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COVID-19 crisis exposes need to govern migration in a more humane and effective way

Migrants and migration can be part of the solution in a post-COVID society, but for that to happen, inclusion must be a top priority.

In an online webinar chaired by the Director-General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) António Vitorino, members of the UN Network on Migration discussed the repercussions of the pandemic for people on the move as COVID-19 response and recovery measures are drawn up and implemented.

Taking the UN Secretary-General’s recent policy brief on COVID-19 and People on the Move as the starting point for the dialogue, speakers highlighted the critical challenges faced by migrants as well as communities of origin and destination arising from restrictions caused by the COVID-19 crisis. The discussion highlighted the need for including migrants in basic health services, including diagnostics, treatments and vaccines, and other social protection programmes.

Mr. Vitorino affirmed that “inequality is the disease of our times” and that this pandemic has only laid bare how human rights and the well-being of many around the world are in danger. With the most dramatic restriction of human mobility seen in recent history, he underscored that it is crucial to build back our mobility systems in a safe and inclusive way, ensuring health care access for all, and avoiding prejudice and stigmas associated with those on the move.

He also stressed the need for a joint platform where measures to re-open borders can be coordinated.

Migrants are part of the solution

UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General Liu Zhenmin explained that the pandemic has highlighted the immense contribution that migrants make to our economies and societies. For example, many of them are essential workers in the health sector and in food supply chains. Mobility restrictions imposed in response to the pandemic have led to a significant drop in migrant remittances, affecting the livelihoods of millions of migrants and their family members around the world.

Mr. Liu reminded that “we should use this crisis as an opportunity to construct a global migration regime that benefits both countries of destination and countries of origin, while respecting the human rights of all migrants. Migration policies can be a tool for building back better.”

He proposed four possible avenues for an integrated global response to this crisis: international cooperation; emphasis on the valuable contribution that migrants make all around the world; access to basic services for all migrants, regardless of their status, and recognition that migration makes a critical contribution to sustainable development.  In this regard, Mr. Liu emphasized the relevance of existing international frameworks, in particular the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly Regular Migration.

Closed boarders: a threat to those seeking asylum

Refugees and displaced persons have been deeply affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. With closed borders, the rule of law and human rights of those seeking asylum are in danger. Ms. Gillian Triggs, Assistant High Commissioner at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), referred to the principles enshrined in the Global Compact on Refugees, underlining the importance of solidarity and in sharing the burdens and responsibilities for refugees.

“As we learn through this crisis, I hope we can return to that language of sharing, working with host countries to return to those principles of equality,” Ms. Triggs said.

Related information: Webinar on COVID-19 and people on the move

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