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Migrants and refugees amid pandemic: U.N. chief calls for protection

The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres earlier this morning called for more protections for migrants and refugees amid the COVID-19 pandemic, reminding all the countries of their obligations to people on the move.

In a video accompanying the release of a U.N. policy brief for aiding migrants and refugees during the pandemic, Guterres announced that the current pandemic crisis is compounding the dire situation faced by the more than 70 million people worldwide who have fled violence, disaster or precarious financial situations in their home countries.

A Palestinian doctor wearing a protective facemask checks the temperature of a child at a United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees' school at the Khan Younis Camp for refugees in southern Gaza. Image credit Ismael Mohamad, UPI

The pandemic, he declared, is exposing millions of people on the move to three crises rolled into one: a health crisis due to the virus, a socio-economic crisis as they often work in the informal economy that has been harmed by governmental lockdowns, and a crisis of protection as countries close their borders to them.

Simultaneously, COVID-19 has caused xenophobia, racism and stigmatization to skyrocket, he added.

"We all have a vested concern to make sure that the responsibility of protecting the world's refugees is equitably shared and that human mobility remains safe, inclusive and respectful versus international human rights and refugee laws," the U.N. head said.

"No country can win the battle against the pandemic or manage migration alone, but together, we can contain the spread of the virus, buffer its impact on the most vulnerable, and recover better for the benefit of all."

Guterres said the pandemic could be an opportunity to "reimagine human mobility," calling on the international community to pursue inclusive public health and socio-economic response that addresses suppressing the virus, restarting economies and advancing the U.N.'s Sustainable Development Goals.

Stranded Rohingya people sit on the deck of an abandoned smugglers’ boat drifting in the Andaman Sea. Image credit UNHCR, Christophe Archambault

He also pressed the international community to put in place travel restrictions and border controls that respect human rights and international refugee protection principles, making sure that coronavirus treatments are available to everyone, as "no one is safe until everyone is safe", besides incorporating people on the move into their pandemic response solutions.

This group of people, Guterres emphasised, are on the frontlines of the coronavirus response as one in eight nurses worldwide is working in a country they were not born in.

"Let us remove unwarranted barriers, explore models to regularize pathways for migrants and reduce transaction costs for remittances," he concluded.


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