UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called for country’s around the world hosting migrants, to ensure those migrants are very much involved in any COVID-19 response and recovery efforts.
He made the call in his official statement in observance of International Migrants Day (on Friday 18 December 2020), noting that many of the people who are perceived as invisible in communities across the globe—including migrants—were the ones heavily depended upon at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“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,” Secretary General Guterres observes.
“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,” he said.
According to the UN Secretary General, people all over the world got an inkling of what migrants feel, because of the forced isolation the pandemic brought with it.
“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,” he points out.
As a result of this global experience, Mr Guterres argues that more compassion should be extended to migrants.
“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,” he stated.
He also issued a challenge to the global community, going forward, to deal more humanely with the issue of migration and migrants.
“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.”
Meanwhile, Director-General of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), António Vitorino, called on global leaders to ensure that as moves are made to vaccinate their populations against COVID-19, that migrants are not left behind.
“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,” he urged world leaders.
The migration agency boss also underscored the importance of respecting migrants’ human rights, as countries seek to recover from COVID-19.
“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,” he stated. “But support and protection are needed if migrants are to contribute fully to their, and our, recovery.”
“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,” Mr Vitorino recalls.
He added: “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.”
Throughout 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic, various United Nations agencies have argued that countries hosting migrants should not use the pandemic as an excuse to marginalise even further.
“The pandemic cannot be used as an excuse to rollback commitments to promote and protect the rights of migrants regardless of their legal status. It cannot become an excuse for the increased use of detention, often in overcrowded conditions, and the forced return of migrants to their countries of origin without due process, in many cases in violation of international law,” the UN has said.
It also has stated: “People on the move hope for a brighter future. It is our collective responsibility to create a safer, more resilient world. Migration should be a choice, not a necessity.”