were reportedly at 200-300 percent capacity when the pandemic began. The group indicates that while almost 20,000 inmates have been released in South Africa during the pandemic, immigration detention has increased. They also denounce the lack of accountability mechanisms for law enforcement misconduct.
N. Plazas, “Más de 90,000 Venezolanos han Retornado a Venezuela Desde Colombia Durante la Pandemia,” France 24, 22 July 2020, https://www.france24.com/es/20200721-venezuela-migrantes-colombia-retorno-coronavirus
In contrast to the previously observed flow of Venezuelan nationals returning to their country due to dwindling opportunities and increased hardship brought about by the pandemic (see 12 August Venezuela update on this platform), evidence of a new wave of Venezuelans seeking to flee their homeland is growing. The Colombian Red Cross has reported that around three quarters of its interventions during September took place in the dangerous border areas and involved people leaving Venezuela.
According to the New Humanitarian, following the end of one of the region’s longest lockdowns on 1 September, the Colombian government is now predicting a fresh influx of up to 250,000 Venezuelans by the end of the year. Data obtained by UNHCR from Colombia’s immigration authority (Migración Colombia) showed that this year (up to Tuesday 13 October), 113,894 Venezuelans have returned to Venezuela from or through Colombia. The Director of Colombia’s immigration authority reported that as of 21 July, 90,000 Venezuelans had returned to their country from or through Colombia in more than 1,200 buses financed by the government of Colombia. UNHCR also reported that the number of Venezuelans stranded on the Colombian side of the border with the intention of returning to Venezuela continues to decrease. On 22 September, there were 719 Venezuelans seeking to return compared with 664 on 26 October.
In Venezueala’s prisons, the situation has rapidly deteriorated. According to Insight Crime, between March and August 2020, there were 162 deaths in prisons and 125 in police detention facilities, representing an increase from the 137 deaths recorded during the same period in 2019. The country has also released prisoners from several prisons. Between April and June, around 1,410 prisoners were released from the Carabobo, Miranda, Guarico, Falcon, and Portuguese prisons.
A U.S. Customs and Border Officer Guiding Asylum-Seeking Migrants Across a Bridge from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, into the U.S., (Fernando Llano, Associated Press, "U.S. Expels Migrant Children From Other Countries to Mexico," The New York Times, 30 October 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/30/us/migrant-children-expulsions-mexico.html)
The National Institute for Migration (INM) has denied that there are COVID-19 cases amongst immigration detainees. However, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) has revealed that at least 19 Honduran detainees confined in the Tapachula Estacion Migratoria (Siglo XXI) detention centre in Chiapas have tested positive. The CNDH also reported that the facility is overcrowded, that face masks are not distributed, that social distancing is not adhered to, and that no antibacterial gel is provided for detainees to use. The 19 infected detainees were reportedly transferred to the El Hueyate Estacion Provisional detention centre after their cases were detected.
Having previously taken steps to minimise overcrowding by releasing significant numbers of immigration detainees (see 3 June Mexico update on this platform), non-nationals are once again being arrested and detained in facilities across the country. Despite the fact that immigration detainees have tested positive, and at least one non-national has died since the onset of the pandemic, media outlets have reported that no agency has been regularly testing detained migrants. Civil society organisations have denounced this and urged authorities to step up medical monitoring and to ensure that assistance is available. In a report, several NGOs highlighted the fact that only one detention facility--the Saltillo Estacion Migratoria--has 24-hour medical service in operation, and that the supply of soap and water in many facilities remains “very limited.”
An internal email from a senior US border control agent obtained by the New York Times revealed that migrant children from countries such as Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador have been sent to Mexico--despite their lack of family connections in the country. These expulsions have taken place under the Trump administration’s aggressive border closure policy, cited as a necessary step to prevent the virus from spreading into the U.S. However, these expulsions appear to violate a diplomatic agreement between the two countries, which provides that only Mexican children and others who have adult supervision can be pushed back into Mexico after attempting to cross the border. The Times reports that most of the children have been put into the care of child welfare authorities in Mexico.
