World: Regional Bureau for Europe: COVID-19 Emergency Response, Update #7 (13 May – 19 May 2020)

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In most countries in the region, generalized restrictions of movements are progressively being lifted. However, concerns arise where movement restrictions for asylum-seekers, for example in reception facilities, are maintained.

Eight UNHCR Offices in the region have shifted from full-time to partial telework over the last two weeks. Access to territory remains limited through border closures or entry bans for foreigners, with only a few exceptions.

Many countries in the region continue to maintain access to international protection despite restrictions on access to territory. UNHCR and partners’ physical access to persons of concern remains limited. It is however anticipated that this will improve with the progressive lifting of movement restrictions, in compliance with COVID-19 preventive measures.

Operational Context

  • All 49 countries and one territory in the region have reported COVID-19 cases among the general population. So far, 18 countries have reported cases among persons of concern, and some of them have already recovered. However, any figure or estimate at this point needs to be taken with caution due to differing approaches to testing, data segregation and reporting.

  • On 14 May, UNHCR and IOM issued a discussion paper on COVID-19 and mixed population movements. The paper explores the implications of COVID-19 for human mobility, drawing on the trends that IOM and UNHCR have observed in their field operations, as well as data in the public domain. The focus is on the irregular flows of migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers between Africa and Europe, but the paper also notes some emerging trends in relation to population flows towards Europe from south-west Asia and the Middle East.

  • The European Commission has issued, on 13 May, a package of guidelines and recommendations to help Member States gradually lift travel restrictions across EU internal borders. While the intention is mainly to allow tourism businesses to reopen, these will also have an impact on movements of refugees and asylum-seekers in the region.

  • As a result of lifted restrictions, some UNHCR country offices are planning to gradually resume some of the suspended activities, for example protection monitoring at borders. As of this week, 16 offices continue to work fully virtually, after eight have shifted from full-time to partial teleworking.

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