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UN agencies urge safety for migrants against pandemic

Refugees, migrants are at heightened risk from novel coronavirus, say 4 UN agencies in joint statement

Peter Kenny   | 31.03.2020
UN agencies urge safety for migrants against pandemic

GENEVA 

The rights and health of refugees, migrants and the stateless must be protected as the coronavirus pandemic is taking its toll on the globe, four UN agencies said in a joint statement on Tuesday.

"In the face of the COVID-19 crisis, we are all vulnerable. The virus has shown that it does not discriminate -- but many refugees, those forcibly displaced, the stateless and migrants are at heightened risk," they said.

The Human Rights office, the International Organization for Migration, the UN Refugee Agency, and the World Health Organization gathered for the joint statement.

They said that states may need additional financial support to ensure refugees and migrants have adequate access to national health services and asserted that the world’s financial institutions can play a leading role in making such funds available.

The new coronavirus has arrived the North Africa and Middle East late, but the pace of its spread has rapidly increased recently.

The agencies noted that three-quarters of the world’s refugees and many migrants are hosted in developing regions where health systems are already overwhelmed and under-capacitated.

"Many live in overcrowded camps, settlements, makeshift shelters or reception centers where they lack adequate access to health services, clean water, and sanitation," they said.

The agencies did not single out any country, but recently UN agencies have mentioned concerns for nations such as Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan, Sudan, and Syria.

‘Inclusive approach’ needed to protect every individual

"The situation for refugees and migrants held in formal and informal places of detention, in cramped and unsanitary conditions, is particularly worrying," the UN statement said.

Due to the lethal consequences of COVID-19, they should be released without delay, they urged.

"Migrant children and their families and those detained without a sufficient legal basis should be immediately released," the agencies said.

They noted that the new coronavirus could only be controlled with “an inclusive approach” which protects every individual’s right to life and health.

"Migrants and refugees are disproportionately vulnerable to exclusion, stigma, and discrimination, particularly when undocumented," they said.

To avert a catastrophe, governments must do all they can to protect the rights and the health of everyone.

"It is vital that everyone, including all migrants and refugees is ensured equal access to health services and are effectively included in national responses to COVID-19, including prevention, testing, and treatment," said the agencies.

They said that inclusion will help protect the rights of refugees and migrants, and 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 are often not equipped to respond to crises such as COVID-19."

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