Refugees, internally displaced persons and migrants are among the hardest hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic, UN chief Antonio Guterres said, calling on nations to uphold human dignity and respect human rights as travel restrictions and border controls are implemented by governments to control the spread of the virus.
During his new policy brief “COVID-19 and People on the Move”, Secretary General Guterres said COVID-19 continues to devastate lives and livelihoods around the globe hitting the most vulnerable the hardest. “This is particularly true for millions of people on the move such as refugees and internally displaced persons who are forced to flee their homes from violence or disaster, or migrants in precarious situations,” he said.
Guterres said the migrants and those displaced face three crises rolled into one – health, socioeconomic and protection crisis. He, however, noted that the COVID-19 crisis is an opportunity to re-imagine human mobility. He stressed that the international community must uphold human dignity in the face of the pandemic and learn from the handful of countries that have shown how to implement travel restrictions and border controls while fully respecting human rights and international refugee protection principles.
The UN Chief said COVID-19 is at first a health crisis and people on the move can be exposed to the virus in crowded conditions where health care, water and sanitation are often hard to find, and physical distancing is an impossible luxury. People on the move also face the socioeconomic crisis, especially those working in the informal economy without access to social protection.
He noted that the loss of income from COVID-19 is likely to lead to a colossal USD 109 billion drop in remittances, the equivalent of nearly three quarters of all official development assistance (ODA) that is no longer being sent back home to the 800 million people who depend on it.
Further, people on the move face a protection crisis as more than 150 countries have imposed border restrictions to contain the spread of the virus and at least 99 countries make no exception for people seeking asylum from persecution. At the same time, fear of COVID-19 has led to skyrocketing xenophobia, racism and stigmatisation. And the already precarious situation of women and girls is ever more dire, as they face higher risks of exposure to gender-based violence, abuse and exploitation, he said.
Even as refugees and migrants face all these challenges, they are contributing heroically on the front lines in essential work, Guterres said, adding that about 1 in 8 of all nurses globally is practicing in a country different from where they were born.
Guterres said four core understandings must guide the way as human mobility is re-imagined in the wake of the crisis, adding that exclusion is costly and inclusion pays. An inclusive public health and socioeconomic response will help suppress the virus, restart our economies and advance the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the UN chief said.
The UN Chief asserted that no one is safe until everyone is safe and stressed the need for diagnostics, treatment and vaccines to be made accessible to all. “People on the move are part of the solution. Let us remove unwarranted barriers, explore models to regularise pathways for migrants and reduce transaction costs for remittances,” he said.
“We all have a vested interest to ensure that the responsibility of protecting the worlds refugees is equitably shared and that human mobility remains safe, inclusive, and respects international human rights and refugee law,” Guterres said.
He emphasised that no country can fight the pandemic or manage migration alone but together, the international community can contain the spread of the virus, buffer its impact on the most vulnerable and recover better for the benefit of all.