Enhancing access to services for migrants in the context of COVID-19 preparedness, prevention, and response and beyond

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The United Nations Network on Migration is committed to supporting all partners in pursuit of the implementation of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, recognizing that this cooperative framework provides an invaluable tool for ensuring inclusive, collective responses to COVID-19 and its impact.

To that end, this briefing is part of a series by the Network looking at different aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic and how they relate to migrants and their communities. The document provides practical guidance to States and other stakeholders for an improved common understanding of safe and inclusive access to services for migrants. The brief makes the case for enhanced access to services for migrants in the context of COVID-19 preparedness, prevention, and response – and beyond. We look forward to feedback from all partners, and to updating the proposed key messages, special considerations, practical recommendations and the repository of guidance tools on an ongoing basis.

This Policy Brief is developed by the thematic on Working Group on Access to Services of the UN Network on Migration under the co-leadership of WHO and UN-Habitat, with support and contributions from its members including FAO, ILO, IOM, OHCHR, UNAIDS, UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF, UN Women, Caritas on behalf of Initiative for Child Rights, IFRC, PICUM, PSI and UCLG.


1.1.Vulnerability, risk, and agency

  • Migrants are not inherently more vulnerable to, or at risk of, contracting infectious diseases. They face similar health threats from coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) as any other human being and are also an integral part of any effective public health response. However, due to the often-harsh conditions in which they move, live and work, migrants may have specific vulnerabilities that bear due consideration. These conditions include inadequate access to health, housing, water, sanitation and other basic services. Limited access to information due to language and cultural barriers, coupled with the marginalization of migrant communities, place them amongst the hardest to reach populations when information is disseminated.

1.2. Exclusion and the threat to public health

  • Undocumented migrants, in particular, are often excluded from national programmes for health promotion, disease prevention, treatment and care, or social protection schemes for facilitating their access to health and social services. This exclusion makes early detection, testing, diagnosis, contact tracing and seeking care for COVID-19 difficult for migrants thus increasing the risk of further spreads. Outbreaks among migrants in vulnerable situations may then also go unchecked, as many undocumented migrants fear the risk of being detected. This presents an additional threat to public health. Furthermore, misinformation on the spread of COVID-19 exacerbates the xenophobia and discrimination that migrants and displaced people already face.

1.3. The GCM and safe access to basic services

  • In the recently adopted Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM), Member States have committed to ensure that all migrants, regardless of their migration status, can exercise their human rights through safe access to basic services (objective 15) and other relevant objectives.They further committed to strengthening migrant-inclusive service delivery systems, notwithstanding that nationals and regular migrants may be entitled to more comprehensive service provision, while ensuring that any differential treatment must be based on law, be proportionate and pursue a legitimate aim, in accordance with international human rights law.

  • Aligned with the recently published Secretary-General’s Policy Guidance on COVID-19 and People on the Move, the objectives of the GCM and a UN Framework for the immediate socio-economic response to COVID-19, this Policy Brief presents specific considerations and recommended actions for Member States and other stakeholders on the provision of access to services for migrants in the context of COVID-19 preparedness, prevention, and control as well as mitigating its social and economic impacts.

Effective COVID-19 preparedness, prevention and response requires a migrant-inclusive approach regarding access to services at the national and local levels. By including migrants in national plans, including socio-economic response plans, impact analysis, policies and strategies, gaps in health and other inequities such as access to education and information, training and decent work will be diminished, strengthening efforts towards achieving the SDGs. In line with the universal health coverage (UHC) principles, this will require a whole-of-society and whole-of-government approach, working across sectors and stakeholders including immigration, finance, education, labour and other ministries, across government levels. This will also need to be within and across national and local authorities, including civil society organizations and community leaders, private sector actors, employers and workers’ organizations, as well as national human rights institutions. The engagement of migrants themselves as key stakeholders in the community, will be a vital element for the sustainability of national plans. Plans and policies should be evidence-based, age- and gender-responsive, facilitate affordable and non-discriminatory access to services, and include targeted measures ensuring safeguards of migrants’ entitlements and fundamental rights at work.