Reception for asylum seekers in the EU was often not up to standards already before the pandemic. In many EU Member States, undignified reception conditions and overcrowded collective centres have been a daily reality for long. Research carried out by JRS Europe and its partners in 9 EU countries found that the Covid-19 pandemic magnified and aggravated the existing flaws and negatively impacted the provision of social assistance and accompaniment. Very often, asylum seekers found themselves simply confined in a crowd.
Quarantined, isolated, transferred
Faced with the challenge of containing the spread of Covid-19 and in the absence of clear guidelines from the responsible administrations, reception providers across the EU mostly had to improvise.
To ensure social distancing and adequate sanitary conditions in a context of predominantly large-scale – often overcrowded – collective centres, is intrinsically challenging. Whole centres were often put under quarantine in the event of positive cases, de facto limiting asylum seekers’ freedom of movement more than that of regular citizens. In other cases, people were transferred to other – not always up to standard – emergency facilities. This was often done without giving people any other choice or clear information. Such practices did not always guarantee the respect of people’s dignity nor health, and they often increased frustration and anxiety among the people concerned.
Accompaniment drastically reduced
Because of Covid-19 prevention measures, in most reception facilities across Europe face-to-face activities considered as non-essential were suspended or drastically reduced. Social assistance and accompaniment, as well as activities such as language classes, vocational training, and support in looking for employment or housing were severely impacted. Asylum seekers faced increased difficulties seeking advice and help.
NGOs and reception providers have been creative and have switched to remote ways of providing services and accompaniment. In most countries, little to no guidance, nor financial or material support, was provided by the national authorities to do so.
Coordinate response and ensure accompaniment
The Covid-19 outbreak caught everybody off guard and led to improvised responses. One year later, it is time to coordinate. JRS RECOMMENDS:
To the responsible national authorities
- To establish clear national protocols on how to implement Covid-19 preventive measures
- To establish clear national protocols to ensure the continuation of the provision of in-person social assistance and accompaniment
To both the national and European Union institutions
- To formally recognise that social assistance and accompaniment are an integral part of the reception of asylum seekers