UN agencies call for urgent disembarkation of hundreds of refugees and migrants rescued in Central Mediterranean
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UN, Aug 29 (Canadian-Media): Hundreds of rescued migrants and refugees currently on board three vessels in the Central Mediterranean, some of whom have been stuck at sea for weeks, must be brought to shore immediately, two UN agencies said on Saturday.
Migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea are rescued by a Belgian ship (file photo). Image credit: Frontex/Francesco Malavolta
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, also underlined the need for regional agreement on safe disembarkation amid the COVID-19 pandemic and reduced search and rescue capacity.
"The humanitarian imperative of saving lives should not be penalized or stigmatized, especially in the absence of dedicated state-led efforts," they said in a joint statement.
Fears for overcrowded vessel
The agencies reported that some 200 refugees and migrants were in urgent need of transfer and disembarkation from the Louise Michel, a search and rescue vessel operated by a German non-governmental organization (NGO) and funded by the reclusive British artist Banksy.
The boat had assisted in a rescue early on Saturday and was overcrowded. “Any delays could jeopardize the safety of all people onboard, including its crew members,” the agencies warned.
Following calls for assistance, 49 people were later evacuated by the Italian coastguard, according to media reports.
An ‘unacceptable’ situation
Meanwhile, some 27 people who had departed from Libya have been aboard a commercial vessel since being rescued more than three weeks ago. Those on the Maersk Etienne include a pregnant woman and children.
Describing the situation as “unacceptable", the UN agencies stressed that a commercial tanker “cannot be considered a suitable place to keep people in need of humanitarian assistance or those who may need international protection”, adding that “appropriate COVID-19 prevention measures can be implemented once they reach dry land.”
A further 200 migrants and refugees are on board another NGO rescue vessel, the Sea Watch 4.
Lack of regional agreement Both IOM and UNHCR have long called for regional agreement on a mechanism for disembarkation of people rescued at sea.
“The lack of agreement…is not an excuse to deny vulnerable people a port of safety and the assistance they need, as required under international law,” they said, calling for stalled talks to be resumed and for other European Union (EU) states to step up support to Mediterranean countries on the frontline of the issue.
The UN agencies also expressed concern about what they described as the continued absence of dedicated EU-led search and rescue capacity in the Central Mediterranean.
“With relatively fewer NGO vessels compared to previous years, the gap is being increasingly filled by commercial vessels,” they said.
“It is vital that they are permitted to disembark rescued passengers promptly, as without such timely processes, shipmasters of commercial vessels may be deterred from attending to distress calls for fear of being stranded at sea for weeks on end.”
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Geneva/UN, Aug 10 (Canadian-Media): Amidst reports that many migrant workers in the Middle East are being made destitute, due to an economic crisis exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the UN is calling on governments and employers to respect their rights, and show solidarity with their plight.
A woman views an exhibition of portraits of domestic workers on their day off on International Domestic Workers Day in Qatar. Image credit: ILO/Hisham Ashraf
Thrown into the streets, locked in rooms, and forced to work without pay, recent media reporting has revealed the abuse and poor treatment that some migrant domestic workers in the Middle East have suffered, since the onset of the pandemic.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) has confirmed that many of these workers, particularly those who have no employment contract, and live outside the household, have been severely impacted by the pandemic.
Rszyard Cholewinski, senior migration specialist at the ILO’s Regional Office for Arab States, told UN News that the numbers of workers affected in the region is significant: more than 27 per cent of migrant domestic workers (3.16 million out of a global total of 11.5 million) are employed in Arab States, according to ILO estimates.
Many of them have lost their incomes and livelihoods, with employers telling them that their services are no longer needed, due to fears regarding the spread of COVID-19. As a result, they are struggling to pay for food and rent, and are relying on humanitarian assistance, and the support of community networks.
Most, however, live within the households of their employers. For these workers, says Mr. Cholewinski, working conditions are likely to have worsened: “they are being required to perform more tasks, particularly in relation to cleaning, and working longer hours with less time off”, he says. “They are also subject to greater restrictions on their mobility as families stay home, with the increase in teleworking and home-schooling during periods of lockdown”.
Workers in this region were already vulnerable to abuse, as domestic work is excluded from labour laws in many countries. In Arab States that favour the kafala system – which requires foreigners to obtain the permission of their employer if they want to change jobs or leave the country – there is, says Mr. Cholewinski, a serious imbalance in the worker-employer relationship, which makes migrant domestic workers particularly vulnerable to situations of forced labour.
Signs of progress
The UN has been working to improve conditions for migrant domestic workers during the pandemic, alongside governments, employers and worker organizations, and other partners, to better understand the situation of migrant domestic workers, who have become even less visible than before due to the lockdowns introduced by many governments in the region.
