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European Agenda on Migration

UK Home Office U-turn to allow visa-free work for migrants

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An 11th hour Home Office U-turn will allow migrants to work on offshore wind farms without visas. The last-minute decision to extend the controversial visa waiver has been criticised by one MP and the RMT union.

Hull East MP Karl Turner calls the decision "a further blow to UK seafarers".

“The offshore wind sector is a growing industry and it is vital that British seafarers can compete fairly for these jobs,” he said. “We have a good number of seafarer ratings in my own constituency in east Hull that are unable to compete for these jobs due to being unfairly undercut by foreign non-EU seafarers paid much lesser exploitative rates of pay. The Government needs to end this exploitation immediately and give our own skilled British seafarers the opportunity to compete for these jobs.”

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The Home Office about-face has also been criticized for creating confusion because wind farm operators were advised in January to start preparing their workforces for stricter immigration rules.  

Immigration and visa expert Yash Dubal, director of A Y & J Solicitors, says that his clients have been frustrated by the last-minute nature of the changes.

He explained: “Several had invested time and resources in making alternative arrangements to meet their staffing needs, motivated by a justifiable apprehension that the scheme would end on July 1. Workers’ contracts had not been renewed. They are now frustrated. The decision to extend the waiver also highlights the problem of acute worker shortages within the industry, which is real and ongoing.”

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The Offshore Wind Workers’ Concession (OWWC) exempts migrants working on offshore wind projects in UK territorial waters from the need to get a UK work visa. It was due to expire on 1 July. But on July 2, the Home Office issued a notice extending the scheme for a further year. In a statement it said the concession was ‘outside of the Immigration Rules’ and applies to workers ‘essential to the construction and maintenance of wind farms within UK territorial waters’.

The concession continues to allow foreign national workers leave to enter the UK until 1 July 2022 ‘for the purpose of joining a vessel engaged in the construction and maintenance of a wind farm within UK territorial waters’.

The scheme began in 2017 and had been extended on several occasions. In January, when the controversial new points-based immigration system became law, the Home Office issued a statement to wind farmers reiterating its intention to end the waiver. Officials advised operators to review the status of their workforces. Many employed time and resources to mitigate the changes.

The waiver has previously been criticised by unions who say it takes jobs from British seafarers and allows wind farm operators to employ cheap foreign labour who are often out at sea for 12 hours or more a day and paid less than the UK minimum wage, with some working for less than £4-an-hour.

Crime

18 arrested for smuggling more than 490 migrants across the Balkan route

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Officers from the Romanian Police (Poliția Română) and Border Police (Poliția de Frontieră Română), supported by Europol, dismantled an organized crime group involved in migrant smuggling across the so-called Balkan route.

The action day on 29 July 2021 led to:

  • 22 house searches
  • 18 suspects arrested
  • Seizure of munitions, five vehicles car, mobile phones and €22 000 in cash

The criminal network, active since October 2020, consisted of Egyptian, Iraqi, Syrian and Romanian citizens. The criminal group had cells in the countries across the Balkan route from where regional facilitators managed the recruitment, accommodation and transport of migrants from Jordan, Iran, Iraq and Syria. Several criminal cells based in Romania facilitated the border crossing from Bulgaria and Serbia of groups of migrants and arranged their temporary accommodation in the area of Bucharest and in western Romania. The migrants were then smuggled to Hungary on their way to Germany as a final destination. In total, 26 illegal transports of migrants were intercepted and 490 migrants were detected in an attempt to illegally cross the Romanian border. Very well organized, the criminal group was involved in other criminal activities as well, such as drug trafficking, document fraud and property crime.

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Up to €10,000 per migrant

Migrants were paying between €4,000 and €10,000 depending on the trafficking segment. For example, the price for facilitating the crossing from Romania to Germany was between €4,000 and €5,000. The migrants, some of which were families with young children, were accommodated in extremely poor conditions, often with no access to toilets or running water. For the safe houses, the suspects rented accommodations or used the residences of group members, mainly situated in the areas of Călărași County, Ialomița County and Timișoara. In one of the safe houses, measuring about 60 m2, the suspects hid 100 people at the same time. The migrants were then transferred in risky conditions in overcrowded lorries between merchandise and in vans hidden in concealments without proper ventilation. 

