Press Release

The IACHR urges States to protect the human rights of migrants, refugees and displaced persons in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic

April 17, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), within the framework of its Rapid and Integrated Response Coordination Unit to the crisis in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic (SACROI COVID-19), urges States to protect the rights of migrants, refugees and displaced persons, regardless of their immigration status vis-à-vis the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Commission calls on States to ensure adequate conditions of respect for rights and liberties in the context of the restrictive measures adopted to contain the pandemic, such as the closure of borders and the reduction of freedoms of internal and international transportation, among others. In particular, the Commission urges States to strictly observe the special protection needs of populations that are forced to flee as a result of violence, persecution, and serious threats to their lives and personal integrity, to respect the principle of non-refoulement and to respect the best interest of children and the family unity of all persons in situation of mobility. Likewise, it urges the States to guarantee the right to return to their nationals who wish to exercise it, given the health barriers and border closure actions taken.

The IACHR has accompanied with concern, through its various monitoring mechanisms and the tools of its mandate, the seriousness of the situation of populations in situations of mobility in the hemisphere, regardless of their migratory or protection status, for the duration of the pandemic. In particular, a series of concerns can be highlighted: the persistence of immigration detention practices; the decrease in refugee resettlement actions; greater obstacles for the presentation of refuge and asylum requests; the closing of borders to groups of return migrants to their own States of nationality; new hypothesis of forced displacement and confinement of displaced persons; as well as the occurrence of acts of xenophobia and violence against women.

Furthermore, the Commission notes with concern that migration and displacement pose greater risk and disproportionate impacts during the international health emergencies. This happens., due to social and economic asymmetries, the existence of barriers, both linguistic and of access to health services, including the fear of accessing these services due to the incidence of immigration controls. Such factors produce patterns of exclusion and violation of rights that merit special attention from States.

In this regard, the Commission recalls that, consistent with the provisions of its Inter-American Principles on the Human Rights of all migrants, refugees, stateless persons and victims of trafficking in persons, the States should create conditions for an adequate standard of living, compatible with the dignity of the human person. States should also prevent those factors that hinder or impede the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health, environmental sanitation, as well as basic social services, as part of their inherent right to life.This would include the respect for their dignity and their sexual, psychological and moral integrity, in spite of their immigration status or place of origin. In addition, States, as part of their obligations to protect the human rights of all people within their territory and under their jurisdiction, must provide the conditions so that people can enjoy the highest possible levels of physical and mental health provided for the same medical care made available to its nationals, as well as bonds, financial aid and other internal protection mechanisms.

he Commission recently established guidelines for the adaptation of public policies in accordance with international instruments and Inter-American standards to ensure the perspective of comprehensive protection of human rights in the context of the pandemic. In addition, it published, on April 10, 2020, Resolution 01/2020 in which it analyzes the important challenges for human rights linked to the pandemic and recommends measures to be adopted by States and other actors in the Americas.

The Commission evaluates that the context of the pandemic adds an additional dimension of possible violations of rights regarding socio-economic asymmetries, as well as the humanitarian and displacement crises in the region. In this way, the IACHR reinforces that populations undergoing displacement or migration processes are especially affected as they lack health protection and social support systems, being susceptible to suffering with movement restrictions, harassment, and xenophobia.

The Commission is concerned at the recent impacts of border closure measures and other containment actions on the main populations displaced by humanitarian crises and due to violence, such as characterized by the situation in Venezuela and in Central America, respectively. In the event of total or partial closure of borders, the Commission recalls that, although States have the prerogative to take measures to manage the risks to public health that may arise through the arrival of people at their borders and their sovereign faculty to regulate the entry of non-nationals, States also must respect the principle of non-refoulement. In this sense, the IACHR warns that imposing a general measure to prevent the admission of refugees or asylum-seekers, or migrants of a particular nationality or nationalities, without evidence of a health risk and without measures to protect against the return is discriminatory and contrary to applicable international and Inter-American human rights obligations and commitments.

