Thursday, December 10, 2020

The Pandemic and Migrant Workers

 A landmark United Nations report is calling on governments to declare remittance transfer an essential service and ensure access to humanitarian assistance, legal services and social protection for migrants and the displaced, as COVID-19 shifts the dynamics of global migration and hunger.

The report entitled “Populations at Risk: Implications of COVID-19 for Hunger, Migration and Displacement” is the first joint global report by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and World Food Programme (WFP) and analyses food security trends in the world’s migration hotspots during the pandemic. It warns that COVID-19 and measures taken to contain its spread have disrupted human mobility patterns, the consequences of which could been seen for years to come.

Earlier this year, countries across the globe instituted various tiers of entry requirements. According to the report, while those restrictions resulted in significantly reduced international migration in the first months of the pandemic, the ensuing dip in unemployment and food security led to a desperate need to search for work elsewhere – and a spike in migration due to necessity.

One of the areas hardest hit by the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns involves remittances. Globally, migrant remittances are a financial lifeline for around 800 million people. World Bank figures put remittances to low and middle-income countries (LMICS) at over $550 billion in 2019. For more than half of these countries, funds sent by migrant workers to their relatives in their home countries account for over 5 percent of gross domestic product. However, remittance flows have plunged drastically in 2020 and according to the report, over 33 million people are at risk of going hungry as part of the socio-economic impact of COVID-19.

With remittances to LMICS expected to fall by about $100 billion in 2020 and 495 million full time job losses in the first quarter of the year, the report’s partners say it is possible that many migrants are sacrificing their own consumption and other needs, in order to send money to loved ones in their home countries. The report states that this is not a sustainable means of supporting families in the medium to long-term. It is also bad news for countries heavily dependent on remittances. 

“Coupled with the 32 percent drop projected for foreign direct investments (FDI) in 2020, contractions in the prices of natural resources and a significant decrease in tourism revenues, the drop in remittances will likely impact the financial stability of numerous countries….poverty, food security, nutrition, health and educational attainment are all being directly impacted by mobility restrictions and the decline in remittances,” the report said.

“It has been very clear since the onset of the crisis, that the impact of COVID on migration and mobility would be huge,” said Robelin, adding that, “migration has a positive impact from the remittance angle. The fact that many people lost their jobs who migrated for development means, means that in the long term, those benefitting from the positive impact of migration, may suffer.”

The IOM official says restriction of movement may have also pushed people to move under dangerous circumstances. Mobile and displaced populations also face new challenges such as increased exposure to work-related abuse and exploitation, the risk of losing residence status, the lack of funds to buy hygiene items and difficulties accessing COVID-19 tests, as well as restrictions on their general freedom to travel back and forth to their country of origin.

The IOM and WFP predict that partial or full lifting of travel regulations will result in more people leaving home to find work in order to feed their families. They are calling for well-governed migration to be a cornerstone of the global response to COVID-19. They believe that making remittance transfer an essential financial service can help families to meet their food and other needs. They are also advising the global community to ensure migrant access to health services including immunisation and mental health support. 

Drop in Remittances - a Financial Lifeline for 800 Million People - Could Impact Financial Stability of Numerous Countries | Inter Press Service (

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