Many European countries have introduced states of emergency in order to deal with the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. In many countries that has affected migrant, asylum and refugee services too. Here is our rundown of changes in Greece, Italy, Germany and France.
Greece – Asylum services suspended. Cards expiring during this time will 'remain valid' for period of suspension.
Greece announced the suspension of all asylum applications for a month from March 1. That was in response to Turkey declaring its borders open for migrants to reach the EU.
The Greek asylum service announced on March 13 that it would be temporarily suspending all services until at least April 10. In a statement on its website http://asylo.gov.gr it said that "all administrative services to the public are suspended.” That includes “registration [of asylum], interviews and appeal submissions."
Importantly the asylum service confirmed that "applicants' cards and residence permits due to expire in the above mentioned period would remain valid."
On March 16 the asylum service added notice of this suspension in 10 languages. Urdu, Albanian, Arabic, French, Georgian, Krimizi, Bengal, Sorani, Farsi and Turkish. Check on the above website for more details and to click on your chosen language.
When and if the services are lifted after April 10 asylum seekers and migrants wishing to register should be able to visit the 24 regional asylum offices and asylum centers around Greece. A list is on the Greek asylum service website.
Services at migrant camps on the Greek islands have also been placed in lockdown for two weeks as of March 17. School classes for migrant children have been suspended and no volunteers will be allowed into camps.
All newly arrived migrants will be medically screened.
Facilities will be regularly disinfected.
Organized sports and indoor activities are also banned for the time being.
On March 17, Greece imposed 14 days of quarantine for all migrants in camps.
Anyone entering the country from abroad would also be expected to observe 14 days of quarantine on arrival.
Italy – The whole country is in lockdown, some services may be interrupted. Most face to face contact suspended.
All citizens in Italy, regardless of whether or not they are migrants, asylum seekers or refugees have been asked not to leave the house except in exceptional circumstances. Travel limitations have been in effect since March 10 and will last until at least April 3. Anyone placed in quarantine, or who has tested positive for the virus is forbidden from leaving the house.
- Anyone with
symptoms of a temperature above 37.5 degrees must call a doctor, stay
at home and avoid all contact with others.
- You can only
leave your house to go to work, for health reasons or for special needs.
You need to fill out a form and carry it with you which the police
Public and private transportation are operating as normal.
The cultural and social organization ARCI, which also provides support for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, has closed all its public offices. They are still providing help online via email and telephone and have posted a number of posters and documents in several languages with frequently asked questions. You can contact them by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or via a toll-free number 800905570 or via Lycamobile and Whatsapp on +39 3511376335 (If you are inside Italy and are calling from an Italian number then it would be 03511376335).
Most migrants and asylum seekers have to go to the police administrative headquarters, the "Questura" to renew their residence permits or asylum papers. However, most Questuras ask that you contact them via email rather than go in person to their offices. According to information from ARCI, the immigration services at most questuras are temporarily suspended. This includes renewing and issuing residency permits.
Most other public offices are open and people are working where they can from home, but there are no, or very few, "front office" (i.e. contact with the public) activities taking place.
The Questura in Monza in the north of the country announced that it will remain open to the public but only with limited services. One of which is its asylum and migration service. You can contact the service via this email if you are in the Monza area: email@example.com
- For the rest of Italy, the Questura di Roma has a link to the immigration portal https://www.portaleimmigrazione.it/ where you can check if your residence permit is ready or not to be collected. On the front page of the portal, all non-urgent appointments will be delayed and you will receive a new appointment via SMS (text message). Questions relating to documents and renewals are suspended and new dates for appointments will be communicated via text message (SMS).
Before turning up at a Questura, the portal asks you to put in your username and password which you should have received when you applied for your residency/work permit or asylum/refugee status to see at what stage your application is currently. You can call this toll-free number 800 200 309 if you have a question on the process.
