Concern for the well-being of refugees is growing. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) sounded the alarm over conditions in crowded reception centres on five Greek islands. Is the EU doing enough to protect refugees during this corona crisis? EU-funded researchers who conduct research into migration are expressing their concern and offer their time and expertise to help preparing new guidelines.
The world is in crisis and every EU member state is working diligently to find solutions aimed at combating the novel coronavirus and flattening the curve. Restrictions on travel and border shut-downs are drastically impacting the mobility of people. The measures being instituted, which urge the public to maintain social distance, stay home and wash their hands frequently, will be very difficult if not impossible for many refugees to implement.
For refugees, the new measures issued in connection with Covid-19 come in addition to a series of existing measures that had already placed them in an isolated and tenuous situation. Refugees and migrants are now classified as highly vulnerable demographic groups, both physically and mentally. For them, social isolation and self-quarantining in the home are hardly feasible. Access to healthcare and other basic services is a major problem as well, due to factors such as the language barrier and their legal status.
At the same time, the European Union has firmly committed itself to the 2016 New York Declaration and the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. In these treaties, states have agreed to cooperate and take common responsibility for migration and refugee issues while also working to end extreme poverty, inequality, injustice and climate change worldwide.
Researchers affiliated with the Admigov project (coordinated by the UvA) and other EU-funded researchers are deeply worried about how the coronavirus pandemic will impact refugees. They expressed these concerns regarding the course of action chosen by the EU and individual member states in a recent letter to the European Commission, which has been signed by more than 300 researchers to date.
In the letter, the researchers assert that numerous EU-funded studies of migration show that the criminalisation of refugees, the commercialisation of border control and the mistreatment of asylum-seekers have led to a normalisation of violence and even, in a certain sense, to suspension of the right of asylum. The scientists conclude that the recent situation at the EU-Turkey border illustrates the detrimental effects of EU policy on both asylum-seekers and local populations and warn that, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are now on the precipice of a humanitarian disaster that may result in an unnecessarily great loss of life.
The researchers are volunteering their time and expertise in order to assist EU officials in revising the current EU policy. Their letter to the European Commission also sets out a number of guidelines for this cooperation, including: