The additional risks of COVID-19 for migrant women, and how to address them

The impacts and implications of the COVID-19 coronavirus are different for men and women and may create greater inequalities for people who are in vulnerable positions, such as migrants, according to UN Women.

Organizations around the world are aware of this inequality and have warned about the urgent need to look at existing realities from gender and intersectional perspectives that allow for the identification of these inequalities and, at the same time, incorporate greater protection and assistance to more vulnerable populations in response plans.

Among the specific risks that the pandemic has entailed for the migrant population, particularly for women, are:

Job insecurity, exploitation, and socio-economic impacts: According to the IOM's World Migration Report 2020, migrant women represent around 74% of the service industry, which includes domestic work, and in many cases experience job insecurity. A significant portion of their income goes towards supporting their families in their countries of origin. During the COVID-19 outbreak, mobility and travel restrictions are jeopardizing the income of migrant women, particularly domestic workers. Furthermore, the impact of the employment crisis under COVID-19 may disproportionately affect less protected population groups, such as women and migrants.

In "Gender Proposal for Latin America and the Caribbean for a Response and Recovery with Gender Equality", UNDP indicated that during a health crisis with implications for the mobility of people, such as COVID-19, migrant women who are domestic workers, and especially those that are irregular, become more dependent on their employers and are further removed from social protection services. Even when the isolation from the health crisis ends, the economic consequences can expose women to sexual exploitation, which occurred in the Ebola outbreak 2013-2016.

Xenophobic rejection: The stigmatizing idea that migrants have COVID-19 just because they are migrants, makes them the target of threats. In the specific case of migrant women, this discrimination can have consequences such as the lack of adequate care in a medical centre and other healthcare settings that are directly related to being women (such as pregnancy care, or legal and psychosocial support due to gender based violence).

Greater insecurity against the virus: The limited ability of some migrant women to access protection materials such as face masks and hand sanitizer, as well as the greater tendency to live in overcrowded conditions, leaves this population less prepared to face the virus, indicates UNDP in the text mentioned above.

Overload of care work: Around the world, women do around twice as much unpaid care and domestic work as men. The workload resulting from the closure of schools and the care required for people who fall ill is often assumed by and imposed on women. In the case of some migrant women, such as refugees and migrants from Venezuela, when their livelihoods are affected, especially for informal and domestic workers, caring for other people is disproportionately falls on women, according to the Response for Venezuelans initiative (R4V).

Increased gender-based violence: Mobility and quarantine restrictions force many women to isolate themselves with their abusers or potential abusers. Existing gender-based violence is exacerbated by labour and migration uncertainty, as well as social distancing. For many migrant women who do not have sufficient support networks in transit and destination countries, isolation with their aggressor is a potential danger.

How can migrant women be included in the management of the crisis?

The COVID-19 does not discriminate who it affects, and the health, legal and psychosocial response to the virus should not either. These are the recommendations of the different organizations that have contributed to ensure that no one is left behind in the response to COVID-19, including migrant women:

  • Ensuring access to safe facilities: UNDP indicates that safe facilities, especially at borders, can help reduce “the risk of contagion and situations of sexual and gender-based violence,” and that this must be provided to the migrant population even those with irregular statuses.
  • Provide bonuses an extraordinary payments: This with the intention of guaranteeing that migrants, and especially women in vulnerable situations, have access to economic benefits regardless of their immigration status.
  • Provide protection equipment against COVID19 in migrant assistance centres: As these are places with a high influx of people, it is important that migrants have the necessary supplies to protect their health, such as face masks and hand sanitizer. For pregnant women, although "there is no evidence that they are at higher risk of severe illness than the general population," the WHO calls for greater caution because of the general risk of respiratory illness during pregnancy.
  • Facilitate access to multisectoral services: The R4V initiative indicates that it is necessary to seek the appropriate channels to provide information on care and assistance centres to the migrant population and women, such as hotlines, health institutions, etc.
  • Ensure access to care services without discrimination: Migrant women often suffer double discrimination: for being women and for being migrants. It is necessary to monitor the provision of non-discriminatory care in the different assistance centres, and in the health centres particularly, confidentiality must be protected in cases of sexual violence, notes R4V.
  • Facilitate the remote operation of services: R4V highlights that virtual mechanisms and telephone assistance can be generated when possible to meet the needs of migrant women. This does not mean dismissing face-to-face options for those who do not have access to other means.

How do Venezuelans live in Costa Rica during the pandemic?

How do Venezuelans live in Costa Rica during the pandemic?
Categoria: Emergencies & Humanitarian Action
Autor: Guest Contributor

Currently, more than 5 million Venezuelans have left their country due to the complex socio-political context. Of those, at least 4 million are in Latin American and Caribbean countries, according to data collected from governments by the Regional Interagency Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela (R4V).

According to estimates made by IOM Costa Rica, by the end of June,  29,850 Venezuelans approximately were in that Central American country. The socioeconomic situation, health, regularization mechanisms and other characteristics that affect integration in a host country were impacted by the pandemic.

To better understand this population, IOM Costa Rica implemented the Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) to profile the Venezuelan population. This shows that the majority of the Venezuelans who took part in the survey were in the age range between 35 and 44 years; they were women (63%); they had university studies; and they were asylum seekers. In addition, most of them had been in the country between 3 months and a year and planned to stay permanently.

The DTM is a tool that can help policymakers to unravel mobility trends and outline current and future evidence-based scenarios so that the initiatives and strategy to assist both refugees and migrants, as well as host communities, can be planned with more information. These are some of the main findings of the study to understand the characteristics and needs of Venezuelans in the country:

  • Residence: 87% of those survey respondents indicated that they reside with another Venezuelan. Of these, 26% reside with a minor and 19% with an older adult. Most of them live in apartments.
  • Employment situation: At the time of the survey, most of the participating Venezuelans were unemployed (59%), and those who were working did so mainly in the informal sector. This is not a minor fact if we recall how it was said before that in general they have university studies.
  • Difficulties: Given the high unemployment rate, it is not surprising that one of the main difficulties indicated by the survey respondents was the lack of economic resources (78%), compared to other problems such as lack of documentation, lack of access to health, lack of food or water, among others.
  • Assistance: The surveyed population indicates that the main organizations that have assisted them are IOM (51%), UNHCR (44%), Alianza VenCR (31%), HIAS (23%), RET International (20%), the Jesuit Service (5%), among others.


The future of the mobility patterns of the Venezuelan population amid the pandemic

The regional profile of Venezuelan refugees and migrants in Latin America and the Caribbean, recently published by IOM together with the Migration Policy Institute, indicates that, as a result of the new conditions brought about by the pandemic, Venezuelan refugees and migrants will be affected by food insecurity, limited access to health services and difficulty in finding work. On the other hand, there are different estimates of the number of Venezuelan returnees and there is no confirmed count of how many are moving through the region with the intention of returning to their country.

Although assistance to human mobility has many aspects, in the context of a pandemic, health care becomes a particularly important aspect both for the refugee and migrant population, as well as for their host communities, since ensuring all members of a society the necessary medical access has an impact that goes beyond the person being cared for. In some countries, working formally facilitates access to this type of services; but in the case of Venezuelans, as they are mostly in the informal sector (due in many cases to the lack of documentation or regular status), access to health is complicated despite it being a human right.

This publication also suggests that in parallel to the organization and efforts made by governments and civil society to address the problems that afflict refugees and migrants in the region in general, and the Venezuelan population in particular, it is necessary to have international support. This is important, among other aspects, to collect solid data to help formulate public policies, as well as to strengthen the positive aspects that migration can bring, for example, in its economic dimension.