Mobility in the Time of COVID-19

Human mobility and human rights in the COVID-19 pandemic: Principles of protection for migrants, refugees, and other displaced persons

In responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, many States have taken harsh and unprecedented measures against migrants, refugees, and other displaced persons.  Actions taken to control and prevent the spread of the virus and to ameliorate the massive harms inflicted by the pandemic must be consistent with established international human rights norms. These norms – including those of non-discrimination, rights to health and to information, due process, and non-return to risks of serious harm – apply to all persons, irrespective of their immigration status.

The following principles derive from international treaties and instruments, customary international law, decisions of UN treaty bodies, and guidelines widely accepted by the international community. They are further informed by decisions of human rights bodies at the regional level and regional inter-State agreements.  The principles are offered to inform and guide State action, to assist international organizations, and to provide a basis for advocacy and education.

The fourteen principles are listed below.

Members of the Drafting Committee included: T. Alexander Aleinikoff, Chaloka Beyani, François Crépeau, Joanne Csete, Guy Goodwin-Gill, Walter Kaelin, Ian Kysel, Jane McAdam, Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, Anna Shea, Leah Zamore, and Monette Zard.

Catherine McGahan (Associate Director, Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility, The New School) and Sarah Guyer (Teaching Assistant, Program on Forced Migration and Health, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University) provided technical and editorial assistance. 

Over 1,000 international experts have endorsed the document.

State policies responding to COVID-19 must guarantee equal and non-discriminatory treatment of all persons, irrespective of their immigration and citizenship status or the fact of their displacement.

States must respect the right to health of migrants, refugees, and other displaced persons, including by ensuring that the provision of essential medicines, prevention, and treatment are provided in a non-discriminatory manner.

States should ensure that neither their actions nor the actions of others stigmatize or incite violence against persons on account of their actual or perceived health status, in particular when such stigmatization is linked to nationality or immigration status. 

States are required to ensure that restrictions on mobility adopted in response to COVID-19 respect the rights of all persons to leave any State and to re-enter their home States.

In responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, States must respect the liberty of movement of all persons within their territory.

A State’s pursuit of legitimate health goals must respect the fundamental principle of non-refoulement, including non-return to a real risk of persecution, arbitrary deprivation of life, torture, or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.

States may not enforce immigration laws in a manner that increases the risk of transmission of COVID-19, and such enforcement must comport with fundamental norms of due process. Detention of migrants, refugees, and other displaced persons is impermissible where such detention would expose them to serious risks to their health and life due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

States must take effective measures to mitigate COVID-19 transmission among migrants, refugees, and other displaced persons living in camps, collective shelters, and settlements.

Migrants, refugees, and other displaced persons have a right to information about COVID-19, including information related to symptoms, prevention, control of spread, treatment, and social relief. The internet is an indispensable source of information, and blocking or interfering with access during a pandemic is not justifiable.

In responding to COVID-19, States must protect the right to privacy of migrants, refugees, and other displaced persons, including their right to control the release of personal medical information.

States must ensure the protection of the rights of displaced women, girls and gender-non-conforming people, and should identify and mitigate particular threats to their health, safety, and well-being in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Certain groups among migrant, refugee, and other displaced populations require special attention in the context of COVID-19, particularly when it comes to protecting the right to health, access to information, and the prohibition on discrimination. These include older people, persons with disabilities, and children.

States must observe the labor rights of migrants, refugees, and other displaced persons working in essential occupations and industries, and in particular take measures to protect their health. States must provide assistance to migrants, refugees, and other displaced persons who lose their jobs and incomes due to the COVID-19 pandemic to the same extent that such protection is afforded to nationals.

Any restrictions on rights must be provided by law and be reasonable, necessary, and proportionate. Rights may not be suspended except in a publicly declared emergency threatening the life of the nation, and only if strictly required by the situation. Any such suspension must be consistent with the State’s other international legal obligations.

Principles of protection for migrants, refugees, and other displaced persons

Endorse these principles.

Reiterating the importance of adherence to the rule of law and basic norms of human rights is critical.

Principes de protection des migrants, des réfugiés et des autres personnes déplacées

Principios de protección para migrantes, refugiadas y otras personas desplazadas

ক োভিড-১৯ অভিমোভিতি মোনব গভিশীলিো ও মোনবোভি োি: অভিবোসী, শিণোর্থী ও অনযোনয বোস্তুযচ্যি বযভিি সযিক্ষোয় নীভিমোলো

Grundsätze des Schutzes von Migranten, Flüchtlingen und anderen Vertriebenen


Immigration Short-Takes: Mobility in the Time of COVID-19 is an online series of short discussions on the nexus of migration-related issues and COVID-19.  Scholars and activists on migration and mobility will join the Zolberg Institute in an online series of short discussions on the nexus of migration-related issues and COVID-19, during the worldwide pandemic. These short discussions, held over Zoom, will inform and engage the public through live and recorded conversations.

This COVID-19 Community Resources was created by graduate students at The New School for Social Research, and supported the Zolberg Institute, to help immigrant communities in New York City access resources during the global pandemic.

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COVID-19 and Migration Digital Archive

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