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Essay: Amid the Covid-19 Pandemic, what about the Migrants?

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A refugee and an asylum seeker, two words very closely related, however they mean something very different for someone’s future. A refugee is someone who falls under the International Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. They fled their country because of religion, sexual orientation, political convictions or acts of war. An asylum seeker asks for asylum in the destination country, they are seeking international protection. They may have fled their countries because of economic reasons. The most important difference between the two is that a refugee cannot be sent back to their country of origin, an asylum seeker can be declined by the destination country. Usually all refugees seek asylum, however not all asylum seekers are refugees.

In the spring of 2017 68% of the questioned in European member states say that they feel like they are a European Citizen. In the Netherlands, the percentage is higher: 71% of the people felt European. In the fall of 2019, this was 72% of the population. he Netherlands is part of the Schengen countries, in these countries all goods and people are free to move in between the borders. Not all Schengen countries are in the EU and not all EU countries are in Schengen. Even the police of other Schengen countries is allowed to move 10 kilometres into the other member state’s territory and are allowed to carry weapons for about 45 minutes. This means that goods and people move more easily, the cultures will mix and it will be a salad bowl of people and cultures. This is what causes our multicultural society, the Italian restaurant on the corner, the Greek neighbours across the street and the German colleague who sits next to you at work. What is Dutch culture? It might be ‘Sinterklaas’ or ‘Boerenkool’, but our culture is changing. The ‘zwarte pieten’ discussion caused them to have different colours, almost no one eats potatoes, vegetables and meat every night anymore. The Dutch citizens seem to be very satisfied with the presence of the European Union in the Netherlands, 78% of the population thinks the European presence is pleasant.

Right now, the agreements that were made within the European Union are not lived by. The netherlands is violating the individual rights of refugees to request asylum in the Netherlands. That is what migration-experts are saying in relation to the letter from the minister of Justice and Safety. It said that the Netherlands will not let new asylum seekers into the refugee centers, they will stop registering, identifying and hearing the asylum seekers. This practically means that the people cannot people for asylum, if they want to. On the 16th of March it became clear that there will be emergency shelter. People who arrive in the Netherlands can go there. “But are no longer admitted to asylum procedures and COA reception.” It is unclear when that shelter will be ready. The asylum procedure remains inaccessible as long as the emergency measures against corona are in force. Asylum reception is regulated in European law – and the Netherlands also has its own rules based on this. It clearly states that every European Member State has a duty to receive aliens who wish to apply for asylum. “That is at least possible, for example by offering tents,” says Lieneke Slingenberg, affiliated with the VU University, “but member states must arrange a roof over their heads.” “There is no room in European asylum law for not offering reception,” says Jorrit Rijpma, a migration researcher at Leiden University. According to Tesseltje de Lange, professor of migration law in Nijmegen, no exception can be made within those European rules when it comes to the protection of public health, which the ministry relies on, among other things. “There is no basis for not admitting someone on that basis.” All experts recognize that this situation is unique, but look at applicable laws and regulations.

It is noteworthy that the emergency shelter, which will consist of pavilions or tents, will not be equipped as a quarantine location. In the letter of Sunday, the Ministers of Justice wrote that ‘plays a part’ in the measures taken that ‘it is not always known in advance where foreign nationals who now reach the Netherlands have lived before they came to the Netherlands’.

Whether asylum seekers pose a risk to public health seems unlikely: “They pose no other risk than, for example, tourists who walk around here, because the borders are not closed,” says Menno de Jong, virologist at the Amsterdam UMC. “Some of the measures, such as being unable to eat in public places, will mitigate the risks posed by both tourists and refugees.”

Political parties D66, ChristenUnie, GroenLinks and the SP want clarity about the reception. There is an understanding that corona demands far-reaching measures, “but it cannot be the case that the Netherlands no longer offers people protection”, says Maarten Groothuizen (D66). VVD’er Bente Becker just calls it ‘logical’ that the ‘normal course of action’ cannot continue. “Preventing asylum seekers from infecting each other and other people is a priority.” Asylum lawyers keep a close eye on developments, but are skeptical. “We may go to court,” says chairman of the association for asylum lawyers Wil Eikelboom. “I did not think that in the Netherlands it would come to the point that you have to enforce access to the asylum procedure in court.”

So, to conclude, the Netherlands is not following European Law. Right now, discrimination is taking place, the migrants are not posing a threat to the health of our population, however the government will not protect them against covid-19. They have to sleep in tents, together with large groups, where they will likely not be able to follow the strict hygienic rules that are being imposed right now. For example washing the hands regularly. They might not even be able to keep the 1.5 meter distance from everyone. So, what about the migrants amid the covid-19 pandemic?


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