Newswise — ITHACA, N.Y. – From detention facilities in Arizona to labor camps in Qatar to settlements in Bangladesh, the coronavirus pandemic has posed new threats to migrants and refugees.

 A global committee of legal scholars – including Cornell Law School’s Ian Kysel – developed a set of principles released April 28, “Human Mobility and Human Rights in the COVID-19 Pandemic: Principles of Protection for Migrants, Refugees and Other Displaced Persons,” reminding states of their obligations to those populations amid the public health crisis. 

“Turbulent times do not justify claims that rights can be dispensed with or set aside because they are considered inconvenient to the pursuit of controlling the virus,” wrote the authors. “It is precisely in such times that international human rights do their most important work, reminding us of the core principles of the humanity we are struggling to preserve.”

Kysel, a visiting assistant clinical professor of law and co-founder of the International Migrants Bill of Rights Initiative, joined Monette Zard, director of the Program on Forced Migration and Health at Columbia University, and Alex Aleinikoff, director of the Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility at The New School in New York City, as co-conveners of the effort, which received the endorsement of more than 800 scholars around the world.

They formed 14 principles, including rights to nondiscrimination, health, information and due process, and the right not to be returned to a risk of serious harm. An explanation of each principle is followed by citations of the international law, treaties or accepted guidelines from which it was derived.

“We wanted to create a global tool that applied general human rights principles to this context of COVID-19,” Kysel said. “We’re reminding states of these core obligations that they’ve already agreed to, and providing guidance about how these commonly accepted principles must be applied in the context of the pandemic.”

That context, he said, includes concerns among human rights advocates about numerous examples of governments disregarding legal norms in the name of COVID-19, including: the United States closing its Mexican and Canadian borders to asylum seekers, the government of Malaysia turning away boats of Rohingya refugees and reports by civil society groups across Latin America of increased rates of sexual and gender-based violence against women, girls and gender non-conforming migrants and refugees.

“The fact of COVID-19 changes the human rights analysis,” Kysel said, “and makes many more situations of migrant detention – if not almost all of them where the virus is prevalent – disproportionate and unlawful.”

For additional information, see this Cornell Chronicle story.

 Experts at Cornell University are available to discuss the coronavirus crisis from a variety of perspectives: the science and health implications of the disease, its impact on the global economy, labor and specialized industries, effects on countries around the world and the broader impact the crisis is having on our daily lives.

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