Europol facilitated the exchange of information and provided analytical support. On the action day, Europol deployed one analyst to Romania to cross-check operational information against Europol’s databases in real time to provide leads to investigators in the field. 

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Belarus

US 'concerned' by flow of migrants from Belarus to Lithuania

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Lithuanian army soldiers install razor wire on border with Belarus in Druskininkai, Lithuania July 9, 2021. REUTERS/Janis Laizans

Lithuanian army soldiers install razor wire on border with Belarus in Druskininkai, Lithuania July 9, 2021. REUTERS/Janis Laizans

The United States is concerned about the flow of Middle Eastern and African migrants from Belarus into Lithuania, a US diplomat has said, writes Andrius Sytas in Vilnius, Reuters.

Lithuania began building a 550-km (320-mile) razor wire barrier on its border with Belarus on Friday after accusing Belarusian authorities of flying in migrants from abroad to send illegally into the European Union. Read more.

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"We are watching it very closely and with concern", said US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent in an interview with Lithuanian news website 15min.lt, published on Sunday (11 July).

He said the "pressure tactic" is comparable to migrant flows from Russia to Finland and Norway in 2015.

"That's something that we call on Belarusian authorities to stop – intentionally pushing migrants from other countries to the Lithuanian border", said Kent.

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Belgium

Hundreds of migrants stage hunger strike in Brussels for legal status

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Hasni Abderrazzek, 44, a Tunisian asylum seeker requesting to be regularised by the Belgian government to have access to healthcare, is seen with his lips sewed together in a room on the campus of Belgium university ULB, where hundreds of migrants are going on hunger strike for more than a month, in Brussels, Belgium 29 June 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Youssef Bouzidi, a Moroccan asylum seeker requesting to be regularised by the Belgian government to have access to healthcare, and who is going on hunger strike for more than a month, is helped by a person in a room on the campus of Belgium university ULB, where hundreds of migrants are going on hunger strike, in Brussels, Belgium June 29, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Concern over a weeks-long hunger strike by hundreds of undocumented migrants in Belgium's capital has mounted this week after four men stitched their lips shut to stress their demands for legal recognition and access to work and social services, write Bart Biesemans and Johnny Cotton.

Aid workers say that more than 400 migrants, holed up at two Brussels universities and a baroque church in the heart of the city, stopped eating on May 23 and many are now very weak.

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Many of the migrants, who are mostly from South Asia and North Africa, have been in Belgium for years, some for more than a decade, but say their livelihoods have been put at risk by COVID-19 shutdowns that led to the loss of jobs.

"We sleep like rats," said Kiran Adhikeri, a migrant from Nepal who worked as a chef until restaurants closed because of the pandemic. "I feel headaches, stomach pain, the whole body is full of pain."

"I am begging them (the Belgian authorities), please give us access to work, like others. I want to pay taxes, I want to raise my kid here, in this modern city," he told Reuters, gesturing from his makeshift bed to where fellow hunger strikers lie listlessly on mattresses in the crowded room.

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Many looked emaciated as health workers cared for them, using saline drips to keep them hydrated and tending to the lips of those who sewed their mouths shut in a bid to show they have no say over their plight.

The Belgian government said it will not negotiate with the hunger strikers over their plea to be granted formal residency.

Junior minister for asylum and migration Sammy Mahdi told Reuters on Tuesday the government would not agree to regularise the status of the 150,000 undocumented migrants in Belgium, but is willing to hold talks with the strikers on their plight.

"Life is never a price worth paying and people have already gone to the hospital. That's why I really want to try to convince all persons and all organisations behind it to make sure they don't give a false hope," Mahdi said, when asked about the hunger strikers.

"There are rules and regulations ... whether it is around education, whether it is around jobs, whether it is around migration, politics needs to have rules."

Europe was caught off guard in 2015 when more than a million migrants made it to the bloc's shores, overwhelming security and welfare networks, and fomenting far-right sentiment.

The European Union has proposed an overhaul of the bloc's migration and asylum rules to ease the burden on Mediterranean-shore countries, but many governments would rather tighten borders and asylum laws than accommodate new arrivals.

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