In order to curtail the spread of the Covid -19 virus, many EU countries have imposed movement restrictions and even near or complete lock-down measures upon its citizens. But what does this mean for the refugee populations located in these spaces? In many cases such measures add further complications and difficulties to the lives
of individuals that have already experienced trauma and forced displacement. On this page the SiforREF project partners will devote information and stories about how the refugee populations and various organisations in their cities: Berlin, Bologna, Ljubljana, Parma and Vienna are finding solutions to deal with this pandemic.
Despite the COVID-19 quarantine and restriction measures, Kulturno društvo Gmajna is trying to keep in touch with refugees and asylum seekers. We do give some visits, buy internet cards, so refugees stay connected to the internet, voluntarily we do translations for refugees who need help in their procedures, we do keep in contact with refugees in the detention center. All these we do in the framework of rules that were posed by measures of safety during the epidemic. To keep in touch with refugees and asylum seekers is essential, particularly in lockdown position. The photo was taken during the work in the field, the help we gave to a friend April 2020.
© Aigul Hakimova
Two of our project partners: University of Venice Ca'Foscari and Centro Immigrazione Asilo e Cooperazione internazionale will participate on 13 May -15:00-17:00 in an online webinar about the needs of migrants in Italy during the Covid-19 pandemic. The webinar is titled "The Needs of Migrants and the Missing Answers During the Time of Covid-19".
I bisogni dei migranti e le (mancate) risposte all'epoca del Covid-19
13 maggio 2020, 15:00 - 17.00
The changes in everyday life triggered by the corona pandemic are serious for schoolchildren and school-age adolescents: Almost all of their social contacts break away, lessons only take place online or as homeschooling. For most refugee children and adolescents, this new form of school, due to the lack of internet access, the availability of the necessary PC hardware and the necessary support, means that they are completely excluded from the class. The Berlin Refugee Council, along with various counselling centres, youth welfare organisations and guardianship associations are calling on the Senate of Education Administration and the Senate for Social Administration to stop the exclusion of refugee students and to ensure that ALL children in Berlin have the opportunity to continue attending classes.
For most of the refugee children and adolescents, the basic requirements for taking part in lessons at home are lacking. There is generally no WiFi available in the living quarters for refugees. The internet quota/data volume on cell phones is quickly used up after a few days. The majority of refugees do not have a laptop or computer that the children can work on. Hardly anyone owns a printer. The refugee accommodations see themselves in terms of personnel, technology and, due to the ban on contacts, as unable to assist by printing out the school material. This also applies to unaccompanied minors and young single adults supervised in youth accommodations.
For More information in German see www.fluechtlingsrat.de
Fairly early, the German government defined the population’s health as top priority. Reports from Italy were the essential trigger for stronger prevention measures, which were implemented by mid-March. For information of immigrants, the Senate Commissioner for Integration and Migration published information on the virus and rules how to behave on the government’s websites and social media in relevant languages. See the English version here.
A full analysis to which extent refugees are affected by Covid 19 is yet lacking. According to the average age of refugees who came into the city in recent years few would belong to high risk groups. Problems arise, though, first of all due to the housing situation and communication in regard to health measures.
In regard to refugees, both the federal government and the Senate of Berlin assured very quickly that limitations in mobility should not diminish or harm applicant’s rights and reacted positively with changes in procedure and practices.
At present, there are seldomly more than 15 asylum applications per day in Berlin. All new refugees receive a medical check. For the time being, registrations as asylum seekers are only possible after a two-week quarantine and no interviews on asylum cases are being conducted by the authorities. The application procedure is done in written form only. In the beginning of the crisis the authorities didn’t issue negative decisions, because it was too difficult for applicants to meet the - partly very short - deadlines for the court procedures. From May 5th onwards the authorities at federal level plan to go back to a regular mode of issuing and serving notice of all decisions.
At present, asylum seekers are not refused at the federal border, and deportations of refugees do not occur; neither a transfer into other member states according to the Dublin regulations. Also, the distribution of asylum seekers within Germany is called off; thus, persons who apply for asylum in Berlin are being taken care of within the federal state.
In regard to immigrants who came into the city earlier, the immigration office in Berlin has implemented a number of positive changes for avoiding a negative impact in regard to their legal status. Grant periods for social welfare are extended. Applications with immigration authorities and the offices for social affairs in the districts, are generally done in written form. These more liberal regulations were not called for the time being (April 21, 2020).
