Sub-Saharian migrants who have arrived in a Spanish Rescue Ship to Los Cristianos port in Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain, 30 May 2020 | Photo: EPA/RAMON DE LA ROCHA
Sub-Saharian migrants who have arrived in a Spanish Rescue Ship to Los Cristianos port in Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain, 30 May 2020 | Photo: EPA/RAMON DE LA ROCHA

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday warned once again of the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on migrants and refugees, stressing that millions find themselves facing healthcare, economic and protection crises at the same time.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis that may hit migrants, refugees and IDPs the worst, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned Wednesday, June 3. 

He described the vulnerable situation that all those who have had to leave their homes due to violence, conflict and climate-related catastrophes must face. One third of them, he said, live in the ten countries in the world that are most exposed to the COVID-19 risks and thus there are millions of people who must face three crises at the same time: those of healthcare, the economy and protection. 

Risks for migrants across the world 

Firstly, Guterres noted, they are confronted with the health crisis in a context where in crowded conditions, "social distancing is an impossible luxury." Basic necessities such as health care, water, sanitation and nutrition are often hard to find. 

Secondly, people on the move face a socio-economic crisis, although often without access to any social protection such as those working in the informal economy. Guterres pointed out that "the loss of income from COVID-19 is likely to lead to a colossal $109 billion drop in remittances", depriving some 800 million people back at home who depend on them. 

"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," he noted. And then there is the crisis the surrounds protection, with more than 150 countries imposing border restrictions to contain the spread of the virus. The majority make no exceptions for people seeking asylum. 

"At the same time, fear of COVID-19 has led to skyrocketing xenophobia, racism and stigmatization", he added. "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." 

Yet, despite these challenges, Guterres noted that people on the move are contributing "heroically" on the frontlines, in essential work. As an example, he said about 1 in 8 of all nurses globally is practicing away from their native countries. 

COVID-19 crisis 'must be turned into opportunity' 

In this context of the Covid-19 pandemic, Guterres pointed to 4 core understandings needed to reimagine human mobility. Firstly, countries need to recognize that exclusion is costly. 

On the other hand, "an inclusive public health and socio-economic response will help suppress the virus, restart our economies and advance the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)."

The second understanding calls for upholding human dignity in the face of the pandemic. 

The UN Secretary-General commended countries that have implemented restrictions and border controls with full respect for human rights, as well as international refugee protection principles. 

"Third, no-one is safe until everyone is safe," Guterres stressed, adding, "diagnostics, treatment and vaccines must be accessible to all." 

Finally, the Secretary-General reiterated that "people on the move are also part of the solution." He concluded: "No country can fight the pandemic or manage migration alone. Together, we can contain the spread of the virus, buffer its impact on the most vulnerable and recover better for the benefit of all."

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