World: Regional Bureau for Europe: COVID-19 Emergency Response, Update # 16 (19 – 31 August 2020)

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As COVID-19 infection rates increase again across the region, many countries have reacted by reinstating some movement limitations as well as targeted travel restrictions.

UNHCR staff across Europe has gradually moved back to working in office premises. 36 offices are now partially teleworking, while 1 remains on full teleworking mode as of 31 August.

UNHCR and partners’ physical access to persons of concern has improved compared to the onset of the pandemic, 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. To date, 33 countries have reported cases among persons of concern at some point, and some of the concerned individuals have already recovered. However, any figures or estimates need to be taken with caution due to varying approaches to testing, data segregation and reporting.

▪ Countries across the region are reacting to overall increasing COVID-19 infection rates with new restrictions to movement in the form of travel recommendations, mandatory quarantine upon arrival from high-risk areas or requirements to present negative COVID-19 tests. Only one country has reintroduced full border restrictions, similar to the ones observed at the onset of the pandemic. This may affect access to territory and asylum for people in need of international protection. More details on UNHCR’s interactive COVID-19 platform on temporary measures and the impact on protection are available here.

▪ In Greece, UNHCR issued a press release on 21 August reiterating its concerns over credible pushback reports indicating that men, women and children may have been returned to Turkey after reaching Greek soil or territorial waters. UNHCR repeated its call for protection of refugees and asylum-seekers. UNHCR Assistant High Commissioners for Protection and Operations were to travel to Greece from 1 to 4 September.

▪ In Spain, UNHCR and IOM issued a joint press release on 29 August expressing concern over the alarming reception conditions in Melilla that have been worsening since the beginning of the pandemic. The centre currently hosts some 1,400 persons, over twice its capacity. Tensions mounted after the detection of a small number of COVID-19 cases and the consequent decision to place the entire centre under lockdown quarantine. The decision was later reversed by the competent judge. UNHCR and IOM call on the authorities for urgent tangible and coordinated actions to improve reception conditions in Melilla and to streamline transfers of asylum-seekers to the mainland.

▪ Country offices in the region are gradually resuming suspended activities, including protection monitoring at borders.
As of 31 August, 36 offices in the region were partially teleworking, while one office remains in full telework mode.
Field and on-site visits to reception centres have also gradually resumed.

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