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Greek hotels to become shelters for asylum-seekers amid virus fears

In this file photo from October 22, 2019, refugees and migrants wait to be transferred to camps on the mainland at the port of Elefsina near Athens, Greece.
In this file photo from October 22, 2019, refugees and migrants wait to be transferred to camps on the mainland at the port of Elefsina near Athens, Greece. © Costas Baltas/FILE PHOTO/REUTERS

As Covid-19 claims more lives around the world, NGOs are sounding the alarm over the conditions inside overcrowded migrant camps on Greece’s islands. While the European Union is pledging more funding and the use of empty holiday accommodation to enforce “social distancing” for migrants, questions remain over whether enough is being done to keep both asylum-seekers and local populations safe.

Hotels and holiday apartments hired to temporarily house migrants; 1,600 unaccompanied child asylum-seekers being relocated around eight European Union member states and €350 million in extra funding. These were just some of the measures outlined by the European Commission on Thursday amid growing calls to improve conditions in Greece’s overcrowded migrant camps, and protect those being housed there from Covid-19.

READ  Romanians purchase fake COVID-19 certificates to avoid quarantine requirement when travelling

Two Greek ministers, two European Commissioners and the director of the European border agency Frontex were among those who took part in a video meeting on April 2, organised by the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties committee.

Deep alarm among refugees

Greece’s Minister for Migration and Asylum Notis Mitarachi told participants that his country had recorded 1,500 cases of Covid-19 to date, and that twenty-one of those who had tested positive were migrants at the Ritsona camp close to Athens.

The positive test results are cause for deep alarm among refugees, as well as aid groups working in and with the camps.

As European states enforce social distancing measures among their citizens with the aim of halting the spread of Covid-19, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) is among those to have flagged up overcrowded conditions as the most pressing issue within migrant facilities.  The UNHCR says there is particular cause for concern on the Aegean islands, where Greek authorities acknowledge there are more than 35,000 people housed in sites intended for just 6,000.

READ  Hungary urged to ensure access for asylum seekers

Greek authorities urged to transfer more people away 

The UNHCR is urging Greek authorities to transfer more people away from island reception centres. But this idea was rejected Thursday by Mitarachi, who said that this would simply transfer people from areas currently unaffected by Covid-19, to places where infections were already recorded.

For Imogen Sudbery, Europe director of Policy and Advocacy for the International Rescue Committeed, this stance is “disappointing on several levels”.

“We have been flagging the lack of capacity on the mainland for at least three years,” she told FRANCE 24.

“The European Commission and many other organisations have found that it would be perfectly feasible to put in place the necessary health screening arrangements” for a transfer of asylum-seekers to the Greek mainland.

‘Unbearable’ conditions on Greek islands

One day before the meeting, the International Rescue Committee released a report showing that Lesbos’ Moria camp has a population density ten times greater than that of the Diamond Princess, a cruise ship which became a notorious coronavirus cluster in March, with 712 of the 3711 people on board falling sick.

READ  Nigeria evacuates 160 stranded citizens from US

SOURCE:France24.com

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UNHCR and IOM shocked and dismayed by deaths near Belarus-Poland border

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and are deeply saddened by the deaths of four individuals near the border between Poland and Belarus. The organizations express their condolences to the families of the deceased and are calling for an immediate investigation into this tragedy. The nationalities of the all the victims have yet to be confirmed but two Iraqi nationals reportedly died of hypothermia.

In recent months, groups of asylum-seekers and migrants have been transiting through Belarus, to seek asylum in neighbouring EU Member States – Lithuania, Latvia and Poland.

The two agencies have been following with growing concern, reports of pushbacks of people at these borders. Groups of people have become stranded for weeks, unable to access any form of assistance, asylum or basic services. Many were left in dire situations, exposed to the elements, suffering from hypothermia. Some were rescued from swamps.

READ  Boris Johnson rows back on proposal to introduce amnesty for undocumented migrants

Recognizing the significant challenges posed by irregular movements, the agencies have called for the situation to be managed in accordance with international legal obligations, and for States to work collaboratively to resolve the situation, prioritising human rights.

UNHCR and IOM call for immediate access to those affected, in order to provide lifesaving medical help, food, water and shelter, especially in light of the approaching winter.

While States have the sovereign right to manage their borders, this is not incompatible with the respect for human rights including the right to seek asylum. Pushbacks endanger lives and are illegal under international law.

UNHCR and IOM have been engaging with relevant authorities to explore various options for the people who continue to be stranded at borders; from access to asylum, family reunification procedures, and voluntary return for those found not to be in need of international protection.

IOM and UNHCR reiterate that asylum-seekers and migrants should never be used by States to achieve political ends. The fundamental responsibility to protect vulnerable people should be shared among States in a spirit of solidarity. Political disagreement on responsibilities must never result in the loss of life, forfeiting States international obligations and commitments.

