The Coronavirus pandemic is causing sweeping changes across the globe, and not least in how to continue education and exchanges of information. To mitigate travel restrictions an online study tour was conducted by the RUSMPI UG – Institute on Migration Policy with the support of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum (CSF) for European and Russian representatives of civil society organizations at the end of May 2020. The result was strong solidarity and cooperation and a positive learning experience despite the restrictions.

Five Austria-based CSOs and international NGOs: DiakonieCaritas, Zara “Civil courage and anti-racism action”, Integrationshaus e.V., Flüchtlinge Willkommen, virtually hosted a delegation of European and Russian migration experts and practitioners.

The study tour was designed by RUSMPI UG – Institute on Migration Policy  to allow Russian and European colleagues who are part of the Migration Group of the EU-Russia CSF to virtually meet Austria’s local and international organizations that support migrants in their pursuit of a dignified life in a host society. The tour focused on Austria’s immigration and integration policies and practices. The participants also discussed its response to the coronavirus and its impact on the migrant population.

Russian participants were surprised to find that Austrian authorities used COVID-19 as a pretext to deny access to asylum, if migrants failed to provide a medical certificate[1]. In Russia, the legal situation of migrants was regulated by the Presidential Decree of April 18, 2020, according to which the duration of terms of temporary stay, temporary or permanent residence of foreign citizens and stateless persons in the Russian Federation has been suspended from March 15, 2020 to June 15, 2020[2], and the impact on migrants resulted in more restrictions. The police, for example, have locked up entire residencies where migrants live in Moscow when just one person has become infected[3].

During the study tour, Zara, an anti-discrimination organization, reported that there has been an increase of discrimination cases directed to persons who appear to be of Asian heritage and other groups including Muslims, Jews, and other minority groups who are accused of carrying/spreading the virus. In Russia, where 72% of the population believe that the state has to limit the inflow of labour migrants[4],  discrimination and xenophobia have become even more pronounced during the coronavirus crisis[5].