Skopje – The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has issued an urgent call to Governments not to forget migrants as the battle against COVID-19 enters a new phase.
Even as headlines of a new vaccine raise hope that the darkest days of the pandemic may be ending, a current second wave reveals infection rates up to ten times higher in parts of Europe than those of last Spring.
Participants in this week’s meeting of the South-Eastern Europe Health Network (SEEHN), organised from North Macedonia’s capital, learned that a combination of harsh winter conditions and seasonal flu likely will put a massive strain on already-overburdened health services.
“This is bad news for the tens of thousands of migrants in the region,” explained IOM’s Senior Regional Health Advisor, Dr. Jaime Calderon, during his address to the forum. “All too often, migrants encounter obstacles in accessing health services—due to language and cultural barriers, fees they cannot afford, and lack of inclusive health policies.”
SEEHN is a network linking the governments of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Montenegro, the Republic of Moldova, Romania, Serbia and the former North Macedonia. Each of these is a source country—and increasingly, a transit country—for migrants.
Some 30,000 migrants passed irregularly through the region this year, about the same as previous years, despite pandemic restrictions. There are about 12,500 currently in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and 7,100 in Serbia. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, IOM is rushing warm clothes and sleeping bags to rough-sleeping migrants as temperatures drop below freezing.
IOM’s Dr. Calderon urged governments to include migrants in public health strategies and vaccination plans.
“Vaccines are among our most critical and cost-effective tools to prevent outbreaks and keep communities safe and healthy,” he stressed. “For everyone to thrive, countries must intensify efforts to ensure that no one is left behind and all migrants – no matter their legal status – have access to the life-saving benefits of vaccines.”
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