Reflections on UNMN Listening Sessions on Migration, Covid-19 & Gender

On June 11, Women in Migration Network helped to convene, along with UN Women, the United Nations Network on Migration (UNMN) “listening sessions” on the impact of Covid-19 on migration, through a gender lens – part of a series exploring “mobility in the time of Covid-19”. The sessions provided an important venue for civil society participants worldwide to share critical reports on the impact of the global pandemic. These sessions were followed by a UNMN webinar, on June 18, that included participation of states, civil society and other stakeholders.

Following is a “reflection” on the listening sessions by WIMN. It can be downloaded here and can also viewed on the UNMN website.

Reflections on the Listening Sessions on Migration, Covid-19 and Gender

The two sessions were both rich in information and perspective, largely coming from presenters embedded in a variety of regions and countries and with direct experience and exposure. Very troubling was the consistency of the reports from the global regions: migrant women are facing increased risks, abuse and exploitation during this pandemic, with immediate and long term consequences for themselves and for their families. While as a member of the Women in Migration Network (WIMN), which helped to convene these sessions, I am kept fairly well informed of situations on the ground and at policy levels for migrant women, I was really struck by the intensity of the current situation that in just a few months, has dramatically impacted migrant women – and unfortunately, not for the better.

A few of the themes lifted from these sessions:

  • The problems experienced during this global pandemic by migrant and refugee women, including those internally displaced, predate the pandemic, but have been intensified by the nature of the health crisis, lockdowns, and government policies.
  • Lack of immigration documentation – being irregular – has compounded these problems in ways that go well beyond the “normal” if also critical, experiences of other population sectors, especially for those in vulnerable economic situations. The marginalization of irregular migrants has deepened, with little or no governmental action for remedies or even humanitarian aid.
  • Serving in “essential” roles during the pandemic has exacerbated health risks and rights for migrant women. Perhaps ironically, migrant women have shown that they are “essential” workers in many populations – providing medical care, working in home care, especially with children and the elderly, working throughout the food supply chain, cleaning industries, and more – all areas strongly affected by the virus and/or by the consequences of population lockdowns and mobility limits. Yet, those engaged in such work have traditionally been undervalued, underpaid and exploited and this has not changed, by and large, during this pandemic.
  • The danger of rising racism and xenophobia, whether in the U.S. or elsewhere, migrants and refugees – particularly from Asia – have been targets of racist abuse and attacks, accused of spreading the virus. The spread of Covid-19 has also been cited as the basis for stricter border controls, despite health experts’ admonishments that this has little impact on containing the pandemic.

We heard how the pandemic has worsened – dramatically, in many instances – access to labor rights and social protections for migrant women with even more dire conditions for health and safety, especially for those working on temporary visas or who are undocumented. Country lockdowns have severely limited the ability to work and earn wages — and even when there is work, it comes with health risks and labor exploitation. In some countries, domestic workers have been locked in with families, may not be paid, are caring for people with Covid, have no masks or protective gear, nor access to cell phones to report abuses or seek assistance. Others have been forced to work, for example, in the garment and other industries during the lockdown, risking travel to and from work and in the workplace, and spreading contagion to their households.

Still others were released from their jobs – sometimes without pay – but have been stranded, unable to home countries due to lack of transportation and resources, and without status, unable to access relief supports, even if available at all.

Similarly, women farmworkers may have lost their jobs – or if they had work, given the “essential” agricultural production, they work at risk to exposure and are in positions of even greater exploitation.

School closures have affected migrant women workers with school-age children, while young girls risk dropping out of school altogether to help their families.

Many migrant women have been the primary breadwinners for their families, whether their families are with them, or whether they would send remittances to their home countries. These incomes have been lost with an immediate impact. In many families these lost remittances were a lifeline — income that saved families from impoverishment. That support has been removed and may not be re-established for some time.

Across the regions, we also heard that domestic and workplace violence has increased as women have been trapped in more stressful situations. In one area, calls to hotlines on domestic abuse increased by 162%! Increased child abuse has also been reported.

Not surprising, irregular status continues to undermine access to protection, services and rights. Migrant women not getting tested for Covid-19 for fear of detection and deportation, a fear not unfounded in some countries as migration status is registered for testing. Even beyond access to Covid-related testing and health care, the breakdown in health care access also includes support for mental health, for reproductive and maternal health care; in some areas migrant women are even risking home deliveries to avoid contact with public health institutions and risk detention and deportation.

And of course, the global pandemic has occurred in an environment where we have experienced increased racism and xenophobia, the expansion of repressive immigration measures, and now, more border closures. In the U.S., this has a wholesale lockdown against asylum seekers, all the while deporting migrants, including many who are Covid-positive.

The situation has not been without resilience, by migrant and refugee women and allies. We did hear that some countries, there is a growing recognition of the vital roles that migrants, and women in particular, have played in societies – roles that have sometimes been demeaned and often exploited. Care givers, house cleaners, gardeners, farmworkers, health care workers. Foreign-born nurses – over 15% of nurses in the US – work on the frontlines caring for Covid-positive patients in hospitals and in nursing homes. Relief funds, sometimes supported by foundations but more often tapping individual donations, have sprung up to provide much-needed financial support. Food kitchens and free meals have been offered where public sentiment acknowledges that “we are all in this together.” There has been talk of a public “narrative shift” – towards a more positive view of migrants and their roles in the workforce and as members of communities.

