The novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak appears to strengthen xenophobia and refuels the migration debate, especially as right-wing politicians try to link the novel Coronavirus to African migrants and refugees coming to Europe. The virus has already infected more than 500 citizens in Europe at the time of writing and new cases are reported every day. In order to prevent the outbreak of the novel virus from becoming a pandemic, travel restrictions have been put in place. Flights to China, Iran and South Korea are cancelled by several countries. Towns in Italy have been ‘put in quarantine’, closed off from the outside world. Some politicians and experts argue stricter travel restrictions are necessary within the Schengen area and want to increase border control. Others state that a travel ban would not help to fight the virus and accuse populist parties of using the outbreak to promote anti-immigration policies.
In this week’s news highlights: Commissioner calls Italy to discontinue cooperation with Libya; Commission may abandon the Dublin regulation reform; Researchers indicate EU breaks Law of the Sea with return policy; Secret Malta-Libya pact criticised by NGOs; Sea-Watch 4 launched by United4Rescue; Sea Watch captain acquitted by Italian top court; Meditteranean Sea turned into graveyard by Europe; ; Coalition government formed in South Sudan; Over 100 million USD needed for humanitarian assistance in South Sudan; Rumors of closure of Ethiopian refugee camps in Tigray; Head of Catholic church in Ethiopia not allowed to enter Eritrea despite visa; IOM says concrete action is needed in Libya; And few resettlement places for evacuated refugees in Rwanda.
Lack of evidence is not the problem. In the last years, different civil society and research organizations have collected numerous testimonies of migrants and refugees that have been violently sent back by authorities after they crossed the border of the Westens Balkans, Morocco, Sebia, Turkey or Belarus into the European Union (EU). In many cases, these people – looking for dignity and international protection – reported abuse, humiliation and beatings. In the so called ‘pushbacks’, access to the asylum procedure is denied; asylum seekers are not registered but immediately returned to the other side of the border. Member of the European Parliament Tineke Strik is worried this inhumane and unlawful way of pushing people out of the EU is becoming a normality. On February 18, during the breakfast briefing organized by the Greens/EFA and the Open Society European Policy Institute; ‘Strengthening borders, weakening the rule of law?’ Strik, together with experts in the field, brought the attention to the pushbacks that take place at EU’s external borders. It was concluded that the approach for EU border control needs to be reconsidered and an independent border control mechanism should be implemented to stop the unlawful pushbacks from happening.