It is regrettable that the participation in humanitarian reception programmes on federal and regional level were suspended. However, these does not apply to refugees from the EU-hot-spots in Greece. Here, the Berlin Senate has taken up a more liberal stand than the federal government and asked for a larger quota of unaccompanied minors.
Most refugees receive their COVID-19 information through social media, word of mouth and through the supporting NGOs. In regard to prevention measures differences on social and ethnic grounds are being observed.
Some groups observe the regulations strictly, whereas others object any changes in regard to social distance and are still socialising at each other’s homes. They avoid public transport, though, when possible. Increased socialising is expected during the upcoming Ramadan festivities. Often, prevention without apparent sickness is rejected.
Space in refugee shelters is limited, and kitchen and bathing facilities are shared. Calls are being made to the Senate by refugee advocate groups such as the Flüchtlingsrat (Refugee Council) to either close all accommodation centres or isolate infected persons in hostels, hotels and airbnbs during the period of COVID restrictions.
The Senate supports individual housing of refugees, but due to a tight housing market, continues with hosting refugees in accommodation centres. There are 88 accommodation centres for refugees in Berlin. At present no accommodation centre is in full quarantine, but a few have part-quarantine status. For refugees that have been infected with the virus, a new accommodation centre has been recently opened.
Teams of social workers have been currently reduced in the accommodations which has impacted information flow, and general support for residents. NGOs are offering services in a remote capacity where possible. As many offices had to end face to face consultation, they often offer consultation via e-mail or video. It is not yet clear to which extent online or video consultation, can be successful.
Refugee groups – as any citizen – are being advised not to visit a doctor/hospital unless it is essential. There is already a gap in the provision of psycho-social support. General anxiety and stress are increased, as is the fear for health of families in their countries of origin. More vulnerable refugees will experience significant stress relating to personal safety, insecure income or legal status. Forced quarantines produce significantly more stress and anxiety, and could trigger those living with mental health difficulties. Women and children are at a higher risk of domestic violence. In order to alleviate constraint under quarantine, a psycho-social consultation via video is in preparation and is scheduled to begin during the second half of April 2020.
Students living in refugee accommodation centres have additional struggles. Common areas are closed off, and in most cases, there is not enough space to separate oneself from one’s family when learning. Further, parents often have no access to the required technology or sufficient WIFI. Back-on-Track, is a project that advocates for extra support for school children, who need reliable access to technology.
Some at-risk refugee children depend on free school lunches. When not attending school, many school children are at risk of missing one meal a day. Many families lack the necessary resources for an extra meal. A proposal was made to increase social benefits that would cover extra food costs. However, this proposal is most unlikely to be granted.
Many refugees are sending regular remittances to their countries of origin. This is no longer possible due to the loss of income. Despite reliable data on refugees’ participation in the informal economic sector, estimates range up to 20%, either full time or supplement to social benefit payments or part time income. Refugees working in the sex work sector are continuing to work in order to maintain an income. Also quarantine measures are often being rejected, due to the fear of losing a job.
In addition, COVID 19 restrictions have greatly impacted refugees whose asylum applications have been rejected, who are currently residing in Germany without authorisation. With the reduction in job opportunities, this group will suffer due to a lack of income and no longer receive financial assistance, housing or have access to the medical system.
On January 31, 2020, the Italian government declared the state of emergency over Covid-19. Italy is among the countries most affected by the virus and the containment of the pandemic requires the immediate commitment of all the people, from all the Countries.
Explaining the emergency related to Coronavirus to foreigners living in Italy is a necessary as well as a duty to protect their health and host communities.
COVID-19 information website for migrants is a joint project of UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and Italian Association ARCI. A multilingual website - 14 languages - providing information on the COVID-19 emergency to refugees, asylum seekers and migrants living in Italy. It includes different sections on the rules to follow and behaviours required by the Ministry of Health to prevent the spread of the infection and up-to-date news on asylum and immigration.
The SPRAR/SIPROIMI projects (Protection System for Beneficiaries of International Protection and for Unaccompanied Foreign Minors) in the whole national territory are working to guarantee access to information and ensure services for migrants. Well trained operators and adequately informed beneficiaries have been involved in various information and aid activities for the weakest people.
Operators working in SIPROIMI project in Bologna immediately informed beneficiaries about basic protective measures against the virus and social distancing rules. Services, such as legal assistance, and integration activities are carried out as much as possible with digital tools.
In this state of emergency, it is important to understand what to do and how to protect ourselves and vulnerable people from the virus. A specific training course, developed by Local Health Authority and University of Bologna, was realized in ASP City of Bologna, with the aim of giving all the operators working with refugees and homeless people useful information on how to deal with the pandemic. The meetings took place online.
