Red Cross network urges end to mistreatment of migrants

The world's largest humanitarian network is urging governments to end mistreatment of vulnerable migrants and remove barriers that prevent them from obtaining food, health care and legal services.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said in a report released Tuesday that the shift of government policies toward restriction and control of migrants is creating "a humanitarian crisis."

Francesco Rocca, president of the federation that operates in 191 countries, told a news conference that "all people regardless of immigration status should have access to basic services and humanitarian assistance."

"There is no need to mistreat people," he said. "Preventing access to adequate food, basic health care and legal advice about their rights is completely unacceptable. Everyone has to right to be treated with dignity and respect."

He called the Trump administration's policy of separating migrant parents and children "unacceptable."

Rocca pointed to governments in some parts of the world discouraging and even banning and criminalizing humanitarian assistance to migrants. He also cited armed attacks on boats trying to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean and accusations that humanitarian organizations are colluding with smugglers and endangering lives.

As one example, Italy's hardline Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has launched a crackdown on migration, closing Italy's ports to aid groups that rescue migrants and vowing to renegotiate the terms of European missions in the Mediterranean to prevent migrants from disembarking in Italy.

"This criminalization of compassion is extremely worrying" and goes against century-old standards and norms, Rocca said.

"What's more, the idea that basic assistance or search and rescue somehow acts as a pull factor for migration is simply not true," he said. "People move for reasons that are much more profound than this. People are fleeing wars, violence, food insecurity, the consequences of climate change, and our humanitarian imperative is to support them."

The federation's report also cites indirect barriers migrants face that "conspire" to block aid and services to migrants.

"The most significant of these is the often-well-founded fear that accessing health or social services will lead to arrest and eventual detention and deportation," the federation said, stressing that this is especially true when laws or regulations require providers to hand over details of "irregular migrants" to immigration authorities.

Other barriers cited in the report include the high cost of services, language barriers, administrative complexities and discrimination based on nationality, religion, race, sex, income and education level.

The federation said that governments have the power "to substantially reduce barriers."

It called on all countries to change laws and policies in order to "guarantee migrants, irrespective of legal status, effective access to essential services, including emergency and maternal health care, as well as shelter, food and information about their rights."

The federation also urged governments to "ensure humanitarian assistance is never deemed unlawful," ensure that humanitarian organizations can help migrants, and "create firewalls between public services and immigration enforcement."

It said the report's release was timed for this week's final round of negotiations at U.N. headquarters on a new Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.