Poste Italiane, the Italian national post service is another place where migrants and asylum seekers need to go to renew their residence permits, work permits and other official documents. Most Italian post offices remain open but some will be closed or are open only on alternate days. Others have suspended certain services like the possibility of pre-booking an appointment online.
- Anyone using a post office will be asked to maintain the requisite distance of at least one meter between themselves, the employees and any other client in the shop. There are reports of long queues for all services because of this. Look at your local post office or on the website www.poste.it to find out whether your local office remains open. Poste Italiane also says that most appointments relating to immigration are suspended and will be rescheduled for a later date.
- According to information from Arci (March 18) most territorial commissions making decisions on asylum and international protection are partially suspended. In particular the hearings for asylum seekers and administrative decisions will be delayed to later dates.
- The Ministry of the Interior (Ministero dell’interno) has said that all activities related to the expulsion of migrants found to be illegally on Italian territory will continue as normal.
- The Ministry has also said that anyone wishing to apply for asylum can do so as this international right is guaranteed as normal. Arci says anyone finding they are unable to apply for asylum at this time should contact them to signal problems in the system.
- For those expecting decisions on their asylum cases in the courts, most hearings are postponed until at least April 15. But check with your individual lawyer, whom you should contact by phone or email.
Germany – Some services suspended
The German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) announced on March 14 that it would be temporarily suspending its integration and language courses for refugees and asylum seekers for at least two weeks.
This is in line with the suspension of schools, colleges and universities across almost all federal states in the country, according to BAMF's post on Facebook.
There are lots of different projects being run in Germany to promote integration for migrants supported by the EU's Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF). BAMF advises to check in with each individual project to find out if it will continue to run. They may be running if they can comply with the new health recommendations and don't contradict the latest health advice. As a general measure, all courses were extended by two weeks to take into account a temporary closure or suspension of services.
If you are part of the ERRIN (European Return and Reintegration project) then you have been advised to make an online or telephone appointment with your representative as face-to-face contacts have been severely reduced. For those returning to Mali, Morocco and Senegal, all offices in those countries have been closed and any help has been suspended.
The BAMF remains open for the processing of asylum claims and for issuing decisions. However, it cautions on the website that any appointments on the reassessment of asylum status (Widerrufsverfahren) are suspended until at least March 29.
Any asylum seeker wanting to attend an appointment must bring with them a negative test certificate stating that they DO NOT have COVID-19. Otherwise, a 14-day delay in their appointment can be expected. Due to the developing situation, appointments could be canceled with very little or no notice.
One asylum center in Suhl in the state of Thuringia has (at the time of writing March 17) been placed into 14 days of quarantine until March 27. The 500 residents have apparently protested but they have been forced to remain in the center after an asylum seeker in the state tested positive for Coronavirus on Friday.
Each federal state is responsible for deciding measures for itself and its services. Check on the websites for the region in which you live to find out if services are functioning or will be temporarily suspended.
France – Country was placed in lockdown effective of March 17. Some migration and asylum services are affected
- According to a press released by the Préfecture de Police (National Police HQ) all residence permits will be extended by three months from Monday, March 16 to cover any expirations during the lockdown which is expected to last at least for the next two weeks
- Asylum claims will continue but asylum seekers are invited to send in their documents by post. Any face to face appointments scheduled for the period March 16-29 will be delayed until after the end of March, at least.
- However, asylum seekers will still have to respect the administrative rules in place. Any dossiers for asylum will have to be submitted within the specified 21 days, as before.
- Repatriations or deportations planned for March will be delayed for a later date but the Offices responsible still expect to respect the quotas laid out for the period 2020-21.
- The French Office for Immigration and Integration OFII has suspended all of its non-essential services, outside the asylum process. So all French courses and integration courses have been suspended.
- Services at asylum counters in various different areas of France will vary and there could be some difficulty in some places for potential asylum seekers to obtain the documents they are required to obtain in order to apply for asylum. Check online with your local préfecture (police office) to find out if they are still offering appointments.
- All appeals at the national asylum court CNDA regarding the asylum process have been suspended for an indefinite amount of time.