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Europe putting migrants, asylum seekers to work in fight against COVID-19

26 May 20200 comments

European nations have begun putting migrants to work as they struggle to cope with the health and economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Italy is set to grants 500,000 undocumented migrant work permits in a move that follows Portugal’s decision to grant citizenship rights to asylum seekers.

The Italian government announced the plan to grant half a million undocumented migrants temporary work permits amid the global COVID-19 crisis.

Italy is one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic, with more than 31,000 deaths from COVID-19, second only to the US and UK.

The country has been under lockdown since March and the economic fallout from the pandemic is compounded by its ageing population.

As part of a stimulus package pushed through by the government, it is hoped the addition of the migrants to the workforce will help stimulate economic growth.

Migrants are needed to both care for the elderly and in industries, such as the agricultural sector.

Experts are warning that without enough workers to harvest crops, the country could suffer food shortages.

Already, hundreds of thousands of migrants make a living in the black economy working on farms without proper papers. The move would remove any illegality in working.

“The food on our table comes from these fields. Now we must hand over those rights which have been denied to those who work in them,” Italy’s minister for the south of the country, Peppe Provenzano, told media outlets.

By formalising their employment and residential status, the Italian government is also reducing the likelihood of COVID-19 spread among migrants. The country does not offer free access to medical care to people without proper documentation.

This, it is argued, would encourage those with COVID-19 symptoms to come forward.

The Italian amnesty for undocumented migrants is set to last six months to begin with.

The move by Italy follows Portugal’s decision to give citizenship rights to asylum seekers and migrants so that they can access medical services. But, like Italy, the initiative announced in April is temporary until July 1.

Portuguese officials cited humanitarian concerns for making the decision, saying that they want to ensure no one in the country was left without help during the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is a duty of a society of solidarity in times of crisis to ensure that immigrant citizens have access to health and social security,” the country’s Minister of Internal Affairs Eduardo Cabrita told local media.

The moves by Italy and Portugal come amid a rise in Europe in far-right activism.

Reports says there has been a rise in hate speech targeting minorities, including the Jewish community, as white supremacists latch on to conspiracy theories that try to explain the origins of the virus.

The US-based Southern Policy Law Center, which monitors far-right extremism in the US, has warned white nationalist groups are trying to take advantage of the confusion surrounding the coronavirus crisis to further their xenophobic agendas.

In many countries, activists have tried to blame the high number of COVID-19 cases on migration policies.