Protecting refugees and migrants from COVID-19 essential for protecting wider society, participants say in OSCE PA webinar

COPENHAGEN, 26 May 2020 – The health of our societies depends on the health of all its members, including the most marginalized and vulnerable, participants said today in an OSCE Parliamentary Assembly webinar on the migration-related aspects of COVID-19. Refugees and asylum seekers living in camps and detention centres are at greater risk of contracting the virus, it was noted, which is why focus must be placed on ensuring access to proper health care, shelter, clean water, sanitation, and social services, regardless of people’s legal status.

Margareta CederfeltMargareta CederfeltThe OSCE PA webinar on Tuesday, entitled “Protecting refugees and migrants during the pandemic: Camps and closed centres under lockdown,” featured remarks from OSCE PA President George Tsereteli (Georgia); Vice-President Margareta Cederfelt (Sweden), Acting Chair of the OSCE PA Ad Hoc Committee on Migration; Dunja Mijatovic, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights; Gianluca Rocco, Chief of Mission and Regional Response Coordinator of the International Organization for Migration Office in Greece; Lord Alf Dubs (United Kingdom), Member of the Ad Hoc Committee on Migration; and OSCE PA Secretary General Roberto Montella. In addition, 12 parliamentarians took the floor during the discussion.

Participants explored best practices for specific measures that can be implemented with respect to vulnerable categories of migrants. OSCE parliamentarians and experts from the international community discussed, in particular, the efficacy and legal basis of administrative detention of migrants in a context where there is no prospect of impending return and what alternatives to detention could be implemented under current circumstances.

“Encouragingly, a number of countries have already taken steps to release migrants from administrative detention and have extended access to health care, housing and other services regardless of immigration status,” said Cederfelt in her opening remarks. She also stressed that quarantine and isolation measures must be proportionate and non-discriminatory, and that applicants must receive the necessary health care. “While borders have closed and countries have gone into isolation, the global COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of the vital importance of multilateralism and international co-operation, especially in the field of migration.”

Dunja MijatovicDunja Mijatovic“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed a number of longstanding weaknesses in the asylum and migration systems of many states,” said Commissioner Mijatovic. “Moving forward, human rights and shared responsibility must take centre stage to protect the dignity of those affected, and to make these systems more resilient to future crises.” She stressed that all persons must have access to basic services, especially health care and shelter, as a crucial step to protect migrants and societies at large, while calling for an effective implementation of high human rights standards in all related policies.

Gianluca Rocco, Chief of the IOM Mission in Greece and Regional Response Coordinator, briefed the OSCE PA members on the situation in mainland Greece and in migrant ‘hotspots’ on the Greek islands, emphasizing the importance of identifying those most at risk to COVID-19 and providing them the needed care, as well as intensifying relocation efforts of vulnerable populations from Greece to other EU member states. He urged greater action and closer co-operation on chronic social challenges, including migration.

Gianluca RoccoGianluca Rocco“It is very important for migrant populations to receive continued support and assistance during the pandemic granting them access to national health institutions,” Rocco said. “They should not feel at any moment that they are left alone or neglected, especially during this difficult period. Stigmatization and discrimination against migrants during the pandemic are not only harmful to migrants themselves, but also to the society as a whole, and may jeopardize efforts made to prevent or mitigate the spreading of the virus.”

Parliamentarians need to be actively engaged in protecting the human rights of refugees and migrants, said OSCE PA Special Representative on Anti-Semitism, Racism and Intolerance Ben Cardin (United States). Especially during this period of pandemic, it is more important than ever to speak out on behalf of OSCE principles, he said.

OSCE PA members took the floor to raise issues related to situations pertaining to refugees and migrants in their countries, including the subject of unaccompanied minors. Like other vulnerable groups, refugees and migrants have been hit the hardest by COVID-19, it was stressed, and in many countries, the “essential workers” that have performed dangerous and necessary work are often immigrants. Members expressed concern over a spike in racism and xenophobia directed at certain groups, particularly those of Asian descent, giving people an excuse to scapegoat others for the existence of the virus.

Participants urged a high level of co-ordination between countries, exchange of best practices, and support from relevant international organizations in order to meet the challenges of migration. Co-ordination will be particularly important as borders gradually reopen and migratory flows resume, it was stressed.

Alf DubsAlf DubsClosing the event, Lord Dubs said that while the issue of migration has not been fundamentally altered by the pandemic, it has become more difficult. What is needed is collective responsibility and solidarity, he said, as no one country can deal with it alone. He also underlined the importance of working with local communities and urged parliamentarians to push their governments to take action.

Tuesday’s webinar was the fifth in a series of topical Parliamentary Web Dialogues devoted to the coronavirus crisis. It was moderated by OSCE PA Senior Programme Officer Farimah Daftary.

Photos from the webinar are available on Flickr.

For video of the event, please click here.

For more on the OSCE PA’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, please click here.



Nat Parry

Head of Communications and Press

Office: +45 33 37 80 55
Mobile: +45 60 10 81 77
Email: [email protected]

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