UN calls for ‘domestic solidarity’ in COVID-19 struggle to deal with the plight of Migrant Workers: India

UN calls for ‘domestic solidarity’ in COVID-19 struggle to deal with the plight of Migrant Workers: India

UN Human Rights official account on twitter, tweeted[1] on 2nd April; 2020 that its Chief Michelle Bachelet feels anguished about the plight of migrant workers in unorganised sector who are severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic for most of them had to leave cities where they worked at just few hours’ notice, and their failure to pay for rent or food.

The challenges that are to be faced by the government in the planning and implementation due to the population size and its density are also recognised by the UN Human Rights Chief. Simultaneously, it was expressed that there is still hope that the further spread of the virus can be checked.

Also, it was considered important that the measures that are to be adopted to combat the spread of COVID-19 should not be discriminatory, and not intensify the pre-existing inequalities in the Indian society.


The States were supposed to follow the quarantine order[2] issued by MHA and the advisory[3] on the same matter by MoHFW in case of migrants. To comply with the same, numerous videos surfaced over social media where police officials are beating migrants and spraying disinfectant over them. It was stressed that though police officials are bound by many strains, but they must follow and abide by international standards over use of force and humane treatment while they respond to the pandemic.

Respect of Migrants

Supreme Court’s instruction on 31st March; 2020[4] that the migrants must be treated humanely, and giving them food, water, beds, other supplies and psychosocial counselling in shelters by volunteers, has received appreciation from the High Commissioner and it was said that it will ensure the safety and rights of the concerned vulnerable group i.e. migrant workers.

The Government, at national and state level has also implemented measures for the same i.e. to provide food, money, water, healthcare services, etc. in camps and to order landlords to not ask for rents or waive off rents during the pandemic but the same was not considered enough by the High Commissioner. The High Commissioner urged that more measures can be taken by the Government to combat the pandemic while taking care of migrant workers. Also, the special needs of women where the migrant workers are kept must also be given enough attention.

Refrain from Stigmatisation

UN Human Rights Chief also expressed concern over measures like marking hands of those quarantined, putting notices outside their residences to contain the spread of coronavirus as these measures may lead to stigmatisation against some persons within the community, who are already vulnerable due to their social status in the society or other factors.

It was expressed that such measures will most probably lead to discrimination and stigmatisation against people who are quarantined and hence, may disturb their psychological balance or cause anxiety and stress.

The Government was also advised to work effectively with civil society, including NGOs who are already active in responding to contain the pandemic.

The High Commissioner concluded, “This is a time for domestic solidarity and unity. I encourage the government to draw on India’s vibrant civil society to reach out to the most vulnerable sections of the society, to ensure no one is left behind in times of crisis”[5].

[1] https://twitter.com/UNHumanRights/status/1245740115730796550?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1245740115730796550&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fnews.un.org%2Fen%2Fstory%2F2020%2F04%2F1060922 (Last visited on 25th April; 2020)

[2] https://www.mha.gov.in/sites/default/files/MHA%20Order%20restricting%20movement%20of%20migrants%20and%20strict%20enforement%20of%20lockdown%20measures%20-%2029.03.2020.pdf (Last visited on 25th April; 2020)

[3] https://www.mohfw.gov.in/pdf/Advisoryforquarantineofmigrantworkers.pdf (Last visited on 25th April; 2020)

[4] https://mib.gov.in/sites/default/files/OM%20dt.1.4.2020%20along%20with%20Supreme%20Court%20Judgement%20copy.pdf (Last visited on 25th April; 2020)

[5] “COVID-19: UN Human Rights Chief distressed over plight of India’s internal migrants, welcomes measures to limit impact”, OHCHR, available at: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25767&LangID=E (Last visited on 25th April; 2020)

Article Witten by- Muskan Sharma

Law Student- (Jamia Millia Islamia)

(HRDI Work from Home Internship)