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Travelling – a human right?

We are used to the free movement of people; what happened to the right to travel for both business and leisure purposes during pandemic?


Eva Holmberg

Yrkeshögskolan Novia

Published : 25.05.2020

Finnish Government decided during the COVID-19 pandemic to close the border between Helsinki-Uusimaa region and the rest of the country. Some people were not very happy with the decision. At the same time, Finnish government requested the ferry companies running between Finland and Estonia, Sweden and Germany to stop selling passenger tickets. We are used to the free movement of people; what happened to the right to travel for both business and leisure purposes?

According to UN universal declaration of human rights (Article 13.1.), everyone has the right to the freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state, and everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return there. In addition, also the Finnish legislation grants Finnish citizens and others who stay in the country legally, the freedom to move and reside anywhere in the country. Finnish citizens can leave the country and return there like in the declaration of human rights. Thus, the decision to block or isolate Helsinki-Uusimaa region from the rest of the country was a chock. It was though  not only Finland, who narrowed the freedom to move and travel inside the country. Italy and Austria among the others made similar decisions. However, most of the countries want to limit the international departures and arrivals by e.g. requesting health certificates, testing and a two weeks quarantine.  

Even though, we have the right to move and travel, it seems that these freedoms might be limited also for the Finns in the coming summer. We can travel in Finland, but can we travel abroad? Some of us can still remember the cold war era when travelling from Eastern Europe to the west was highly restricted to the political and cultural elite and athletes. This spring and the coming summer, perhaps the rest of the year, we live in a world where international travel is strongly limited.  No one knows when we in Europe will be allowed to travel internationally again. As the four pillars of EU relate to free movement of people, capital, products and service we should soon be allowed to travel at least in Europe, hopefully!

During the last years, concepts like accessible tourism, inclusive tourism and tourism for all have been recognized and understood, and their popularity has grown. Accessible tourism and tourism for all highlight that groups of people having physical and mental disabilities should be allowed to travel, and services should be developed to meet their needs. Inclusive tourism acknowledges the fact that groups like ethnic, religious and sexual minorities should have a possibility to travel as well and tourism service providers should acknowledge their needs. Thus, it seems like in the tourism studies context it is very much emphasized that travelling opens your mind and offers you novel experiences and thus this is something that should be offered to everyone. These concepts like inclusive tourism emphasize that tourism should be available for all, but what will happen in the future?

According to World Bank (2020) almost half of the population globally live on less than 5,50 dollar a day. Are these poor people able to travel internationally or even domestically? They are not. Thus, perceiving international travel to be a human right is something we in the privileged world tend to do. In Helsinki region, we are used to decide on a quick trip to Tallinn just some hours before the ferry leaves. No visa is required and you get the ticket at the terminal. With a Finnish passport, we allowed to travel to most countries (187) in the world without visa – is this possible in the future?

Some experts argue now that COVID-19 virus will change international travel “forever”. Even though, we have to keep in mind that international travelling the way we know it has been there only for the last decades and when we have been discussing tourism growth, it is often from a European perspective. There are basic human needs such as food, shelter and the right to education. Furthermore, UN defined human rights such as freedom of speech, work and own property. To travel internationally is though not a human right even if everyone according to UN has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay. Thus holidays are a human right, travelling abroad is not.