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United Nations adopts Two Landmark Global Compacts on Migrants and on Refugees

04 April 2019
Health workers caring for refugees
In December 2018, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the UN Global Compact for Migration and the UN Global Compact on Refugees. The compacts were adopted after two years of intensive consultations and negotiations. PSI actively engaged in advocacy and lobbying during these processes and welcomed their adoption.

by Genevieve Gencianos

2018 was a milestone year in international cooperation on the issue of migration and refugee protection, with the adoption by the UN General Assembly of two landmark global compacts, namely, the Global Compact for Migration and the Global Compact on Refugees.

The World Health Organization is building on this momentum, with the 144th WHO Executive Board preparing a Global Action Plan (2019-2023) on Health of Refugees and Migrants.

The UN Global Compact for Migration is a robust framework of international cooperation to address the multi-dimensional aspects of migration.

The UN Global Compact on Refugees is a comprehensive refugee response framework that the international community will undertake in order to ease pressure on host countries, enhance refugee self-reliance, expand access to third-country solutions and support conditions for safe and dignified returns of refugees.

Both Compacts affirm the human right to health for migrants and refugees and encourage stakeholders, including trade unions and civil society, to cooperate with governments and international agencies to realise this right, through a whole-of-society approach. PSI’s Right to Health Campaign provides the vital tools with which we can promote the right to health in the Global Compacts. At the same time, our continued engagement in the implementation of the Compacts will provide the opportunity to enhance PSI’s Right to Health Campaign in the context of migrant and refugee rights.

WHO develops five-year Global Action Plan on the Health of Migrants and Refugees

The WHO Director General, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, presented a draft Global Action Plan (2019-2023) on Promoting the Health of Refugees and Migrants to the 144th WHO Executive Board meeting in January. The Global Action Plan is an elaboration of the WHO Framework on Priorities and Guiding Principles to Promote the Health of Refugees and Migrants as mandated by the World Health Assembly resolution WHA70.15 of 2017.

The goal of the Action Plan is to assert health as an essential component of refugee protection and assistance, and of migration governance. The plan aims to address the health and well-being of refugees and migrants in an inclusive, comprehensive and holistic manner that takes into account the health of the overall population.

It recognizes that, in order to prevent inequities and inefficiencies, public health considerations of refugees and migrants are inseparable from those of the host population. Given that migration is a natural human feature, exacerbated by unprecedented levels of forced displacement arising from conflicts and climate change, the plan reflects the urgent need for the health sector to deal more effectively with the impact of migration and displacement on health.

The Action Plan outlines key priorities and options for action:

  • Reduce mortality and morbidity among refugees and migrants through short and long-term public health interventions.
  • Promote continuity and quality of care, while developing, reinforcing and implementing occupational health and safety measures.
  • Advocate mainstreaming of refugee and migrant health in the global, regional and country agendas.
  • Enhance capacity to tackle the social determinants of health and accelerate progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, including universal health coverage.
  • Support measures to improve communication and counter xenophobia, and
  • Strengthen health monitoring and health information systems.

The WHO Executive Board endorsed the Global Action Plan and submits it for adoption by the World Health Assembly in May 2019 [1].


Genevieve Gencianos is the Migration Programme Coordinator of PSI.

[1] Read the full text of the Draft Global Action Plan on Health of Refugees and Migrants: http://apps.who.int/gb/ebwha/pdf_files/EB144/B144_27-en.pdf and read the PSI statement to the WHO Executive Board in January 2019 in response to the draft Global Action Plan here.


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