The Commission emphasizes that migratory phenomena, whether for economic reasons or for the search for protection, require States to take a priority approach based on the principles of solidarity, cooperation and shared responsibility in the context of the pandemic. States should focus on ensuring access to the mechanisms of protection and guarantees of non-return to people whose life and integrity are at risk. Furthermore, the Commission recognizes that the pandemic can not only aggravate the situation of previously displaced persons, but can also become the cause of new internally or internationally migratory movements with characteristics of forced displacement, and observes that non-discriminatory inclusion in host countries is the most effective prevention mechanism.

In this regard, it is of particular concern to the IACHR the absence of specific measures by the host States for the populations of refugees and displaced persons under their jurisdiction, who, as a consequence, may be forced to move again. On this, it notes that many refugees, asylum seekers and those with protection needs return to their countries of origin where the risks to their life, health and safety persist. Particularly, the Commission recognizes the forced nature of these movements to the countries of origin, and draws special attention to the scenarios of human mobility in Central America and Venezuela. It also urges the host States to take additional affirmative measures to safeguard the integrity and the life of said persons and to abstain from applying clauses of cessation of refuge to those who hold this protection statute.

The IACHR also noted the increase in tension and violence at immigration stations and other facilities where migrants and asylum seekers await their administrative procedures in confinement. This situation is often detention-like, without a time limit, and poses fear of contagion of the illness generated by the new coronavirus. In this regard, the Commission recalls the tragic incident that caused the death of an asylum seeker after an arson at a migratory station in Tenosique, Mexico, on April 1, 2020. In this regard, Mexico informed that it is working in coordination with the Central American countries and with UNHCR to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on migrants under its jurisdiction.

According to public information, similar situations have sparkled protests, including hunger strikes in the detention and processing centers for migrants in the United States, whose sanitary and hygienic conditions may increase the risks of contamination in the context of the pandemic. These conditions were the subject of consideration by the IACHR during its working visit to the country's southern border.
In general terms, the Commission reinforces that the use of immigration detention measures must be applied in accordance with due legal process,and performed in adequate sanitary conditions, for a limited and determined time. Furthermore, the IACHR reiterates that, in accordance with Inter-American standards and principles, detention is never in line with the best interests of migrant children and adolescents. In addition, it recalls the need of State action to reduce migratory irregularity and other factors that may hinder access to health services and epidemiological surveillance.

In the context of the pandemic, the Commission stresses that it is necessary to adopt an intersectional approach to factors that exacerbate their impacts, such as age, gender, race and ethnicity. In this respect, women and girls in situations of human mobility are subjected to additional risks, which mean greater exposure to domestic violence, often accompanied by the continuous contact with their aggressors, as well as to contemporary forms of slave labor and sexual exploitation. The IACHR also stresses the need for a special approach to public policies for older migrant people, considering their reception needs, and, in the countries of origin, the impact suffered by older people and other dependents of migrant workers who send remittances to their families at their home countries.

In relation to situations of tension, the Commission recalls that States have the obligation to respect and guarantee the rights and freedoms recognized to all persons within their territory and subject to their jurisdiction, without discrimination on the grounds of nationality, immigration status or statelessness. Linked to the foregoing, the Commission urges States to include the populations of migrants, refugees and stateless persons in their territory in all plans, measures and actions for protection in health, social and economic assistance developed in response to the pandemic. of COVID-19. Furthermore, it reminds States of the need for structural adaptation and the presence of medical and health personnel in camps, settlements, shelters and other institutions that host migrants, refugees or displaced persons.

Likewise, the IACHR reiterates the need to combine health containment measures that generate the reduction or suspension of freedoms with the possibilities of safeguarding international protection to all persons fleeing persecution, widespread violence, serious humanitarian crises, and other threats to life and integrity. This should take the form of granting physical access to territories and to protection procedures, especially asylum procedures, under conditions that ensure the health protection of the asylum seekers and the health protocols of the host countries.

On the other hand, the Commission welcomes the efforts implemented by the States in the region to contain the pandemic and offer the necessary healthcare to fight the disease, recognizing that only through the inclusion of the entire population in said measures, without discrimination of nationality and origin, the region may overcome this public health crisis. In this context, the IACHR especially welcomes the measures to adapt administrative flows that allow non-discriminatory access of migrants and refugees to health and assistance services, as well as measures that facilitate the continuity of administrative migratory and protection procedures, such as extension of deadlines, creation of telephone attention services and computerization of procedures for remote monitoring.

