Statement by H.E. Rabab Fatima at the joint IFRC/IOM briefing ‘Advancing Migrant’s Access to Healthcare in the time of COVID-19’ Virtual Event 10 December 2020 9:00am to 10:30am (EST) Organized by: IFRC and IOM, The Friends of Migration Group

I thank you, Madam Moderator.

President Rocca, Director General Vitorino, Ambassador Omar Zniber, Fellow Co-Chairs of Friends of Migration, Excellencies, Distinguished Panelists, Distinguished Colleagues – good morning.

I thank you for joining us today to discuss about a very important issue, that is, the situation of migrants’ access to healthcare in the time of COVID-19. The video captures so profoundly the contribution of migrants and the challenges they are facing now.

We are very pleased to have with us a rich panel of experts to share with us their perspectives on this important topic. I hope that we can build on our experiences during this extraordinary situation, and offer bold and innovative ways to include migrants in universal health coverage.  I have worked in the migration field for a few years and am closely aware of the migrants health issues

Today’s discussion comes at a time when we are preparing to celebrate the Universal Health Coverage Day on 12th of December on the theme of ‘Health for all: protect everyone’. And we have just concluded the 31st Special Session of UNGA in response to COVID-19 pandemic last week. Speaking at the event, my Prime Minister highlighted the dire consequences of millions of migrants due to the pandemic. She called for access to COVID-19 vaccines for all, ‘leaving no one behind’, in the true spirit of UHC.

The current pandemic has indeed revealed the deep nexus between migration and health. The SG’s recent report on the implementation of the Global Compact on Migration rightly highlights the importance of ensuring inclusive access to health care, regardless of migration status during this period of deep uncertainty. SG’s policy briefs on ‘COVID-19 and UHC’ as well as ‘People on the Move’ also stressed on this issue.  In the same vein, Bangladesh co-led a Joint Statement on the Impact of Covid-19 on Migrants, which was eventually supported by 103 member states. It’s a comprehensive statement covering all aspects of the migration crisis. And it calls upon States to incorporate the health needs of migrants in national and local health care policies and plans.

We live in an interconnected world defined by unprecedented human mobility. More people are on the move now than ever before. According to IOM’s World Migration Report 2020, total number of international migrants in 2020 is 272 million. And their contribution to the socio-economic progress of their host countries as well as their countries of origin is well documented. Migrants have been the frontline contributors to health sector in many destination countries during the pandemic, as a significant number of doctors and other health workers in those countries are from migrant communities.  Many have lost their lives in the line of duty.

Yet, with the outbreak of the pandemic, in many places’ migrants are in a precarious situation, denied of their rights, even denied access to urgent health care services. We will hear from our expert panelists soon about the manifold health vulnerabilities of migrants due to Covid-19.

To overcome this situation, global solidarity and cooperation hold the key. We welcome the call of the Global Network on Migration to suspend forced returns during the pandemic in order to protect the health of migrants and communities and uphold the human rights of all migrants, regardless of status.

It is encouraging to hear about the initiatives of some countries to remove barriers and facilitate migrants’ access to labour market, social protection, and basic services. Portugal has temporarily granted all migrants and asylum seekers citizenship rights. Italy has also taken progressive measures in easing immigration. Canada launched a communications campaign called “#ImmigrationMatters” to demonstrate the contribution of migrants to their communities. In Bangladesh, we have included migrants/returnee migrants in our stimulus package for Covid-19 response and recovery. These are all steps in the right direction. However, these should not only be emergency measures; there must be long-term policy initiatives to ensure the rights, dignity, and UHC for migrants.

Let me share some specific thoughts in this regard:

First, we must integrate the health of migrants and their families in the global discourse of UHC. It is important that we work towards a unified agenda and global common principles for the health of migrants, including those who are in irregular situations. There is an urgent need to invest more in the migrants’ health sector; to strengthen capacity, both in terms of quality and outreach.

Second, we need international support and cooperation for the availability of affordable vaccines, medicines, and equipment for migrants in vulnerable situations. WHO should, now more than ever, strengthen its mission to serve the migrants in vulnerable situation, as an integral part of universal health coverage for all.

Third, for harnessing the development potentials of migration, the host countries should endeavor to further integrate migrants and mobile populations into their national health systems.  “A healthy migrant, is a productive migrant”.  It is critical to increase national capacities to better promote the health of migrants with a view to enhance their productive capacity and contributions to sustainable development.   IOM, IFRC and WHO may share good practices and policies in this regard.

Finally, it is imperative to foster global solidarity to combat rising racism, xenophobia and intolerance against migrants. We need strong political will to ensure the rights, well-being, and dignity of migrants during this unprecedented crisis facing us.

I would like to conclude by thanking once again IOM and IFRC for the invaluable support that they have been providing during this pandemic crisis to migrants, and for drawing attention to their perilous situation.  We will continue to count on your support and collaboration as we build back better together from this crisis.

I thank you all.