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How COVID-19 became an excuse against migration

Photo: Afroditi Konstantopoulou

The Covid-19 pandemic seems to have given a good reason to European governments for creating a hostile environment in the Mediterranean for migration.

After launching new strategies, migrants reaching Europe on precarious boats are being refused entry by European countries, a fact that reshaped migration and its routes.

The Italian government claimed that the Peninsula is no longer a “safe place” for migrants as the virus spread has taken other dimensions and closed its borders.

Following the neighbour’s paradigm, the Maltese authorities declared that the country could not guarantee the rescue and the acceptance of migrants in the island because of the precarious Covid-19 situation. This position was mostly supported by the idea that as Malta is an island and national isolation can be easier, the strategy of rejecting migrants that “might carry the virus” was a matter of national health. At the same time, Covid-19 economical consequences became an excuse for leaving many migrants from non- EU countries jobless, and consequently, for deporting them “voluntarily” to their countries of origin.

This did not lead to decreasing migration, rather to creating even more dangerous routes and cruel conditions for migrants and refugees. Boats with migrants left at sea for days, refused entry and then pushed back to Libya lead to many deaths. Simultaneously, the criminalization of rescue non-governmental organizations who tried for safer entry into Europe left the ground to FRONTEX to have the total control and responsibility of the Mediterranean. Agreements with the Libyan and the Egyptian authorities or military groups allegedly support these push backs.

On the other hand, in Greece, apart from the incessant push backs in Turkey, many refugees and migrants staying at refugee camps experience other difficulties. Settlements such as the one of Skaramanga as well as the one in Moria were under lockdown status and residents were denied access to communication with the closest cities. And so, apart from the social exclusion, migrants and refugees were locked into centers that lack healthcare facilities, in a way that Covid-19 was more likely to be spread than prevented. On the other hand, the authorities followed a vengeful treatment, which obliged migrants arriving by boats, to pay a 5.000 euros fine in case of not providing a negative Covid-19 test. This policy, which was introduced for tourists entering Greece, seems to fit the government’s interests in its quest to deviate irregular access to the country.

In this case, the social division into “the ones” - the nationals, and “the others” - the migrants, became more visible in terms of freedom, penalization, or access to healthcare services.

In spite of the above described hostile environment in the Mediterranean created by the European governments, migration flows did not decrease, even though the routes became way harder, more dangerous or even fatal. A typical example is the Spanish borders in Ceuta, an area in North Africa that although reinforced with new control technologies, attempts to cross into Europe don't stop.


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