After coalitions of NGO’s and trade unions letters to the governments of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Oman requesting the rights of migrant workers during the COVID-19 pandemic to be protected, here is the UN experts call on governments to protect rights of migrants during Pandemic.
GENEVA, 26th May 2020 (WAM) — UN human rights experts on Tuesday called on states to protect the rights of migrants and their families, regardless of their migration status, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The labour rights of migrant workers globally, especially of those in essential sectors, must be guaranteed and measures taken to protect their health,” said Can Unver who chairs the UN Committee on Migrant Workers, and Felipe González Morales, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants.
“Thousands of migrants are currently stranded at borders all across the globe, in Asia, Africa, the Americas, or at sea at the shores of Europe,” the experts said, announcing the publication online of a key joint Guidance Note on the Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Human Rights of Migrants.
In their 17 Guidelines to governments, the experts urge states to ensure the rights and the continuity of procedures for persons in need of international protection, including access to their territories and urge them to continue search and rescue operations for persons in distress at sea.
“Governments must guarantee access to social services for migrants and their families, who in some countries show the highest levels of contagions and deaths from COVID-19,” they said.
The experts added, “Migrants who are in an irregular situation or undocumented face even greater vulnerability. They work in unstable jobs – usually without benefits or the right to unemployment benefits – and in some cases have been left out of the social assistance measures implemented by States, despite the significant economic contributions to society of migrants. Within this context, we call on governments to promote the regularisation of migrants in an irregular situation.”
The UN Committee and the Special Rapporteur called on governments worldwide “to integrate migrant workers into national COVID-19 prevention and response plans and policies, which are gender, age and diversity responsive, and respect their right to health”.
In their Guidance Note, the experts also urge States to include migrants and their families in economic recovery policies, taking into account the need for the recovery of remittance flows.
“We want to alert the world that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the ability of migrants to work has already led to a global drop in the remittances sent to their families in their countries of origin, whose survival depends on them, as well as to countries where remittances are one of the main sources of income for their economies. Families literally are struggling for their own survival.
“Governments must implement mechanisms to review the use of immigration detention with a view to reducing their populations to the lowest possible level, and immediately release families with children and unaccompanied or separated children from immigration detention facilities to non-custodial and community based alternatives with full access to rights and services,” the experts concluded.
The Peninsula, Qatar’s Daily Newspaper of 21 May 2020 reports that ILO lauds Qatar’s efforts to protect health, rights of domestic workers. Qatar has about2.6 million inhabitants as of early 2017, the majority of whom (about 92%) live in Doha, the capital. Foreign workers amount to around 88% of the population, with Indians being the largest community numbering around 1,230,000. It will host the Football World Cup of 2022.
Doha: The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has lauded the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs (MADLSA) for launching SMS campaign to protect health and rights of domestic workers during COVID-19 crisis.
The series of messages in 12 languages was developed by the MADLSA with the support of the ILO Project Office for the State of Qatar, Migrant-Rights.org and the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF), said ILO in a report on its official website.
The messages provide helpful tips not only on how to prevent COVID-19 transmission but also how to protect the health and rights of domestic workers at home during this challenging period.
“Domestic workers play an essential role in ensuring the health and safety of the families for which they work, from cleaning and cooking, to supporting teleworking parents, caring for children, the ill and the elderly,” said ILO Technical Specialist Alix Nasri.
“It is vital that they have access to up-to-date information on COVID-19 precautionary measures in languages they understand. At the same time this campaign reaches out to employers so they support the health and welfare of domestic workers in their homes during the COVID-19 lockdown, when their services are being so heavily relied upon.” Messages for domestic workers include basic information on the symptoms of COVID-19 and what to do if they have symptoms, advice on hygiene and sanitation, sending money home via online services as well as keeping in touch with family back home.
There is also information reminding domestic workers of their rights and responsibilities – at all times – according to Qatar’s Law No. 15 of 2017 on domestic work. Messages for employers highlight the need to support the mental and emotional health as well as physical well-being of domestic workers. There are reminders about domestic workers’ rights relating to working hours, rest periods, days off, and the importance of being paid on time. Employers are also encouraged to help domestic workers open bank accounts and transfer their salary online, as well as provide access to the internet and other forms of communication.
Director of MADLSA Recruitment Department, Fawaz Al Rayis stressed the importance of reaching out to domestic workers and their employers. “Raising awareness about precautionary measures, providing useful advice, and recalling rights and obligations is key to ensuring both domestic workers and employers are protected during this pandemic. This campaign is an effective way to quickly and widely share important information with domestic workers and their employers, similarly to what has been done in other sectors,” said Al Rayis.
