COVID-19: Indian authorities must act immediately to protect internal migrant workers stranded under intolerable conditions

The ICJ today called on the Indian Government to take effective measures to mitigate the disproportionate impact of the lockdown on internal migrant workers and guarantee the right to a minimum adequate standard of living to all, in line with India’s international obligations and Indian law.

The call comes just as India announced its second lockdown period starting April 15, 2020, extending the prior 21-day lockdown period, 2020, to 40 days. On March 29, 2020, the Government had also issued a circular prohibiting movement of migrant workers and an order stating that migrant workers be given food and shelter. It banned evictions of all migrant workers for a month.

“While the measures taken by the Government so far are important, they have proved inadequate. The Government’s efforts need to be targeted towards internal migrant workers and respond to the multiple layers of discrimination and risks they face,” said Maitreyi Gupta, ICJ India International Legal Advisor.

The announcement of the second lockdown has led to thousands of migrant workers in Mumbai and Surat protesting this decision and demanding the right to return home. It came soon after more than 500,000 migrant workers and their families attempted to travel distances of hundreds of kilometers on foot to return to their homes after the first lockdown period was announced on March 24, 2020. This massive internal displacement has led to the deaths of 22 internal migrant workers and their family members, including seven children.

The ICJ called on the Indian authorities to ensure that any restrictions on freedom of movement of migrant workers, protected under international law, is strictly necessary and proportionate and does not result in other human rights violations.

The ICJ is particularly concerned by civil society and media reports indicating that some internal migrants have not eaten for several days and are at the brink of starvation, while others have started rationing their meals to one meal a day.

“The situation of internal migrant workers in India is wholly unacceptable. If their urgent needs are not addressed in a way that respects their human rights, it will only serve to compound the current crisis,” said Frederick Rawski, ICJ Asia-Pacific Director. “We call on the Indian Government to take all necessary measures to bring an end to this deplorable situation.”

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on April 2, 2020 also expressed concern at the “plight of India’s internal migrants” and said “more needs to be done as the human tragedy continues to unfold before our eyes”.”

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has already called on States to implement “targeted programmes to protect the jobs, wages and benefits of all workers,” and take measures to ensure the “extraordinary mobilization of resources to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic”.

The ICJ urged India to take to all necessary measures to fulfill its obligations to protect the right to adequate standard of living of all internal migrant workers and other vulnerable populations. This includes ensuring access to quality health systems and facilities; minimum essential food; adequate shelter; sanitation and potable water; and timely information.

To download the statement with background information, click here.


Maitreyi Gupta, ICJ India Legal Adviser, t: +91 77 560 28369 e: maitreyi.gupta(a)

Frederick Rawski, ICJ Asia-Pacific Director, t: +66 64 478 1121; e: frederick.rawski(a)

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