The COVID-19 outbreak has not only reached most of the countries in the world, but has also crucial impacts on the problematic situation of refugees in camps and asylum centers.
Even if migration flows have dropped for example in Greece in the first quarter of 2020, here are more than 100,000 migrants and refugees inside the Greek territory, with the majority of them to live in overcrowded camps in Aegean Islands. Greek authorities in collaboration with EU, health workers and Civil Society organisations do their best to reduce the risk as much as possible in the overcrowded hotspots on the islands, enforcing the strictest possible controls in order to keep the spread of the coronavirus and COVID-19 under control.
Bulgaria, despite the low numbers of refugees seeking international protection and asylum, both the State Agency for Refugees and the service providing NGOs are putting significant effort in information and humanitarian activities to decrease the spread of COVID-19.
North Macedonia, a transit country on the Balkan route has seen a steady decrease in the numbers of refugees and asylum seekers trying to pass through on their way to the EU countries, and there has been continuous cooperation between humanitarian services and police (both national and international) for keeping numbers of COVID-19 patients low.
Questions and Answers
Is there a quarantine period for new coming persons?
Greece: According to specific directions by the Ministry of Migration and Asylum, issued on 17/3/2020, there are quarantine areas in every Reception and Identification Center. Only persons working in the Centers are allowed in. Migrants are allowed outside camps in small groups and for essential reasons. Furthermore, new arrivals since 1/3/2020 were all transferred to newly built, closed camps in the mainland. With the Joint Ministerial Decision (JMD) 12687/2020 of the Ministers for Citizen Protection, Health and Migration and Asylum due to public health considerations all Regional Asylum Offices (mainland and islands) are closed for the public from 13/3/2020 until 10/4/2020, with view of extending this duration based on the general situation.
Bulgaria: A set of anti-epidemic measures implemented in the reception centres. All group activities in the facilities, including school classes, kindergartens and extracurricular activities, as well as access of visitors to the centres were temporarily suspended. The health status of all asylum applicants accommodated in the facilities was monitored on a daily basis. Information about the spread of COVID-19, its symptoms and prevention, was delivered to applicants through regular awareness raising sessions and written information materials. All newly arriving applicants were placed under 14-day mandatory isolation and monitoring.
North Macedonia: A set of anti-epidemic measures implemented in the reception & shelter centres. The health status of the migrants and asylum applicants accommodated in the facilities was monitored on a daily basis. Information about the spread of COVID-19, its symptoms and prevention, was delivered to applicants through regular awareness raising sessions and written information materials.
Is contact with lawyers and refugee services provided/allowed during that time?
Greece: Movement restrictions enacted by Government (Joint Ministerial Decision of the Ministers of Citizen Protection, Health and of Interior no. Δ1 α/ΓΠ.οικ.22824/2020 published on the official government gazette on 04.04.2020) do not allow visits of legal practitioners or refugee support services. Contact with lawyers and refugee services can be made through other means (eg. by call, email, teleconference).
Bulgaria: Due to the imposed measures to limit the movement and therefore the spread of COVID 19, there is limited or no access of lawyers and NGOs.
North Macedonia: Access of NGOs to asylum applicants in reception facilities is allowed. Even tough there is the state of emergency measures in North Macedonia declared in response to the COVID-19 situation, here are no difference related to asylum procedures. However, most of the state administrations is stimulated to stay at home and everything which is not urgent, like detention cases in the court, are postponed.
Are there restrictions regarding forced displacement?
Greece: Forced return operations temporarily suspended, due to general population movement restrictions both domestically and internationally.
Bulgaria: Forced return operations were temporarily suspended to avoid the risk to the health of escorting officers.
North Macedonia: Forced return operations are in place until the end of March. However, in the practice, the border police is working very closely with the border police forces from Austria, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia and Serbia (in total 140-190 border police officers permanently present in the country).