Countries have been advised to manage their border restrictions in a manner which respects international human rights and refugee protection standards, while fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
This was disclosed in a joint statement by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), International Organisation for Migration (IOM), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), on Tuesday.
“There are ways to manage border restrictions in a manner which respects international human rights and refugee protection standards, including the principle of non-refoulement, through quarantine and health checks,” the organisations said.
They suggested that since many refugees, displaced, stateless people and migrants have skills and resources, they can also be part of the solution.
“We cannot allow fear or intolerance to undermine rights or compromise the effectiveness of responses to the global pandemic.
“We are all in this together. We can only defeat this virus when each and every one of us is protected,” they said.
Migrants health at risk
The global bodies in the statement said in the face of the COVID-19 crisis, many refugees, those forcibly displaced, the stateless and migrants are at heightened risk.
“We are all vulnerable. The virus has shown that it does not discriminate,” they said.
They said three-quarters of the world’s refugees and many migrants are hosted in developing regions where health systems are already overwhelmed and under-capacitated.
Yet, many live in overcrowded camps, settlements, makeshift shelters or reception centers, where they lack adequate access to health services, clean water and sanitation.
The situation for refugees and migrants held in formal and informal places of detention, in cramped and unsanitary conditions, is particularly worrying, the organisations said.
Release the Migrants
Considering the lethal consequences a COVID-19 outbreak would have, countries have been asked to release detained migrants without delay.
“Migrant children and their families and those detained without a sufficient legal basis should be immediately released,” it said.
Inclusive health approach
To avert a catastrophe, governments must do all they can to protect the rights and the health of everyone, the groups said. Protecting the rights and the health of all people will help control the spread of the virus.
“The disease can be controlled only if there is an inclusive approach which protects every individual’s rights to life and health,” they said.
“Migrants and refugees are disproportionately vulnerable to exclusion, stigma and discrimination, particularly when undocumented.”
The global bodies said it is vital that everyone, including all migrants and refugees, are ensured equal access to health services and are effectively included in national responses to COVID-19, including prevention, testing and treatment.
“Inclusion will help not only to protect the rights of refugees and migrants, but will also serve to protect public health and stem the global spread of COVID-19,”.
While many nations protect and host refugee and migrant populations, they said such countries are often not equipped to respond to crises such as COVID-19.
To ensure refugees and migrants have adequate access to national health services, States may need additional financial support.
Also, the statement said the world’s financial institutions have to pay a leading role in making funds available.
More than ever, as COVID-19 poses a global threat to the collective humanity, the primary focus should be on the preservation of life, regardless of status.
“This crisis demands a coherent, effective international approach that leaves no-one behind. At this crucial moment we all need to rally around a common objective, fighting this deadly virus.”
As of Tuesday, new deaths have taken the worldwide total past 38,000, and new cases have made global figure close to 800,000.
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