The COVID-19 outbreak is evolving into the largest health and migration crisis ever seen. As the numbers of cases increase, the pandemic continues to impact human mobility, with knock-on effects for immigration and border management regimes.
Across the Caribbean, a range of lockdown and border restrictions were imposed across states to counter the spread of the virus. As rates of infections begin to drop and economic pressure grows, current restrictions are gradually being lifted. States face a challenge in maintaining a delicate balance between re-opening their economies and borders to migrant workers, students and tourists, while keeping infection rates under control.
While the majority of infections in the Caribbean region have been reported in urban areas where economic inequalities and high population density encourage transmission, data collected by the World Health Organization shows a concerning trend towards high transmission in border areas. High transmission rates are exacerbated by a general lack of robust health infrastructure in border communities.
Migrants and immigration officials can be particularly vulnerable to communicable diseases, particularly at Points of Entry, means of transportation, shelters and migrant detention centres. While COVID-19 can cause serious illness in anyone, some specific groups are at a higher risk of serious illness. High risk groups include people with compromised immune systems, people with underlying medical conditions, as well as older adults.
Furthermore, some migrants are more vulnerable than others because of social, situational, and structural factors which exacerbate their vulnerabilities, such as those with irregular migrant status, or those belonging to vulnerable groups, such as the LGBTQI+ population, women, and environmental migrants. Conditions surrounding the migration process, such as barriers to health services, poor living and working conditions, and exploitation, all pose additional health risks which can exacerbate the spread of COVID-19 among migrants and border officials. Ineffective measures to confront vulnerabilities can result in reduced access to healthcare, over-crowded or suboptimal environments, and cultural or linguistic barriers to accessing health information.
States are required to implement measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 for cross-border travel. Under the International Health Regulations, states are obliged to enact specific public health measures to prevent, protect against and control the spread of infectious disease in order to avoid “unnecessary interference” in international travel and trade. Furthermore, the WHO recently issued specific guidance for the safe re-opening of border crossings and Points of Entry, which compels states to implement measures to identity and control potential cases at arrival points in the context of COVID-19. Border authorities are advised to implement procedures which include: the training of Health and Immigration Personnel in early detection and evaluation, the provision of a fast-track pathway to isolate suspected cases at suitable health facilities, and the development of different contingency plans to ensure that Point of Entry facilities do not become hotspots for infection.
Limited medical staff and equipment, and insufficient financial resources have reduced the ability of healthcare practitioners to effectively operate at Points of Entry across the Caribbean, particularly in the COVID-19 context. Without the implementation of specific procedures to combat the spread of COVID-19 through cross-border movements, there is a risk of increased rates of infection, and cross-border transmissions. To this end, the IOM has designed a COVID-19 Specific Standard Operating Procedures for Frontline Border Officials at Points of Entry, in line with IOM’s Health, Border and Mobility Management (HBMM) Framework.
The Standard Operating Procedures specifically were created for frontline officials who interact with passengers at points of entry, such as airports, sea ports and land crossings. Therefore, the implementation of protective and preventive measures is an important priority for border and immigration management. These Procedures provide guidance in reducing COVID-19 transmission, preventing contamination between work and home, as well as safe handling of suspected or probable COVID-19 cases at Points of Entry.
COVID-19 Specific Standard Operating Procedures for Frontline Border Officials at Points of Entry cover:
- Establishment of clear lines of administrative control
- COVID-19 case definitions, including how to identify probable, suspected and confirmed cases
- Guidelines for personal hygiene, implementing a safe and clean workplace, and practicing self-protection
- Risk assessments and self-protection measures, to prevent and mitigate COVID-19 in the workplace
- Border Management Recommended Practices for travel handling, arrival and departure of passengers, and travel document controls
- Detection, notification and management of ill travellers
- Ensuring Human Rights during COVID-19, including access to information and transparency, combatting discrimination, and the maintenance of security.
For more information, please contact Cy Winters, Immigration and Border Management Specialist at IOM Regional Office for Central America, North America and the Caribbean.