As Covid-19 spreads through communities across the globe, fundamentally re-shaping how societies operate, there are pressing concerns about the impact the pandemic is having on migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. These concerns have particular urgency in the context of border controls, detention measures, and deportation procedures.
The Covid-19 Global Immigration Detention Platform reports how countries are responding to the Covid-19 pandemic within the context of their migration control policies. The platform also reports calls by independent monitoring bodies, NGOs, and human rights institutions demanding measures to safeguard the wellbeing of migrants and asylum seekers.
On 18 April, President Putin signed a decree “On Temporary Measures to Resolve the Legal Situation of Foreign Citizens and Stateless Persons in the Russian Federation in Connection with the Threat of Further Spread of the new Coronavirus Infection Covid-19.” This new decree provides that the period from 15 March until 15 June 2020 will not be included in the period of temporary stay or temporary residence in Russia for foreign nationals and stateless persons, or in their registration period if it expires. This also applies to the time limit set for foreign nationals and stateless persons to leave Russia voluntarily if they are subject to administrative expulsion, deportation, or extradition. Further, no decisions will be made during this window regarding the undesirability of foreign citizens’ and stateless persons’ stay (residence), administrative expulsion, deportation or extradition to a foreign state in accordance with international readmission agreements, deprivation of refugee status, temporary asylum, work permits, and temporary residence permits. The decree also provides that during this time period, employers may hire foreign citizens and stateless persons who do not have permission to work in the country.
While authorities have ceased the detention of foreigners and stateless persons, many immigration detention facilities remain overcrowded. With no flights and no expulsions, detainees are forced to remain confined in facilities that lack appropriate health care provision and poor sanitation. As Human Rights Watch noted in a statement issued on 16 April, an estimated 8,000 people – including families with children – are effectively being held in indefinite detention. “Russian authorities should provide safe and dignified alternatives to migration detention for people facing deportation or court-mandated expulsion. They should also improve access to healthcare and ensure social distancing and other measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in Russia’s migration detention centers.”