UNHCR Human Rights Adviser spoke about the challenges of the pandemic and the need to demystify the idea that human rights are ephemeral
December 18 – International Day of Migrants. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has campaigned to illustrate how everyone can contribute to changing the narrative about migrants, making sure that the voice of migrants, the communities that welcome them, and those who defend their rights are heard.
Voice of America Russian Service spoke to Carolina Hernandez (Carolina Hernandez) – Adviser on Migration and Human Rights of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Alexander Yanevsky: Ms. Hernandez, could you briefly tell us what the UNHCR for Human Rights is doing, and you personally??
I lead a team that deals with migration and human rights issues, advising the UN High Commissioner. We have a global UN mandate to protect the rights of everyone on the planet. The Office was created to protect and support the rights of everyone, so in the face of prolonged migration, we focus on those who are more isolated and vulnerable to discrimination. We understand that many of the 272 million migrants around the world are in a situation where they are able to expand their life opportunities through migration, but there are many others who are too often discriminated against and considered not in need of legal protection. For our part, we try to advocate and support the provision of technical assistance to UN Member States, civil society, national human rights institutions and other partners to ensure that the rights of all migrants are protected and promoted, regardless of their migration status..
If we talk about the UNHCR for human rights, then a few days before the International Day of Migrants, the High Commissioner launched an information campaign. It aims to illustrate the different ways in which we can all contribute to changing the migrant narrative..
The campaign also provides an opportunity to hear their stories, to hear communities that welcome migrants and those who protect migrants. In addition, the campaign provides a number of tools that allow you to step by step help everyone who wants to change their perception of migration, as well as focus on what common values we share, what unites us. After all, in the end, we are all either migrants, or children of migrants, or our friends, neighbors, fellow students are such. Due to the pandemic, many migrants have become scapegoats, demonized, saying that they are carriers of the virus.
Many migrants save our lives or bring in the food we order or provide access to certain services. Today, in connection with the celebration of Migrant’s Day, we are trying to focus on exactly this: on the stories about us, on what unites us, not divides us. We call for a change in the perception of migrants and migration.
A.Ya .: What are the main problems faced by migrants during the COVID-19 pandemic??
K.E .: Over the past year, violations of the rights of migrants have increased. Existing problems, inequality and marginalization have only worsened. Three main problems need to be identified.
The first is access to services and prevention of COVID-19 in some countries, such as Singapore. A number of migrant workers initially did not participate in preventive measures due to the pandemic, which ultimately affected the countries from which they came. Also, many of the problems that migrants face – lack of documents, language barrier – are associated with their migration status. When a person is undocumented, they are often simply afraid of accessing the services they need because they do not know if they will be found, detained and possibly deported..
In April of this year, we released the COVID-19 Response Guide to Governments, listing practical steps that governments can take. For example, a kind of protection between immigration control and the provision of services, so that migrants are not afraid to seek help. This is extremely important when we talk about vaccination. We would like all people to be vaccinated without fear..
The second issue directly related to COVID-19 is human rights and border controls..
During this year, we saw a number of travel restrictions that were necessary to some extent to prevent further spread of the virus. At the same time, they affected the rights of many people, especially those migrants who either ended up at the border or were detained indefinitely. It is also worth adding that some of their claims for protection under refugee or human rights laws were not met – they were simply suspended. Many migrants were either forced out of countries or forcibly returned to their homeland.
We urged national governments to consider ending forced deportations during a pandemic and instead consider other options. For example, we have seen UN member states Italy, Portugal and New Zealand take the necessary steps, such as renewing work or residence permits..
The third big problem is detention. Too often we still see people being detained because of their migration status. They are in overcrowded premises and do not have access to healthcare services. UN member states should consider ending detentions, releasing those in custody, and considering other solutions to the problem: there is an alternative to detention. These steps can ensure that human rights are respected while the immigration situation is resolved..
A.Ya .: When it comes to human rights, some people think that it is not very important: you cannot touch, feel, see them. What would you say to people who consider them “high matters” that have nothing to do with reality?
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K.E .: It seems to me that it is necessary to demystify the idea that human rights are something ephemeral and reflect on our values. It’s about our dignity, our personal freedom, the importance of freedom of expression, our freedom of movement.
We forget that “those others” want what we do: security, respect for dignity, and uphold the same values that we do. We need to change the narrative and see what exactly is important to all of us and see how human rights are – very pragmatic these days..
A.Ya .: Which regions in the world are “hot” in terms of human rights violations, and what should we know about them??
K.E .: All of our regional offices are closely monitoring the situation in their countries. Recently, we have seen an important debate that is emerging in the European Union, where the EU pact on asylum and on migration has been developed. There are elements in it that will enable us to properly analyze what we want in terms of protecting the rights of all displaced persons, and how we can ensure that we are able to respond to emerging challenges in this particular region from the perspective of those seeking security. … During the pandemic, we tracked and monitor migrants from Venezuela who move throughout Latin America, as well as migrants in transit from Central America to Mexico and the United States.
We have seen a number of similar problems in the Middle East, where many migrant workers have been affected by COVID-19 and then some have returned to their home countries, in some cases observing, and in some not, the precautions required from a health and safety perspective. … So most of the trends are similar across regions. We are following very closely the development of the situation and how we can support states in taking measures that are consistent with international human rights law..
Journalist. Graduated Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv. Worked on the channel «1 + 1» and «Channel 5». On «Voice of America» since 2014. Was one of two correspondents «Voices of America», covering the Russian presidential elections in 2018 from Moscow. He pays attention to the topic of US-Ukrainian and US-Russian relations. Actively covered the case of Paul Manafort and Maria Butina.
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