The fundamental rights impact on those living in poverty or in a precarious situation

Updated: May 15



Contribution signée Amy Weatherburn (Vrije Universiteit Brussel), Serge Gutwirth (Vrije Universiteit Brussel) et Paul de Hert (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)



The impact of the Covid-19 outbreak and the governmental measures (1) to reduce its spread on fundamental rights are numerous and will not only have an immediate impact but the effects will still be felt in months, if not years to come. The initial response of the government to primarily safeguard health and economy fails to recognise the societal impact and requires a shift in the response to the crisis.

An initial assessment of the fundamental rights impact in Belgium from 1 February–20 March 2020 has been published as part of the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency Covid-19 Bulletins on the fundamental rights implications of the pandemic in the EU (2). The initial findings of this assessment will be incorporated into the current analysis, taking into account subsequent changes up until 13 April 2020.

The impact of anti-Covid-19 measures on those living in poverty and in a precarious situation and the potential increasing existing inequalities has been raised by Unia (the inter federal centre for equal opportunities) (3) and the Network Against Poverty who’s successful call to arms (4) has seen the announcement on 8 April 2020 of a Federal Taskforce for Vulnerable Groups (5). This taskforce will investigate the impact of Covid-19 measures on vulnerable persons and those living in a precarious situation, we strongly welcome this next step in the Federal response to the corona crisis and encourage that the following considerations are taken into account in order to reduce the risk of further marginalisation and inequality.

Despite the restrictions that have been implemented regarding the workplace, and the introduction of temporary unemployment from February 2020-June 2020, those who are working in precarious sectors and have temporary or part-time jobs are adversely impacted by the pandemic. Persons with a vulnerable employment profile are disproportionately represented by persons with a migration background, persons in unskilled jobs, persons with disabilities and persons over the age of 55 (6).

For those who live in precarious situation, the economic impact of the Covid-19 can increase the risk of homelessness, lack of sufficient resources for subsistence that can lead to destitution and unsafe and unsanitary conditions. Furthermore, the impact of the outbreak on the delivery of crucial services such as the payment of social security benefits can have a significant impact on those who are at risk of loss of income and higher utility bills. For those who already find themselves to be homeless, the lack of a permanent residence makes respecting social conferment measures difficult, and access to food and shelter even more difficult as support and assistance is withdrawn.

The measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 also negatively affect asylum seekers and undocumented migrants. Asylum seekers require access to structural assistance, however from 17 March 2020–3 April 2020, the arrival centre for asylum seekers was closed leaving new arrivals with no way of requesting international protection or being assigned to reception places (7). The decision to unilaterally suspend respect for international obligations was criticised (8) anddespite the introduction by the Immigration Office of an online form for requests for international protection that is followed by a date and time for an appointment at the arrival centre at “Petit Chateau” (9)the position of those who are outside of the system remains precarious, with many who are not able to register feared to be left in the streets (10). Rather than enforcing social distancing rules on those who have limited options, such as those who are camped in Maximilien Parc in Brussels, structural measures should be taken to provide housing and subsistence (11). This is not only the case for those who are awaiting to access the asylum system, but also those who have been released from detention centres,or are living undocumented without access to social security structures.


Recommendations


In order to minimise the societal impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, in the short and long term, we emphasise the following recommendations that outline concrete proposals for future measures that can contribute to the work of the newly established Taskforce for Vulnerable Groups:


Access to the labour market


  • The disproportionate impact of those with a vulnerable employment profile requires that those workers who are uninfected should be able to continue to work in a manner that is in compliance with health and safety regulations and taking into account additional sanitary measures to ensure that workers are protected from infection (12).

  • All necessary measures should be taken to ensure that the possibility to employ those with a vulnerable employment profile is maximised, guidelines should be provided to competent institutions (Landlord Association, VDAB, Actiris) on how to deal with recruitment during the coronavirus (13).


Security of housing and subsistence


  • Additional measures should be taken such as temporary postponement of any evictions, disconnection of utilities or seizures (14).

  • Debt counsellors and debt intermediaries should ensure that persons have sufficient living resources to purchase food (15).

  • Implement the recommendations of UNIA for access to food of those persons living in a precarious situation (16).

  • Structural measures should be taken to provide support to those who are homeless, and to provide shelter to those who are presenting with symptoms ofCovid-19 (17).


Secure the rights of asylum seekers and undocumented migrants


  • Provide undocumented migrants with a residence permit that allows them at least to stay in Belgium during the time of the health crisis.

