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COVID-19: Urgent help for India’s forgotten migrant workers must follow Supreme Court ruling, say UN experts

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GENEVA (4 June 2020) – UN experts said today the Indian Government must urgently comply with a Supreme Court order to ensure the wellbeing of more than 100 million internal migrant workers suffering hardship after COVID-19 measures forced them to travel long distances home, many on foot.

“We are appalled at the disregard shown by the Indian Government towards internal migrant laborers, especially those who belong to marginalised minorities and lower castes. Instead of ensuring the protection of their rights, the Government has failed to address their dire humanitarian situation and further exacerbated their vulnerability with police brutality and by failing to stop their stigmatisation as ‘virus carriers’,” said UN Special Rapporteurs on the right to housing, Balakrishnan Rajagopal, and on extreme poverty, Olivier De Schutter.

“We hope the Supreme Court order will be promptly implemented and help to dramatically improve the situation of internal migrant workers. Many are stranded in intolerable conditions, hungry and without shelter, after losing their income and being forced to vacate their residences by their landlords,” the experts said.

The Supreme Court has ordered the Government to register them, ensure that they can board a train or a bus free of cost, and provide them with shelter, food and water until they reach their homes. Railway companies are to ensure trains as requested by the Government.

Many internal migrants have also been assaulted by police for violating the 24 March lockdown orders, which had been issued abruptly for the general population and ignored the difficulties of vulnerable persons to comply.

“While we applaud the Government’s efforts so far to provide “relief packages” for people living in poverty, and to schedule extra train rides, these have been clearly inadequate and insufficient due to the vast majority of internal migrant workers not qualifying for relief packages, and the lack of coordination among state governments for the transportation of internal migrants,” the experts said.

“The scale of the COVID-19 crisis in India is testing the Government’s commitment to protect the rights of the most vulnerable members of society. By making sure that internal migrant workers urgently receive the necessary assistance during this crisis, in compliance with the order issued by the Supreme Court, it will give the Government the opportunity to show its willingness to comply with its responsibilities under human rights law.”

The experts’ call has been endorsed by Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Michael Fakhri; the Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health, Dainius Pūras; and the Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Fernand de Varennes.

The experts have also conveyed their concerns directly to the Government of India.

ENDS

Mr. Balakrishnan Rajagopal (United States) is the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context. He took up his mandate in May 2020. Mr. Rajagopal is a Professor of Law and Development at the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT and the founder of the Displacement Research and Action Network at MIT.

Mr. Olivier De Schutter (Belgium) is the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. He took up his functions in May 2020. Mr. De Schutter is a Professor of Law at UCLouvain and at SciencesPo (Paris). He was the Special Rapporteur on the right to food from 2008 to 2014, and a member of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights between 2015 and 2020.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests please contact Jon Izagirre (+41 22 91 79715 / jizagirre@ohchr.org), Patricia Varela (+41 22 928 9234 / pvarela@ohchr.org)
or write to srhousing@ohchr.org /srextremepoverty@ohchr.org

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Renato de Souza (+41 22 928 9855 / rrosariodesouza@ohchr.org) and John Newland (mediaconsultant2@ohchr.org)

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.

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