The current outbreak of the coronavirus COVID-19 is, above all, a health problem. However, it also has unprecedented consequences for mobility, as it has involved changes in the management of migration and borders, and in the situations of migrants.
IOM staff are working to respond to this public health emergency from a mobility perspective, taking as a reference among other things the experience gained in previous emergency situations, such as the Ebola outbreak. IOM also works closely with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Network on Migration to ensure the integration of migration and health concerns throughout the United Nations system.
To ensure that mobility is taken into account in public health messages, and that migrants and mobile communities have access to timely, context-specific and correct information, partners in the Risk Communication and Community Engagement network (RCCE) have proposed a series of guidelines:
Culturally and linguistically adapted communication messages: This involves providing technical guidance and other tools to ensure that migrants are included in national, regional and global outreach campaigns.
Community engagement activities: By communicating with communities and receiving feedback along mobility corridors, entry points, and between migrant and mobile population networks, including travel agencies, tour operators, employers, and recruiters.
Adapted psychological first aid for pandemics: It is necessary to develop the capacity of health workers and other actors, using previous models developed for outbreaks such as Ebola.
Information on good hygiene practices: In this type of situation, it is vital to incorporate health recommendations through the development and dissemination of information and educational communication materials adapted to the needs of migrants and related communities.
Consultations with communities and local associations: This includes associations led by women, organizations of persons with disabilities, children, students or youth networks, and so on... Strengthening their participation and community outreach efforts allows for improved accountability for affected populations.
Prevention and recovery of violence, discrimination and xenophobia: This must be created through community participation by promoting messages and activities of social cohesion.
Cross-border awareness raising: It is suggested that this type of effort is supported at the community level in close coordination with municipal authorities in border communities, as well as by training municipal officials and community members on prevention and preparedness measures, using appropriate medical and physical precautions.
Repository of products and practices for inclusive communications for migrants: As well as the development and translation of standard messages for migrants on recommended measures and rights of assistance. Along these lines, the IOM Regional Office for Central America, North America and the Caribbean has developed communication materials regarding COVID-19 and populations on the move which are constantly being uploaded to the Regional Knowledge Hub on Migration. These materials are free to download.
Commitment of migration authorities: Due to its characteristics, powers and scope, it is necessary to involve and secure the commitment of migration authorities to support communication activities against COVID-19 at border points, such as by disseminating information, as well as advice on prevention and when/how to seek medical care for travelers.
It is possible that in the short term and in the most affected countries, migrants are exposed to many vulnerabilities, maybe even more than nationals. For this reason, working on effective communication to minimize the impact and strengthen ties with the migrant population and authorities and actors close to said population, will be a necessary baseline to face the pandemic.