Migrants and the COVID-19 pandemic: An initial analysis

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Lorenzo Guadagno


COVID-19 has emerged in a world tightly connected by local and international population 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).

At the same time, the presence and movements of migrants 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 situation (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’ individual suffering is translating in systemic effects for host and home communities in order to draw conclusions on 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, complementary 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.