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New IDC report on COVID-19 impacts on immigration detention

The COVID-19 pandemic has made billions of people change their every day reality. Rapidly progressing spread of the virus, combined with often dangerous symptoms of the disease, has forced humanity to adapt quickly to the new challenges.

 

To analyze the situation of people in detention, at risk of detention and stateless persons in the face of COVID-19, a special report was issued. Today we would like to present  to you the main conclusions and observations resulting from this text. For more details, we invite you to the report prepared by the International Detention Coalition - a global organisation associating over 400 organisations, groups and individual specialists in cooperation with Western Sydney University - Humanitarian and Development Research Initiative. You can download the report by clicking HERE. The authors of the studies are both experts in the field of human rights, students and people representing civil society groups. 

 

The pandemic has forced many governments around the world to restrict the ability of movement and border crossing, even a total closure (Australia was one of the first states to slose its borders in March - just days after the declaration of a pandemic by WHO). Some of countries included in the report, such as Ethiopia, declared a state of emergency in their country. The rapidly spreading virus required extraordinary measures to protect.. citizens, but persons with an unregulated legal status has still remained on the verge of minimal protection and exclusion.

 

Once again, it has been confirmed that - unfortunately - access to health care is still not as common as it should be and it's available to just a certain part of the population. The world is still available only for wealthy nationals of highly developed countries. What’s more, the need of caring for newly arriving people with an unregulated legal status has began to be perceived as another factor that can endanger the already inefficient healthcare system in European countries and beyond.

 

COVID-19 has exposed humanity to a serious challenge while being a huge threat to a global health security. As usually it is the weakest who are becoming the victims. Deprived of care (especially medical care), often legally unregulated (particularly stateless persons), are most at risk of Corona infection. Lack of shelter, finances, and often unstable stay situation only increases. Previously existing social prejudices against migrants only deepened or even occured in a new dimension. The unfair belief that migrants can be an epidemiological threat only gains new supporters. The fear of accepting people seeking refugee protection by crossing new borders made it socially justified to limit the admission of foreigners by raising anti-immigrant sentiment. These actions push refugees into a state of limbo - between the strict migration policies and increalingly severe sanitary restrictions. We can't forget, that constant stress and fear for loosing life and health are added to it.

 

Highly restricted mobility combined with worsening economic situation has also forced people to look for alternatives. In Libya for example, there has been an increase in the number of instances of illegal smuggling of people abroad. The data from FRONTEX shows that this phenomenon has increased by 119% compared to mid-2019.

 

The European Network on Statelessness emphasizes that previously some misunderstood (or understood poorly) groups of migrants were neglected in migration policy (stateless people in particular) and now, they fall to the background even more, what leads to limitation and even deprivation of their basic rights.

 

Some aspects of detention centers system was regulated in a new, specific way. For example: new regulations regarding the possibility of visiting centers, the possibility of seeking legal aid through non-governmental organisations, and introducting remote interviews for asylum applicants. Due to the closure of borders or restrictions on border traffic, returnning procedures are often being suspended, which results in prolonged detention of foreigners in the centers. Changes caused by COVID-19 also include the issue of possibly safe distribution of foreigners in the centers so as to maintain sanitary requirements (social distansing, quarantine, isolation of patients, etc.). As the stay in the center is stressful itself and often traumatic, it was also necessary to introduce increased psychological help.

 

Overcrowded centers can be another local source of a sudden increase of infections in a detention. That's why, some countries have decided to introduce some more far-reaching changes. It was noticed that, such a detention of various people in one place can be dangerous because of pandemic. In India, there was applied one of the longest (until the end of May) and strictest lockdown in the world. The local Supreme Court also established special Committees which had the power to consider releasing inmates from penitentiary facilities. Japan also decided to partially release foreigners from the centers.In Canada, the government has temporarily suspended detention in detention centers in order to prevent outbreaks of infection in those condtions. It was recognised that the situation in the centers also affects public health, as it also affects the health of center employees. Such social responsibility and awareness of the connection of those factors is one of the positive changes that were implemented in the COVID-19 era. Even in times of a pandemic and global threat, some countries have managed to develop positive, inspiring solutions.

 

Rita Ster

 

 

 

23 October 2020

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