Saturday

24th Jul 2021

Covid-19 slowing refugee resettlements into EU

The relocation and resettlement of refugees into EU member states has been reduced four-fold due to the Covid-19 pandemic, from around 35,000 in 2019 to just over 9,000 last year.

"At this time, countries have, a little bit, in Europe closed down," Alessandra Morelli from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) told reporters earlier this week.

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Morelli is based out of Niger's capital city, Niamey, which is hosting people sent from Libya in the hopes of getting resettled elsewhere.

Formally known as the Niger Emergency Transit Mechanisms, the plan sought to help refugees escape Libya.

"We have at the moment in Niger 633 people that are still awaiting to depart," she said.

Some 30 refugees left for Canada and Sweden in December. Another 18 were sent to Romania for an eventual onward transfer to The Netherlands.

"I would say big time. I would use the word big time," said Morelli, when asked if Covid-19 is impacting the programme.

"Some countries have even stopped at this moment and this is creating on the ground frustration," she said.

Over 3,300 have been resettled from Niger under the programme globally since late 2017. Another 44,000 people in Libya are registered as asylum seekers and refugees by the UNHCR.

Libya is also home to an estimated 600,000 migrants.

"The overwhelming majority do not intend to cross the Mediterranean," pointed out Jean-Paul Cavalieri, a UNHCR official based in Tripoli.

There are 1.44 million in need of resettlement globally. But countries took in only 22,770 last year.

It is the lowest resettlement number the agency has seen in years.

Of those, just over 9,000 ended up in the EU, including the United Kingdom. In 2019, the EU took in almost 35,000.

Relocations from Greece

Meanwhile, relocations of asylum seekers from Greece to other EU member states, also appears to have slowed down.

"There is very low returns to other member states, this is also due to Covid," said Beate Gminder, a European Commission official working on setting up new camps on the Greek islands.

Turkey has also stopped accepting any returns from Greece under an EU deal since March, often prolonging detentions among those that do arrive on the Greek islands.

Gminder noted less than half of all the 5,000 pledges made by EU states to relocate asylum seekers from Greece have been fulfilled.

"These are going mainly to Germany, France, Portugal and some other countries," she told MEPs earlier this week.

There are 64,000 migrants and refugees in the Greek reception system, out of which some 10,000 have been granted international protection.

The Greek islands are home to 17,000, with many in overcrowded conditions in Samos and Chios.

Construction for new reception centres are underway in Kos, Leros, and Samos, said Gminder.

In Lesbos, the largest of the five islands, the conditions at the Kara Tepe camp remain dire.

Greek authorities have since confirmed high levels of lead contamination in the administrative area of camp, dubbed 'Moria 2.0'.

The maximum allowed lead contamination in Greece for residential areas is 500 milligram per kilogram.

But at least one lead sample taken from the camp registered well over 2,000, according to the European Commission.

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