UN urges immediate action for safe return of stranded migrants amid pandemic
More than 2.7 million migrants who wished to return home have been stranded abroad because of restrictions put in place to fight the coronavirus pandemic, the United Nations said on Friday.
The world needs to urgently step up cooperation to allow people to return in a safe manner despite the coronavirus constraints, said the UN's International Organization for Migration (IOM).
The IOM warned in a report that border closures and travel bans had left large numbers of migrants stranded.
It defined stranded migrants as people outside their country of habitual residence who wanted to return home but were being prevented by restrictions related to the pandemic.
IOM chief Antonio Vitorino urged countries to do more for the roughly 2.75 million people stuck in limbo.
"The scope and subsequent enforcement of tens of thousands of mobility restrictions, including border closures and nationwide lockdowns related to COVID-19, requires states to reach out to their neighbors and to migrants' countries of origin to address their needs and vulnerabilities," he said in a statement.
"Migrants can be returned home in a safe and dignified manner despite the constraints imposed by COVID-19."
IOM said it had calculated the 2.75 million figure from official sources on known cases up to July 13 of migrants stranded abroad in need of assistance, including food, water, shelter and repatriation.
They include seasonal workers, temporary residence holders, international students, migrants who traveled for medical treatment and seafarers.
Based on data from 382 locations in more than 101 countries, it "is considered a large underestimation of the number of migrants stranded or otherwise impacted by COVID-19", IOM said.
The IOM said it had received requests to assist nearly 115,000 stranded migrants to return home safely and voluntarily, and had been able to do so for more than 15,000 of the most vulnerable in recent months.
"Once stranded, some migrants are at a higher risk of abuse, exploitation and neglect," it warned.
"The loss of livelihoods can increase vulnerabilities and expose them to exploitation by criminal syndicates, human traffickers and others who take advantage of these situations."
The organization said that too often, migrants were excluded from national coronavirus response and recovery plans due to their irregular status.