  • Ensure that asylum seekers and undocumented migrants receive enough to meet their needs, to confine themselves and to respect basic health recommendations.

  • Release foreigners who are still detained in closed centres and provide them with a residence permit and accommodation in emergency structures.

  • Allow those seeking international protection to file their asylum application and to ensure that they are accommodated.

  • Automatically extend all residence permits that are about to expire for 3 months (18).


(1) Arrêté ministériel du 18 mars 2020 portant des mesures d’urgence pour limiter la propagation du coronavirus COVID-19, Published in the Belgian Official Gazette, 18 March 2020.

(2) EU Fundamental Rights Agency, Coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak in the EU Fundamental Rights Implications, Country Report: Belgium, 23 March 2020; EU Fundamental Rights Agency, Coronavirus pandemic in the EU-Fundamental Rights Implications - Bulletin 1, 11 April 2020.

(3) UNIA, COVID-19: des mesures de protection dans le respect des droits fondamentaux, 20 March 2020.

(4) Netwerk Tegen Armoede, Armoede-, vluchtelingen- en mensenrechtenorganisaties bundelen krachten en vragen interfederale taskforce voor mensen in kwetsbare positive, 27 March 2020.

(5) Nathalie Muylle and Denis Ducarme: “Taskforce om kwetsbare mensen door coronacrisis te helpen, Press Release, 8 April 2020.

(6) UNIA, Le taux d’emploi des personnes d’origine étrangère s’améliore mais reste à la traîne, 11 March 2020.

(7) Fedasil, Le centre d’arrivée ferme ses portes, 11 March 2020.

(8) Avocats.be, Avocats.be demande le respect de la Convention de Genève et l’allongement des délais de recours contre les décisions prises en matière migratoire, Press release, 18 March 2020.

(9) Office des Etrangers, COVID-19: incidences sur les procédures administratives; Cire, Office des étrangers: introduc-tion d’enregistrement de demande de protection internationale en ligne, 9 April 2020.

(10)Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen, Goed nieuws! Taskforce kwetsbare mensen opgericht, 10 April 2020.

(11) Avocats.be, Coronavirus: permettre à tous de se confiner est la seule manière d’en sortir, Un collectif d’associations signataires, 1 April 2020.

(12) Rtbf.be, Coronavirus: le Groupe des 10 estime que les personnes non contaminées doivent pouvoir continuer à travailler, 17 March 2020.

(13) Orbit vzw, #iedereenaanboord in coronatijden | ORBITFLASH 2 over racisme en discriminatie, 11 March 2020.

(14) Welzijnzorg, Concrete aanbevelingen tijdens de coronacrisis, No date.

(15) Welzijnzorg, Concrete aanbevelingen tijdens de coronacrisis, No date.

(16) UNIA, Unia s’inquiète au sujet de l’accessibilité des supermarchés pendant le confinement, 1 April 2020.

(17) Rtbf.be, Coronavirus en Belgique: les premiers sans-abris confinés à Bruxelles, 18 March 2020.

(18) Avocats.be, Coronavirus: permettre à tous de se confiner est la seule manière d’en sortir, Un collectif d’associations signataires, 1 April 2020.


References


Arrêté ministériel du 18 mars 2020 portant des mesures d’urgence pour limiter la propagation du coronavirus COVID-19, Published in the Belgian Official Gazette, 18 March 2020, available at: http://www.ejustice.just.fgov.be/eli/arrete/2020/03/18/2020030331/moniteur [last accessed 11 April 2020].

Avocats.be, Avocats.be demande le respect de la Convention de Genève et l’allongement des délais de recours contre les décisions prises en matière migratoire, Press release, 18 March 2020, https://avocats.be/sites/default/files/18.03.20%20Communiqué%20de%20presse%20-%20AVOCATS.BE%20demande%20le%20respect%20de%20la%20Convention%20de%20Genève%20et%20l’allongement%20des%20délais%20de%20recours%20contre%20les%20décisions%20prises%20en%20matière%20migratoire.pdf [last accessed 11 April 2020].

Avocats.be, Coronavirus: permettre à tous de se confiner est la seule manière d’en sortir, Un collectif d’associations signataires, 1 April 2020, available at: https://avocats.be/sites/default/files/«Coronavirus_%20permettre%20à%20tous%20de%20se%20confiner%20est%20la%20seule%20manière%20d’en%20sortir»%20-%20Le%20Soir%20Plus.pdf [last accessed 11 April 2020].

