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The human right to health and the Global Compact on Migration

14 August 2017
Genevieve Gencianos addresses the Global Compact on Migration
In 2016, the United Nations Secretary General convened a High-Level Summit on Large Movements of Migrants and Refugees. This came as a response to the unprecedented levels of forced displacement in war-torn areas in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, particularly in Syria, leading to millions of migrants and refugees crossing to neighbouring countries and beyond.

The summit came up with the 2016 New York Declaration for Migrants and Refugees, mandating the United Nations to forge a Global Compact on Migration and a Global Compact on Refugees in 2018.

Throughout 2017, thematic, regional and national consultations on the Global Compact on Migration are being held, which will culminate in a stocktaking meeting in Mexico in December. In early 2018, negotiations will begin on the zero-draft and the final Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, along with a Global Compact on Refugees, that will be adopted in a High-Level Conference at the UN General Assembly in the last quarter of 2018.

Public Services International is engaged in these consultations, working with other global union federations and civil society allies. Our core message to States is to place the human-rights based normative framework as central in the Global Compacts. This framework should encompass the multidimensional character of migration, from addressing the root causes and drivers, to dealing with migration’s impact and governance.

Within this framework, PSI is pushing for access of migrants and refugees to their human right to health, based on the principle of equality of treatment and non-discrimination. Within the New York Declaration, States have committed to “take measures to improve the integration and inclusion of migrants and refugees, with particular reference to access to health care.” However, in the global thematic consultations being organised around the Global Compact this year, none of the themes were on health.

In response, the World Health Organization (WHO), along with a number of States, are lobbying to give prominence to the right to health for migrants in the Global Compact. They held a side-event on Health and Migration: Global Challenges, Shared Responsibilities and Shared Solutions during the Third Thematic Consultation on the Global Compact on Migration at the United Nations at Geneva in June.

In May 2017, the 70th World Health Assembly endorsed a Resolution ‘Promoting the health of refugees and migrants.’ The resolution reiterated the unanimous consensus among WHO member States to see health included in the Global Compacts. It also provided support towards the WHO Framework of Priorities and Guiding Principles to Promote the Health of Refugees and Migrants, identification and collection of best practices and pushing for international cooperation and responsibility sharing among countries in responding to the health needs of migrants and refugees. In order to mainstream health, the WHO secretariat provides input on health issues into the issue briefs for the six thematic consultations.

During the First Thematic Consultation on the Human Rights of Migrants held in May, access of migrants to basic services, particularly health, featured prominently in the discussions and interventions from States. The role of cities and local authorities in providing these services was also recognised. One of the practical recommendations put forward was to establish ‘’firewalls” between access to public services and immigration control. PSI’s intervention in the consultations included this key point.

Furthermore, PSI is part of the Initiative on the Rights of the Child, which is a global cooperation among major international and civil society organisations pushing for the rights of the child in the Global Compacts. Among the key recommendations of the Initiative is access of migrant and refugee children to basic services, particularly health and education.

In conclusion, consultations are underway towards forging the Global Compact on Migration and the Global Compact on Refugees, and we must advocate for the explicit recognition of the right to health of migrants and refugees. Regional and national consultations on the Global Compact on Migration will be held in the coming months until November. It is important for affiliates not to miss this opportunity and to engage their governments in promoting the right to health for migrants and refugees, and effectively calling for the human right to health for all.  

Affiliates are also advised to make online submissions to WHO for the development of a draft global action plan to promote the health of refugees and migrants, until 22 September, 2017.  

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This article is an extract from the “Right to Health” newsletter issue 03/2017. Subscribe to the newsletter. Send us your stories.

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