Coronavirus: Lockdown for Europeans, Amnesty for Illegal Immigrants

Coronavirus: Lockdown for Europeans, Amnesty for Illegal Immigrants


European governments are using the coronavirus pandemic to grant mass amnesties to hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

While Europe is experiencing an economic shock without precedent, and tens of millions of Europeans have lost their livelihoods, migrants in Europe illegally are being showered with free housing and healthcare.

While Europe is experiencing an economic shock without precedent, and tens of millions of Europeans have lost their livelihoods, migrants in Europe illegally are being showered with free housing and healthcare. Pictured: Some of a group of 50 asylum-seekers (16 minors and 34 people from migrant camps) prepare to board a “family reunion rescue flight” from Athens to London on May 11, 2020. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)

In Italy, where public debt is forecast to reach 160% of GDP this year, the left-wing coalition government has announced a plan to grant amnesty to at least 600,000 migrants in the country illegally. They would receive residency permits, initially valid for six months, that could be renewed in perpetuity.

The so-called Marshall Plan for Agriculture is the brainchild of Agriculture Minister Teresa Bellanova, who argues that the migrants are essential because they are picking crops and caring for the elderly during the coronavirus crisis. Opponents of the measure say that only a small fraction of the undocumented immigrants in Italy are currently working in agriculture or as care-givers for the elderly.

Approximately 100,000 farmhands from Eastern Europe work — legally — in Italy each year, but cannot this year due to coronavirus travel bans. Agriculture trade unions report a current shortage of 200,000 workers. This figure represents one-third of the number of migrants Bellanova says she would like to legalize.

Former Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who now leads the opposition, said that he was in favor of temporarily granting work permits for those currently working as farmhands, but that a mass amnesty of hundreds of thousands of migrants cannot be justified. He proposed an alternative plan: unemployed immigrants who are in the country legally and receiving welfare payments should be recruited to work in the fields.

Salvini said that the regularization of hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants was “slap in the face” to millions of unemployed Italians. He warned that it would also spark a new wave of illegal immigration to Italy. Bellanova threatened to resign if she does not get her way.

Although calls for a mass amnesty predate the coronavirus crisis by several years, they were consistently blocked while Salvini and his League party were in the government. The current government, sworn into office in September 2019, has been more liberal in matters of illegal immigration. Bellanova, backed by activist groups, now appears to be using the democratic vacuum created by the coronavirus state of emergency to decree the amnesty without parliamentary approval.

In Portugal, the government announced on March 28 that all migrants with pending applications would be treated as permanent residents until at least July 1 to ensure that the migrants would have access to public services during the coronavirus outbreak. The migrants were granted access to the national health service, welfare benefits, bank accounts, and work and rental contracts. The move by Portugal has spurred similar calls for mass amnesties in other European countries.

In France, more than 100 French MPs signed a letter addressed to Prime Minister Édouard Philippe which called on the government to regularize all undocumented migrants due to the coronavirus. The letter, published in the newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche on April 12, stated:

We solemnly ask the French government to implement the same measures as the Portuguese government. The health catastrophe we are suffering from compels us to act responsibly and without delay, as did our Portuguese friends.”

The actual number of illegal immigrants in France is unknown but was estimated to be between 300,000 and 400,000 in 2017, according to the Pew Research Center. Considering the waves of mass migration since then, the number is probably well above a half-million.

In Spain, where an astonishing one-half of the total population of 47 million people now depend on payments from the state for their livelihoods, 200 NGOs asked the government for an “extraordinary regularization process” for illegal immigrants due to the coronavirus. “The wide and extraordinary regularization of all migrants living in Spanish territory is the most agile and exhaustive measure to guarantee that all people can face this health and economic crisis,” they said in a statement dated April 14. The number of illegal immigrants in Spain is estimated to be well over 800,000, according to the nationwide radio broadcaster COPE.

In the United Kingdom, Catholic leaders, on May 3, called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to offer asylum seekers and other “insecure” immigrants the ability to live freely and work in the country during the coronavirus pandemic. Britain has up to 1.2 million illegal immigrants, a quarter of all those that have unlawfully entered Europe, according to the Pew Research Center.

