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Research Terms of Reference: Exploring the links between migration, climate change and Covid-19 in the Sahel: Niger, Burkina Faso, REG2003, September 2020 Final

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2. Rationale

2.1. Rationale

The aim of the proposed Collaborative Information Collection and Analysis (CICA) is to increase understanding of the interlinkages between migration, climate change and Covid-19 along the Central Mediterranean Route (CMR). Research suggests that both climate change and Covid-19 are 'threat multipliers' for vulnerable populations. In the CMR region, migration is a major resilience strategy in the face of climate change. People predominantly move in short distances, in circular or regional movements, frequently from rural to urban areas. It is a form of resilience/ adaptation strategy which vulnerable people in the region adopt to cope with an increasingly (climate-) hostile environment. However, with the emergence of Covid-19, use of migration as resilience strategy has been disrupted.

Existing research suggest that climate change has a profound impact on the livelihoods and safety of populations living in countries along the CMR. Examples include failing crops and severe food insecurity in the Lake Chad basin, severe droughts in the Sahel, including in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, and the rise of extreme weather shocks in Sudan. Covid19 emerged in the region in early 2020. As in the rest of the world, countries were quick to take action, closing international borders and trying to limit movement of populations, all with the aim to contain the spread of the virus. As of August 2020, the impact the virus has had on the region and its refugee and migrant population has been manifold. In the most recent MMC 4MI West Africa Covid Snapshot (May 2020), 97% of 344 refugees and migrants interviewed in the region reported that their lives had been affected by the virus. Three out of four respondents reported facing reduced access to work and more than one third reported reduced availability of basic goods. Among those who reported the virus impacted their migration journey, 65% said that international travel had become much more difficult, and another 45% cited heightened difficulty to move within countries. This is particularly concerning, as migrants’ livelihoods are, by definition, determined by the ability to move. A growing body of research further points to the socially disruptive force of the virus, as refugees and migrants cite heightened xenophobia by host communities, examples including Tunisia, Mali and Niger.

While there is currently no evidence on the topic, the interplay between climate change and Covid-19 is likely to have a considerable impact on refugees and migrants in the region. People engage in rural to urban migration to escape overreliance on increasingly unpredictable agriculture-based livelihoods. Yet, the negative economic impacts of Covid-19 are first felt in cities, and especially among migrant communities who tend to work in more precarious types of labour. Further, Covid-19 has led to the emergence of policy frameworks which aim to limit (international) mobility. Yet, as they limit mobility, they also take away a critical resilience strategy for climate migrants. And finally, as Covid-19 is predicted to have a considerable negative impact on the world’s economy as a whole, the faith of climate migrants is put further at limbo, as economic opportunities elsewhere, when livelihoods at home are scarce, become increasingly difficult to find.