In cases where migrant domestic workers have been deprived of incomes and livelihoods, the UN is working to ensure that all migrant workers, including domestic workers, are covered in the national responses to COVID-19.
At a local level, says Mr. Cholewinski, there are some signs of improvement in the way workers are treated: “there has been some progress in dismantling the kafala system, to make it easier for domestic workers to terminate contracts and to change employers, particularly in cases of abuse”.
However, he notes that there is still a lot more that needs to be done at an international level: “the ILO is promoting ratification of its Domestic Workers Convention, which establishes the minimum level of treatment that should be afforded all domestic workers regardless of their nationality or immigration status. To date, it has not been ratified by any Middle Eastern countries”.
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Geneva/UN, Aug 10 (Canadian-Media): As migrant workers continue to be on the front lines of the collective response to COVID-19, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) are releasing new employer guidance for measures to protect them.
Women migrant workers in a ceramics factory in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand.
Image credit: UN Women/Pornvit Visitoran
Migrant workers are a crucial part of the global workforce, accounting for 3.5 per cent of the world’s population, according to IOM.
Worldwide, micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises, rely on them, including sectors providing essential commodities and services, as well as industries hard-hit by COVID-19.
Marina Manke, Head of the IOM Labour Mobility and Human Development Division, pointed out that they're working not only as “doctors, nurses and other health care professionals, but as the agricultural, transport and retail workers that keep our cities and towns functioning”.
As the coronavirus continues to impact local communities, businesses can play a decisive role in addressing the unique challenges faced by migrant workers.
Susceptible to job loss, salary cuts, and various health and safety concerns, migrants are far away from family support networks, can face clear language or cultural barriers and often lack social protection. Many also suffer from discrimination.
Meanwhile, overseas economies that rely on financial contributions from migrant workers—especially low- and middle-income countries—face a steep decline in cross-border remittances.
A guiding hand
To address the specific challenges migrant workers face during COVID-19, IOM and ICC published a set of employer guidelines on Monday.
Highlighting the role of the private sector, the advice includes a set of general principles – such as treating all workers with “equality, dignity, and respect” – regardless of gender or migratory status.
It is presented in the five categories of physical and mental health; living and working conditions; economic support; ethical recruitment; and supply chain transparency.
“Employers are in a unique position to ensure full protection for these workers both at the workplace and in their communities of operation and supply chains”, said Ms. Manke. “We hope this guide will serve them well”.
On the ground
IOM, ICC and its network of national committees are working to raise awareness of the particular support measures needed for migrant workers during the pandemic among businesses in different regions.
Most recently, IOM and ICC – along with regional offices in Argentina, Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico – hosted a webinar directed at employers in Latin America in Spanish.
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Geneva (UN), Aug 9 (Canadian-Media): Two UN agencies are calling for greater action to dismantle smuggling and trafficking networks following the deaths of 27 migrants off the coast of Mauritania, northwest Africa.
The only survivor among passengers on a boat adrift off the West African coast is transported to an ambulance in Nouadhibou, Mauritania.
Image credit: © UNHCR/Komi Mensah
The International Organization for Migration (IOM), and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, on Friday expressed deep sadness over the incident, which they said was avoidable.
The migrants, who were mostly from sub-Saharan Africa and included Guineans, were on a boat that had left Dakhla, Western Sahara, several days ago.
The vessel was heading for the Canary Islands when it began having engine trouble. The passengers were left stranded at sea and began suffering from extreme dehydration.
A lone survivor was brought to the Mauritanian city of Nouadhibou after being rescued by the coastguard on Thursday and is receiving medical and psychological support.
“Despite COVID 19 mobility restrictions, migrants are still compelled to undertake risky journeys”, said Laura Lungarotti, IOM Mauritania Chief of Mission.
“While we continue to provide humanitarian assistance hand in hand with the Government of Mauritania and civil society, the need for predictable rescue and assistance procedures remains. This is all the more important whilst public health measures are still in place”.
Intensify efforts against smugglers
IOM and UNHCR urged governments to step up efforts to dismantle smuggling networks while also increased safe and legal pathways to asylum and migration.
“These deaths are preventable, and they are avoidable,” said Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR Special Envoy for the Central Mediterranean.
“We must take action to target the smugglers and traffickers who offer false promises to migrants and refugees of safe passage to Europe.”
He added that, “at the same time, we need to offer effective protection and services to people in countries of asylum and transit to strengthen their socio-economic inclusion and integration with host communities, so they don’t feel the desperation that drives them to risk their lives on these desperate journeys.”