International Migrants Day 2020 – Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge meets a migrant health-care worker, “expert by experience”
In a time when physical distancing is crucial, it is important to maintain social connections with one another. Learning about the ways in which each of us experience the COVID-19 pandemic can bring valuable insights into the commitment of communities and individuals to the collective public health response.

Across the WHO European Region, Member States have taken important steps to ensure that public health measures reach everyone, including refugees and migrants. In 2019, over 96 million refugees and migrants were estimated to be living in the Region. This means that about 1 in 10 people in the Region is an international migrant.

With the world coming together in solidarity to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, on 18 December, International Migrants Day, we want to acknowledge not only the health needs of refugees and migrants, but also their contributions towards the European Programme of Work – “United Action for Better Health”.

One way to learn about and from their invaluable contributions to the public health response is to reach out to communities and hear what “experts by experience” have to say. This includes migrant health-care workers who are at the frontline of the response to the pandemic, dedicating themselves to improving the health of all people. Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, sat down for a virtual talk with nurse Julia Fomenkova, who moved from Belarus to work in St. Petersburg, Russian Federation, as an anaesthesiology nurse in an oncological dispensary.“When working in oncology, with very difficult patients, every shift is different, and I feel proud of every successful resuscitation. It’s the best part of my work,” explains Julia. She also has great respect for her colleagues, including those who have been called to work in COVID-19 hospitals. “I think they are heroes. Even though they do not consider themselves as heroes. They just say: ‘We were doing our job’.”

Julia supports her colleagues by staying in touch over social media and maintaining a social bond despite the physical distance. She is confident that once everyone understands and implements the public health measures, the coronavirus will eventually be eradicated – through collective action.

“I believe that if all people understand that there is a global challenge and begin to observe all the measures that are communicated everywhere, then we will cope with this faster and the virus will leave us.”

While it should not require a pandemic to recognize the contributions of refugees and migrants, International Migrants Day is an opportunity to advocate for the rights of those who are often undervalued yet actively support the health and well-being of host societies. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed how interconnected we are. Just as there can be no public health without universal access to health care, so there can be no room for marginalization and discrimination when it comes to presenting a united front against the public health emergency we are facing together.