READ  Violence in Burkina Faso forces Malian refugees to return home

 

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UNHCR calls on Libya to urgently develop plan for asylum seekers and refugees, welcomes authorization to restart evacuation

Libya. UNHCR provides assistance to asylum-seekers caught in crackdown

A refugee feeds her baby while waiting to receive assistance at an emergency distribution by UNHCR and partners in Tripoli, Libya.  © UNHCR/Mohamed Alalem

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, today urged the Libyan government to immediately address the dire situation of asylumseekers and refugees in a humane and rights-based manner. Raids and arbitrary arrests by the authorities this month targeted areas largely  populated by refugees and asylumseekers that resulted in several deaths, thousands detained, and many homeless and destitute.

“Since the start of the security raids and arrests by the Libyan authorities in October, we have witnessed a sharp deterioration in the situation facing vulnerable asylumseekers and refugees in Tripoli,” said Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR’s Special Envoy for the Western and Central Mediterranean Situation. “The Libyan authorities must come up with a proper plan that respects their rights and identifies durable solutions.”

Some 3,000 people are currently sheltering outside the Community Day Centre (CDC) in Tripoli, where UNHCR and its partners have been providing medical assistance and other services. Their situation is very precarious. Many were affected by the raids, demolition of their homes, and have escaped from detention in terrible conditions. Others have joined the group hoping to be evacuated.

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“Many have been left homeless and lost all their belongings as a result of the security operation and are now sleeping in the cold and in a very unsafe environment. This is utterly unacceptable,” said Cochetel.

UNHCR and partners had to suspend operations at the Community Day Centre for security and safety reasons, but remain engaged in an active dialogue with representatives of the protesters outside the CDC to explain the limited assistance it can offer, including cash and food assistance.

Together with other UN agencies, UNHCR stands ready to support an urgent plan of action that could help alleviate the terrible suffering of asylumseekers and refugees in Libya. 

UNHCR continues to call on the authorities to respect the human rights and dignity of asylumseekers and refugees, stop their arbitrary arrest and release them from detention. 

The UN Refugee Agency has welcomed authorization to restart humanitarian evacuation flights, but warns that it is not enough. 

“This is a positive development for some of the most vulnerable refugees, who have been waiting anxiously for many months to depart. Our teams are already working to ensure humanitarian flights can restart as soon as possible,” said Cochetel “But we also need to be realistic: resettlement or evacuation flights will only benefit a limited number of people.”    

More than 1,000 vulnerable refugees and asylumseekers are currently prioritised for humanitarian flights and awaiting their resumption. UNHCR continues to urge the international community to offer more legal pathways to safety outside Libya.

READ  Ethiopian migrants return home from Yemen with IOM support in wake of tragic boat sinking

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Free movement of people a top priority, say West African nations

Aligned migration policies must be effectively applied by border officials to ease free movement while combatting trafficking in persons, says the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Photo: Fredrick Ejiga/IOM

Abuja – Free movement of people and goods, and fighting human trafficking should be top policy priorities, members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) agreed at talks convened with the support of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN Network for Migration and the African Union.

Three days of consultations in Abuja this week offered the first chance for ECOWAS members to collectively assess progress in implementing the Global Compact for Migration (GCM) objectives and to decide key recommendations to be put to next year’s International Migration Review Forum.

Integrated migration governance should be a key goal and Ambrose Dery, Minister of Interior for Ghana, the Chair of ECOWAS Authority of Heads of States and Governments, said it was essential African nations addressed trafficking in persons and its devastating consequences on migrants.

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“Vile stories on international media concerning migrant slavery, as well as mistreatment of young African domestic helps in some Gulf States, call for a reflection on appropriate actions to be taken with a view to finding a lasting solution to this persistent problem that leads to the loss of young Africans, without whom the continent cannot build a prosperous and peaceful future,” Dery said. “In Ghana, the contribution of migrants has played a great role in shaping our national development.”

Governments must address the root causes of trafficking and ensure the free movement of people in a safe, orderly and dignified manner. ECOWAS representatives emphasized the need to join forces and align approaches to prevent and counter smuggling of migrants and trafficking in persons to promote rights-based management of migration.

The meeting, which ended Thursday, also heard that policies must be effectively applied by border officials to ease free movement while combatting trafficking in persons.

Aissata Kane, IOM’s Senior Regional Adviser for Sub Saharan Africa, said the Global Compact for Migration was a landmark, multilateral document. “It aims to catalyze and boost combined support and assistance for addressing legal and humanitarian challenges of migration and foster its positive social, cultural and economic dividends within and outside the ECOWAS region.”

READ  Finnish government agrees to take in 175 refugees from Mediterranean camp

IOM has been working with all stakeholders at intergovernmental and national levels, as well as within the UN Network for Migration, to promote safe, orderly and dignified free movement of people and economic exchange among ECOWAS Member States.

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