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  • Refugees and migrants gather at the Pazarkule border crossing, Turkey, 2020.

    Refugees and migrants gather at the Pazarkule border crossing, Turkey, 2020. | Photo: Twitter/ @pahmshjr

Published 3 June 2020

Antonio Guterres appreciates the pandemic as an opportunity to build a more inclusive world.

The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres Wednesday called on governments to support refugees, displaced people, and migrants in the face of the COVID-19 crisis and demanded that border closings and restrictions respect human rights.


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“Over 150 countries have imposed border restrictions to contain the spread of the virus. At least 99 states make no exceptions in the cases of people seeking asylum on the grounds of persecution,” Guterres lamented.

"It is necessary to defend human dignity against the pandemic and learn from the handful of countries that have shown how it is possible to apply travel restrictions and border controls while fully respecting human rights and international principles of refugee protection," he added.

Guterres recalled that migrants and refugees are especially threatened by the coronavirus since many of them live in overcrowded conditions in which social distancing is an impossible luxury and basic services are not easily accessible.

The effects of this crisis will be even more devastating for a large number of people on the move living in the least developed countries.

"Globally, a third of the internally displaced population lives in the ten countries with the highest risk of COVID-19,” Guterres explained and added that they are more exposed to the crisis, often working in informal economies and without access to social protection.

The UN leader also stressed that fear of COVID-19 has led to skyrocketing xenophobia, racism, and stigmatization, putting these populations at greater risk, although many migrants make "a heroic contribution" by working in essential tasks for society.

For all these reasons, Guterres called on the rulers to include refugees and migrants in their responses to the pandemic as the epidemiological emergency provides an opportunity to "reimagine human mobility" by taking into account four key understandings.

First, governments must recognize that, rather than being cost-effective, exclusion of people on the move is expensive because “inclusive public health and socio-economic response will help suppress the virus, restart our economies and advance the Sustainable Development Goals,” he said.

Furthermore, countries must respect refugee protection commitments and guarantee accessible diagnoses, treatments, and vaccines for all.

Finally, Guterres called for countries to explore pathways to regularize migration and reduce remittance transaction costs as “people on the move” are part of the solution to economic reactivation problems.​​​​​​​

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