In Emilia-Romagna various initiatives coming from civil society organizations and authorities have carried out, in addition to the national ones, in order to reach out migrants who haven’t high level of fluency in Italian. These activities help ensure that everyone has necessary information about health guidelines and containment measures
Some of them in Bologna deserve to be mentioned.
Social cooperative Arca di Noè has launched the multilingual campaign #StopCovid19, promoted by ASP City of Bologna as part of the SIPROIMI project. A social and video campaign in 12 languages designed to make accessible to foreign residents the rules and behavior promoted by the Italian authorities and scientific community. The videos are available in Bengali, Mandinka, Bambarà, Tigrinya, Wolof, Arabic, Somali, French, Urdu, Dari, Pashtu, Kuridish. The protagonists are linguistic and cultural mediators working in the cooperative.
The second week of April the "Accoglienza Digitale" project began. The online learning course for those who work in the field refugee reception is organized by DICO (Didattica dell'italiano per la Cultura Orale - Teaching of Italian for Oral Culture) in collaboration with ASP City of Bologna and the Social Cooperative Società Dolce. The focus in on how to make the best use of digital tools in order to keep working and ensure services in a context of forced distance dictated by the ongoing health emergency.
These initiatives show how creative strategies and digital solutions can help in dissemination activities.
The Slovenian government officially announced the epidemic of COVID-19 and introduced measures to curb the spread of the virus. As like in many other countries, most of the public institutions (universities, schools, kindergartens, offices) were shut down, public transport ceased, substantial restrictions in the area of trade, service, and tourism businesses. Limits of freedom of movement in public areas, the government banned moving from one administrative unit to another, launched border controls with Schengen countries (Hungary, Italy, and Austria). It also started building a new 40 km of the border fence with Croatia. https://www.gov.si/teme/koronavirus/
March 2020 Asylum homes (aka open camps) in Ljubljana and other locations introduced quarantine measures with a higher level of sanitization and restrictions of movements. Asylum homes took the responsibility to translate the announcements of the epidemic to asylum seekers and managed a particular exit time.
March 2020 The government prepared a particular Act to curb the COVID-19 epidemic and mitigate its consequences for citizens and the economy. All refugees with subsidiary and international protection, entitled to social allowance right already before, will get a single COVID-19 pay check of 150 EUR. Large families will get a single pay check of 100 EUR or 200 EUR; refugee families are eligible for such help as well. We informed a certain number of refugees via WhatsApp application and gave them detailed info on the rights and subsidies.
March 2020 Due to COVID-19, the number of border-crossings and applications for international protection has decreased https://www.dnevnik.si/1042927314. Nevertheless, the Slovenian government is trying to deploy the army at the border with Croatia by all means possible. There are 75% fewer border crossings of the Slovenian (Schengen) border in April 2020 in comparison to April 2019.
April 2020 The decision-making body of the Ministry of the Interior regarding the procedures and granting the statuses to asylum seekers continued its work. It issued negative decisions to some asylum seekers. We helped a family from a camp in another municipality with translations. We managed communication with the lawyer despite the restrictions of movement to pass from one administrative unit to another to file the appeal at the right time; it is by April 10, 2020.
April 18, 2020 Asylum in Slovenia suspended. The Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Slovenia announced that it would temporarily stop all decisions regarding the asylum procedures until July 1, 2020, excluding the urgent cases. The Ministry of the Interior justified the suspension of service, which in practice means that asylum is currently not obtainable in Slovenia, by legal measures due to the coronavirus. The Administrative Court, in contrast, stated that "all (international) cases in the field of international protection are still considered necessary by the court during coronavirus measures." Refugee counsellors representing the interests of asylum seekers first noticed that the ministry stopped sending the decisions even if they had been resolved at the department. https://www.dnevnik.si/1042927314
The official page of the Government Office for the Support and Integration of Migrants still does not have any official news on the suspension of the asylum procedures. https://www.gov.si/drzavni-organi/vladne-sluzbe/urad-vlade-za-oskrbo-in-integracijo-migrantov/ (April 18, 2020 at 13:00)
The epidemiological emergency of Covid-19 has greatly affected Italy, the Northern regions in particular.
In just 30 days, the infection has rapidly spread and the Government has taken measures to try to stop it.
February 21 is the date on which Lombardy is proclaimed "red zone". Shortly thereafter all schools and universities and activities were closed, all sporting, artistic and religious events have been suppressed until the reduction of many production activities.
