UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday asked for protection of people on the move in face of COVID-19.
In a video message for the launch of a policy brief on the impact of COVID-19 on people on the move, Guterres asked countries to develop a new mindset on human mobility.
"The COVID-19 crisis is an opportunity to re-imagine human mobility. Four core understandings must guide the way," he said.
First, exclusion is costly and inclusion pays. An inclusive public health and socio-economic response will help suppress the virus, restart the economies and advance the Sustainable Development Goals, said Guterres.
Second, human dignity must be upheld in face of the pandemic. Lessons should be learned from the handful of countries that have shown how to implement travel restrictions and border controls while fully respecting human rights and international refugee protection principles, he said.
Third, no one is safe until everyone is safe. Diagnostics, treatment and vaccines must be accessible to all, said the UN chief.
Fourth, people on the move are part of the solution, he noted. "Let us remove unwarranted barriers, explore models to regularize pathways for migrants and reduce transaction costs for remittances."
Guterres expressed gratitude to countries, especially developing countries, that have opened their borders and hearts to refugees and migrants, despite their own social, economic and health challenges.
Those countries offer a moving lesson to others in a period when doors are closed. It is essential that those countries are provided with increased support and full solidarity, he said. "We all have a vested interest to ensure that the responsibility of protecting the world's refugees is equitably shared and that human mobility remains safe, inclusive, and respects international human rights and refugee law."
People on the move, such as refugees and internally displaced persons who are forced to flee their homes from violence or disaster, or migrants, face three crises rolled into one: a health crisis, a socio-economic crisis, and a protection crisis, said Guterres.
People on the move are exposed to the virus often in crowded conditions where social distancing is an impossible luxury, and where basics such as health care, water, sanitation and nutrition are often hard to find.
This impact will be even more devastating to the large number of people on the move who live in least developed countries. One third of the world's internally displaced population live in the 10 countries most at risk for COVID-19, he said.
People on the move often work in the informal economy without access to social protection. In addition, the loss of income due to COVID-19 is likely to lead to a colossal 109-billion-U.S.-dollar drop in remittances. That's the equivalent of nearly three-quarters of all official development assistance that is no longer being sent back home to the 800 million people who depend on it, said the UN chief.
People on the move face a protection crisis as more than 150 countries have imposed border restrictions to contain the spread of the virus. At least 99 states make no exception for people seeking asylum from persecution. At the same time, fear of COVID-19 has led to skyrocketing xenophobia, racism and stigmatization, he said.
And the already precarious situation of women and girls is ever more dire, as they face higher risks of exposure to gender-based violence, abuse and exploitation, he said.