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U.N. chief calls for protection of migrants, refugees amid pandemic

A Palestinian doctor wearing a protective facemask checks the temperature of a child at a United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees' school at the Khan Younis Camp for refugees in southern Gaza on March 18. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI
A Palestinian doctor wearing a protective facemask checks the temperature of a child at a United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees' school at the Khan Younis Camp for refugees in southern Gaza on March 18. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI | License Photo

June 3 (UPI) -- U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday called for increased protections for migrants and refugees amid the coronavirus pandemic, reminding countries of their obligations to people on the move.

In a video accompanying the release of a U.N. policy brief for aiding migrants and refugees during the pandemic, Guterres said the COVID-19 crisis is compounding the dire situation currently faced by the more than 70 million people worldwide who have fled violence, disaster or precarious financial situations in their home countries.

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The pandemic, he said, is subjecting millions of people on the move to three crises rolled into one: a health crisis due to the virus, a socio-economic crisis as they often work in the informal economy that has been harmed by governmental lockdowns and a crisis of protection as countries close their borders to them.

Simultaneously, COVID-19 has caused xenophobia, racism and stigmatization to skyrocket, he said.

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"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," the U.N. head said. "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."

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Guterres said the pandemic could be an opportunity to "reimagine human mobility," calling on the international community to pursue an inclusive public health and socio-economic response that addresses suppressing the virus, restarting economies and advancing the U.N.'s Sustainable Development Goals.

He also urged the international community to put in place travel restrictions and border controls that respect human rights and international refugee protection principles, make coronavirus treatments available to everyone as "no one is safe until everyone is safe" and incorporate people on the move into their pandemic response solutions.

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This group of people, he said, are on the frontlines of the coronavirus response as one in eight nurses worldwide is practicing in a country they were not born in.

"Let us remove unwarranted barriers, explore models to regularize pathways for migrants and reduce transaction costs for remittances," he said.

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