Thursday, June 4, 2020

Modern Slavery

Modern Slavery.

By Miriam Karmali.

July 4th, 2020.


.




The COVID-19 crisis is laying bare the gaps in protection that exist for modern slavery survivors and at-risk migrants around the world. Now is the time for governments to act.


Modern slavery survivors and at-risk migrants who often don’t have a legal immigration status and so are excluded from protection under national laws are being left at risk of illness, destitution, exploitation and trafficking. For some, their lives are in immediate danger. 

But governments around the world can use this crisis as a wake-up call to strengthen protection measures for modern slavery survivors, and all migrants, beyond this global pandemic. 

Demand heads of government take immediate action to ensure all adult and child modern slavery survivors and at-risk migrants – regardless of immigration status – have access to healthcare, free from the threat of detention or deportation. 


The U.N. recently said that the implementation of inclusive national measures for all is crucial for effective anti-slavery prevention and protection.[1] But for those without the legal right to remain in a country, accessing medical help just isn’t possible or comes with the risk of reprisal.

This means trafficking victims, people seeking asylum, and undocumented migrants are forced to sacrifice their health for fear of deportation and that is unconscionable – particularly during a global health crisis. Seeking testing and care for COVID-19 should not put anyone at risk of retaliation. 


Self-isolation and social distancing policies in place in a number of countries aren’t enough to protect modern slavery victims and vulnerable migrants from the spread of the virus or the risk of trafficking. It has become increasingly evident that to be able to follow social distancing measures is to be in a position of privilege.[2] 

More comprehensive measures must be urgently implemented to ensure those trapped in modern slavery are guaranteed access to government assistance. These people are likely to live in squalid conditions, or isolated indoors with their traffickers, with little access to hygienic facilities and are unable to stop working under threat of reprisal from their traffickers. 

The impacts of COVID-19 are further exposing existing racial inequalities and discrimination, factors that can increase a person’s vulnerability to modern slavery.[3] For example, Black, Asian and minority ethnic people in the U.K. are at greater risk of dying of the virus and at greater risk of losing employment as a result of the pandemic.[4] 

For low-paid migrants without the legal right to work, observing social distancing policies may not be an option as they are pushed into seeking potentially exploitative work in order to survive. 

That’s why Freedom United is supporting the U.N. call on governments to grant all migrant workers, regardless of immigration status, access to healthcare and government support during the pandemic, ensuring that human rights are at the center of the world’s response to coronavirus. 

Adequate healthcare is a human right for all, codified in international law under the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.[5] The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights recently stated: 

“To effectively combat the outbreak means ensuring everyone has access to treatment and is not denied healthcare because they cannot pay for it or because of stigma.”[6] 


We know that what we’re asking for is a possible reality. Portugal has already implemented measures to grant all migrants in the country the same rights as residents regardless of the status of their immigration application until at least July 1, 2020.[7] 

Once an individual presents proof of an ongoing application, they will have access to the health service, government welfare, and work and residency permits. 

Measures like these are a positive step towards protecting survivors and at-risk migrants from exploitation but they must continue to be implemented beyond the pandemic. 

Sign the petition today and demand governments treat healthcare as a human right and protect survivors and vulnerable migrants in the face of COVID-19. 

If we’ve learned anything from this global pandemic, it’s that safeguarding measures for the most vulnerable in many places around the world are not fit for purpose. 

Let’s demand sustainable change NOW so that the most vulnerable in our communities are better protected from the next crisis. 

In solidarity, 

Miriam, Joanna, Allan, Herrana, Carlo, and Milea 



Miriam Karmali
Advocacy, Freedom United 
[1] https://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25774&LangID=E
[2] https://www.freedomunited.org/news/concerns-for-migrant-workers-in-us-farms-and-meat-plants-as-covid-19-spreads/
[3] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/apr/20/coronavirus-racial-inequality-uk-housing-employment-health-bame-covid-19
[4] https://www.ifs.org.uk/uploads/Are-some-ethnic-groups-more-vulnerable-to%20COVID-19-than-others-V2-IFS-Briefing-Note.pdf
[5] https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/cescr.aspx
[6] https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/03/19/human-rights-dimensions-covid-19-response#_Toc35446586
[7] http://cms.trust.org/item/20200328134943-zahn6






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  • Miriam Karmali, Freedom United <team@freedomunited.org>

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