COVID-19: ‘Overwhelmed’ health systems have little room for sick refugees, migrants, UN agencies warn



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Four UN agencies say ‘overwhelmed’ health systems have little room for sick refugees, migrants, emphasising that  migrants and displaced persons are heightened risk of contracting the new coronavirus (COVID-19).

The four agencies are UN refugee agency (UNHCR), the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the UN human rights office (OHCHR) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

In a joint statement posted on the UN website, the agencies said three quarters of the world’s refugees and many migrants were hosted in developing regions.

They said migrants and refugees were hosted in developing regions where health systems were already overwhelmed and under-capacitated.

The statement noted that many of them live in overcrowded camps, settlements, makeshift shelters or reception centres, where they lack adequate access to health services, clean water and sanitation.

The joint statement voices particular concern about the situation for refugees and migrants held in formal and informal places of detention, including migrant children and their families as well as those detained without a sufficient legal basis.

“Considering the lethal consequences a COVID-19 outbreak would have, they should be released without delay.

“This disease can be controlled only if there is an inclusive approach which protects every individual’s rights to life and health.”

The four agencies also stressed that Governments must do everything possible to protect the rights and health of all people, adding that doing so will in fact help control the spread.

Migrants and refugees, who are disproportionately vulnerable to exclusion, stigma and discrimination, must have equal access to health services and be effectively included in national responses to COVID-19 – including prevention, testing and treatment.

Meanwhile, countries around the globe are closing their borders and limiting cross-border movements to combat COVID-19; the four agencies stressed that all such actions must be taken in full respect for human rights.

It stated that it must be taken in full respect for human rights and refugee protection standards – including the principle of non-refoulement, or no forced return.  Quarantines and health checks can help provide solutions.

While many nations protect and host refugee and migrant populations, they are often not equipped to respond to crises such as the current pandemic.

The statement emphasised that States might require additional financial support to ensure that refugees and migrants they host enjoy adequate access to national health services.

It noted that the world’s financial institutions could play a leading role in making those funds available.

“More than ever, as COVID-19 poses a global threat to our collective humanity, our primary focus should be on the preservation of life, regardless of status.’’

The agencies, however, called for a coherent, effective international approach that leaves no one behind to address the health needs of migrants and displaced persons.

Edited By: Felix Ajide

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Cecilia Ologunagba

Cecilia Ologunagba: NNN is a Nigerian online news portal that publishes breaking news in Nigeria, and across the world. We are honest, fair, accurate, thorough and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting news in the best interest of the public, because truth is the cornerstone of journalism and we strive diligently to ascertain the truth in every news report. Contact: editor @ Disclaimer.

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