2020-03-18 IOM – ‘Treat migrants with dignity and respect during pandemic’

‘Through training, study and protection, we aim to bridge the gaps between the international
decisions and recommendations, and the realities in the field through implementation

Main recent public statements from Geneva-based officials and bodies.

(UNNews – 18 March 2020)

The importance of treating migrants with dignity and respect has not changed, UN migration agency (IOM), spokesperson Joel Millman has told UN News, adding that the impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on migrants, highly represented in the food industry, which is now seeing widespread shutdowns, is ‘a huge concern’ to the agency.

“We define migrants as workers, as displaced people, as asylum seekers, and they are a huge presence across the world, for all kinds of reasons. And of course, they are human beings: they’re our neighbours, our families, they are people that our children know from school, and they’re affected the way all of us are affected by this during this public health emergency.

At IOM, we think that the most important message – of treating people with dignity and full respect for their human rights – doesn’t change under these circumstances”.

‘Huge concern’ for migrants’ livelihoods

“When I travel, I notice that migrants crossing Europe, across North America, and more and more in South America, Africa and Asia, have come to dominate certain sectors of the economy. Food preparation, of course, is probably the most obvious, but also the care of the elderly, hospital workers, janitors, and construction workers.

All these industries, and more, are becoming dominated by foreigners and, if countries and cities are encouraging people to stay home, and not go to bars or restaurants, not to congregate in theatres, or attend sporting events, there will be a huge impact on the ability of migrant workers to send money home, and to earn money that’s essential for their families and for the societies that they’ve left.

This is a huge concern of ours. Obviously, we don’t think that countries shouldn’t be careful, and we don’t think that they shouldn’t advocate a quarantine, where necessary. But we know how this is going to impact people whose livings depend on full restaurants.


‘Societies are healthier if everybody’s healthier’

 “We’ve said over many years that we want people to have access to public health: societies are healthier if everybody’s healthier. If a migrant could possibly be spreading a contagious disease, you would want that person to have access to your doctors and your examiners and your medical professionals, who can tell whether or not this person is a danger to themselves or to his neighbours. And that doesn’t change.

We worry that this particular pandemic, as has happened before, is being associated with being something foreign, that it’s come from travellers, or from people that are from far away. We’ve seen this with AIDS and tuberculosis in decades past.

We caution against feeding that fear. It doesn’t just demonise migrants, it puts your own people at risk, because if you are frightening people, if they are afraid that something bad will happen to them if they go to the hospital, then they’ll never get checked. Everyone is worse off when that happens.


The effect of border closures on foreigners

“We have a clear policy on borders and border closures. Countries not only have the right to decide their own border policies, but they also have an obligation to their own people and to the greater global community to monitor borders carefully.

In order to combat terrorism, diseases and criminal groups, we need to know who’s crossing. So that’s why we’ve always advocated migration that’s safe, transparent and regular. 

We think it’s good for countries to be able to know who is coming in, and to be able to inspect them. However, when you close a border, you have to face the consequence that some people are going to turn to criminal groups to try to circumvent these closures, and come in through unofficial ports or unofficial border crossings where they can’t be inspected.

This is particularly dangerous in a public health emergency, because if you’re coming in with the help of a criminal group, nobody is able to check your health conditions or your documents, or know where you’re coming from, the way you can when borders are open, and transit is regular.

This is not a new thing: there is always a balance of interests between public health and public security, and humanitarian gestures and the free transit of people in a global economy.

In these early days, we don’t know which practices are going to work best. Countries have an obligation to protect their borders carefully and take very seriously those obligations, but our position will always be that the best border security is a transparent border inspection, so that countries have the ability to see who is coming in, and to vet them properly”.

Special measures to protect migrants from the pandemic

“We are taking several measures to protect migrants. An early program we started a few weeks ago involved inspecting cars coming in and out of Mongolia’s capital. I mentioned earlier the work we’re doing with Iran and Afghanistan. We’ve raised money, we’re raising awareness, and we’re collaborating with partners everywhere we can.

We know we’re going to have more calls, like the ones we’ve had from countries seeking our advice and our help, and we expect in the days that it will become clearer which programs most effective and where we can do the most good”.

This photo taken on February 18, 2020 shows migrant workers wearing masks as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, as they walk to their buses in Jiangxian County, in China’s Guizhou province, before departing to return to their jobs in Guangxi region. – The death toll from China’s new coronavirus epidemic jumped past 2,000 on February 19 after 136 more people died, with the number of new cases falling for a second straight day, according to the National Health Commission. (Photo by STR / AFP) / China OUT (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)