IACHR Urges States to Protect Migrants in Recovery Efforts Following the COVID-19 Pandemic

December 18, 2021

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Washington, D.C. – On International Migrants Day, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) calls on States to step up their efforts to include these individuals, whatever their migrant status, in recovery policies launched following the COVID-19 pandemic. The IACHR also stresses the need to implement migrant regularization procedures and to ensure they are compatible with national protection systems, in order to adequately respond to mixed requirements in the Americas.

Since the pandemic started, we have observed persistent migrant movements, along with the risks associated with closed borders and other measures adopted to restrict mobility and prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Further, implementing tougher restrictions may have made it more difficult to access regular international migration pathways and procedures to regularize migration status. This is reportedly leading many individuals to travel through longer, more dangerous routes that expose them to additional risks, including human trafficking and other human rights violations by both State and para-State actors. In this context, the pandemic could have an impact on individuals who were displaced before it happened and, at the same time, cause new migrant movements—whether domestic or international—with the characteristics of forced displacements.

The most recent estimates of the International Organization for Migration say that the number of international migrants in Latin America and the Caribbean has doubled over the past 15 years, from around 7 million to 15 million. This would make it the region with the highest growth rates and the highest migrant destination rates, at 5.3% of all global migrants. Recent figures issued by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs show that the number of migrants from Latin America and the Caribbean increased by 280% over the period 1990–2020. However, the available data do not include the people who travel outside regular channels, which makes it more difficult to measure this phenomenon.

The Commission has also noted with concern the higher number of returns, sometimes forced returns without the necessary safety protocols or measures to prevent infection with COVID-19. On their return, many migrants face uncertainty and a prevalence of the conditions that had forced them to migrate in the first place, as well as a lack of reintegration measures that take into consideration the particular needs linked to why they decided to leave the country.

The IACHR stresses that, in keeping with its , States must create regular routes to enable international migration and help to prevent and eradicate irregular migration. Regular routes need to be safe, affordable, and accessible—even in financial and legal terms—so that poor people and individuals who (for reasons beyond their own control) do not have the documentation that is usually required in these procedures can still access them.

The IACHR further stresses the need to take action to regularize the situation of migrants who are in a given State's territory and to provide them with ID documents, as well as adopting other measures to protect individuals in human mobility contexts from unwanted returns and to enable them to exercise other rights on equal terms with nationals. The coexistence of domestic procedures to regularize migrants and of national protection systems for asylum seekers or individuals with subsidiary protection needs is crucial to ensure comprehensive protection for the human rights of these individuals, and it would also be useful to adequately identify the specific needs of individuals who want to enter a particular State's territory.

The Commission stresses that, for States, the principle of non-refoulement implies that no one can be expelled, returned, extradited, informally transferred, or sent in any other way to another country—whether or not they are citizens of that country—where their life or liberty might be at risk or where they might be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.

Along similar lines, the Inter-American Court's Advisory Opinion 21/14 of August 19, 2014 says that the need to protect the principle of non-refoulement—held in Article 22.8 of the American Convention—extends to all foreign nationals, not just to specific categories like asylum seekers or refugees. Further, Advisory Opinion 25/18 of May 30, 2018 stresses that this principle is crucial not only to protect the right to asylum, but also to safeguard various inalienable human rights, because it seeks to preserve the life, liberty, or integrity of the protected individual.

Given the multiple causes of international movements of individuals, the IACHR stresses that the responses adopted by States must be based on a comprehensive approach that ensures safety and the exercise of the remaining human rights of individuals in their territory and under their jurisdiction—so these individuals are not forced to leave their country—and to ensure adequate conditions for reintegration—to prevent further displacements.

This is particularly relevant in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent recovery efforts, given the differentiated impact the pandemic has had on individuals in human mobility contexts. States must therefore step up their efforts to ensure that all migrants, whatever their formal status, are included in all policies and measures adopted to ensure post-pandemic recovery. These policies will need to respond to the specific needs associated with various stages of the migration cycle (origin, transit, destination, and return) and to include a human rights perspective, based on an intersectional approach that takes into consideration the intersection of mobility with factors including age, gender, ethnic–racial background, and others that require differentiated response strategies.

The IACHR stresses its willingness to provide technical assistance for the design and implementation of public policies, legislation, and practices aimed at addressing the situation of migrants and their needs for international protection, regularization, the exercise of their right to request and be granted asylum or subsidiary protection, as well as to provide and facilitate the provision of humanitarian assistance and to ensure lasting solutions.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

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