COVID-19 and illegal immigrants: action to protect Europeans’ health

COVID-19 and illegal immigrants: action to protect Europeans’ health

The arrival of illegal immigrants with COVID-19 in countries such as Italy, Spain and Greece, poses a risk to people’s health and is causing social tensions, especially in Calabria and Sicily.

The Commission is providing the Libyan authorities with EUR 110 million to help them to tackle COVID-19. Coordinated policy measures need to be taken to prevent the arrival of illegal immigrants causing a new wave of the virus.

On 15 July 2020, Italian Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Antonio Tajani of the Group of the European People’s Party posed a parliamentary question to the European Council. In his question, MEP Tajani requested to know what action the Council would take to improve “the management of the EU’s external borders and the European Coast Guard’s policing”.  Additionally the parliamentarian asked “what is the Council’s view on the situation in Africa regarding the pandemic and migratory flows from Asia, particularly from Pakistan and Bangladesh, and what action is it planning to take to prevent disparities between legal and illegal immigrants?”

Lastly, the former President of the European Parliament asked, “what criteria will the Council follow when it updates the list of countries from which entry into Europe is not allowed?” and “will the Council consider temporarily closing borders in the southern Mediterranean and the Balkans?”

The Council formally responded to the Italian representative’s question on 9 November. In their response the Council cited that “strengthening and improving the management of the EU’s external borders has been high on the EU’s political agenda for several years” and that “this is demonstrated by a number of concrete measures taken at EU level, including the regulation on the European Border and Coast Guard of 13 November 2019, which is being implemented”, additionally, “it provides for a broader mandate to support Member States’ activities, especially on border control, return and cooperation with third countries”.

“The Council did not specifically discuss the situation in Africa regarding the pandemic and migratory flows from Asia, particularly from Pakistan and Bangladesh” the response continued, “the Council did, however, discuss EU-Africa cooperation, including the context of pandemic and migration” and “in its conclusions of 30 June 2020, the Council states that the COVID-19 pandemic has further demonstrated the need for a global response and a strong EU-Africa partnership”.

The Council further reported that “under the ‘Team Europe’ approach, the EU collectively stands with African partners to support the ongoing humanitarian response, including through the EU Humanitarian Air Bridge initiative, and to mitigate socioeconomic impacts, particularly supporting the least-developed countries and fragile states” and “strengthened EU-Africa cooperation is needed to tackle the root causes of forced displacement and irregular migration, to enhance protection capacities in the region, to prevent irregular migration, to fight migrant smuggling and human trafficking networks, to facilitate readmission, return and reintegration, to ensure international protection, and to use legal pathways of migration”.

“As regards the last question raised, on 30 June 2020” the Council added that “it adopted Recommendation (EU) 2020/912 on the gradual lifting of the temporary restrictions on non-essential travel into the EU”. Further, in the response, the Council cited that “Annex I of the recommendation contains the list of third countries for which Member States may gradually lift the temporary restriction on non-essential travel into the EU and that “the criteria followed by the Council to update the list contained in Annex I are set out in paragraph 2 of the recommendation and are as follows: (i) Close to or below the EU average, as it stands on 15 June 2020, of new COVID-19 cases over the last 14 days and per 100 000 inhabitants, (ii) The trend of new cases over the same period in comparison to the previous 14 days is stable or decreasing, and (iii) The overall response to COVID-19 taking into account available information on aspects such as testing, surveillance, contact tracing, containment, treatment and reporting as well as the reliability of available information and data sources and, if needed, the total average score across all dimensions for International Health Regulations (IHR)”.

The Council also added “information provided by EU Delegations based on the checklist annexed to the communication of 11 June 2020 should also be taken into account” and “reciprocity should also be taken into account regularly and on a case-by-case basis”. In its response, the Council also stated that “on the basis of paragraph 4 of the recommendation, a mechanism for a thorough review every two weeks was set up” and “under this mechanism, travel restrictions may be lifted for an additional third country or reintroduced for a country already listed in Annex I if the conditions are no longer met”.

In closing the Council declared that “a rapid decision-making process can be applied if the situation in a third country worsens quickly” and that “the list will continue to be reviewed regularly and, as the case may be, updated following the examination of the epidemiological and other relevant data provided by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the European External Action Service (EEAS)”.

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