COVID-19 and the Migration Crisis

No one, it seems, is entirely free from the risk of exposure to COVID-19. However, migrants, including people seeking asylum and refugees, face greater risks than others. Many are unable to comply with preventative measures necessary to keep healthy and stay safe and experience significant challenges in accessing appropriate care when falling ill. The circumstances of their journeys, living or working conditions, and lack of effective access to essential services make them particularly vulnerable.

COVID-19 related lockdown measures and border closures in some countries prevent migrants from accessing essential services, leaving many stranded or in transit without support, and hinder access to international protection and asylum processes. COVID-19 has also generated stigma and discrimination towards migrants, who are, in some contexts, perceived as bringing the virus to communities, even after living there since well before the pandemic struck. Stigma can lead to social isolation and prevent migrants from seeking assistance, compromising both individual safety and public health efforts to control the pandemic.

Migrants’ already limited access to essential services, particularly healthcare, further inhibits their ability to comply with COVID-19 prevention measures. Migrants have long faced considerable barriers in accessing assistance, especially those who are undocumented or deemed “irregular”. This shows the lack of data that could have contributed to the mapping of migrant movement in this crisis. Formal and informal barriers exist, including direct exclusion, laws restricting access based on migration status, unaffordable costs, language barriers, and lack of culturally accessible and appropriate information.

All migrants, irrespective of status, require immediate and effective access to COVID-19 screening, testing, tracing, and treatment, as well as to services to address existing and underlying health needs that may make them more vulnerable to severe impacts of the virus. Psychosocial support is also necessary to respond to mental health issues exacerbated by the pandemic due to living in increased fear, uncertainty, and isolation.

In the face of COVID-19, achieving an adequate standard of living has become even more precarious for migrants who have lost jobs and incomes and do not have access to social supports, leading to risks of exploitation and abuse. More and more migrants are unable to meet their most basic needs of food, shelter, and access to healthcare and hygiene facilities – all necessary to ensure their safety, dignity, and well-being and to prevent COVID-19 transmission.

COVID-19 is a wake-up call to the international community. There is an urgent need for global solidarity to address this pandemic. This crisis connects us all in an unprecedented way. The safety and well-being of each individual are critical for the safety and well-being of the entire world.

Public health responses are only as effective as the extent to which they ensure everyone, including the most vulnerable, has access to the necessary support to comply with prevention measures. Stopping the virus is in everyone’s interest and how each country treats and supports the most vulnerable will affect how the virus spreads and how well the country recovers from the pandemic’s multiple effects, including its social and economic impacts. There is a special need for an economic safety net for the migrants, the urgency of which has outrightly come forward in this pandemic. Everyone must be protected from harm, including migrants, irrespective of status, for an effective public health response to COVID-19. Inclusive action is needed now to safeguard migrants. The good thing is: each of us can do something to make that happen.

Sahana is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Clinton Fellow with Voluntary Integration for Education and Welfare of Society (VIEWS) in Gopalpur, Odisha. For her Fellowship project, she is supporting women self-help groups in launching social enterprises focused on organic farming practices to popularize the use of organic versus chemical fertilizers in the region. Sahana is a 23-year-old woman passionate to work towards gender equality. She has completed her Master’s degree in the discipline of social work with a specialization in rural development, mental health, disability, and counselling. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in political science. She has interned with Roshini, working with government school adolescent girls on life skills and creating a module on cyber security. She has also worked for the community in a slum in Delhi called Seelampur on different issues including gender, livelihood, education, and disability as part of her social work degree course. She was a part of the Youth Accountability Advocate (YAA), working towards understanding the needs of young people on sexual and reproductive health and rights. As a YAA member, she has been selected by the ‘Women Delivers’ in 2019 to share her experience and learnings in their international conference in Vancouver, Canada, with more than 8000 participants from all over the world. Sahana has been actively volunteering for an organisation called Pehchan for girls education in the peripheries of New Delhi. With AIF Clinton Fellowship, Sahana aspires to gain in-depth knowledge of the diversity in socio-economic, cultural, and educational fabric of India. She aims to hone her skills and build perspectives of working and solution generation in development sector.

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