As the coronavirus pandemic hits jobs and wages in many sectors of the global economy that depend on migrants, a slowdown in the amount of money these workers send back home to their families looks increasingly likely. These international remittances will be crucial in transmitting the unfolding economic crisis in richer countries to poorer countries. They will fundamentally shape how, and the pace at which, the world recovers from coronavirus.
Remittances shelter a large number of poor and vulnerable households, underpinning the survival strategies of over 1 billion people. In 2019, an estimated 200 million people in the global migrant workforce sent home US$715 billion (£571 billion). Of this, it’s estimated US$551 billion supported up to 800 million households living in low- and middle-income countries.
The majority of remittances are small sums of money, spent by recipients on everyday subsistence needs including food, education and health. The World Bank projects that within five years, remittances will outstrip overseas aid and foreign direct investment combined, reflecting the extent to which global financial flows have been reshaped by migration.
But the social distancing and lockdown measures used to contain the spread of coronavirus have led to a global economic slump, with the International Monetary Fund predicting the global economy will contract by 3% in 2020. Three issues make this looming crisis particularly salient for the migrant workers who generate remittances.
Migrant workers at risk
First, as the Institute for Public Policy Research think tank illustrated in a recent briefing, migrant workers tend to work in sectors that are particularly vulnerable at times of an economic downturn and have less employee protections. They are also more likely to be self-employed.
Second, the access migrant workers have to public funds is – with some exceptions – specifically restricted as a condition of their visas. So it’s uncertain whether they will be able to access the already limited government interventions to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. For example, the South African government’s initiative to help small- and medium-sized businesses is only available for those with South African citizenship.
Third, and as a result of this, migrant workers adopt a series of strategies or tactics to cope. They often continue to work in compromised circumstances, such as in jobs with lower wages, poor working conditions and, in the current crisis, exposure to infection. They also restrict their spending – and contemplate a return back home.
In the UK, some migrants are hyper-visible NHS doctors and nurses. Their labour has been somewhat belatedly acknowledged by the government, and their importance to the health service demonstrated by the Home Office’s decision to extend all visas of health workers coming up for renewal by a year.
But many more migrants are hidden and largely unsung heroes who continue to work in so-called semi-skilled or unskilled jobs in sectors such as food manufacturing and delivery, social care and cleaning. High rates of infection among Somali migrants in Norway, for example, are partly attributable to their concentration in these “close-contact” professions where home working is not an option.
The 2008 financial crisis
The 2008 financial crash and recession provide some indications of how this crisis in migrant work may affect remittance flows. Between 2008 and 2009, remittance flows declined by 5.5% globally. Some parts of the world saw even more marked declines. Transfers to Latin America and the Caribbean, most originating from the US, decreased by 12%. Migrants remitted smaller amounts, more infrequently, or in extreme cases, stopped altogether as they were laid off and faced uncertain future employment prospects.
Early predictions of the impact of coronavirus on remittances detail significant declines. One study by the Inter-American Dialogue estimated there would be a 7% decline in remittances from the US, which will fall from by US$76 billion to US$70 billion, with receiving households from Mexico and Central America being most affected. According to another study by BBVA Research, remittances to Mexico could fall by 17%.
With the global economy slowing down even before coronavirus, and the pandemic affecting different parts of the world over different timelines, long-term recovery prospects are unclear. The particular vulnerability of poor countries is apparent with the World Bank pledging US$160 billion over the next 15 months to aid both immediate health priorities and longer term economic recovery.
It remains unclear whether that US$160 billion is adequate and will reach vulnerable households, particularly given the negative impact the World Bank and IMF’s historic structural adjustment programmes, in which strict spending conditions were attached to aid, had on the healthcare systems of many developing countries.
In contrast, remittances – often known as aid that reaches its destination – constitute a significant safety net for vulnerable households. Our own research shows that remittances don’t just reach immediate household members but are also distributed among extended family and friends. They also support local economies through family payments to shopkeepers and construction workers. In regions such as the Horn of Africa, where 40% of households are heavily dependent upon remittances, any disruption in flows sent by the Somali diaspora will further exacerbate food insecurity.
How richer nations respond to the current crisis will have significant economic ramifications for countries dependent on remittances. Richer nations must adopt inclusive economic policies which both protect the livelihoods of migrants and reduce the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic. Their jobs are linked to the survival of millions of others.
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