The IACHR has closely followed the processes of repatriation of nationals coordinated by the countries of the region, according to their own conditions. The Commission observes that these actions are developed in different ways, ranging from the use of consular assistance channels for coordination with private carriers or official vehicles, to the adjustment of specific protocols in cases where the States have decreed total closure of borders, demanding the creation of evaluation structures and preventive isolation or quarantine. The Commission observes that said measures taken to manage public health risks must be reasonable, proportionate, temporary, non-discriminatory and must be ensured under adequate health and sanitary conditions.

In this regard, the Commission welcomes the entry authorization given by Bolivia to a group of Bolivian migrants who was stranded in Chile and continues to monitor their quarantine conditions after returning to their country, as well as the reception and assistance granted to successive groups of migrants returning to their country. The IACHR closely follows the development of similar situations and reiterates to the countries of the region that the return of their nationals must be guaranteed in safe conditions, in a coordinated and assisted manner, ensuring informed consent and compliance with local protocols for public health.

In turn, the Commission values initiatives such as that of the United States, which, since March 18, has reduced new immigration arrests and suspended raids and other operations within or near health centers in the country, within the framework of the adaptation to the context of propagation of COVID-19. Other countries suspended or reduced the application of deportation measures, as in Peru, and detention for deportation, as in the Dominican Republic. Other States, such as Panama and Argentina, suspended deadlines in procedures managed by their migration services, with a positive impact for the maintenance of migratory regularity in this period. Mexico suspended the weekly face-to-face checking obligation for people who have an open procedure for recognition of refugee status, guaranteeing the attention of urgent requests. Chile has extended the validity of the identity cards of more than 200 thousand foreigners who are currently with their documentation pending, in addition to adopting electronic procedures. Furthermore, the IACHR notes as positive the measure taken by Colombia to establish humanitarian corridors at 3 international bridges on the border with Venezuela for people with critical or chronic health conditions in the same period.

In light of the foregoing, the IACHR takes up recommendations 58 to 62 of Resolution N. 01/20, "Pandemic and Human Rights in the Americas," and in order to protect the rights of all people in situations of Human mobility in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commission further recommends that States:

1. Take specific measures to include people in situations of human mobility in policies and services for the prevention and response to COVID-19, including guaranteeing access to information, tests and medical care, regardless of their immigration status.
2. Adapt the pandemic containment measures adopted, such as the imposition of quarantines, isolation measures and border closures, with their obligations of international law and in harmony with the principles of solidarity and shared responsibility that are so appropriate for the States of origin, such as transit and reception.

3. Establish cooperation, information exchange and coordination channels between countries of origin, transit and destination so that, in the context of COVID-19, the repatriation of migrants can be guaranteed in a voluntary, coordinated, assisted, safe and coordinated manner. between the states.

4. Implement measures to extend administrative deadlines, validity of visas, authorizations and other documents that prove the migratory regularity of people, especially those granted for humanitarian reasons or under protection procedures, such as refuge and statelessness; Furthermore, the use of new technologies that allow remote monitoring of relevant procedures must be facilitated to ensure the regularity and validity of documents and statutes.

5. Avoid implementing immigration control or repression actions, and under no circumstances implement such actions in the vicinity of hospitals, shelters and other assistance centers, or in any way hinder the access of migrants and refugees to actions, programs and policies. response and attention to the pandemic of COVID-19.

6. Establish protocols and implement the necessary adjustments to create the appropriate conditions in shelters, stations, shelters, camp-like facilities or settlements and other structures for the reception or stay of migrants and refugees, taking into account health and hygiene requirements. for protection against the spread of COVID-19 and other diseases.

7. Evaluate and implement measures that reduce deportations and expulsions of people to countries where they can see their health situation aggravated by the pandemic, for which the implementation of measures such as granting or extending temporary residence must be evaluated.

8. Evaluate, in accordance with the instruments and regulations they have, the possibility of strengthening health personnel and other services with over-demand due to the context of the pandemic, through the incorporation of trained migrants and refugees, facilitating the necessary procedures for their activity. professional.

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.

No. 077/20