As of 11 April 2020, over 201,300 COVID-19 cases and more than 8,700 deaths have been reported in the region. Confirmed cases have been reported in 281 countries, territories and/or areas, with new cases reported on a daily basis.
In addition to the immediate health risks of COVID-19, the situation poses significant socio-economic and protection challenges for migrants excluded from or unable to access support mechanisms. Localized outbreaks and the implementation of public health measures, such as lockdowns and social distancing across the region, have led to multiple instances of sudden mass migrant movements, exacerbating individual and community vulnerability and potentially driving further transmission. There are also increasing reports of stigma and discrimination towards migrants at destination, transit and home locations upon return due to fears around COVID-19 transmission. Devising adequate responses for migrants, refugees, IDPs, returnees and other vulnerable groups remains the top priority for IOM. These approaches need to be flexible and adaptive to the rapidly evolving situation.
Of particular concern are COVID-19 related mass migrant movements; high numbers of COVID-19 cases in Iran have pushed more than 163,000 Afghans to return to Afghanistan in just a three-week period. During 6-8 April, approximately 70,000 Afghans returned from Pakistan to Afghanistan following several weeks of border closure. In the Greater Mekong Sub-Region, following the announcement of lockdown measures in Thailand, over 170,000 cross-border migrants from neighboring countries returned to their home provinces or countries, including Cambodia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Myanmar. Such migration movements may have the unintended effect of driving transmission in areas with less capacity to provide testing, isolation and treatment, as well as increase vulnerability for migrants during their journey and in their home communities.