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UN chief hails migrants’ role in responding to COVID crisis, boosting economies


NEW YORK: This year, International Migrants Day has a special poignancy to it. The millions who were forced by conflict and economic hardship to abandon their homes, family and friends in 2020 have done so amid a pandemic that has made visible the world’s deep-seated inequalities.

From braving harsh winters in makeshift camps to venturing into the sea looking for a safe haven in foreign lands, the most vulnerable are too often left to fend for themselves.

“Millions upon millions of people have experienced the pain of separation from friends and family, the uncertainty of employment and the need to adapt to a new and unfamiliar reality,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. “These are emotions felt by migrants around the world every day.”

But it was by underlining “the outsized role” they have played on the frontlines of the pandemic’s response that Guterres has chosen to honor the world’s migrants this year.

While they remain invisible, “societies have come to appreciate their dependence on migrants,” he said.

Migrants have been the first to respond to the pandemic, he added, “from caring for the sick and elderly to ensuring food supplies during lockdowns. Just as migrants are integral to our societies, they should remain central to our recovery.”

The UN chief called for migrants to be included in every country’s pandemic response and vaccination campaigns, “irrespective of their legal status.”

He urged the world to implement the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, the first, intergovernmental agreement to cover all dimensions of international migration in a holistic and comprehensive manner.

The agreement was adopted after the September 2016 New York Declaration by 193 heads of state and government who committed to protect the safety, dignity, human rights and fundamental freedoms of all migrants, regardless of their migratory status.

The leaders also called for supporting host countries, combating xenophobia, integrating migrants and strengthening global governance of migration.

Guterres urged the international community to “reimagine human mobility, enable migrants to reignite economies at home and abroad, and build more inclusive and resilient societies.”

Antonio Vitorino, director-general of the UN’s International Organization for Migration, hailed migrants globally as “champions of resilience when times are tough.”

He said: “The dedication and entrepreneurial spirit (among migrants) we have seen this year reminds us that, as we move from pandemic response to recovery over the coming months, migrants will be an integral part of that return to normal life.”

He added: “Economically disadvantaged, many have become stranded, unable to return home, while still more have been forced to return without due regard for their safety. At the extremes, migrants may be prey to the criminals who would exploit their vulnerability for profit.”

Vitorino urged countries to intensify efforts to grant migrants access to social services and ensure they do not get left behind.

The nearly 300 million migrants are major contributors to host countries’ local economies, while their remittances also support millions back home.

“States should consider migrant workers’ positive assets who bring labor, skills and diversity to host communities,” said Felipe Gonzales Morales, UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants. “Migrants and their families should be fully integrated in national plans to build back better.”

Established by the UN General Assembly in 2000 and observed every year since, International Migrants Day is, in Vitorino’s words, a reminder that “human rights are not ‘earned’ by virtue of being a hero or a victim, but are an entitlement of everyone, regardless of origin, age, gender and status.”

He added that this year, “support and protection are needed if migrants are to contribute fully to their, and our, recovery.”

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