Meanwhile, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, called on European governments to release rejected asylum seekers and irregular migrants from detention due to the coronavirus. In a statement dated March 26, she wrote:

“In the face of the global Covid-19 pandemic, many member states have had to suspend forced returns of persons no longer authorized to stay on their territories, including so-called Dublin returns, and it is unclear when these might be resumed. Under human rights law, immigration detention for the purpose of such returns can only be lawful as long as it is feasible that return can indeed take place. This prospect is clearly not in sight in many cases at the moment….

“The release of the most vulnerable should be prioritized. Since the immigration detention of children, whether unaccompanied or with their families, is never in their best interest, they should be released immediately. The authorities of member states should also refrain from issuing new detention orders to persons who are unlikely to be removed in the near future.”

In Spain, where a coronavirus state of emergency was declared on March 14, the government has released thousands of illegal immigrants held in so-called Internment Centers for Foreigners (Centro de Internamiento de Extranjeros, CIE). Spanish law stipulates that migrants cannot be held in a CIE, a temporary holding facility prior to deportation, for more than 60 days. Because coronavirus travel bans have made deportations impossible, the Interior Ministry let them go. Many migrants have been sent to so-called Refugee Reception Centers (Centro de Acogida a Refugiados, CAR), where they will be provided with room and board for six months.

In Belgium, the government released several hundred migrants from detention centers. The Brussels Times reported:

“The 300 detainees, mainly men, were released from detention with an order to leave Belgium within 30 days. In such cases, the sans-papiers, as they are known, are not forcibly placed on a flight to their homeland, but simply allowed to go out of the front door of the detention center. It is to be expected that many will disappear into clandestinity. Since they are without papers, tracing them from now on will be difficult if not impossible.”

In the United Kingdom, the government released more than 700 migrants from Immigration Removal Centers (IRC) because they cannot be deported due to the coronavirus pandemic. Judicial tribunals forced the Home Office to release dozens of migrants despite fears that they could pose a risk to the public. “More than 40 countries to which the Home Office planned to deport them have either closed their borders or imposed travel restrictions, making deportation impossible,” according to The Telegraph.

The UK’s leniency appears to have sparked another wave of illegal immigration. Since the coronavirus lockdown began on March 23, nearly 900 people have illegally crossed the English Channel from France, according to Migration Watch UK. On May 8, border patrol officers stopped eight boats carrying 145 people, a record for a single day, according to the Home Office. More than 1,200 illegal immigrants are believed successfully to have crossed the English Channel illegally so far in 2020.

The National Crime Agency told Parliament that the aim of both migrants and smugglers is now to be “intercepted” by British authorities and taken to a UK port where a large majority of those arriving (possibly over 90%) will claim asylum.

“The biggest incentive for those attempting the dangerous Channel crossings is the knowledge that being picked up by a British Border Force vessel or managing to set foot on our soil provides a strong chance of a permanent stay,” according to Migration Watch UK.

On May 8, the German newspaper Die Welt reported on a leaked document from the European border protection agency, Frontex, which is bracing for a new influx of migrants at the border between Greece and Turkey once the Turkish government lifts its coronavirus restrictions:

“The restrictions on Covid-19 have been gradually lifted in most Aegean provinces, but not yet in Canakkale, Istanbul and Izmir. If freedom of movement is restored in these areas, massive movements of migrants towards the Greek-Turkish border can be expected.”

In an interview with Die Welt, the Interior Minister of Saarland, Klaus Bouillon (CDU), said that the German public would not look kindly on another wave of illegal immigration:

“The willingness and acceptance in the country to accept people has decreased. We probably would not be able to activate enough volunteers anymore. In addition, the absorption capacity is a big problem.

“There is great discontent among the population because everyone who arrives here immediately has many or even higher rights and rights to benefits or medical care than someone who has worked here for their entire life.

“There is great resentment and frustration, which I hear in conversation every day. Basic amounts of benefits are established by law. Even if someone throws away their passport and does not cooperate with the authorities, their benefits can be reduced only minimally.”

The German government continues to take in more migrants. The Chancellery recently announced that it was seeking a “coalition of the willing” from across Europe to take in children from refugee camps in Greece. The plan was to help 1,500 children identified as being particularly in need: unaccompanied children under the age of 14 or children in need of urgent medical assistance. The German government pledged to take in 350 children and stressed that its top priority was to rescue young girls. When the first flight carrying 47 children arrived in Hanover on April 18, only four were girls.


Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. Follow Soeren Kern on Twitter and Facebook


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