In a handful of countries, work permits have been extended, or specific funds have been extended to support irregular migrants as well, during the pandemic. But as the pandemic continues to take hold around the world, disrupting economies, stretching public support systems – where they even exist – a long term economic crisis looms, including national and regional food crises (and we already have food insecurity for many), supply chain upheavals, a severe decline in remittances, and of course, a global climate emergency that has also affected by the pandemic and its consequences. (And no, the temporary clearing of the air with lower carbon emissions hasn’t fixed our climate crisis.)

Despite the troubling and consistent reports during these valuable listening sessions, our knowledge of Covid-19’s impact, with a migration and gender lens, may only be known down the road, and if we now also ramp up reporting access and data collection. This is something that UN Women and many other institutions are urging.

These valuable listening sessions reaffirmed for me the recommendations that have emerged not just now, but over the past years, especially in the process towards the Global Compact for Migration. It will not be enough to include a gender lens in addressing the complex issues of global migration. With the challenge to find and make widely available a vaccine against Covid-19, and continued limits to mobility and a long economic recovery, we are all fearful of the devastating impacts on women in migration. All the more motivation to ramp up our attention to both immediate remedies and long-term solutions.

Migrant and refugee women, including LBTQ women, must be included as stakeholders and change agents. Their experience, vital roles in broad societies and in migrant communities, are critical to ensuring that “recovery” drives us to create a better world without the structural inequalities and injustices that only became more glaring in this global crisis.

  • Catherine Tactaquin, Women in Migration Network

 

Spanish Court On Exclusion of Migrants From Health Services

 

PRESS RELEASE


The Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR), Amnesty International, Médicos del Mundo, Red Acoge, REDER and semFYC reiterate that the Royal Decree 16/2012 contravenes international human rights norms and standards, and is regressive with regard to the right to health.

Madrid/New York, 4 August de 2016: The Center for Economic and Social Rights, Amnesty International, Médicos del Mundo, Red Acoge, la Red de Denuncia y Resistencia al RDL 16/2012 (REDER) and the Spanish Society for Family and Community Medicine (semFYC) voice their concern over the judgement issued by the Constitutional Court of Spain last week which upholds Royal Decree 16/2012 (RDL 16) and confirms the exclusion of undocumented migrants from free access to health services.

The organizations regret the Constitutional Court’s decision to ignore international human rights treaties and recommendations issued by regional and international human rights mechanisms, especially given that the Spanish Constitution itself requires that the rights it contains be interpreted in the light of international treaties. On the contrary, the Constitutional Court ruling gives carte blanche for fundamental rights to be shaped according to the government’s general economic criteria.

The Constitutional Court, through this ruling, legitimizes the health reform under the premise of the existence of a “situation of urgent and extreme necessity” and of “grave economic difficulty without precedents since the creation of the National Health System”. In this sense, and without reference to the requirements of which Spain has been reminded on repeated occasions by both European and United Nations human rights bodies, the Court has considered it proportional to limit access to free health care for undocumented migrants – a sector that is among the most vulnerable in society – with the objective, according to the ruling, of preserving and maintaining the public health system. In this way, it consecrates a regressive vision, without sufficient justification, of the right to health in Spain.

Read the rest here.

PICUM Roundtable: Sexual and Reproductive Health

By Tara Ohl, PICUM Trainee and Alyna Smith, PICUM Advocacy Officer

Among the obstacles undocumented migrants face in realising their fundamental rights are the multiple barriers to access health care, including sexual and reproductive health services.

Most EU member states limit access to emergency care only for undocumented migrants, while a limited number provide access to primary care. Where there is an entitlement to care, it tends to be for specific services – maternal care, or treatment for HIV and other communicable diseases – that are disconnected from any right to access primary care.

To draw attention to states’ duties under international and EU law with regard to the right to health, and the reality as well as the impact of undocumented migrants’ extremely limited access to health services in practice, PICUM launched a report entitled “The Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights of Undocumented Migrants: Narrowing the Gap Between Their Rights and The Reality in the EU”.

Together with Doctors of the World (MdM), International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) European Network and the Center for Reproductive Rights, PICUM also invited key partners to meet in Brussels to discuss challenges needing urgent attention and strategies to address them in order to improve access to health services, generally, and to sexual and reproductive health care in particular, for undocumented migrants.

Sexual and reproductive rights as part of the right to health care

International and European human rights laws are clear: access to sexual and reproductive health services is a component of the right to health. States that deny undocumented migrants access to essential health care act contrary to their international obligations.

Under international human rights law, the right to health means that health services must be available, accessible, acceptable and of good quality. These conditions equally apply to sexual and reproductive health.

All EU member states have ratified international human rights treaties, which guarantee the right to health, and thus to sexual and reproductive health. In addition, the principle of non-discrimination applies in the area of health care, which means that states have a duty to guarantee the right to health for everyone residing within their territory. Restrictions, in law or in practice, that limit access to essential health services on the basis of migration status may breach the principle of non-discrimination.

To read the rest of the article, click here.