August 29, 2020

'Hope in a Time of Pandemic' Issue Spotlight #2: Human Mobility

The Mercy Global Action COVID-19 Response Task Force report ‘Hope in a Time of Pandemic – Responding to COVID-19 through a Mercy Lens’ was born from a collection of stories and experiences of COVID-19 from around the Mercy World, tied together by a critical analysis of human rights and Catholic social teaching.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought most of the world to a stand-still and has fundamentally changed global human mobility. Governments around the world have introduced measures to “flatten the curve” of infections including travel restrictions, border closures, the suspension of labor migration and the slowing of migration processing and assistance to asylum seekers.

While the COVID-19 virus knows no borders or immigration status, the impacts of the pandemic have highlighted the systemic inequalities that persist in our society. This is particularly true for many people on the move: migrants in irregular situations; migrant workers; victims of trafficking in persons; internally-displaced persons; refugees and asylum-seekers.

What has been revealed in terms of human mobility:

  1. Exclusion from social protection systems and vulnerability to socio-economic shocks

Around the Mercy World, exclusion from social protection systems has negatively impacted many migrants’ ability to take preventive measures against COVID-19 and to receive medical care if they contract the virus. Undocumented migrants are particularly affected because they may be reluctant to enter medical facilities or other public services for fear of being reported to immigration authorities.

Migrants are among the hardest hit by reduced incomes, increasing unemployment, increasing expenses and price hikes for basic commodities. The pandemic’s socio-economic consequences are affecting, in particular, those migrant workers and refugees in the low-wage, informal economy who are excluded from decent work and social protection measures. Migrant workers were among the first to be affected by lay-offs and lockdowns that closed businesses. In many countries, migrants are ineligible for government-provided unemployment benefits, welfare or stimulus programs. Layoffs could also trigger the expiration of visa or work permits, forcing migrants into undocumented or irregular status or to return to their home countries.

A Mercy Sister from Peru shared in the report: “Migrants are the most vulnerable population during this pandemic. What a paradox life is. They left fleeing hunger and misery and now a virus, minuscule in size... The most painful thing is to see families with their small children, walking for days without access to a hot meal, eating only soft drinks, water and cookies. Frequently they tell us, ‘We haven’t had hot food in over a week.’ A nine-year old little girl said, ‘I haven’t had a shower for a month.’”

  1. Migrant workers are the backbone of our economies

Migrant workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic run many critical sectors, including our healthcare systems, our food production and distribution, and our care economies. Loss of livelihoods for migrant workers not only weakens these sectors and negatively impacts the lives of migrant families in their countries of destination, but also their families in their countries of origin. The World Bank estimates that in 2020, remittance flows to low- and middle-income countries are expected to drop by around 20 percent, crippling the economic lifeline to migrant families and communities.

While many have lost their employment and their livelihoods, other migrant workers have been deemed “essential workers,” putting their health at risk. Because of their vital work, these workers, especially informal and undocumented workers who lack basic labor protections, are exposed to higher risks of contracting the virus. Frontline workers have been celebrated as heroes during the pandemic, but their work has always been essential - they are the backbone of our societies and economies. The COVID-19 pandemic offers opportunities to evaluate the positive contributions of people in these essential jobs and to adequately value their work.

  1. A new opportunity to shape migration policy

Across the world, people on the move and their families have experienced policies and public discourse, including rhetoric from politicians, that seek to keep the virus—and especially the people who carry it—away from “us.” We can expect even more of an “us first” approach in politics: “our” vaccines, “our” PPE, “our” health, “our” borders, “our” people first. This betrays the fact that the COVID-19 virus does not discriminate based on nationality and does not care about political borders.

The report calls on governments to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.  The pandemic offers governments an opportunity to regularize the status of irregular migrants and expand regular pathways for migrants in low-wage and informal employment, acknowledging the contributions of migrants and refugees to economic prosperity and ensuring they are included in public health strategies and social protection systems.

In the face of the pandemic, rhetoric must change from discrimination to solidarity. Around the Mercy World we need a conversation about the future of our economies and societies so that care workers, fruit pickers, nurses and all people on the move are recognized and valued for the contribution they make regardless of their country of origin or ethnicity.  Together we can advocate for policies that actively counter xenophobia and discrimination and measures that remove barriers and facilitate migrants’ access to labor markets, social protection and basic services.

What are we being called to?

  • Advocate for human rights-based migration policies and for inclusive, non-discriminatory policies for COVID-19 response and recovery, ensuring migrants and refugees are protected, and that their contributions are valued.
  • Share gratitude for essential workers now and beyond the pandemic.
  • Combat xenophobia and misinformation about the spread of COVID-19 online and in conversations with family and friends.
  • Spread the word across your own social media platforms by sharing ‘Hope in a Time of Pandemic’ and MIA Global Action’s infographic on COVID-19 and Human Mobility on social media. Please engage with us on Twitter @MIAGlobalAction and @MercyWorldwide.

Learn More:

Messages to: Cecilie Kern - Global Policy & Research Advocate MIA-MGA

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