COVID-19 has emerged in a world tightly connected by local and international population(migrants in COVID-19 response) movements, with more people moving for work, education and family reasons, tourism, and survival than ever in the past (Skeldon, 2018). Intense population movements, in particular of tourists and business workers, have been a key driver of the global spread of the outbreak (Hodcroft et al., 2020 and 2018). The pandemic cannot as such be attributed to migration (Banulescu-Bogdan et al., 2020).
The term “migrant” includes, for instance, migrant workers and members of their families, students, displaced persons, refugees and asylum seekers, irrespective of their status (IOM, 2019b)
At the same time, the presence and movements of migrants1 are fundamental demographic, social, cultural, and economic dynamics shaping the local contexts that the pandemic is affecting. For societies and communities all around the world, accounting (or not) for migrants in COVID-19 response and recovery efforts will affect the crisis’ trajectories. Inclusive public health efforts will be crucial to effectively contain and mitigate the outbreak, reduce the overall number of people affected, and shorten the emergency (Berger et al., 2020). Mitigating the economic, social, and psychological impacts of the outbreak (as well as relevant response measures) on all affected persons will allow for swifter recovery.
This paper analyzes the specific ways migrants have been affected by the pandemic and presents a diversity of measures adopted in migrants’ host and home countries to prevent, mitigate, and address its negative impacts. By doing so, it aims to provide insights for more inclusive and effective COVID-19 policies and operations.
The paper first looks at migrants’ presence in selected countries and locations that have been heavily affected by the pandemic in its initial stages. It then provides an analysis of the conditions that make different migrant groups specifically vulnerable to the health and socioeconomic impacts of the outbreak, highlighting examples of migrant-inclusive interventions rolled out by governmental and non-governmental actors. This includes exploring the specific challenges migrants have encountered because of restricted international mobility linked with COVID-19 prevention and mitigation efforts, and of mounting xenophobia in communities all around the world. The paper then looks at how migrants’ suffering is translating in systemic effects for host and home communities to conclude the effective inclusion of migrants in COVID-19 response and recovery.
The paper provides an analysis of initial, and rapidly evolving, trends and patterns, relying on anecdotal evidence from different countries and an expanding body of not fully reliable nor comparable data. As such, it does not provide any definitive, comprehensive, or context-specific recommendation. As the pandemic expands into new areas with different migration profiles, as new response and recovery measures are rolled out, and as longer-term, secondary impacts emerge, different risks and resources will be more or less relevant for migrants, and different measures will become available to their origin and receiving societies. Further, the complimentary analysis will be warranted over time – noting however that experiences and practices from past emergencies, both health and non-health-related (MICIC Initiative, 2016), can help direct and inform theoretical and practical efforts to successfully include migrants in COVID-19 response and recovery.
As countries all over the world are still largely at the early or acute stage of the outbreak, evidence of migrants’ specific patterns of vulnerability and of effective measures that can help address them is far from comprehensive. We might see refugees and asylum seekers in low-income countries increasingly affected by the outbreak, the perception of migrants as spreaders might gain traction and be instrumentalized as the patterns of first and second waves of infections evolve, border closures and restrictions to international movements might endure, or being lifted in different manners, reshaping global mobility patterns for months and years.
However, this initial analysis allows identifying challenges and approaches that largely align with lessons learned in past crises in which migrants have been affected alongside citizens (MICIC Initiative, 2016; Majidi et al., 2019). Past and current experience shows that crisis response measures cannot effectively include migrants unless they proactively address underlying conditions of vulnerability linked with migratory status and immigration policies, migrants’ socioeconomic situation, and xenophobia. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, this means coupling provisions to minimize transmission and expand health-care coverage with inclusive welfare systems, intercultural communications, and, crucially, reform of immigration regimes. Such an approach will be even more important once the acute phase of the crisis will be over, and countries will be moving into a recovery phase that looks still largely undetermined, but that could be characterized by an unprecedented disruption of established patterns of movements. In this context, finding long-term solutions to migrants’ social, economic and political marginalization will be key for societies and communities to leverage all available capacities to bounce back, and to avoid the re-creation of the risk conditions that transformed COVID-19 in a disaster.
At the same time, more than perhaps any crisis in the past, COVID-19 makes a clear case for the need to adopt migrant-inclusive risk management approaches. Excluding migrants from COVID-19 awareness and prevention activities, screening and testing, and adequate treatment and follow-up undermines the effectiveness of relevant public health efforts. Failing to understand and reduce the direct and indirect impacts migrants are, and will be, suffering threatens the wellbeing, stability, and security of communities and societies all over the world (Congress of the United States, 2020).
In many countries affected by COVID-19, the presence of migrants is essential for services that are key to the pandemic response, as well as longer-term recovery and development. This includes medical research and health-care provision, agricultural production, logistics and deliveries, personal care of the elderly, and other individuals in need of assistance, as well as strategic infrastructural projects (Gelatt, 2020; Corrado, 2018; Bier, 2020). In many countries, migrants have even been among the frontline workers who have been infected or have died because of COVID-19 (Siddique, 2020). By threatening migrants’ permanence and living conditions in receiving countries, COVID-19 is posing systemic risks that governments, employers, and service providers need to manage. Solutions proposed or adopted, including simplified entry and processing of visa applications (Bonnett, 2020; Kucharczyk and Pazura, 2020), fast-track recognition of foreign education and qualifications (Alkousaa and Carrel, 2020; Batalova and Fix, 2020), dialogue with and engagement of (irregular) migrant representatives, economic incentives to motivate citizens and other migrants to work specific jobs (24 hours, 2020; Davies, 2020), also serve as a reminder of the economic, social and political marginalization migrants have been enduring before the outbreak. Perduring obstacles to their regularization and initiatives to lower their pay and further worsen their living conditions are now being met by widespread criticism within societies all around the world (Ordoñez, 2020). MIGRATION RESEARCH SERIES | NO. 60 14
The impacts individual migrants will suffer will be a key determinant of broader demographic, social, and economic trends. Migrants’ inability to send back remittances due to interrupted jobs and lost salaries will heavily affect the well-being of households and communities of origin, as well as the development outlook of their whole societies (Li Ng and Serrano, 2020). Limited ability to access services and opportunities in their destinations will shape migrants’ movements out of COVID-19 affected areas and thereby the future patterns of the outbreak. Returns and immobility of migrants, in areas with limited alternatives for onward mobility in the short and medium-term, might lead to increased social and environmental pressures and potential inter-communal tensions.
Many countries have responded to COVID-19 with increased closure, tighter immigration regulations(“migrants in COVID-19 response), and further marginalization of migrants. The centrality of migrants in the social, cultural and economic fabric of our globalized world, instead, suggests that only inclusive approaches help protect and promote everybody’s rights, health and well-being, can allow communities and societies to respond more effectively to this crisis, and reduce the risk of future ones.
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FULL Paper PDF file:Migrants and the COVID-19 pandemic: An initial analysis
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Lorenzo Guadagno manages IOM’s capacity-building program on Migrants in Countries in Crisis, which supports governments and other actors to develop and implement measures that reduce migrants’ vulnerability to disasters, conflicts, and other crises. He has worked and published on various issues related to human mobility, disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation, and the environment. He holds a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Sannio, Italy, with a thesis addressing disaster vulnerability, reconstruction, and recovery in Southern Italy after the 1980 Irpinia earthquake.
Professor Siavosh Kaviani was born in 1961 in Tehran. He had a professorship. He holds a Ph.D. in Software Engineering from the QL University of Software Development Methodology and an honorary Ph.D. from the University of Chelsea.