• Dina Ionesco  | Head of the Migration, Environment and Climate Change Division 

A message from Dina Ionesco, Head of the Migration, Environment and Climate Change Division at the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in the first MECC Newsletter of 2020:

Dear Readers, Dear Colleagues, 

The release of this issue of the IOM’s Environmental Migration Newsletter has been delayed as we are all grappling with the immense consequences of the current COVID-19 situation. The IOM Migration, Environment and Climate Change team sends our best wishes to you and your families, friends and teams in these difficult times. We also extend our deep thanks to frontline workers, in this time of great uncertainty, both within IOM and outside. 
The immense impact of COVID-19 on migration has been a shock to many of us, and we now live in a world where the mobility of people within and across borders is greatly reduced – at least temporarily – to an unprecedented extent. This disturbing and unexpected situation reminds us how much migration is – and has historically been – an essential foundation of our societies. 

IOM has continued to respond to the needs of communities and states in the context of the pandemic, and I would like to highlight some dimensions of IOM’s overall response to the COVID-19 crisis. Two of IOM’s main portfolios of work are migration health and crisis response. The Organisation, therefore, leverages its extensive expertise in these areas to support national health systems that may need additional financial, technical or operational resources to respond to the current health crisis from a mobility perspective, and prepare for the ripple impacts. 

Many field activities are already ongoing in different parts of the world, such as supporting health authorities to assess the health of travellers in Senegal, procuring medical supplies to frontline immigration workers in Kenya, supporting health screening of migrants returning from Iran to Afghanistan, and providing assistance to migrants from Myanmar, Cambodia and Lao who have recently left Thailand. IOM situation reports provide regular updates from field activities. 

The recently launched IOM’s COVID-19 Global Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan (SRP) analyzes where current needs are and what can be done to support countries that may need additional resources. This Response Plan is informed by IOM’s extensive emergency experience, as well as specific expertise in health and emergency, such as during the devastating Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Areas of focus include support to cross-border coordination, capacity-building on disease surveillance for governmental staff, and operation activities, such as setting up or enhancing hand-washing facilities at migrant entry points, improving sanitation in displacement sites and disseminating essential public health information targeting migrants, refugees and displaced persons. 

The Organization works in close partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) and all relevant United Nations organizations. IOM is also contributing to the COVID-19 Outbreak Readiness and Response of the Inter Agency Standing Committee (IASC) and the COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan. We are particularly concerned with potential outbreaks of the infection in camps and displacement situations. 

In parallel, IOM and its partners reiterate the need to include migrant-inclusive approaches in the overall COVID-19 response. The  UN Migration Network released a statement entitled COVID-19 Does Not Discriminate; Nor Should Our Response” that highlights that inclusiveness and access to health system for migrants should be part and parcel of the overall strategy to combat the pandemic. 

The IOM Statement on COVID-19 and Mobility (20 March 2020) provides a useful general first analysis of the Organization’s views regarding the impacts of the pandemic on migration, whilst IOM’s new analytical Snapshots focus on specific issues, such as consular assistance and migrants’ stigmatization and discrimination. 

The crisis response is immense and massive, and we are thankful to the colleagues who work on the frontline of this unprecedented challenge. 

In parallel to emergency response, our community of experts in migration, environment and climate change is thinking about the multiple dimensions that the COVID-19 situation has and will have on our work. We will be releasing shortly a preliminary analysis of these linkages. 

Much of the readership of this newsletter is comprised of people who work in international affairs, travel regularly internationally for professional reasons and are part of multinational teams. We are now forced into immobility – or at least limited mobility. For many of us, it might be the first time in our lives that we experience a limitation to our freedom of movement. From our place of privilege, this might also give us a better understanding of why people have taken throughout history the decision to leave their homes and communities to seek more freedom, including the freedom to move.