On this International Migrants Day, we reflect on a year in which, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions upon millions of people have experienced the pain of separation from friends and family, the uncertainty of employment and the need to adapt to a new and unfamiliar reality.
These are emotions felt by migrants around the world every day.
Across this challenging year, we have also come to appreciate our dependence on those who are too often invisible within our communities. Migrants have played an outsized role on the frontlines of responding to the crisis – from caring for the sick and elderly to ensuring food supplies during lockdowns – highlighting their broader contributions to societies around the world.
Just as migrants are integral to our societies, they should remain central to our recovery.
We must ensure that migrants, irrespective of their legal status, are included in every country’s pandemic response, particularly in health and vaccination programming. We must reject hate speech and acts of xenophobia. And we must find solutions for those migrants who have been left stranded, without income or legal status, and without means to return home.
On this International Migrants Day, let us seize the opportunity of the recovery from the pandemic to implement the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, reimagine human mobility, enable migrants to reignite economies at home and abroad and build more inclusive and resilient societies.
Last year, on International Migrants Day, we highlighted the importance of social cohesion and recognized the generosity of societies supporting migrants in their communities, unaware of what 2020 would bring.
We declared migrants to be “champions of resilience when times are tough,” unaware of how they – and we -- would be put to the test.
This year we have all witnessed -- first-hand -- the critical role migrants have played in our societies, on the front lines of our fight against COVID-19, caring for the sick, working to maintain essential services.
The dedication and entrepreneurial spirit we have seen this year reminds us that, as we move from pandemic response to recovery over the coming months, migrants will be an integral part of that return to normal life.
But, for this to happen, we must reinforce the efforts already made by many countries to ensure migrants are fully included in our COVID-19 responses, including access to social services, and ensuring they do not get left behind.
Many migrants have found themselves reduced to poverty, the first to be let go and the last to be
Economically disadvantaged, many have become stranded, unable to return home, while still more have been forced to return without due regard for their safety. At the extremes, migrants may be prey to the criminals who would exploit their vulnerability for profit.
Human rights are not ‘earned’ by virtue of being a hero or a victim, but are an entitlement of everyone, regardless of origin, age, gender and status. But support and protection are needed if migrants are to contribute fully to their, and our, recovery.
As vaccines become available, migrants regardless of their status must be ensured equitable access to national programming, not as a special class of people, but as friends, neighbours and co-workers.
The global response to COVID-19 presents a unique opportunity to reimagine human mobility from the ground up, to implement the vision of the Global Compact for Safe Orderly and Regular Migration, and build prosperous, healthy and resilient communities.
We, together, can make it happen.
This International Migrants Day provides an opportunity for the international community to reaffirm its shared commitment to protecting the inalienable rights of nearly 300 million migrants worldwide, who are significantly threatened by the health crisis.
The closure of borders, travel restrictions and containment measures adopted to curb the spread of the virus have called into question the very possibility for people to leave in the hope of rebuilding a better life elsewhere.
More generally, this crisis has exacerbated the vulnerability of migrants: for these people who have left everything to flee violence, poverty and natural disasters, and who live in highly precarious conditions in their new land of asylum, the future has very often become bleak. Faithful to its mandate to promote cultural diversity and human rights, UNESCO is committed in its everyday work to fostering the inclusion of migrants in their host societies.
This is a crucial mission, which must reach out in particular to the most vulnerable, namely women and children. This is the whole purpose of our Organization's action in the field of education. Building on the analysis of our global report Migration, Displacement and Education: Building Bridges, Not Walls, published in 2019, our work emphasizes the need to invest in access to quality education for children in situations of displacement, as this is often the first step towards other, more stable horizons.
Education is this first step, and our efforts must focus on one space: the city. Indeed, the city represents this unparalleled place of opportunity that attracts migrants first and foremost. This is why UNESCO has strengthened its close cooperation with the network of the International Coalition of Inclusive and Sustainable Cities. These local partners are fundamental to the development of our initiatives against hate speech, which we have unfortunately seen spreading during the pandemic.
On this International Migrants Day, UNESCO thus calls on the international community to promote the fundamental human rights of migrants to safety, dignity and peace. It is a compelling duty, as Iranian novelist Dina Nayeri writes, because "it is the obligation of every person born in a safer room to open the door when someone in danger knocks". It is a duty that is part of our humanity – a humanity in action in ideas, peoples and cultures, which we promote at the United Nations.