Refugees in the European Union should have equal access to promising COVID-19 vaccines, the head of the United Nations migration agency told the European Parliament on Thursday.
“It is for the sake of their safety and wellbeing of the entire host communities” in the countries taking them in, said Antonio Vitorino, director general of the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
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He was one of several high-profile speakers dialling in for a virtual conference organised by the European Parliament and Germany on migration and asylum in Europe.
Announcements in recent days that coronavirus vaccines developed by German and US companies appear to be highly effective prompted Vitorino to plead for them to be given to migrants also, if and when Europe starts giving jabs to its population.
“No one is safe until everybody is safe,” the IOM chief said.
“When we have now news about a vaccine, the challenge that EU European member states are confronted with, is to guarantee access to the vaccine to everybody that is in your territory, not just your citizens, but also all the refugees, displaced people and migrants that are in Europe,” he said.
Vitorino also urged the EU to push ahead with a reform of its asylum and migration policy put forward by the European Commission.
The COVID-19 pandemic is creating “extra pressures” driving migratory flows, he said, noting that “the Sahel is exploding”, with consequences for all of West Africa.
Libya, a restive transit country for many refugees and migrants seeking to get from Africa to Europe by perilous boat journeys in the Mediterranean, “is not a safe port of disembarkation”, Vitorino said.
Refugees there “live in utterly below minimum humanitarian conditions”, he said, in what could be seen as a veiled criticism of the EU policy of using Libya as a buffer zone.