While the COVID-19 affects virtually every country in the world, it affects disproportionately those countries – such as Madagascar – that have the least of resources and means to cope, and to recover. In Madagascar, the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in late March 2020. The closure of international borders and internal mobility restrictions measures, enforced to contain the virus and save lives – while necessary – have created or exacerbated important preexisting vulnerabilities and disparities.
With more than seventy per cent of the population living in extreme poverty, Madagascar’s development challenges are vast. Madagascar’s education, health, and nutrition outcomes remain some of the lowest in the world.
These pervasive and long present challenges have in recent years driven a significant number of Malagasy nationals to seek opportunities abroad. Thousands of them have been stranded abroad by the pandemic, often in vulnerable or exploitative situations. While labour migration can be a positive agent for development when well-managed, it also presents challenges to ensuring that the rights of Malagasy migrant workers are protected and that labour migration management is concerted and responds to national development priorities.
Because of inadequate labour migration management, Madagascar factors as an important source country for trafficking in persons (TiP). Internationally, Malagasy women and men have been reported to be trafficked for sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, as well as exploitation in textile factories and in the fishing industry. There are concerns that the significant number of returns related to the loss of employment abroad due to the pandemic through 2020 will increase pressures on strained communities of returns and increase the risk of re-victimization or the search of employment opportunities abroad at all costs.
Within Madagascar, TiP takes the form of domestic servitude, prostitution, forced begging, and forced labour, both in rural and urban areas, the prevalence of which is likely to increase under the circumstances of socio-economic hardship in the wake of the pandemic.
With eighty per cent of the population relying on agriculture as a primary source of income, one of the main challenges lies in the high vulnerability to the devastating effects of environmental disasters and climate change. Madagascar remains one of the most economically impacted countries in the world from natural disasters and one of the most likely to be negatively affected by climate change.
Cyclical droughts in the “Grand Sud” continue to drive migration from the area, substantially transforming patterns of internal migration within the country, and its effects both in areas of origin and destination of migrants – some of which are increasingly negative, such as the impacts that unmanaged migration has on the environment and biodiversity conservation due to unsustainable agricultural practices and economic activities led by migrants for lack of alternatives. More needs to be done to reduce the incidences and negative humanitarian and development impacts of population displacement and to integrate dimensions of internal migration into broader national development planning.
The COVID-19 crisis has brought to the forefront the complex interrelation between public health and human mobility. Public health strategies and capacities at key international points of entry of the country – such as airports and seaports –; and along major internal mobility flow points – such as bus stations and national roads – should be reinforced with deliberate early action and preparedness intervention.
It is estimated that more than 100,000 people move from rural areas to the capital, Antananarivo, every year. Unplanned urbanization impacts local development capacities, and it is estimated that between 60 to 70 per cent of all settlements in the capital comprise of informal constructions in slum-like conditions. Increased attention should be given to developing the capacities of formal economic integration and social inclusion of the arriving migrants, as well as to the development of standardized and practical tools to streamline migration into sustainable urban development planning.
Madagascar is home to 95% of the population and 98% of the landmass of the whole Western Indian Ocean region (Madagascar, Mauritius and Rodrigues, Comoros, Seychelles, Reunion and Mayotte islands). Close to 70% of the global commercial sea-bound trade heading from Africa to Asia passes within 100 miles of Madagascar’s Southern coast. With more than 5,000 km of coastline and owing to its strategic location across the Mozambique Channel, the porosity of borders and weak controls at formal entry points to the territory has been conducive to forms of transnational and national criminal and illegal activities that can ripple inland and throughout the sub-region. Effective and efficient border management remains essential to ensure border security, reinforce the fight against transnational organized crime, and enhance protection of vulnerable migrants, and a challenge in Madagascar.
Lastly, the Malagasy Diaspora, in its diversity, – in particular the diaspora residing in some countries of destination such as France where it is predominantly concentrated – presents significant but still largely untapped potentials for engagement and contribution in meeting the challenges of sustainable national development.
Given its socio-economic realities, relative isolation in the Indian Ocean, diverse geography, fragile natural ecosystems, and its largely porous coastline, Madagascar presents complex migration challenges and opportunities today and for the future.