In June 2019, Mexico and the United States signed an agreement to work together to control the movements of asylum seekers and other migrants to the U.S border. The agreement expanded the implementation of the “Quédate en México” (Remain in Mexico) programme (officially known as Migrant Protection Protocols). As of August 2020, around 65,877 people were returned from the US to Mexico, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the pandemic, US deportations have continued on the basis of Title 42 Section 265 of the U.S. Federal Code, which provides that the executive can prohibit entrance of people and/or goods based on a determination that this would represent a “serious danger of the introduction” of a disease. The US has used this provision to adopt a policy that for reasons of public health, undocumented persons that cross the U.S. border may be deported from the country without initiating deportation legal proceedings as provided by U.S. immigration law. According to a report published by a group of NGOs, this policy, implemented on 21 March 2020, has been extended indefinitely. From March to end of July 2020, more than 105,000 people were expelled from the United States under this provision. In addition, the report found that since the start of the pandemic only 59 people had been referred to asylum officials to assess non-refoulement claims out of 40,000 expulsions. Of these 59, only two were subsequently allowed to apply for asylum in the U.S.
The Walls Outside Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre, Taken on 8 August 2015, (EYE DJ, "Immigration Detention and the Politics of COVID-19," Red Pepper, 2 June 2020, https://www.redpepper.org.uk/immigration-detention-and-the-politics-of-covid-19/)
So far in 2020, more than 7,400 people have arrived in the UK via small boats, nearly four times as many as in 2019. Seven migrants have died trying to cross the Channel this year, three more than last year. Part of this increase may be due to COVID-19 restrictions and the suspension of resettlement schemes such as in the UK, which is supposed to resettle about 5,000 refugees a year. UNHCR’s UK representative said: “UNHCR hopes that resettlement to the UK will restart very soon, once reception capacity is concerned and any remaining logistical issues related to COVID-19 are overcome by the authorities. The pandemic has presented new, acute hardships and uncertainties for refugees.” The statement comes after two young children and their parents died while trying to cross the Channel during the week of 26 October 2020.
Following the unsuccessful legal challenge presented by Detention Action in March (see 5 April and 11 May UK updates on this platform), which aimed to force the Home Office to release all immigration detainees, a number of claims for judicial review have been instigated on behalf of individuals detained at immigration removal centres. In one case, R (on the application of Zalys) v. Secretary of State for the Home Department  4 WLUK 86, the claimant argued that in addition to waiting for the outcome of his appeal against a deportation order requiring his removal, travel restrictions resulting from the pandemic rendered it impossible for the Home Office to remove him to Lithuania within a reasonable timeframe. The claimant also argued that his continued detention in a “congregate setting” was directly contrary to government guidance, particularly so in light of his serious underlying medical conditions. In consequence, the claimant was granted permission to apply for judicial review, with the judge stating that the claimant had established a strong prima facie case for his release. The claimant was then placed on immigration bail by the Home Office.
On 30 October, the Guardian reported that the government had increased cash support payments for asylum seekers by 3 pence (£0.03) per week, increasing the current weekly rate of £39.60 to £39.63 following a review by the Home Office. This now equates to around £5.66 a day. Several charities, who have been pushing the UK government to increase support rates, have criticised the measure. The group Asylum Matters said that “this review was an opportunity for the Home Office to put this right, and ensure people seeking refugee status in the UK are safe and supported, during the pandemic and beyond. Instead, they’ve blown it -- 3p a week is an insult, not an increase.” In the UK, people seeking asylum are barred from working while they wait for a decision on their claims. Yet, immigration figures released in August revealed that more than 70 percent of people seeking asylum in the UK wait more than six months for a decision on their claim.
COVID-19 has put the country’s prison system and prisoners under considerable pressure and psychological stress. On 4 October 2020, campaigners at the Prison Reform Trust (PRT) found that coronavirus measures in English and Welsh prisons have delayed the release of potentially thousands of prisoners by blocking chances for inmates to take part in rehabilitation activities, required to progress in their sentences. In addition, PRT said that the uncertainty caused by the virus is leading to increasing despair and hopelessness as well as putting a significant strain on prisoners’ mental health and wellbeing.
International Organization for Migration (IOM), “Voluntary Returns from Niger to The Gambia Resume After Six-Month Hiatus,” 25 September 2020, https://www.iom.int/fr/news/voluntary-returns-niger-gambia-resume-after-six-month-hiatus
In mid-October, the Gambian government relaxed various COVID-19 restrictions on travel and public gatherings in the run up to its tourism season. The country declared its markets opened, waiving a two-week mandatory quarantine imposed on people arriving in the country. However, travelers are required to show evidence of negative polymerase chain reaction test results conducted less than 72 hours prior to their arrival. As of 27 October, the country had recorded 3,665 positive COVID-19 cases and 119 deaths related to the disease.
