Picture shows African migrants resting beside a road in the eastern city of Marib, Yemen | Photo: ARCHIVE/EPA/YAHYA ARHAB
Picture shows African migrants resting beside a road in the eastern city of Marib, Yemen | Photo: ARCHIVE/EPA/YAHYA ARHAB

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have asked member states to take action in order to guarantee the safety and health of migrant and displaced populations in the eastern Mediterranean area.

In order to effectively tackle COVID-19 and other public health threats, universal health coverage must include migrants and displaced people, regardless of their juridical status, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said in an appeal launched on July 26 for the eastern Mediterranean region. 

A joint statement issued by the WHO's regional director for the eastern Mediterranean, Ahmed Al-Mandhari, and IOM's regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, Carmela Godeau, said that there are 18 million internally displaced people in the eastern Mediterranean region according to the latest statistics -- an increase of 2 million on last year's total. 

There are also 46 million professional and low-income labor migrants in the region, the statement said. 

Many migrants and displaced people live in crowded conditions where physical distancing and access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene are luxuries, creating a ripe environment for COVID-19 outbreaks. 

The pandemic is also exacerbating threats to migrants' mental and psychosocial health, as many have now lost their jobs and are unable to provide for themselves or their families back home, the organizations said. 

Migrants and displaced people in danger 

The two officials stressed in the statement that the health and livelihood of migrants and displaced people continue to be affected by border closures, travel restrictions and internal lockdowns. 

Many have not received a paycheck in months and are unable to afford the most basic necessities such as food. Moreover, they are often subjected to discrimination and stigmatization. 

The WHO and IOM, along with other international agencies, have been monitoring the situation among these vulnerable populations and raising the alarm in countries where the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise, particularly among temporary contractual workers, they said. 

The organizations' appeal 

The WHO and IOM asked member States to offer universal health coverage and, during the COVID-19 pandemic, for migrants and displaced people to have voluntary access to testing as well as isolation and treatment, in the case of positive diagnosis, with full respect for their dignity, human rights and fundamental freedoms. 

To avoid the further spread of the disease, all migrants set to return should be tested prior to their departure and, if found positive for COVID-19, treated. 

Both agencies said they are continuing to advocate for continuity of essential services offered to displaced populations and migrants, including mental health and psychosocial support and the management of noncommunicable diseases. 

Initiatives against gender-based violence should be enhanced for all populations during the pandemic, to stem the rise in violence and provide support for victims, they said. 

The organizations also called for any migrants detained without sufficient legal basis to be released immediately. 

Finally, the WHO and IOM urged governments to create the necessary conditions for migrants and returnees to be able to seek health care without fear of legal repercussions.

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