COVID-19 a ‘great disrupter’ to global migrants

August 26 , 2020

Migrants board the MS GNV Azzurra quarantine ship which has been sent to the Pelagie Island of Lampedusa, Italy on August 4, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: AFP

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has become a “great disrupter” to worldwide migrants, who have been suffering from continuous extended travel bans and restrictions since the virus went global this year, recent research and analysis said.

Migrants, including overseas students and workers, are among the most vulnerable groups to have been severely affected by the unexpected pandemic, said migrant officials and scholars at a webinar on Tuesday, during which the Chinese-language version of World Migration Report 2020 was released.

The report, originally produced by International Organization for Migration (IOM) in late 2019 and translated by the Center for China and Globalization (CCG) as the pandemic raged, shows the numbers and trends of migration pre-COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic, is a “seismic geopolitical event that will transform migration and the mobility system globally,” Marie Mcauliffe, head of the Migration Research Division at IOM headquarters in Geneva, said at the webinar.

The US remained the world’s largest destination for migrants in 2019 with 50.7 million migrant population, the report read. The pandemic is causing uncertainties for migrants to the US with growing numbers of confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19 in this country and the Trump administration’s unfriendly visa policies, observers said.

The pandemic has likely upset plans of many migrants, preventing them reaching destination countries. 

Lu Yixi, associate professor at the Institute of Development Studies under Southwestern University of Finance and Economics, shared a survey she conducted on Chinese returnees in Southwest China’s Sichuan Province in June. “Twenty-three percent of them have changed their migration plans due to the pandemic,” Lu said.

The pandemic has also largely affected overseas students, Shen Wei, associate vice-chancellor of Deakin University in Melbourne, said at the webinar. “The current border closures and travel bans has prevented nearly 20 percent of our international students from entering Australia,” Shen said.

Shen called on authorities in destination to create more flexible immigration policies amid the pandemic, such as offering safe corridors for international students, and protecting the lives, health and basic rights of migrant workers.

No country can defeat the pandemic alone, said IOM China Chief of Mission Giuseppe Crocetti who hosted Tuesday’s webinar. In the long run, the exclusion (of migrants in the fight against the virus) is costly, whereas the inclusion will pay off for everyone, Crocetti said.

“No one is safe until everyone is safe,” he added.


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