Migrants sitting around a fire at their camp site in Calais, France, on March 31, 2020 | Photo: EPA/Sebastien Courdji
Migrants sitting around a fire at their camp site in Calais, France, on March 31, 2020 | Photo: EPA/Sebastien Courdji

The UN agencies for refugees, migration, and human rights, and the World Health organization have released a statement, calling on countries worldwide to protect the rights and health of refugees, migrants and stateless people amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Four UN organizations issued a joint statement on Tuesday, asking for the rights and health of refugees, migrants and stateless persons to be protected. The agencies that signed the statement were the UN refugee agency UNHCR, the UN migration agency IOM, the UN Human Rights Office (OCHCR) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

In their statement, the agencies said: "The virus has shown that it does not discriminate - but many refugees, those forcibly displaced, the stateless and migrants are at heightened risk."

They added: "We cannot let fear or intolerance undermine rights or compromise the effectiveness of responses to the global pandemic ... We can only defeat the virus when each and everyone of us is protected."

Agencies: Migrants in detention centers should be released

The organizations said 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 situation for refugees and migrants held in formal and informal places of detention, in cramped and unsanitary conditions, is particularly worrying," the agencies said. "Migrant children and their families and those detained without a sufficient legal basis should be immediately released."

The organizations said the 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.

'Vital for everybody to be granted access to health services'

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

The agencies also said that it is important that border authorities still respect the rights of refugees amid the pandemic. "While countries are closing their borders and limiting cross-border movements, there are ways to manage border restrictions in a manner which respects international human rights and refugee protection standards, including the principle of non-refoulement, through quarantine and health checks," their statement read.
 

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