“No matter whether someone is a refugee, an asylum seeker, or a migrant, it is vital that people’s needs, and their protection, remain at the center of our attention.” This is the key message of the presentation by Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), at the digital Think Tank Summit 2021.

While states and national governments differentiate between reasons behind migration, humanitarian organizations focus on people’s vulnerability, Peter Maurer said. No one should be left unprotected and alone when in need of help. Migration policy must be guided by humanity and dignity. It is often forgotten that migration flows today have similar causes to the emigration flows from Europe in the late 19th century.

Border closures linked to the Covid-19 crisis have been particularly hard on migrants, as some were stranded at frontiers or in transit areas – with no access to the necessities for a dignified existence. The ICRC recognizes that states are challenged by the political, social, and economic dimensions of migration and that they have a legitimate right to regulate it. But this right is not absolute. The question arises of how to protect vulnerable groups when their reason for migrating does not fit into the usual legal categories. How can it be ensured that repatriations of migrants do not lead to further suffering and thus to migration cycles?

Peter Maurer pleaded for work to be done on tackling the causes of migration. Once migrants reach a border, states are obliged to protect the refugees’ rights – which, by the way, leads to greater security for all involved. It is also counterproductive to imprison refugees, as it not only harms people, but is expensive. And finally, migrants must be integrated both economically and socially and, especially during  Covid-19, in terms of health policy too.