EU Asylum seekers must be given access to Covid-19 vaccines, UN says

Asylum seekers in the EU must be given access to new Covid-19 vaccines, UN says

  • Vaccines would keep asylum seekers safe as well as host communities, UN says
  • Breakthroughs in Covid-19 vaccines in recent days prompted the head of the UN’s migrant agency to plead for them to also be given to migrants in the EU
  • The coronavirus pandemic is creating ‘extra pressures’ fuelling migratory flows

Asylum-seekers and other vulnerable migrants in the EU should have equal access to promising Covid-19 vaccines, the head of the UN’s migration agency told the European Parliament on Thursday.

‘It is for the sake of their safety and well-being of the entire host communities’ in the countries taking them in, said Antonio Vitorino, director general of the International Organisation for Migration.

He was one of several high-profile speakers dialling in for a virtual conference organised by the European Parliament and Germany on migration and asylum in Europe.

Asylum-seekers and other vulnerable migrants in the EU should have equal access to promising Covid-19 vaccines, the UN says. Pictured: Two boats with migrants are welcomed by other migrants upon their arrival at Arguineguin port, Gran Canaria island, southwestern Spain, November 17

Refugees and migrants make their way in the Kara Tepe camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece, October 14

Announcements in recent days that coronavirus vaccines developed by German and US companies appear to be highly effective prompted Vitorino to plead for them to be given also to migrants, if and when Europe starts giving jabs to its population.

‘No one is safe until everybody is safe,’ the IOM chief said.

‘When we have now news about a vaccine, the challenge that EU European member states are confronted with, is to guarantee access to the vaccine to everybody that is in your territory, not just your citizens, but also all the refugees, displaced people and migrants that are in Europe,’ he said.

Vitorino also urged the European Union to push ahead with a reform of its asylum and migration policy put forward by the European Commission.

The Covid-19 pandemic is creating ‘extra pressures’ fuelling migratory flows, he said, noting that ‘the Sahel is exploding,’ with consequences for all of west Africa.

Pfizer and BioNTech yesterday upgraded the estimate of how effective their vaccine is, taking it from 90 per cent in interim clinical trial results to 95 per cent today (stock image)

More than 40,000 volunteers from countries around the world are taking part in trials of Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine. Pictured: A woman in Cincinnati receives the jab

Libya, a restive transit country for many migrants seeking to get from Africa to Europe by perilous boat journeys in the Mediterranean, ‘is not a safe port of disembarkation,’ Vitorino said.

Migrants there ‘live in utterly below minimum humanitarian conditions,’ he said, in what could be seen as veiled criticism of EU policy of using Libya as a buffer zone.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the conference that ‘the current system no longer works,’ with divisions laid bare after Europe coped with a dramatic influx of asylum-seekers in 2015.

‘A solution on migration that fully satisfies everyone does not exist,’ she admitted.

She underlined tensions between frontline states such as Greece, Italy and Spain that receive the bulk of asylum-seekers and migrants entering Europe illegally in search of better living conditions, and other member states that were refusing to take in shares of those arrivals.

The Commission’s plan is to step up returns of economic migrants while reinforcing legal channels for immigration. EU countries refusing to take refugees would be asked to contribute financially to those who will.

There were 1.84 million cases recorded last week, a ten percent decline on the previous seven days, according to data released by the WHO

Next week, von der Leyen said, the EU executive will present an action plan on better integrating migrants, for the 2021-2027 period.

‘We need to come together on this issue. And we need to discuss and we need to find compromises,’ she said.

Europe saw a fall in coronavirus infections for the first time in three months yesterday.   

There were 1.84 million cases recorded last week, a ten percent decline on the previous seven days, with much of the continent now under new national lockdowns.

France imposed a full country-wide lockdown on October 30, Germany began a circuit-breaker at the start of this month and Austria embarked on a three-week lockdown from Tuesday.

Europe, which saw its total number of infections soar past 15 million on Tuesday, accounted for nearly half of all the world’s cases. 

WHO data yesterday showed that deaths continue to climb amid the second wave, with more than 29,000 fatalities registered across the continent – an 18 percent spike on the previous week.

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