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UN launches paper on COVID-19 and people on the move

03 juin 2020


More than 15,000 migrant workers from Myanmar returned home through this Thai border crossing in a single day in late March. Credit: IOM

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres today launched the latest UN policy briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic, which reminds countries of their obligation to protect people on the move, who number more than 70 million globally, according to data from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).

The COVID-19 and People on the Move policy brief underscores that COVID-19 has left few lives and places untouched, but its impact is harshest for those groups who were already in vulnerable situations before the crisis. This is particularly true for many people on the move, such as migrants in irregular situations, migrant workers with precarious livelihoods, or working in the informal economy, victims of trafficking in persons, as well as people fleeing their homes because of persecution, war, violence, human rights violations or disaster.

“No country can fight the pandemic or manage migration alone. But together, we can contain the spread of the virus, buffer its impact on the most vulnerable and recover better for the benefit of all,” said Mr. Guterres in a video message during the launch.

The Secretary-General noted that people on the move face three crises rolled into one. COVID-19 is first a health crisis, where basics such as health care, water, sanitation and nutrition are often hard to find.

Second, people on the move face a socioeconomic crisis — especially those working in the informal economy without access to social protection.

“In addition, the loss of income from COVID-19 is likely to lead to a colossal $109 billion decrease in remittances,” said Mr. Guterres, which is 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.

Third, people on the move face a protection crisis.


UN Secretary-General António Guterres speaks in a video message at the launch of the report.

Calling the COVID-19 crisis “an opportunity to reimagine human mobility”, the Secretary-General said that four core understandings should guide the way.

These include an inclusive public health and socioeconomic response, which will help to suppress the virus, restart economies and advance the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Secretary-General also called for upholding human dignity in the face of the pandemic and learning from those countries that have shown how to implement travel restrictions and border controls while fully respecting human rights and international refugee protection principles.

He also said that diagnostics, treatment and vaccines must be accessible to all, reiterating that “no one is safe until everyone is safe”. 

He added that people on the move are part of the solution.

“Let us remove unwarranted barriers, explore models to regularize pathways for migrants and reduce transaction costs for remittances,” said Mr. Guterres.

“We all have a vested interest to ensure that the responsibility of protecting the world’s refugees is equitably shared and that human mobility remains safe, inclusive, and respects international human rights and refugee law,” he added.