Reports of States in many regions using forced return of migrants as a measure in response to COVID-19 should be suspended according to the United Nations Network on Migration.
The Network said this is necessary to protect the health of migrants and communities, and uphold their human rights, regardless of status, adding that that successfully tackling the pandemic cannot be achieved without upholding human rights.
While it acknowledge that temporary border closures and movement restrictions are deemed necessary to prevent the transmission of COVID-19, they must be implemented in a way that is non-discriminatory and proportionate to achieving the public health aim pursued.
Keeping everyone safe means ensuring that no-one faces the risk of refoulement by being returned to places where their life, safety or human rights are threatened, a statement from the Network said.
It means that collective expulsions, such as arbitrary pushbacks of migrants and asylum-seekers at borders, must be halted; that protection needs must be individually assessed; and that the rule of law and due process must be observed
It also means prioritizing protection, including every child’s best interests. These are obligations in international law that can never be put on hold and are vital to any successful approach to combating COVID-19 for the benefit of all, the network said.
The Network stated that forced returns can intensify serious public health risks for everyone – migrants, public officials, health workers, social workers and both host and origin communities.
Also, forced returns place additional strain on countries of return. Many health systems are already stretched and lack capacity to protect returnees and their communities, including through testing upon arrival and quarantine and self-isolation measures that preserve family unity and ensure the best interests of children.
Returnees may face additional risks during transfer and upon return, such as lack of access to adequate health care, poor water and sanitation systems, halted ground transportation, additional restrictions on movement and violent discrimination and stigma in communities of return.
In some contexts, returned migrants and asylum-seekers may also be at risk of experiencing protracted displacement, trafficking in persons, and extreme financial hardship with increases to already high levels of unemployment due to COVID-19.
The United Nations Network on Migration recalls the commitments made by States in the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration to uphold the human rights of all migrants, regardless of migratory status, and to improve migration governance, including by cooperating to save lives and to keep migrants out of harm’s way.
The Network reiterates the Secretary-General’s recent call to alleviate situations of vulnerability for individuals living outside their country of origin in the context of COVID-19, including by granting temporary residence to migrants and imposing a moratorium on deportations and other forced returns. (Source: IOM)