Why does discrimination against migrants increase during a crisis and how can its impact be reduced?

Why does discrimination against migrants increase during a crisis and how can its impact be reduced?

When a community or country is going through a crisis situation, whether due to political, economic, social or natural factors, antimigrant discourses, discrimination, hostility and abuse of human rights may increase.

Crises usually develop over time and have deep roots that require structural changes. However, migrants can be mistakenly seen as the generators of these problems, making the true causes of the situation invisible. This change or intensification of negative attitudes towards migrants occurs at different levels, which intertwine and reinforce each other: as a person, in a group, in media and social networks, and in politics and government.

The staff of organizations and institutions that must protect the rights of migrants during a crisis can also be biased by prejudices, affecting access to humanitarian aid, protection and rights. According to the IOM study "Migrants and their Vulnerabilities to Human Trafficking, Modern Slavery and Forced Labor", law enforcement agencies or prejudiced legislators against migrants are less likely to protect them.

The fear of irregular migrants being deported if they ask for help or employment during a crisis adds another layer of complexity. According to data from the International Labor Organization from the “Handbook of "Migration, Human Rights and Governance,” although the presence of irregular migrant workers is often tolerated in times of economic boom, it is likely that the pressures to expel them from the country increase during recessions.

For the provision of humanitarian assistance to migrants without discrimination in host countries, the guidelines of the Migrant in Countries in Crisis Initiative (MICIC) provide some recommendations to partners in different sectors based on good practices for the private sector, civil society and the diaspora:

For the private sector

  • Locate migrant workers;
  • Provide transportation, accommodation, health care, protection and communication to migrants and family members;
  • Coordinate with the team leaders of migrant workers to make sure that emergency and contingency plans are applied according to the needs of migrant workers.

For civil society

  • Ensure the dissemination of information on assistance for migrants through faith-based organizations, local leaders and other migrant-related entities.
  • Communication with local and humanitarian partners to identify gaps in assistance or coverage.
  • Use the various skills and competencies of CSOs to provide assistance according to the specific needs of particular groups of migrants, such as domestic workers and unaccompanied minors, victims of trafficking, people with disabilities, among others;
  • Establish safe spaces and centers (for migrants in general and in particular for vulnerable migrants) where assistance can be provided in a sensitive and safe manner;
  • Contribute to the search for relatives, family reunification and the identification of missing migrants.

For the diaspora

  • Raise funds for humanitarian assistance
  • Facilitate the access of those responsible for the response to the registration and assessment of needs (based on trust created with migrants)
  • Act as mediators between migrant communities and the authorities;
  • Provide support based on their particular capabilities, such as translation services, cultural mediation and in-kind assistance.

Although there are guidelines for the care of migrants without discrimination during a crisis such as those just mentioned, the work against hate speech must be constant and transversal to reduce this type of rejection in countries of transit and destination, including ethical representation of migrants in the media and personal actions advocating for diversity and against xenophobia.

Migration and disability in 2020

Migration and disability in 2020
Categoria: Migrant Protection and Assistance
Autor: Laura Manzi

Although calculating the number of people with disabilities in the world is a complicated task, since there are no official records, and also because of other challenges, such as having to distinguish between physical, mental, intellectual or sensory disabilities, according to the WHO estimates, 15% of the world's population lives with disabilities. However, in the discourses related to disability, mentioning the numbers is not so functional, since it should be noted, first, that many people may not recognise or do not consider their condition as a disability, and second, that each person experiences their disability differently.

This is due not only to the other elements that make up their identity, such as gender, age, sexual identity, ethnicity, nationality, which also define the way in which the disability manifests itself and which lessen or aggravate its consequences, but also to the factors that characterize their social position, such as their economic situation, educational level and migratory status (regular or irregular), among others. These factors can affect and limit the capabilities and opportunities of the person with a disability. In this sense, the severity of the disability is partly related to the living conditions and the environment in which the person lives. Migrants living with disabilities face numerous obstacles and suffer greater vulnerability, as they often lack opportunities and adequate attention to their needs and find it more difficult to access health and social security services.

Can the migration process be the cause of disability?

Due to the lack of studies focused on the subject of disability, the literature on the quality of life of migrants living with such a condition is scarce. However, some studies refer to how the migration process itself can also be the cause of disability.

According to a COAMEX report, which is based specifically on the migratory route from Mexico to the United States, during their journey, migrants have to deal with difficult and risky situations that can expose them to the risk of acquiring conditions of disability, especially physical or psychosocial, such as:

  • Getting on or off a moving train (often to flee, avoid arrest, or move more quickly through some sections), which can cause mutilations.
  • Having accidents or suffer the damages of a collision of vehicles in which groups of migrants are in unsafe conditions, or be the victim of violent acts that leave physical contusions.
  • As a result of an experience that can be stressful and traumatic, some migrants suffer from anxiety, panic disorders and post-traumatic stress, which in turn can lead to the development of psychosocial disabilities.

Through a statement, the United Nations also emphasized the vulnerability of migrants to the risk of disability. For example, migrant workers who have lower educational levels or who suffer from labour exclusion in many sectors, often have to deal with dangerous manual work, which expose people to high risk of accidents and consequently to conditions of physical disability.

What does it mean to be a migrant and live with a disability in times of a pandemic?

Reiterating the data and information disseminated by the World Health Organization, the IOM indicates that the risks suffered by people with disabilities (of course, depending on their disability) are due to:

  • Difficulties in complying with some preventive and protective hygiene measures, such as frequent hand washing (in particular, in cases where sinks are physically inaccessible or a person has physical difficulties to properly rub their hands); or putting on masks.
  • Obstacles to access information or maintain social distancing and isolation, since people with disabilities may need daily support from health personnel or family members and acquaintances.
  • People with disabilities can also suffer from more serious COVID-19 infections, due to pre-existing conditions, inability or difficulty in accessing health care services, and ultimately abrupt disruptions in the support systems from which they often benefit.

Migrant with disabilities present greater vulnerabilities to COVID-19, as these situations can be even more harmful when coexisting with other unfavourable conditions, such as lack of social protection, low economic levels, discrimination and social exclusion.

From the outside, it is easy to be able to identify physical disabilities and to make an effort to understand the struggles that the person faces. Less visible, however, are other types of challenges with which these people live, such as social and labour exclusion, stigma, discrimination or the obstacles they encounter when accessing education. These obstacles are doubly harmful for migrants living with disabilities.

For this reason, it is necessary to stimulate a broader and more active conversation about the subject, especially due to a still lacking literature on disability. Institutions, agencies and organizations should be invited to carry out more studies to make the issue visible and lead initiatives. Furthermore, the legislative framework that protects people with disabilities must be strengthened, more innovative solutions have to be discussed and provided, and above all, access to health must be guaranteed to migrants with disabilities.

Social, economic and political inclusion of people with disabilities, although not directly listed as a Sustainable Development Goal, is transversal to many of the goals of the 2030 Agenda and its purpose of ‘leaving no one behind '. From health (SDG 3) to quality education (SDG 4), decent work (SDG 8) and reduction of inequality (SDG 10) among others: the 2030 Agenda sanctions our commitments to achieve the empowerment and full inclusion of people -including migrants- with disabilities.