The crisis calls for solidarity: let’s suspend detention and legalize the undocumented

In this statement on the Corona crisis, Free Movement demands that the Finnish government safeguards the rights migrants in a vulnerable position during the epidemic. The crisis affects many groups of migrants in a specific way, such as asylum seekers detained at EU borders. We have been contacted by several concerned people, among others migrants working with a work permit who fear that they will lose their job and right to residence as the crisis continues.

1. The detention of migrants must be stopped immediately

In the situation of a pandemic, detention and confinement of people in cramped institutional conditions imply risk-taking at the expense of human health. Human rights organizations, Picum (organization defending the rights of the undocumented in Europe) and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights have called states to stop taking people into the detention and dissolute all detentions. In the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain, authorities have released detainees.

There are still a large number of people in detention centres, and the Free Movement has received information that a male person has been arrested and taken to a detention unit on Tuesday 7th of April. Finnish authorities have released some individuals from detention. However, according to the National Police Board, the decision is always subject to a case-by-case assessment.

The government has to stop the detentions of migrants immediately. Imprisonment is a last resort measure to secure deportation. In a situation in which borders generally remain closed, there are no reasonable grounds for detaining people.

2. Residence permits increase security of all

Because of fear, undocumented migrants often avoid dealing with the authorities or seeking health care. The Portuguese government saw a legal status as necessary for the protection of all people in the society. It gave temporary residence permits to people without proper status.  The Finnish government should also provide residence permits to the undocumented migrants. Issuing residence permits for the undocumented would ensure the realization of the rights of the undocumented during the crisis and would be more effective in containing the epidemic.

 3. The issuing and renewing of work permits must be secured

In Finland, many farms have a great need for the workforce. Also, asylum seekers and people with a work permit perform vital cleaning work during the corona crisis, especially in the metropolitan area.

Because some asylum seekers do not have a passport – for example, after losing it on an escape route – and because the Finnish Immigration Service (Migri) insists on not issuing alien passports to work permit applicants, they cannot obtain a work permit. Especially during a crisis, the need for cleaning work appears evident for everyone. Migri should issue alien’s passports for asylum seekers and undocumented migrants who apply for work based recidence permits.

At the same time, some of the migrants with work permits temporarily lose their jobs during the corona crisis. The pandemic situation must not be an obstacle for the renewal of the permits. When immigrants, who hold a fixed time work permit, apply for an extension of their residence permit, Migri should not account the temporary loss of income against them.

4 Authorities should extend the visas as long as the crisis persists

Many foreign citizens are stuck in Finland because it has been impossible to arrange return flights home. These people must not become undocumented. Finland must extend the validity of visas or issue temporary residence permits, and officials should communicate about this possibility for foreigners in an unambiguous manner.

5. Finland and other EU state have to move migrants from the Mediterranean camps to safety

Because of the EU policies, tens of thousands of asylum seekers have been locked up in deplorable conditions, cramped “hot spot” camps in the Mediterranean. Thousands of them are minors. For example, Doctors Without Borders has proposed urgent evacuation of camps.

Migri has announced that the first of the 175 vulnerable asylum seekers that Finland has promised to receive will arrive in May-June. This is a good start, and the government should make the rest of the pledged transfers as soon as possible. European countries, including Finland, should immediately commit themselves to the complete emptying of the camps and the relocation of their inhabitants to safety.

In the Korona crisis, we need solidarity! And solidarity also means that we will not allow the border system to increase the plight of the crisis in Finland or Europe.