Cire, Office des étrangers: introduction d’enregistrement de demande de protection internationale en ligne, 9 April 2020, available at: https://www.cire.be/office-des-etrangers-introduction-de-demande-de-protection-internationale-en-ligne/ [last accessed 11 April 2020].

EU Fundamental Rights Agency, Coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak in the EU Fundamental Rights Implications, Country Report: Belgium, 23 March 2020, available at: https://fra.europa.eu/sites/default/files/fra_uploads/belgium-report-covid-19-april-2020_en.pdf [last accessed 11 April 2020]

EU Fundamental Rights Agency, Coronavirus pandemic in the EU - Fundamental Rights Implications - Bulletin 1, 11 April 2020, available at: https://fra.europa.eu/en/publication/2020/covid19-rights-impact-april-1 [last accessed 11 April 2020]

Fedasil, Le centre d’arrivée ferme ses portes, 11 March 2020, available at: https://www.fedasil.be/fr/actualites/accueil-des-demandeurs-dasile/le-centre-darrivee-ferme-ses-portes [last accessed 11 April 2020]

Nathalie Muylle and Denis Ducarme: “Taskforce om kwetsbare mensen door coronacrisis te helpen, Press Release, 8 April 2020, available at: https://www.vluchtelingenwerk.be/system/tdf/persbericht_taskforce-geconverteerd_1.pdf?file=1&type=file&id=9334&force= [last accessed 11 April 2020].

Netwerk Tegen Armoede, Armoede-, vluchtelingen- en mensenrechtenorganisaties bundelen krachten envragen interfederale taskforce voormensen in kwetsbare positive, 27 March 2020, available at: https://www.netwerktegenarmoede.be/nl/nieuws/2020/armoede-vluchtelingen-en-mensenrechtenorganisaties-bundelen-krachten-en-vragen-interfederale-taskforce-voor-mensen-in-kwetsbare- [last accessed 11 April 2020].

Office des Etrangers, COVID-19: incidences sur les procédures administratives, available at: https://dofi.ibz.be/sites/dvzoe/FR/Pages/home.aspx [last accessed 11 April 2020].

Orbit vzw, #iedereenaanboord in coronatijden | ORBITFLASH 2 over racisme en discriminatie, 11 March 2020, available at: https://www.orbitvzw.be/iedereenaanboord-in-coronatijden-orbitflash-2-over-racisme-en-discriminatie/ [last accessed 11 April 2020].

Rtbf.be, Coronavirus: le Groupe des 10 estime que les personnes non contaminées doivent pouvoir continuer à travailler, 17 March 2020, available at: https://www.rtbf.be/info/economie/detail_coronavirus-le-groupe-des-10-estime-que-les-personnes-non-contaminees-doivent-pouvoir-continuer-a-travailler?id=10459967 [last accessed 11 April 2020].

Rtbf.be, Coronavirus en Belgique: les premiers sans-abris confinés à Bruxelles, 18 March 2020, available at: https://www.rtbf.be/info/belgique/detail_coronavirus-en-belgique-les-premiers-sans-abris-confines-a-bruxelles?id=10461622 [last accessed 11 April 2020].

UNIA, COVID-19: des mesures de protection dans le respect des droits fondamentaux, 20 March 2020, available at: https://www.unia.be/fr/articles/covid-19-des-mesures-de-protection-dans-le-respect-des-droits-fondamentaux [last accessed 11 April 2020].

UNIA, Unia s’inquiète au sujet de l’accessibilité des supermarchés pendant le confinement, 1 April 2020, available at : https://www.unia.be/fr/articles/unia-sinquiete-au-sujet-de-laccessibilite-des-supermarches-pendant-le-confi [last accessed 11 April2020].

UNIA, Le taux d’emploi des personnes d’origine étrangère s’améliore mais reste à la traîne, 11 March 2020, available at: https://www.unia.be/fr/articles/le-taux-demploi-des-personnes-dorigine-etrangere-sameliore-mais-reste-a-la-traine [last accessed 11 April 2020]

Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen, Goednieuws! Taskforce kwetsbare mensen opgericht, 10 April 2020, available at: http://www.vluchtelingenwerk.be/nieuws/regering-sluit-dienst-vreemdelingenzaken-daklozencentra-doen-deuren-dicht-ook-kinderen-op [last accessed 11 April 2020].

Welzijnzorg, Concrete aanbevelingen tijdens de coronacrisis, No date, available at: https://welzijnszorg.be/nieuws/concrete-aanbevelingen-tijdens-de-corona-crisis [last accessed 11 April 2020].

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