UN rights chief calls on India to treat migrant workers humanely amid COVID-19 crisis


The UN human rights office, OHCHR, said on Thursday that the hundreds-of-thousands of migrant workers in India whose lives were upended by the sudden lockdown across the country be treated in a humane manner, providing them with enough food, water, beds and supplies.

High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet said in a statement that she was distressed by the plight of the informal migrant workers affected, many of whom were, in effect, forced to leave the cities where they worked at just a few hours’ notice, unable to pay for rent or food.

“The lockdown in India represents a massive logistical and implementation challenge given the population size and its density and we all hope the spread of the virus can be checked,” said UN human rights chief Bachelet.

And while welcoming steps to address the deadly crisis, she noted the importance of ensuring that measures responding to COVID-19 are “neither applied in a discriminatory manner nor exacerbate existing inequalities and vulnerabilities.”

Lacking jobs and money, and with public transportation shut down, hundreds of thousands of migrants who have no job security or protection, were forced to trek often hundreds of miles back to their home villages – with some dying on the journey, noted OHCHR.

In an effort to control the virus, on Sunday, the Home Affairs Ministry ordered States to intercept and quarantine the migrants for two weeks.

However, earlier this week, reports and images emerged of police officers apparently beating people – including migrants – with batons, for breaking quarantine rules and allegedly spraying some on the road, with disinfectant.

“We understand the strains on police services at this time, but officers must show restraint and abide by international standards on the use of force and humane treatment in their efforts to respond to this pandemic,” underscored the UN rights chief.

A number of States have now explicitly ordered police to stop using force to contain the virus.

The High Commissioner welcomed the instruction of India’s Supreme Court on Tuesday stating that the migrants be treated in a humane manner, including by providing them with enough food, water, beds and supplies as well as psychosocial counselling in shelters that are run by volunteers and not security forces. (Source: UN News)