Human rights experts said that all migrants and their families must be included in the national COVID-19 response and recovery plans of all countries, regardless of their migration status.
This was said in a statement released by United Nations Human Rights Office (OHCHR) last week to mark International Migrants Day.
The experts, which comprise of five individuals from the human rights sector, pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic has manifested globally the vital contribution migrant workers provide to local economies.
“Migrant workers from a crucial workforce in various sectors that are contributing to the delivery of essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic, including in domestic households. Among them, migrant health and care workers have been on the frontline,” the statement read.
It added, “On this day where we pay tribute to all migrants, in a context of a continuing global health crisis that also has a severe impact on the governance of migratory movements, we must remind States to treat all migrants with dignity and provide them with equal access to services, benefits, information, and assistance”.
Additionally, the experts also urged countries to consider the positive contribution brought by migrant workers in terms of labour, skills and diversity to host communities.
“Migrants and their families should be fully integrated in national plans to build back better and States should embrace a more inclusive and sustainable recovery from the pandemic, while implementing public health imperatives”.
The experts also expressed that these migrants and their families are already deprived of access to social protection and to decent working conditions, putting them at serious risk of exploitation. “Preventing exploitation is a core human rights obligation of all States,” the experts warned.
Given that migrant workers also contribute to economic resilience in host countries, these countries should invest in enhancing resilience for migrants and their families by providing access to basic services, including health services, to all migrants, particularly those in precarious socio-economic conditions.
If that not all, when vaccines for COVID-19 become available, all migrants should be granted access to vaccines equal with provisions for others on a voluntary basis, the experts said.
They also added that countries must lift, as soon as warranted, restrictive measures that have been imposed and had an impact on human mobility, migration and protection protocols in response to the pandemic.
Migrant workers in Singapore
To mark the International Migrants Day, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in a video message, expressed his appreciation to migrant workers in Singapore. Among other things, he thanked the many migrant workers in Singapore for their continued trust, patience and support and acknowledged the difficulties they had to endure and continue to endure as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As he reassured migrant workers that they would be cared for in the same way Singaporeans would be, he credited their contribution saying: “We could not have done this without your cooperation and sacrifices…..You are welcomed members of our society. If you fall ill, we will make sure you get medical care, stay in touch with your families, and can return to work as soon as possible.”
Even as PM Lee speaks, the international media has revealed that the COVID-19 cases among migrant workers in Singapore are at least three times higher than what was actually reported. A rights group has said it is “unsurprised” after it was reported that almost half of Singapore’s migrant workers have been infected with Covid-19 in the past nine months.
New data from MOH shows that 152,000 foreign workers – 47% – have been infected. Without including the migrant worker infections, fewer than 4,000 people have tested positive in Singapore.
Even as PM Lee’s speech was aired, Alex Au (Au) of the charity Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) told the BBC that many of our migrant workers “have been locked in for eight months.” While the rest of the country is preparing to enter into Phase 3, migrant workers are still restricted to their dormitories.
Au stressed, “there is no justification for Singapore to treat migrant workers like prisoners.”