The current outbreak of COVID-19 is primarily a health issue. However, it is also having an unprecedented impact on mobility, both in border and migration management, and on the situation of all people on the move. Past epidemics, such as Ebola, have provided experience and knowledge on how to address the crisis. However, to address a situation of such global magnitude that we are currently facing requires coordination among all actors, the close monitoring of medical developments, and an element of creativity.
During the COVID-19 health crisis, migrants have been affected in different ways, especially those with irregular migration status, or those belonging to more vulnerable groups such as women and LGBTIQ+ population, among others.
One issue, among many, that the migrant population has had to face during the pandemic is the economic impact, as there is a particularly high percentage of migrants in occupations exposed to job losses as a result of the COVID-19. For this reason, international remittances are projected to fall, which can often make-up 60% of a family’s income in the countries of origin.
Moreover, mobility restrictions applied both within countries and across borders, while necessary in the current context, have left many migrants stranded, more exposed to trafficking and even unable to access applications for asylum.
Other specific challenges faced by the migrant population during the pandemic include lack of access to basic services, such as health, as well as inability to practice specific pandemic prevention behaviours, such as physical distancing in shelters. In addition, misinformation about the causes and characteristics of the pandemic has led to xenophobic incidents against migrants, who have often been and continue to be used as scapegoats. The detailed version of these and other challenges can be consulted at this link.
Responding to the needs of migrants
International organizations, NGOs and states have been working for the protection and assistance of migrant populations. As the United Nations specialized agency for migration, the IOM's strategic response has focused on supporting the most vulnerable migrants and developing operational capacities to address the mobility dimensions of this pandemic. In the Central American, North American and Caribbean region, these actions include:
- Information for the migrant population: Various IOM Missions are disseminating information that contributes to the prevention of COVID-19 among the migrant population, translated into the languages of the migrant population, and in accordance with the guidelines of the respective national governments and in coordination with PAHO/WHO.
- Renovation of shelters: Food, personal hygiene kits, and cleaning supplies, and furniture (chairs, tables, fans, etc.) have been delivered. The abilities of these shelters to isolate suspected cases of COVID-19 have been created or strengthened.
- Direct assistance to migrants: Direct assistance has been provided to migrants who are not housed in shelters. This assistance has included the provision of items, such as portable cookers, personal and household hygiene kits, as well as cash-based interventions.
- Assisted Voluntary Returns: Some countries closed their border to migrants during the crisis. Upon the re-establishment of Assisted Voluntary Returns, the IOM facilitated Assisted Voluntary Returns from Mexico to Honduras and El Salvador, and from Haiti to the Dominican Republic.
- Other notable actions have included the intervention to convert border posts into safe entry points in Haiti, the safe transportation of returned migrants to their homes in Honduras, and the construction of a filter hotel in Mexico to allow transiting migrants a safe and secure space to quarantine in before accessing regular shelters.
The IOM emphasizes the need for inclusive approaches to migrants in the response to COVID-19, as well as the need to address the particular needs and vulnerabilities of this population regardless of their migration status, and in the spirit of universal health coverage. The fight against the pandemic cannot be won without including the migrant population.