The limitation of rights of asylum seekers in the context of measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic raises concern among international lawyers and civil society organisations.
International lawyers have expressed their concern over a decree by the Austrian Ministry of the Interior that limits the right to asylum by requiring every asylum seeker to provide a health certificate. The decree is not binding, but presents guidelines for how border police officers should deal with people at the border wishing to enter Austria, including those seeking international protection. As the Ministry of the Interior has offered no further clarification but endorses the decree, the NGO Asylkoordination announced that they will submit a factual report to the Vienna Public Prosecutor’s Office. They argue that the rejection of people seeking international protection at the border is illegal until a procedure has been completed. To prevent health risks related to the coronavirus, they can be placed in a two-week quarantine for the duration of the state of emergency, Asylkoordination states. Upon scrutiny, the constitutional court may repeal the untenable and disproportionate measure, but only in a couple of months; the legal action is therefore the only way to make sure that Austrian authorities fulfil their obligation under international law, Lukas Gahleitner-Gertz from Asylkoordination commented.
While suspending Dublin procedures due to Corona-related risks, a measure welcomed by ECRE, Germany has come under criticism for suspending the Dublin transfer period. According to the Dublin III regulation, an EU member state can request a transfer of an asylum applicant to the country of their first documented entry into the EU. However, if the transfer is not implemented within a period of six months, the responsibility for the processing of the asylum application shifts to the country that requested the transfer. Germany has suspended this time limit together with transfers to avoid becoming responsible for the people not transferred due to corona-related precautions. In a Guidance on the implementation of relevant EU provisions in the area of asylum and return procedures and on resettlement, the EU confirms that the measure introduced by Federal Office for Migration and Asylum (BAMF) is in breach of European law. The NGO PRO ASYL demands that the Federal Ministry of the Interior puts an end to this practice immediately and that family reunifications under Dublin continue to proceed with adequate precautions.
ECRE has compiled a non-exhaustive list of measures related to asylum and migration introduced in response to the COVID-19 health crisis in Europe. The list includes measures introduced by governments and is based on open-source information, ECRE’s AIDA database and the ELENA network, including information provided by ELENA network members, as well as information compiled by PICUM and the extensive information compiled by JRS Europe.
According to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, 57 of 167 countries that have closed their borders to contain the spread of the Coronavirus make no exception for people seeking asylum.
Photo: (CC) cobaltstatic, September 2010