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Coronavirus: ICRC urges authorities in Asia and the Pacific to do more to include migrants in their response

  • Published at 04:26 pm April 29th, 2020
Migrants-Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune
File photo: Bangladeshi workers bound for Malaysia waiting in a queue at the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

The ICRC also made a list of recommendations

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has called on governments to systematically include migrants, irrespective of legal status, in their programs and policies aiming to address the coronavirus pandemic.

They conveyed their sentiments through a press release on Wednesday.

Although the ICRC recognized that state authorities have had their hands full, trying to contain the spread of Covid-19, it said Asian governments should do more for migrants.

“Governments in the region should do more for the migrants. It is in their best interest. It saves lives, it protects the society as a whole,” said Christine Cipolla, ICRC’s regional director for Asia and the Pacific. “Only by including all members of a society, irrespective of legal status, can this unprecedented public health situation be addressed effectively.”

Migrants, including refugees, make up a large part of the population in several countries in Asia and the Pacific, the region with the largest south-south migratory movements. They play a crucial role for the economies in these countries, and for their families in the countries of origin, who depend on their remittances. However, migrants also face a range of vulnerabilities, in particular regarding access to services, which can be further exacerbated by their exposure to Covid-19.

“As in any situation related to public health, preventive measures only have a chance of success if all members of a community and society are included in, and informed of, the measures taken,” Cipolla added. “It is likely less costly, both in human lives and financially, to introduce inclusive preventive measures, than to risk an increased number of Covid-19 patients.”

The ICRC also made the following recommendations:

Specific outreach and public information strategies in a language understood by the migrants are needed to ensure their equal access to preventive measures, testing, treatment, and to remove barriers that could prevent them for seeking help owing to fear of arrest or deportation.

Particular attention should be paid to migrants living in overcrowded and/or unhealthy environments (e.g. the homeless, slums, camps, formal and informal settlement and collective sites, including immigration detention facilities), with the development of comprehensive contingency plans that follow public health guidance. Any lockdown, quarantine, or isolation measures that may be justified in such settings should be accompanied by adequate prevention measures and appropriate medical preparedness and response.

As far as possible, access to emergency housing suitable for the implementation of Covid-19 measures should be offered without barriers related to immigration status and to those in need for whom there are no alternative accommodation options in the community.  Priority should be given to those at greater risk of complications derived from Covid-19 (i.e. the elderly, persons with underlying health conditions), as well as unaccompanied children and families.

The ICRC recommends that States which practice detention for migration-related offenses to take all possible measures to reduce the number of people subjected to new immigration detention orders, and give due consideration to early release, or to alternatives to detention. The ICRC commends the several States that have already done this.

States should take all feasible measures to prevent family separation and the risk of migrants going missing or dying, including during management of border crossings, medical evacuations, and application of quarantine and other measures.

Avenues for asylum seekers to access international protection should be maintained. As the principle of non-refoulement constitutes a non-derogable right, denial of access to territory without safeguards cannot be justified on the grounds of any health risk. This includes, movements by sea, and, inter alia, pushbacks and refoulement. States should consider the individual circumstances of all migrants at international borders, with appropriate attention given to vulnerable migrants or those requiring specific protection such as unaccompanied children, sick and injured, and trafficked persons.

Forced returns and returns which are not of a strictly voluntary nature, in particular to countries with a weak health system, should be suspended, with a view to preventing the spread of the virus. Where returns are organized, this should be done in a coordinated manner between the authorities of all concerned States, to ensure not only the health of the migrants, but also, of the general populations of these States. The ICRC stands ready to notify migrants who would wish to return voluntarily, to their respective consular authorities.

Where a partial lifting of restrictions in relation to Covid-19 may be considered, services provided to migrants should be considered as “essential”, and those providing them, exempt from restrictive measures such as movement restrictions.

Coronavirus has thus far infected 3,148,157 people and killed 218,357 people globally.

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