On 15 October, UNHCR reported that it had recorded one positive COVID-19 case of a person of concern and that one refugee in Gambia had died from the virus. In addition, UNHCR’s local partner, the Gambian Food & Nutrition Association (GAFNA), has reportedly assisted schools located in refugee areas to prepare for their reopening. The support consists of equipping them with hand washing buckets, fumigating classrooms and other school spaces, providing training to teachers on COVID-19 prevention, and mitigation measures to reduce the risk of contamination in school.
In its May-July update, UNHCR reported that the closure of borders and the limitation of commercial activities due to COVID-19 had a negative impact on the life of refugee populations and others in the country. UNHCR supported GAFNA to provide cash assistance for three months (May, June and July 2020) to a total of 115 vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers residing in both rural and urban areas.
In September, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) resumed its Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) programme from Niger to The Gambia, with the support of the European Union. The returns were suspended in March when the governments of The Gambia and Niger imposed several restrictions, including the closure of all borders. The first group were returned on 23 September, which included 26 Gambian migrants. Before their departure, the IOM reportedly organised COVID-19 testing for people hosted at transit centres in Agadez and Niamey. The migrants were given hand sanitiser, masks, and food and water. Upon arrival, the returnees underwent temperature screenings and were issued arrival assistance cards before being transported to an overnight temporary accommodation facility, where they were provided meals and core relief items, including essential hygiene supplies.
As regards the country’s prisons, on 26 April, President Adama Barrow pardoned 115 prisoners in three different prisons--Mile 2 in Bajul (78 prisoners); Jeshwang (24 prisoners); and Jangjangbureh (13 prisoners)--in a bid to contain the spread of COVID-19. On 11 September, the prison administration stated that it is compulsory to wear masks within prisons, to wash hands regularly, and to test detainees and personnel. Nonetheless, medical professionals have said that they are worried due to overpopulation. Moreover, on 25 September, an anonymous source reported that around 60 prisoners tested positive at the Mile 2 prison. Most of these prisoners were newly arrived prisoners.
While the GDP has noted in the past that the Mile 2 prison was used to detain undocumented migrants, we have been unable to confirm if it continues to be used for this purpose or whether any specific measures were taken to protect non-citizens in immigration procedures.
M. MacGregor, “Surge in Migrants Reaching Canary Islands,” InfoMigrants, 3 September 2020, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/27032/surge-in-migrants-reaching-canary-islands
While migrant arrivals to Mainland Spain have decreased this year, the number of migrants and asylum seekers arriving in the Canary Islands has significantly increased. According to UNHCR, as of 18 October 24,259 arrivals had been registered in Spain, of whom 9,199 were registered in the Canary Islands. (In all of 2019, 2,698 migrants arrived in the Canaries.) This shift appears to have been spurred by Morocco’s efforts to block routes to the north of the country (and thus prevent irregular boat journeys to southern Spain) and the economic repercussions of the pandemic pushing greater numbers to move.
According to the IOM Missing Migrants Project, the irregular maritime route to the Canaries has been the most dangerous in the European region so far this year. During January-July 2020, one death was recorded for approximately every 20 arrivals. Most recently, more than 100 migrants were feared dead after an explosion sank a fishing boat attempting the route from Senegal.
The surge in arrivals--in addition to COVID-related deportation flight cancellations and Spain’s reluctance to transfer migrants to the mainland--has led to growing migratory pressure on the islands. A representative of the Spanish Commission to Help Refugees said, “Blocking people from leaving the Canaries has turned the islands into an open-air prison.” According to observers, reception facilities on the islands are full, and non-nationals have been placed in churches, schools, and makeshift accommodation at docks and ports.
In October, ECRE reported that more than 1,000 migrants and asylum seekers were staying at
Arguineguín Pier (Gran Canaria), where initial registration and health checks (including COVID-19 tests) are carried out. Most were residing in tents provided by the Red Cross, but approximately 200 were forced to sleep in the open. Local media reports have suggested that authorities plan to utilise a ship to provide additional initial accommodation.
Spanish newspapers have also reported that in Las Palmas, the Prosecutor’s Office has been separating children from their parents in order to conduct DNA tests. Reports indicate that several children have been sent to a centre for unaccompanied minors, where they have remained while test results are assessed. As of 20 October, four children who had been separated from their parents in August had yet to be reunited with their families--despite tests confirming their relation to their mothers.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
"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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Mr Michael Flynn
Global Detention Project
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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