Dunja Mijatovic is the Council of Europe's commissioner for human rights | Photo: EPA/Jean-Christophe Bott
Dunja Mijatovic is the Council of Europe's commissioner for human rights | Photo: EPA/Jean-Christophe Bott

Dunja Mijatovic, the human rights commissioner of the Council of Europe, has asked member states to release as many people as possible from detention centers for migrants amid the coronavirus emergency. She says that these facilities "provide poor opportunities for social distancing and other measures to protect against Covid-19 infection."

The Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic called on member states to release rejected asylum seekers and irregular migrants from immigration detention in a statement published on March 26.

"I call on all Council of Europe member states to review the situation of rejected asylum seekers and irregular migrants in immigration detention, and to release them to the maximum extent possible," the commissioner said. "Releases have been reported in several member states, including Belgium, Spain, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, with the latter country having just announced a review of the situation of all those in immigration detention."

Deportations suspended because of coronavirus pandemic

Mijatovic said that holding people in detention before their deportation could only be lawful if the deportation could actually happen. But because of the coronavirus pandemic, many countries have suspended deportation procedures. 

She wrote: "In the face of the global Covid-19 pandemic, many member states have had to suspend forced returns of persons no longer authorized to stay on their territories, including so-called Dublin returns, and it is unclear when these might be resumed. Under human rights law, immigration detention for the purpose of such returns can only be lawful as long as it is feasible that return can indeed take place. This prospect is clearly not in sight in many cases at the moment."

The commissioner urged states not to issue new detention orders against those who are not authorized to remain on their State's territory.

"Poor opportunities for social distancing"

The commissioner also said that "immigration detention facilities generally provide poor opportunities for social distancing and other measures to protect against Covid-19 infection for migrants and staff."

''Member states should also ensure that those released from detention are given appropriate access to accommodation and basic services, including health care. This is necessary to safeguard their dignity and also to protect public health in member states'', added Mijatovic. 
 

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