In this acute crisis, it is necessary, first of all, to protect the weak segments of the population, such as migrants and refugees. It is vital to make sure that human rights are protected and that health related information is easily accessible. In Parma, several initiatives have been set up in order to achieve this.
The Municipality of Parma has implemented a series of initiatives to support foreign citizens.
On the page you can find multilingual videos and detailed information about how to prevent the spread of Covid-19. It is also possible to read the main points of the ministerial decrees and regional ordinances.
In addition, there are communications about the services and opportunities offered by the Administration in order to support people in difficulty.
Besides the Municipality, also the Center for Immigration, Asylum and International Cooperation (Ciac) has been particularly active in reacting to the Corovirus and helping migrants to cope with the emergency.
Ciac constantly updates a dedicated website: https://coronavirus.ciaconlus.org/, designed for migrant citizens who risk having limited access to up-to-date and understandable news during this health emergency.
This site is also useful for anyone who wants clarification on the Covid-19 issue. In the site, there are videos made by Ciac social workers in different languages containing information on the correct measures to take in this period, updates on active services for foreign citizens and a series of useful links. A great deal of attention has been given to fake news, which are increasingly circulating on the net. There are also useful telephone numbers to call for legal information and support.
The videos produced by a group of asylum seekers from the Cooperative Svoltare deserve a special mention. In the informative videos, the asylum seekers invite their compatriots to stay at home. The videos were made with their own mobile phones and are widely promoted through all social channels. The languages are English, Ewe, Bambara, Urdu, Amarica, Pular, Wolof and Bangla.
Migrants, asylum seekers and refugees have shown a great solidarity during this crisis. Several migrant communities (e.g. from Senegal, Ethiopia, Albania, Tunisia) have collected and donated money to the local Hospital or to other entities involved in the emergency. Also a group of young people seeking international protection from Togo joined forces to make a small economic donation to the hospital. These are all small gestures made with great humanity and kindness that witnesses how integration is always the winning choice.
Migrants and refugees are also very active in voluntary activities, carried out together with local associations. For example, refugees hosted by Ciac volunteer – together with many Italians - to bring back to the families the personal effects of the patients who died because of the Coronavirus and the asylum seekers from the Cooperative Svoltare have offered their voluntary support in the delivery of food packages to families in need.
Since March 16, Austria has implemented a variety of measures to curb the spread of Covid 19: exit restrictions, traffic restrictions, quarantine measures in certain areas, restrictions in trade, services and hospitality, restrictions on schools, universities, kindergartens, etc. These measures also affect the lives of refugees in Austria. Below is a compilation about what is happening at the moment in Vienna or Austria.
12.03.2020: In cooperation with the Federal Ministry, the start-up uugot.it is launching a free service through which non-German speakers (or those with minimal German language skills) are shown current television news with subtitles in various languages in their mother tongue. These include Arabic, Dari/Farsi: https://app.uugot.it/catalog
13.03.2020: The Federal Ministry for Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection as well as the ÖIF, the Austrian Integration Fund, published extensive and multilingual information brochures on Covid 19: https://www.sozialministerium.at/Informationen-zum-Coronavirus/Coronavirus---Informationsmaterial-zum-Download.html
18.03.2020: The first positive Covid 19 case is confirmed in a refugee accommodation in Salzburg. The entire refugee accommodation with 162 residents is put under quarantine.
22.03.2020: A legislative package is passed that also affects asylum procedures. The package stipulates that the appeal period for asylum decisions will be interrupted until April 30 and resume on May 1. This means that decisions at first instance will not become legally binding until April 30 and can be challenged in an extended appeal period. The Federal Office for Foreign Affairs and Asylum and the Federal Ministry of the Interior have not announced the suspension of deportations until further notice. This does not change the fact that Dublin deportations within Europe and deportations to countries of origin are not possible at the moment. However, it is uncertain how long this condition will last.
24.03.2020: After two positive Covid 19 tests were confirmed, the largest asylum accommodation in Austria (Traiskirchen) was placed in quarantine.
27.03.2020: The Ministry of the Interior announces a de facto entry stop for asylum seekers who do not have a medical certificate at the Austrian border. So far, however, there have been no reports that asylum applications would not be accepted at the borders due to such a decree.
08.04.2020: The Federal Office for Foreign Affairs and Asylum links information material on Covid 19 (by IOM) in 32 languages on its homepage: https://admin4all.eu/news/covid-19-information-leaflet-for-migrant-population/
15.04.2020: Different EU countries show willingness to accept refugees from the overcrowded Greek refugee camps. Austria is not one of them.