How the COVID-19 Pandemic is Changing Attitudes About Migration



by Ivy Mason


The global health crisis has drastically changed conversations around certain international policies and issues. As many countries are simultaneously dealing with the pandemic and political affairs inside their territories, it is in their best interest to realign their key agendas with the current health directives by temporarily shutting down their economies and closing their borders. But as the global economy is expected to dip to record lows, almost all countries will have to make hard diplomatic sacrifices to ensure that their citizens are well protected during these desperate times. This is because the Centre for Risk Studies at the University of Cambridge’s Judge Business School predicts that COVID-19 will cost the global economy $82 trillion ⁠— pushing many countries to the brink of economic depression. And truly no country or region has been left unscathed. FXCM reports that large global economies like India and China expect measly sub-1% growth rates for this year, while the rest of the world is bracing for severe contraction. The GDP rates in countries like Brazil, Turkey, Mexico, Russia, and South Africa are all expected to plummet because of falling commodity prices, capital outflow, and lockdown policies. Different countries are addressing the crisis in different ways, and to each, their own levels of success. However, these efforts to manage the consequences of the pandemic by limiting movement will most affect the most vulnerable ⁠ — especially the migrant communities in different countries all over the world.

How COVID-19 is Exacerbating the Migrant Refugee Crisis Even though there’s a full-blown pandemic affecting almost every country in the world, victims of political unrest and persecution are still actively trying to reach greener pastures to seek asylum and gain refugee status. However, travel limitations and closed borders have made it significantly harder for migrant refugees to access this protection. In the Mediterranean, refugees from Syria, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Afghanistan have often traversed the waters via overcrowded wooden boats to reach the more stable regions in Europe. However, COVID-19 has made the already complicated migrant situation in Europe even more complex. In fact, Italy ⁠— which is slowly recovering after an extremely difficult battle with the pandemic ⁠— has felt that the EU has abandoned them to deal with migrant refugees alone. In an article by Euro News, a handful of migrants who are being held on the quarantine ship in Sicily has been reported to test positive for the virus ⁠— sparking fears that another outbreak will hit the country. The pandemic has even put search-rescue-disembarkation operations in the Mediterranean on hold, despite international maritime law requiring countries to rescue refugees who are in distress at sea. The cease in humanitarian efforts have made refugee migrants more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse from smugglers, traffickers, and militias that they might encounter on their journey to Europe. The refugee situation in other regions is not going well either. The Diplomat reports that Rohingya refugees coming from Myanmar in rickety boats have been turned away by Malaysia, Thailand, and Bangladesh ⁠— and those that made it ashore have been detained as illegal immigrants. In the US, asylum applications coming from the southern border have been put on an indefinite halt ⁠— further intensifying the already difficult situation for Latin American citizens who are constantly subjected to violence in their home countries.

The Impact of the Pandemic on Migrant Workers In our post ‘How Will the COVID-19 Pandemic Reshape Our Industry?’ we pointed out that there are almost 270 million migrant workers in different countries that account for $700 billion worth of remittances each year. The remittance industry is largely influenced by the economic behavior of migrant workers, and today’s global predicament has clearly disrupted the industry. In fact, the World Bank notes that global remittances will see a sharp decline of about 20% this year due to the pandemic and economic shutdown. This has a direct effect on how lower- and middle-income countries will perform during the pandemic, as it has been proven that remittances enhance the quality of life and support the economies of these countries. But as the health crisis continues to cripple many economies and force people out of their jobs, migrant workers ⁠— who are already treated as second-class citizens in countries where they work ⁠— and their families have been severely impacted. ⁠ While Thailand has been lauded as a COVID-19 success story due to their unmatched dedication to health security and reliable healthcare system, their restrictive migration policy has caused an uptick in coronavirus cases in surrounding areas as most of the migrants working in Thailand hail from neighboring countries with weaker healthcare systems. Instead of staying in Thailand without a job, money, and resources, a lot of these migrant workers have gone home to their home countries and some have carried the virus with them. A similar situation is also happening in Middle Eastern countries ⁠— the region employing the highest proportion of migrant workers in the world. Stimulus packages have been handed out to local citizens during these times, but many migrant workers haven’t been able to receive direct financial support. However, The Guardian reports that some of these migrant workers are choosing to stay despite the financial and economic uncertainties, as they’d rather wait and cut corners on their living conditions than face bleak job prospects back home. The COVID-19 pandemic has really exposed the cracks in the system and left behind those that are most vulnerable. In fact, the UN reports that the health crisis has disrupted many countries’ efforts to improve lives everywhere through the success of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Countries need to find better ways to take care of their migrant population as doing so can mitigate economic stress, close the inequality gap, and enhance the overall quality of life for everyone on the planet.